It is worth noting that Rene Descartes was one of the greatest philosophers who made a great contribution to the development of science, philosophy, and the society as a whole. He was a mathematician, philosopher, physicist, physiologist, and an authoritative metaphysician. He established the foundations of analytic geometry, contemporary algebraic symbols, and the modern European rationalism. In addition, he identified the scientific thought as a fact of subjective consciousness. In his writings, he expounded the perceptions of human nature based on simple and clear provisions; however, his views were not simplistic in their core, but on the contrary, the duality was inherent to them. The purpose of this paper to examine and analyze the views of Descartes and to provide arguments and evidence to oppose some of his statements.
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The basis of the philosophy of Descartes is that thinking is the essence of humans. For this scientist, the problem of worldview principles of an individual played a leading role. Descartes reasoned about morality and justified the great importance of arriving at the truth in science and the significance of philosophy for the development of the society (Dicker 41). In his studies, he revealed the weight of science for the society and its development, and that the historical processes are inextricably linked with the development of science. It is important that he considered people the supreme creation of nature, and the human mind – the highest manifestation of people. Descartes believed that the reasonable human positions and decisions could lead to success. However, doubts and intellectual intuition in knowledge are key aspects of achieving anything according to him.
Descartes was one of those philosophers who denied the medieval views of the world. In particular, the philosopher argued that the world is boundless space. It is infinite, homogeneous, and has no voids. Moreover, according to his reasoning, the universe is infinitely divisible. At the same time, Descartes argued that the trigger for the movement of the universe is God. In this approach, God has created and has maintained the substance. It is essential to emphasize that such a statement was both the belief of Descartes and a reflection of the position of the Catholic Church at that time.
Regarding the theory of human nature, the philosopher believed that people were a lifeless mechanism coupled with the soul, that has thoughts and will (Dicker 41). People have the pineal gland in their brain, which controls the communication processes of body and mind. Interestingly, according to Descartes, the animal body, as well as the human body, are the only complex mechanisms, initially capable of conducting a variety of mechanical actions. However, the human’s task was reflected in the idea of domination over nature as well as in its improvement. It is important to highlight that questioning the validity of the conventional knowledge was the starting point of Descartes’s reasoning. The famous phrase “I think, therefore I am” (Cogito, ergo sum) expresses the basis of all judgments of the philosopher in the best manner (Dicker 39). In particular, Descartes believed that questioning was one of the acts of thinking, which differed humans from animals and was the core of any living creature capable of thinking.
Point of Disagreement
The key aspect with which I fundamentally disagree is the statement of Descartes and scientists of the epoch that animals do not have any consciousness and any communicative abilities since they do not use speech patterns. Thus, the philosopher argued that animals were machines devoid of reasoning. Nonetheless, I cannot agree with this position due to the fact that, though animals cannot communicate through language in the conventional sense, there are many other ways to communicate other than through the common language (Steiner 110).
The basis of Descartes’s thinking was the belief that animals had no souls; therefore, they cannot communicate and are deprived of abilities to speak (no language) and think. Comparing animals to humans, the scientist pointed out that animals are all machines solely that function based on those laws, which nature has established for them. It is crucial to note that in his discourse, the scientist tried to persuade that everything that exists must have a human mind (Steiner 110). Respectively, Descartes denied the existence of any type of thinking apart from the human one. It was the only reference, to which all the natural systems and living organisms were supposed to conform; accordingly, the degree of reasonableness was characteristic of the humans solely as well as the presence of the soul. Moreover, if visible manifestations of awareness did not reach the minimum requirements set by the guideline, such conduct should be considered unreasonable in essence.
Despite the evidence provided to oppose Descartes’s provisions in terms of the language and consciousness, the discussion after the group presentations raised several objections. Many people from the audience pointed out that speech and language (as the manifestation of thought) are inherent to humans exclusively. It is important that many have mentioned the human speech in its comprehensive understanding. As Descartes suggested, animals “have not indicated by voice or other signs anything referring to thought alone, rather than to a movement of mere nature” (qtd. in Rosenthal 24). As noted above, human speech is meaningful, and it has a rich diversity of means in contrast to the existing responses in animals. In addition, the speech and language of people have adequacy in relation to the current situation. Moreover, many people have noted that only human language has creative and innovative character. Therefore, due to the fact that animals are deprived of this kind of verbal communications, it can be assumed that they do not have the intelligence and ability to communicate as it was claimed by the philosopher.
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Response to Objections
Despite the fact that the philosopher explained the impossibility of speech due to the absence of intelligence in animals, rather than the imperfection of the physiological system, it should be noted that Descartes explained his statement in a quantitative manner, and not the qualitative one. This suggests that the scientist ignored or did not consider the possibility of a hierarchy or a qualitative difference in rationality. As Descartes stated, animal and human bodies have “bones, nerves, muscles, blood, animal spirits, and other organs, disposed in such a manner that they can produce themselves without the aid of any thought” (qtd. in Rosenthal 24). However, in his teachings, the scientist considered the multiplicity and diversity of action of the rational soul; nevertheless, this principle has not been attributed to reference language abilities and skills. Respectively, the duality of his argument is that living organisms have the desire, imagination, feeling, but these domains are irrespective of speech activity.
It is important to emphasize that this approach is mechanistic in nature, and it does not imply a qualitative assessment of the characteristics (Webb 19). In this regard, it should be noted that speech was reduced to a manifestation of thought. Thus, it can be stated that Descartes did not apply the same principles and approaches to the assessment of animal speech as a source of interaction and communication as he applied to the human language. Therefore, he could not compare the physical movements of animals to the body language of humans, which have much in common.
In addition, it should be stressed out that Descartes’s theory was not univocal and it did not reject the idea of animal language directly. The philosopher stressed out that it was not possible to state precisely the impossibility of language and communication among animals due to the absence of relevant, holistic scientific researches. At present, different studies have revealed that despite the fact that animals cannot reproduce the speech or language identical to human, they use a variety of modes of communication (Webb 20). For instance, the sound-signal communication is one method of interaction. By sound, animals and birds transmit information to each other. In addition to the sounds, animals have a specific sign or mimic language. The audible alarms allow animals to interact in any environment, regardless of their class or group. In addition, they use gestures and movements to communicate in the same manner as people do (Webb 21). Moreover, there are also other ways of contacting between animals that are related to bio-electromagnetic fields and acoustic signals. Thus, the current level of development of science allows refuting Descartes’s approach for a variety of reasons, which, inter alia, are based on the scientific research.
The contradiction in Descartes’ belief is that he refused to see the commonality between natural animal sounds and human language. He was convinced that the exclamations and animal movements are automatic, and they are only the response to specific stimuli while the language of the people is free and independent will. Thus, this conduct of animals is the reaction to the trigger and not an intelligent act as in humans. In the latter case, the language has the intellectual and creative nature (Dicker 41). Moreover, a person can infinitely vary and create new patterns in accordance with the situation, while a set of reactions of an animal, according to Descartes, is severely restricted.
However, Descartes noted that human exclamations caused by sensory stimuli are the result of intellectual activity as well (Steiner 110). Nonetheless, the denial of the animal desire to communicate violates the idea of continuity between animals and humans. In its turn, this led to the idea of God as a force that generates the human mind. However, this conclusion is opposed to ethical considerations and is linked to the religious dogma of the immortality of the soul inherent in the time. Contrasting the evidence to Descartes provisions, it is important to emphasize that animals also feel, wish, and remember, that is to say, they perform the same acts as humans, which suggests the presence of mind and a natural desire to communicate. Despite the fact that animals do not show the possession of anthropomorphic speech, it is solely due to their brain that is not developed enough for this kind of advanced activity.
Dicker, Georges. Descartes. OUP, 2013.
Rosenthal, David. Materialism and the Mind-body Problem. Hackett Publishing, 2000.
Steiner, Gary. Animals and the Limits of Postmodernism. Columbia University Press, 2013.
Webb, Judson. Mechanism, Mentalism and Metamathematics. Springer, 2013.