Metaphysics is the study of reality and existence and is a topic focused by both Plato and Descartes. Plato specifically mentions it in the analogy of the cave which is in his book the Republic (381BC), whilst Descartes touches on the topic throughout his book Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy (1641). However, with the two texts being written at such different times, there are a lot of differences in their respective texts. These two philosophers hold very different views on the physical world with Descartes coming to the conclusion that the world we live in must be real and Plato inferring that there are two realms and we, as humans, are living in the world of the appearances, which is a shadowed world of the good.
Descartes’s is considered one of the fathers of epistemology and metaphysics. His meditations uses questions and doubts to bring about his argument for the existence of God and for the existence of himself. Descartes isn’t saying that he believes in formal reality but instead is questioning the ideas in his head in representational reality. In the first mediation, Descartes goes along with Socratic wisdom, which summarised, means the only thing that we know is that nothing is certain. During meditation two, Descartes proves his existence using Cogito Ergo Sum, which translates from Latin into English as ‘I think therefore I am’. This famous quote derived from his questioning on whether or not his senses were being deceived by an evil demon. He goes on to say that he is “certain that I am a thinking thing” (Descartes, 1641) thus suggesting that as he can think, it is his one certainty as he ‘thinks’ all his senses are being deceived. But since he is thinking, and knows he can think, he must certainly exist. This allows Descartes to believe that even though he senses could be being tricked, his mind isn’t and if it were being deceived, Descartes says, “let anyone who can do so deceive me; so long as I think that I am something, he will never bring about that I am nothing” (Descartes, 1641). Descartes says this to claim that he cannot be made to think he is being deceived as he is living his life, he feels like he is existing, so therefore must exist. The thoughts manifest in his mind and even if he was being deceived, and he didn’t exist as a person in the materialistic world, the thoughts are his own and their existence is in his mind for what he is. However, this is not an objective truth. Just because Descartes believes it in his mind that he exists, it does not necessarily mean that he does. Descartes asks the question on if God is deceiving us, then he must have had the power to not deceive us so, why would he do so? Why would a perfect God who is omniscient and omnibenevolent, who could make the perfect world, want to deceive one into thinking they live in a perfect world whilst in reality they are being tricked. He says “if it were repugnant to his goodness to have created me such that I be deceived all the time, it would also seem foreign to that same goodness to permit me to be deceived even occasionally” (Descartes, 1641) therefore suggesting that God would not deceive us as it would be unfathomable for someone with his powers and attributes to create a world deceiving people when he could just make the world we think we live in. Therefore inferring that the world we live in is real and we are not to be deceived.
In meditation three, Descartes then goes back to the question about being deceived, he asks that if we are being deceived, it must therefore mean that we can’t find anything out about our reality. He decides that the only way to prove this is to that prove that God wouldn’t want to deceive us. Descartes believes everything must have a cause. It can be explained by our consciousness. Our conscience is neutrons firing in your brain not our experience of it, meaning that something needs to happen to cause your consciousness to work. There needs to be a cause. Your consciousness would react differently in an event of an action or an accident. An action is an intentional act whilst an accident is unintentional, something that is out of your control. Causes are more real then the consequences of an action imposes. The idea of God is that he is an infinite being, he is outside our time and space and our perception of the world. Descartes goes to explain that we are finite beings, meaning that we are within this world. He decides that infinity has more reality then finitude because it is too great for us to understand and comprehend. Descartes believes everyone has an innate idea of God from birth, there is an innate idea of Gods existence. It is like a trademark that God’s put inside every human being. He then goes on to state that as God’s done this, and that he is omniscient and omnipotent, he must therefore be real. Descartes believes that “it is no less contradictory to think of God lacking existence than it is to think of a mountain without a valley” (Descartes, 1641). He is saying that a valley to a mountain is a key property and since God is perfect, existing must be a key property to God too. He is therefore stating that God must exist as to be perfect. Descartes directs his metaphysics to God, as the proof of God shows that we cannot be deceived and that we can trust our senses. The idea of an omniscient and omnipotent God allows us to believe and further understand the reality we live in.
This differs to Plato as he points to the divided line. This divided line is the idea that there are two realms, the realm of the forms (the perfect world) and the realm of the appearances (the world we live in). Plato argues, using his allegory of the cave, that there are two worlds and only philosophers can learn about this higher, perfect world, the realm of the forms. He feels that ordinary people are stuck in the world of the appearances, which is the world we live in as humans now. Plato’s allegory of the cave suggests that a few people are stuck in the cave, seeing only the shadows of artefacts and believing them to be the real thing as they didn’t know any better. “the prisoners would in every way believe that the truth is nothing other than the shadows of artefacts” (Plato, 381BC), thus showing that the peoples ignorance forces the people to disagree that what they could be seeing is not the true forms of what an item is. Plato says that the people are “fixed in the same place, able to see only in front of them” and that “they’re like us” (Plato, 381BC) therefore implying that we as humans are ignorant to our surroundings, believing only what is in front of us but not trying to work out the true forms of things. Plato does however feel that philosophers are able to escape this realm by understanding true knowledge, but I shall touch on this later. In the allegory of the cave, Plato talks about how one prisoner escapes the cave, finding the world outside in which they were hoodwinked to live in. This idea of the free prisoner represents a philosopher, philosophising by asking questions and not believing in everything he sees in front of him. The philosopher is asking questions and doubting reality to understand this real of the forms. Philosophers see using their mind. The world we live in now is just full of imperfect artefacts, whilst the realm of the forms consists of the greatest forms of the goods in the world. This differs massively to Descartes metaphysics as he feels that as God is omnibenevolent and omniscient, he can’t be deceiving us and the world we live in must be the ultimate reality.
Descartes focuses on Cartesian dualism in meditation two. This is the idea that the mind can be separate from the body. He starts off in meditation two by asking if he is “so tied to the body and the senses that I cannot exist without them?” (Descartes, 1641) He questions this as he knows he is a thinking thing and would like to derive to the idea that even if his bodily senses are being deceived, his mind isn’t. Descartes later comes to the conclusion with the representation of a piece of wax. He talks about how a piece of wax can change all its physical characteristics when close to a fire but how it still remains the same piece of wax. “For whatever came under the senses of taste, smell, slight, touch or hearing has now changed; and yet the wax remains” (Descartes, 1641). Descartes is implying that despite the wax changing all of its original senses and almost losing it all, it is still the piece of wax. He applies this to the human body and mind as he feels that even if his bodily senses are being deceived, however he is still a “thing that thinks” (Descartes, 1641). Which implies that one could live without the body, hence cartesian dualism. Descartes responded to criticism in the geometrical exposition in the second set of replies. He states that he clearly understands himself (the mind) apart from the body, and he clearly and distinctly understand his body apart from the mind (Descartes talks about how physical objects take up space in the material world, this is res extensa, this differs from thoughts in the mind which take up no space as your mind as it is all full of thoughts and there isn’t physical objects taking up space. He called this res cogitans.
This differs from Plato as he talks about there being two different realms, and stresses the importance of the body being included when going to the intangible world. Plato believes that the soul is separate from the body and the mind whilst those two things are completely intact. Raphael Demos explains this by saying “reason rules spirit, and spirit rules the impulses, and the whole soul rules the body” (Raphael Demos, 1931). Demos is claiming that Plato says that the soul is separate to the body. It is previously stated however that the mind and body were one. He talks about this in the allegory of the cave. “The power to learn is present in everyone’s soul and that instrument with which each learns is like an eye that cannot be turned around from darkness to light without turning the whole body”(Plato, 381 BC). Plato is showing the importance of the body when going to the realm of the forms. Descartes feels that the body isn’t as important as it could be deceived or tricked whilst the mind is his own and cannot be fooled, he says “let anyone who can do so deceive me; so long as I think that I am something, he will never bring about that I am nothing” (Descartes, 1641). This is showing the difference between the dualism as Plato believes that the body is still very important whilst Descartes would argue against that.
In conclusion I believe that there is a key difference between Plato and Descartes’s metaphysics in their texts. I feel that Descartes’s work is determined to reach the goal of finding whether or not he is being deceived by an evil demon and that the world he lives in is what it seems to be. Whilst Plato’s metaphysics point to the idea that we are living in a shadowed representation of a perfect world. Descartes’s perspective on dualism is an intriguing theory to believe in and one can understand his stance due to what is said throughout his meditations. Descartes supports his theory well by constantly questioning everything around him. By the end of the meditations however, he arrives at the point that his mind is separate to his body as he decides he is a thinking thing. However, Descartes’s work allows himself to achieve the conclusion that he wanted. It’s stated in the Stanford encyclopaedia of philosophy that “The argument is fallacious. It relies on conceivability based in ignorance. Descartes has not included anything in the argument to ward off the possibility that he, as a thinking thing, is in fact a complex material system.” (Stanford encyclopedia) This is clearly suggesting that Descartes is jumping towards the idea of himself being a thinking thing and I can agree with this as he seems to jump from his points without seriously inquiring them. It’s as if he wanted to get to the answer he arrives at without really reaching it. These flaws bring down Descartes metaphysics as it almost seems forced. Although both scholars metaphysics give out intriguing ideas, they both