Logic and Meditation: The Foundation of Anthropology

There are four major fields of anthropology: biological, cultural, linguistic, and archaeology. Each of these fields of focus has been studied through varied research techniques and specialized interest.  The introduction of psychology was first considered in the context of the human soul. And anthropology in reference to the human body and soul. Prior to the 16th and 17th centuries, reasoning and judgement were not solidified in any order. The enlightenment of knowledge sparked creativity and created the necessity for a method to conduct and understand research. Logic became a universal tool for philosophers and scholars as a research method for these growing subjects.

The following sections explain the development of premise-based conclusions and the importance of logic-based reasoning. These thought processes stemmed from the basis of theology and were the beginning parts of philosophical judgements. Humans have always asked the questions why and how and what; why are we here, how are humans in existence, what made this existence possible? And maybe the most important question of all is what happens next? The first step in answering these questions must first be to create a process where these topics and their justifications are explained through logical reasoning.

The Introduction of Logic

The basis of all reasoning in ancient and modern thought was centered on the existence of God.  Nature and existence can only be understood by scripture, thus any early perception of anthropological topics had a strong basis in scripture. The essence of this era was to create a stronger basis for the existence of God, outside of faith and scripture. To better understand the natural and existential world, philosophers began to turn their focus to human existence and began to conceptualize the universe through internal knowledge.

The Natural Theologian

Natural theology; Anatomy.
Natural Theology was the start of human anatomy and the serious study of the human body, internally and externally.

The term “natural theologian” refers to someone who aims to use ordinary cognitive processes (reason, self-perception, imagination, judgement) to establish truth about the existence and nature of God and thus, the truth about human existence.  Philosophers and religious thinkers across almost every culture have engaged in natural theological processes. The importance of the natural theologian is the focus on the ability for humans to make sound arguments about non-worldly entities or facts related to our natural order. Natural theology opened a gateway for thinkers attempting to understand the natural order through constructive reasoning and basic reasoning.

The Apology

Fifteenth century theologian Raymond Sebond, introduced the phrase “natural theology,” then a revolutionary and progressive term, in his Theologia naturalis published in 1436. Natural theology, as introduced in Theologia naturalis, is an expression of ideas about humanity’s understanding of the divine. Sebond recognized two sources of knowledge and truth: the book of nature and the Bible. The book of nature is universal and direct, experienced through self-discovery and self-consciousness. The Bible serves to instruct man in better understand nature and to reveal truths to us that may not be understood through natural experience.

The “Apology for Raymond Sebond” written by Michel de Montaigne is a response to Sebond. Montaigne outlined the various flaws in Sebold’s theories, providing new reasoning and methods to natural theological insights. Where Sebond concluded that our knowledge coming from the self is transcribed through the five senses, Montaigne argued that there are considerably more ways to understand natural order than through five senses. Man cannot possibly possess all possible natural senses, therefore we cannot know what we are missing in our surroundings and thus cannot fully use senses as universal knowledge. Further, what we learn through our senses is limited. Animals, due to their natural instincts and natural order, have more evolved senses than humans. Additionally, senses they vary for individuals due to different perceptions or angles: there is no universal sight, hearing, touch, taste, or smell. And senses can be mistaken.

Philosophy, the New Foundation

Rene Descartes, 1596-1650.
Rene Descartes, 1596-1650 is a drawing by Granger. The image depicts Descartes explaining his methods.

Meditations on First Philosophy

Rene Descartes’ influence on 16th century philosophy is best illustrated through his “Meditations on First Philosophy”. He is known as one of the founders of modern philosophy, engaging his studies in both God and the human mind. His calling to life came to him during a meditation, while he was living in Germany in 1619. He sat in his room contemplating the disorder and uncertainty of his current knowledge and was displeased by the lack of foundation for discerning the truth. Descartes began a methodology that combined all science and all knowledge on a firm basis, working for twenty years to complete various essays and treaties, including the “Meditations on the First Philosophy”. In these meditations, Descartes discusses a method for a unified and certain body of human knowledge, explaining his premises and controversial conclusions. He included objections and explanations to objections by readers who read the manuscript before publication and his responses to those objections. Descartes anticipated his essays would replace the teachings of Aristotle and create a new method of logical reasoning.

Rene Descartes Sends Greetings

Descartes began his mediation’s addressed to, Those Most Wise and Distinguished Men, the Dean and Doctors of the Faculty of Sacred Theology of Paris. He starts his letter by explaining his objectives and what he hopes to achieve by sharing the following six mediations. Diverging from theology, his meditations take a philosophical approach. Descartes states that his developed method is viable for solving all sorts of problems in the sciences; a method that can be used for all areas of reasoning. His goal was to address two major issues- the existence of God and the human soul; and demonstrate that his philosophical reasoning could better explain these concepts and how to interpret humanity and natural law.

The Existense of God

To understand the relationship between God and the human soul, one must start with the belief that God exists. This belief is accepted through faith. Descartes writes that “we must believe in God’s existence because it is taught in the Holy Scriptures, and, conversely, that we must believe in the Holy Scriptures because they have come from God”. Descartes believes this reasoning, particularly for non-believers, is circular. Theologians in the period between the 15-16th century accepted that one can prove the existence of God by natural reasoning. In addition, one can also infer from scripture that there is only clear evidence that God exists. Anyone rejecting this truth is personally to blame. This idealism can be justified by Romans Chapter 1, “what is known of God is manifest in them, that everything that can be known about God can be shown by reasons drawn exclusively from our own mind”.

The problem Descartes found was the lack of power these arguments have for non-believers. If God exists because scripture says so, and scripture proves that God exists, then what argument can be made for people who do not trust the written word?  In addition, if God manifests his truth through the human mind, what is there to say for individuals who do not acknowledge this manifestation to be real or valid? His ultimate agenda, thoroughly explained in his introduction, was to convince irreligious people that God exists and that the human mind is distinct from the body. In the next six meditations he would justify this theory by attempting to demonstrate clear and non-circular reasoning for both problems.

The Meditations

Meditation One: Concerning Those Things That Can Be Called Doubt

To begin, Descartes explains that to find the truth, he must start from the ground-up, and begin from an original foundation. This basis would create a strong basis for anything “firm and lasting in the sciences”. He begins by dismantling all his previous foundations of knowledge, starting with the senses. Descartes immediately rejects the senses as being reliable truths because he has been deceived by the senses and through the senses.

The one standing truth that has been fixed in his mind, a certainty, is that there is a God that has created all things. His reasoning is this; he perceives his existence and the existence of a creator. This existence, fixed in his mind, cannot be deceptive. If it were deceptive, it would suggest that God is not good and has created a false existence in an effort to deceive him. “I will regard the heavens, the air, the earth, the colors, shapes, sounds, all external things as nothing but the bedeviling hoaxes of my dreams”. If there were to be a deceptive God, then nothing would ever have any foundation for truth. And because he has found it upon himself to find a foundational truth, Descartes rejects this opinion and therefore rejects a deceiving God.

Meditation Two: Concerning the Nature of the Human Mind

In a continuation of mediation one, Descartes continues to strip out everything that he may have thought previously as truth. He therefore assumes that everything he sees is false, that he has no real senses and everything, including body, and place are illusions. If that were the case, then it follows that the only certainty is that there is no certainty. His argument continues that even if this were possible, that everything around him was a false pretense, he is still a thinking being. He concludes that “I am, I exist”. To understand the notion I am, I exist, Descartes breaks down what it means when he refers to “I”. He first begins with the understanding of his body. The body is bound by shape, containing senses, and excludes any other body from its space. He then assumes that if there were still a possibility of a deceptive God, then a body and its form could be an illusion. Thus, a body does not justify existence.

From the body, Descartes addresses the soul. The soul, assumingly attached to the body, could not exist. However, Descartes asks the question “what about thinking”. He is sitting in his chair making this discovery and thus it is clear that thought exists. And if this thought exists, it cannot be separate from him, and therefore he must exist. He concludes from this argument that, so far, he is nothing but a thinking thing.

Meditation Three: Concerning God, That He Exists

The longest of the meditations. To begin, he defines the principle of causation. The principle of causation states that there must be reality in the efficient and total cause as there is in the effect of the same cause. The proof of God is written in four premises, and a conclusion that he exists.

Premise 1. I have the idea of an infinite, all-powerful, all-knowing good God.

  1. I am a finite being
  2. Principle of causation
  3. Only God can create the idea I have of God

Conclusion: God exists.

The next question is what it would take for the universe to begin. To emit an all-expanding, all-encompassing universe, the creator must be good and must contain all knowledge. The creator also must be infinite, because there is nothing lacking about an all-powerful God. Descartes suggests that although he is a finite being, he has the idea of an infinite being. Although he cannot fully understand the infinite, being he is finite, the idea of the infinite is clear. The idea of God is most clear without a full understanding of infinity. Thus, thinking of God as a finite being is proof that he exists. God’s existence is inferred directly from the fact that necessary existence is contained in the clear and distinct idea of a supremely perfect being, which Descartes has.

Meditation Four: Concerning the True and the False

In meditation four, Descartes reiterates the idea he has of the human mind, that it is a thinking thing. He explains that while he is a thinking thing, he has the ability to doubt and compare. He continues his argument stating that he is an incomplete and dependent thing, and in comparison, he has a clear idea of an independent and complete being, God. In conclusion, Descartes states that because he has the idea of God in him, it must be because God also exists.

His first argument for this case is that it is impossible for God to deceive him. Although God is all powerful and capable of such deception, that would implicate weakness and thus is incompatible with the nature of God. Next, there exists in him, a certain judgment of God, that he undoubtedly received from God.  It follows that he cannot be capable of making a mistake when it comes to understanding God’s existence, because God gave him this idea and, therefore, it is true and perfect. To compare the nature of God to man, Descartes understands his human nature to be weak and limited, and the nature of God to be immense, incomprehensible, and infinite. Therefore, he decidedly cannot grasp all the ideas of God because he is too divine. However, he can determine his existence. Every clear and distinct perception of God must have come from something, because the idea of the infinite could not come from nothing, it is too divine.

Meditation Five: Concerning the Essence of Material things

Descartes continues his next meditation with the idea that every clear and distinct perception he has cannot come from anything. He believed that there are certain ideas that he has, even if they do not exist anywhere outside of himself, cannot be created from nothing. Descartes uses an example of the triangle. He has an idea of a triangle; the properties have three angles. He knows these properties to be true and, having the idea of a triangle and its properties, triangles must exist. He uses this argument again, to state the existence of God. Gods’ existence, like the properties of a triangle, cannot be separate. A triangle does not exist without its properties and the idea of God cannot exist without God.

Meditation Six: Concerning the Existence of Material Things, and the Real Distinction between Mind and Body

Going back to the senses, Descartes suggests that there should be some consideration for the senses. He has the sense that he has a head, hands, feet, and other parts that comprise his body. And that his body is associated with sensation, pleasure or pain. He has noticed that please and paint is experienced through his body and cannot be existing without him. The body is an extension of himself and is not a thinking thing. Although the body cannot think like the mind, there is a union between the mind and body. Descartes uses the example of sensation. The sensation of pain, and hunger, and thirst is present in the body and perceived through the intellect. When the body is dehydrated, it is stated through the sensation of thirst, and understood in the mind; thus causing a union between the body and the mind.

Cultural Significance in Anthropology

Descartes and  his mediation provided a new consideration of knowledge and how it must be transcribed through a method of reasoning, premises and conclusions. His entire life’s work was to not only answer the reasons why but also to answer how. He questioned what he knew was real and what he could know for certain, which, in the end, was that he existed because he could think. This age of modern philosophy has been considered the birthplace of anthropology. These developmental processes are how we can research biology, language, uncover archeology, and understand cultural relevance. Descartes stripped all old conceptions of truth and attempted to conceptualize thought and how he could discover truth. Truth ends and begins with reality and reason. His mediative discovery established a foundation for knowledge through conceptualized research-based methods.

L’homme de René Descartes, et la formation du foetus…. Paris: Compagnie des Libraires, 1729.
This drawing depicts the mind, body problem and the preception of senses.
René Descartes, L’homme.
This drawing shows the influence of Descartes’ knowledge of mathematics and geometry on his perception of how the body works.

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