The Wax and I: Perceptibility and Modality in the Second Meditation

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  • Philosophers are fond of wax, and none more famously so than Descartes. The wax passage that appears at the end of the Second of his Meditations on First Philosophy has fascinated and baffled students, scholars and critics alike since the work's first publication. Part of the passage's fascination may lie in its seeming errant quality; here, the narrator appears willing to relax the strict discipline of meditation, to give 'free rein' to his wandering mind. Of course, the narrator ends up taking this 'slip' to support points made in the first part of the Meditation, and in general, we have little reason to consider the narrator's characterizations to be a very reliable guide to the structure of the Meditation. What often escapes the narrator - but ought not escape us - is the Order of reasons' that structures both individual Meditations and the Meditations as a whole. But there's the rub: it is extremely difficult to explain the place of the wax passage in any such order, both because it treats an extended body well before the nature of material things is made a topic in the Meditations, and because it is not clear how it genuinely contributes to the business of the Second Meditation. Yet an understanding of the position of the wax passage within the order of reasons may be necessary for appreciating the details internal to the discussion; we may well fail to see the trees for lack of insight into the forest.

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    Article (Published)
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    © 2000 Walter de Gruyter. This version of this article is open access and can be downloaded and shared. The original author(s) and source must be cited.
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    • Schmitter, A.M. (2000). The Wax and I: Perceptibility and Modality in the Second Meditation. Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, 82(2), 178-201.
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