Thursday, February 09, 2006

Is it possible that my mind is weaker than my idea of my mind?

Descartes offers an impressive proof for the existence of God that allows him an immense epistemological groundwork on which he can work; the argument follows perfectly from his system, and adds to the empowering, radical assertion that ideas in my mind need not resemble the objects outside my mind. The mind is officially free from external reality in the Cartesian system, in ways that the Aristotelian system cannot match.

But, at step (2) in his argument, I find a severe problem:

If something is the complete cause of something else, it must have at least as much formal reality as its effect.

That is to say, something that is merely a mode (e.g., an idea, color, shape, hardness, etc.) cannot bring a finite substance (e.g., my mind, your mind, a desk, a stone) into existence; something that is merely a mode does not have enough ontological status to cause a finite substance.

My problem, which could be completely inconsistent, is this:

is it the case that an idea is always merely a mode; that is, that an idea is always of a lesser ontological status than a finite substance?

I have variable premises, that I have not yet placed in any particular order, to work with this problem:

(1) It is not the case that ideas are always of lesser ontological status than finite substances. Rather, it is possible than an idea is ontologically stronger, or more real, than a finite substance in some cases.

(2) There are ideas that can become more than accidental to a given substance. E.g., it is not merely accidental that my idea of God corresponds to the formal reality of God.

(3) My knowledge of the existence of God depends upon my having an idea of God.

(4) I can have an idea of finite substance that is actually stronger via objective reality (Descartes' scale for ideas, corresponding to formal reality--which is mode, finite substance, infinite substance, in order or status from weakest to strongest, or most independent) than that corresponding finite substance in formal reality.

(5) I can have an idea of my mind that is objectively stronger than my actual mind in formal reality, as finite substance.

But, remember P2 in Descartes' argument: If something is the complete cause of something else, it must have at least as much formal reality as its effect.

Here I am crossing signals with Descarts; his system does not allow for a mode (idea) to cause a finite substance (mind). But yet, I can envision that I have an idea of my mind (a mode) that is stronger than my actual mind (finite substance). Does this necessarily suggest a causal relationship is inverted?

The best conclusion I have is this: perhaps I cannot prove that a finite substance can be caused by a mode (e.g., my idea of mind cannot cause my mind). But, perhaps the causal relationship between levels of reality is not as sound as Descartes asserts; the mere thought that I can think of my mind in a manner that is stronger than my actual mind suggests that a corkscrew can be placed in Descartes' system...

I have another, maybe interesting, example: is it possible that an idea of community is stronger than the actual community that corresponds in formal reality? Is it the case that an idea of community can cause a community to come into existence? Am I merely using "idea" in a different sense than above?

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