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Descartes’ Self-Concept Construction Essay

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Updated: Aug 30th, 2020


The proponent of this study attempts to understand Descartes’ construction of his concept of the self. A careful study of his masterpiece entitled, Meditations can lead one to conclude that his concept of the self was the byproduct of the combination of the use of his physical senses, common sense, and a spiritual assumption based on the idea of the existence of a good God. However, a philosopher like Buddha may find Descartes’ conception of the self, a contradiction to the Buddhist’s prescribed path that leads to wisdom and perfection. Be that as it may, it is easier to accept Descartes’ conception of the self, based on reason, evidence, and practicality.

Descartes’ Concept of Self

Descartes acknowledged that the development of the concept of the self finds its starting point in the use of the physical senses. In other words, a person’s perception of the physical world enables him to make sense of his identity. Nevertheless, Descartes understands the frailty of this intellectual framework, one that was based on the perception of the human body through the use of the physical senses. He pointed out as an example, the dilemma created by insane creating contradictory statements regarding a particular physical phenomenon. However, he reasoned out that sane people arrive at the same conclusion and share the same observation as other human beings that are not afflicted with mental problems (Descartes 12).

After Descartes provided the rationale for using the senses, he strengthened the argument by using common sense. He said that it is impossible to refute the reality of the statement that he had in his hand a pen and paper. Thus, the philosopher discovered a way to corroborate his ideas, and as a result, he found a way to discover truth and meaning in life. He was able to accomplish all of that using his physical senses and common sense.

It is indeed a formidable combination. Once the ideas and realizations that came from the five senses were corroborated by other people, it is easier to engage in a deeper discussion of other complex ideas. However, Descartes realized that this is not enough to build something grand and useful. Therefore, he needed another intellectual pillar that can support his main assertion. Descartes said that for all these things to be true, people must believe in the existence of a good God.

It is interesting to point out that Descartes reached this conclusion, not through a haphazard method. He used his senses and common sense to figure out that the great things he saw and experienced in his life are all part of the testimony that God is good.

Buddha Disagrees with Descartes

It is good to know that someone documented Buddha’s wise sayings. If there is a chance to facilitate a face-off between Buddha and Descartes, the philosopher from the East may have some interesting things to say about the latter’s work. For example, Buddha will comment on how Descartes exuded great confidence in his method of arriving at conclusions. In Buddha’s sayings that were recorded in the Dhammapada, the philosopher asserted that no one can find certainty in this world. Buddha pointed out that wisdom is attainable through the disintegration of the self. Nevertheless, Buddha also pointed out that the self is perceived through wisdom (Buddha 279). In other words, the attainment of true identity is accomplished at the risk of obliterating the self.

It is difficult to appreciate Buddha’s conception of the self. It seems as if he was overwhelmed by the idea so that he was unable to formulate a correct argument. On the other hand, it is easy to follow the development of Descartes’ concept of the self. Furthermore, there is no value in the pursuit of wisdom, because in Buddha’s worldview the self is obliterated at the end.


Descartes made it clear that the conception of the self is made possible through the use of the five senses augmented by common sense and the belief in the existence of a good God. However, Buddha, the great eastern philosopher presented a different idea, such that the self is perceivable even without the use of the five senses of the human body. Furthermore, the highest level in the process of the perception of the self leads to oblivion.

It is easier to accept Descartes’ ideas, because of its practicality and appeal to reason. Surely, it is easy to accept the assumption that a good God exists especially if one focuses on the wonders of nature and the complicated design and function of the human body. It is hard to accept Buddha’s understanding of how people perceived the self because, at the highest levels, human identity disappears as if swallowed up in oblivion. Therefore, one must seriously consider the purpose of everything if the end only leads to nothingness. It is hard to accept as fact that all the beautiful flowers and all the amazing creatures on this planet were created so that at the onset of pure wisdom, mankind becomes as mute and dumb as a piece of rock.

Works Cited

Buddha. The Dhammapada. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000. Print.

Descartes. Meditations. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Print.

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