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Free «Introduction to Philosophy» Essay Sample

1) What criticism would Descartes bring against Kant’s view of consciousness or the self? Whose view do you find most acceptable, Descartes or Kant’s?

The idea of self-knowledge is one of the key topics discussed within Western Philosophy starting from its origins in the Ancient Greece until modern times. Among those who have exploited this topic are the world’s greatest philosophers such as Hume, Kant and Descartes who hold the view that self-knowledge or consciousness should offer “the ‘capitol or center’ of all human understanding, the ‘supreme principle for all employment of the understanding,’ and the ‘Archimedes' point’ for all knowledge” respectively (Shear, 2011). For clear illustration in this paper, I will talk about Descartes and Kant, with the latter’s criticism of the former’s view of consciousness or the self, setting the basis of the discussion.

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Concerning consciousness, it is obvious that in some cases, people are aware of their identities and sometimes not. Similarly, they are sometimes self-conscious and sometimes they are not. Until today, philosophers argue that self-consciousness is not only critical for identifying one’s own individuality, but it is also essential for realizing that an individual is an enduring self. Descartes argues that “he exists and continues to exist because he is a thing that thinks” (Shear, 2011). In other words, he argues that self-identity relies on consciousness (Shear, 2011). The conscious that tells us that we exist is made up of a substance, the soul. 

On the other hand, Kant considers that our identity is not within our self-consciousness, disagreeing with Descartes. At this point, Descartes would criticize Kant’s view suggesting that “the enduring self is not an object of experience” (Solomon, 2012). Kant goes ahead to explain that enduring self is transcendental, implying the essential condition for the probability of any experience to occur.

Kant argues that “self” that experienced something can always be obtained. The “self” also entails application of the understanding according to which people organize their experiences or encounters. Individuals have to “synthesize” their experiences into a unity, or fail to have any kind of knowledge concerning it. This is called “the transcendental unity of apperception” and according to Kant, it is basic essential element for all human encounters (Solomon, 2012).

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Whereas Kant thinks that our apprehension with self-consciousness is a given force due to the fact that we are not self-conscious all the times. Descartes would criticize this because consciousness formed the principle of his philosophy and according to him, we are always conscious as it cannot be separated from the self.  On the other hand, Kant does not agree that the “thinking self is a thinking thing as the self is not in our encounters but rather responsible for it” (Solomon, 2012). This point of view contravenes Descartes’ as already pointed out above, he asserts that he “exists and continues to exist because he is a thing that thinks” (Solomon, 2012).  The conflicting point of view here will form another basis of criticism since as opposed to Kant; the self is not an activity, that challenges the traditional idea of the soul but an object that can think. Lastly, Kant views that we require two different notions of the self as opposed to Descartes, who believes in the soul that informs us about our consciousness. According to Kant, there is the transcendental self, vital to “self” and the notion of the empirical ego that entails all the specific characteristics that make us different individuals.

Descartes’ view is acceptable, because self-identity always relies on consciousness as he argued. The conscious forms the principle basis of philosophy, a view that even Kant agrees with. If people had a different self at different occasions of consciousness, then they could not be in a position to perceive anything (Solomon, 2012). For the reason that we encounter objects, we must make an assumption that we possess a unified consciousness that sums up all these impressions to form a perception of the objects.

Do you think Hobbes is correct in saying that the will is not free?

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Hobbes’ concept of materialism is completely opposed to the religious doctrine of free will. Certainly, his notion of freedom is consistent with necessity and demonstrates the degree to which he sought rejecting this concept when explaining natural liberty within the theory of causal necessity (Kow, 2004). Free will in traditional philosophy is defined as the certainty that human behavior is not completely controlled by external forces; and it is due to choices that a free agent makes. Hobbes disagrees with this view and states that the will is not free. In this paper, I disagree with his views, because people have the liberty to choose what they want as directed by their freewill. 

Some choices are not dependent on external forces but by the agent’s intentions and motives, which are not entirely determined by external causes (Kow, 2004). Traditionally, those individuals that do not believe in the free will consider that fate, material forces or supernatural powers determine human behavior. On the other hand, libertarians or advocates of free will hold the view that human behavior is exceptional and is determined by the agent, not by the laws of nature, the stars or God even though everything else could be due to some external forces.

On religious grounds, especially in the Christianity, God gives everyone free will to choose what is good or bad. This is in the mind or the soul and has nothing to do with the physical world and the laws that govern it. Consequently, believing in materialism implies a denial of free will for many people. Hobbes argues that even though God is the definitive cause of everything, the act is not free if a person is not physically compelled to perform something. He did not argue basing on free vs. externally induced will, but liberty vs. necessity.

Even though his views demonstrate development for reconciling free will, determinism and materialism, it is not satisfactory. While he suggests that determinism and materialism do not imply that we do not have metaphysical liberty, he equally does not account for the idea of internal determining factors. It is doubtful that a modern materialist would suggest that regardless of the neurochemical status of a person, if they are not chased or pushed off the hill top, for instance, but instead he jumps under the illusion that they can fly, the action is perform at liberty (Kow, 2004).

Brain development, damage and ailments happen within levels and consequently comprehension and control of actions and thoughts happen to different degrees. At some point, we may have little or no control over our actions and thoughts. In such a circumstance, one can be said as lacking free will. On the other hand, we might have a proper ability to control our actions and thoughts at some point. A person with such ability is believed to be free within the metaphysical logic of “free” (Kow, 2004). To argue that being free requires one not be governed by laws of cause and effect is, therefore, ridiculous and uncalled for.  This is because it calls for free actions to be uncaused actions (Kow, 2004). Basing on this idea, the only free person is the one with no hint of his next action or thought and this sense such a person is not abnormal but very “unfree”.

To sum up the whole discussion, every person has free will to choose what is right or wrong to them. Laws and regulations are there to control human behavior but one can chose whether to abide by or break them. Currently, the focus of this debate has turned to the responsibility of a person to control their actions and thoughts as opposed to the metaphysical absence or presence of a non-physical being with will (Kow, 2004).


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