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Descartes on Re-identification ALAN HART THE EXAMPLE AND ITS FUNCTIONS Toward the end of Meditation H, Descartes employs the example of a piece of wax as an illustration that even judgments about senseperceived objects require ideas which are found in the mind and which are not derived from the senses. This example re-inforces his argument that the mind is known better than the body. Descartes takes a piece of wax, subjects it to a higher temperature, and notes the resultant alterations in odor, color, sound, size, and shape. If all these senseperceived qualifies change, how can we answer the question, "Does the same wax remain after this change?''2 Descartes emphasizes that the question is concerned with the same wax. He says, "Remanetne adhuc eadem cera?''a "La mesme cite demeure-t-elle apr6s ce changement? ''4 While the example appears to be quite straightforward, I believe that it is really very complex and serves a variety of purposes. There is no doubt that the example is about the nature of the wax both as itself and as an instance of corporeal substance in general. But it is primarily concerned with the nature and identity of this particular piece of wax as itself and as an example of a corporeal individual. Descartes is quite clear that he is concerned with our knowledge of the identity and the nature of "this piece of wax in particular. ''5 Will Descartes' investigation of the nature of a particular body and our knowledge of its identity, together with his claim to recognize that wax after a passage of time, also suffice to re-identify that wax? The problem of re-identification is that of "identifying a particular encountered on one occasion, or described in respect of one occasion, as the same individual as a particular encountered on another occasion, or described in respect of another occasion.''6 I believe that Descartes' example is intended to provide for attaining knowledge of the identity of particular bodies and also to provide grounds for their re-identification. I shall propose a Cartesian solution to the problems of identity and re-identification of corporeal individuals which includes reason as well as sense perception and imagination. It is, of course, quite true that the judgment of re-identification presupposes that one has acquired knowledge of the identity of the object itself. Knowledge of what an object 1 I am indebted to Professors A. O. Rorty, J. A. Shaffer, A. Hausman, and J. H. Buchanan for their comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this paper. Professors M. Wilson and E. M. Curley offered valuable advice on a later version. 2 R. Descartes, Philosophical Works of Descartes, trans. E. S. Haldane and G. R. T. Ross, 2 vols. (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1955), I, 154; hereafter cited as HR. s R. Descartes, Oeuvres de Descartes, ed., C. Adam and P. Tannery, 11 vols. (Paris: Leopold Cerf, 1904), VII, 30 (emphasis added); hereafter cited as AT. 4 AT, IX, Part 1, 24. 5 HR, I, 155;AT, IX, Part 1, 24: "Ie dis ce morceau de cite en particulier, car pour la cire en general, il est encore plus euident. Or quelle est cette cire.... " AT, VII, 31: "Dico hanc in particulari, de cer~ enim in communi darius est. Quaenam vet6 est haec cera.... " r p.F. Strawson, Individuals (Garden City: Anchor Books, Doubleday &Company, Inc., 1963), p. 20. [r7] 18 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY is, its nature, is required before one can claim that this is the same object now as that observed previously. Hobbes was aware that the example was complex, that it was concerned with both the knowledge of the identity and the nature of corporeal substance. In his Objection to Descartes, Hobbes says that Descartes should have argued that the only substance is corporeal substance. "As M. Descartes himself afterwards shows, when he illustrates by means of wax, this wax was understood to be always the same thing, i.e. the identical matter underlying the many successive changes.... -7 Descartes' reply was that "color, hardness, and figure did not belong to the formal nature [rationem] of the wax itself.''s This answer only points out...


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