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Descartes Wax Argument and Its Purpose – Explicatory Essay

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Updated: Jun 19th, 2022


Rene Descartes is a famous French philosopher whose ideas and considerations are prominent, and they are studied up to now. Some of the ideas are controversial. There are a lot of different theories considered by Rene Descartes. However, the wax argument is one of the most contentious and discussed issues.

Descartes Wax Argument

It is essential to consider the way of thinking Descartes applies to when trying to understand the nature of the wax argument and its importance. Using wax as the object for reflection and consideration, Descartes has concluded that to judge an issue one is to reject thinking about its properties at the moment and to rely only on his/her deduction and mind.

Feelings and perception of the aspects prevent a person from an objective consideration of the issue. Emotions are also extra in this case. Thus, to create an unbiased opinion about a problem all the perceptions and feelings are to be removed.

Trying to follow the way of thinking Descartes applied to, the following process may be considered. Descartes has taken a piece of wax, and he has listed its main characteristics. Having considered the shape, texture, size, color, smell and other features of the wax, Descartes has created a particular point of view about the piece of wax, however, after he melted this piece another substance was seen.

It is essential to understand that this melted piece of wax was the same piece. However, its shape, texture, size, color, and smell changed. This is the main idea of the wax argument Rene Descartes has presented. To measure an object (wax in this case), Descartes recommends not to shift to the perceptions, feelings, and emotions; deductive method is to be used to consider the issue.

Following the way of thinking Descartes applied to while concluding the deduction use only while making decisions about the object qualities, the following data is to be considered. Having melted the piece of wax, it has lost all its initial conditions. However, it remains the same wax. Therefore, thinking about wax, people are not to refer to their sensory abilities. Descartes refers to wax as to something more extended, such as space.

Moreover, a piece of wax may come through many changes a person may not be aware. However, it remains that piece of wax. Therefore, the wax is perceived through personal understanding. Finally, when people say that they “see” the wax, they usually judge through understanding what they see (Lacewing 235).

Therefore, the main conclusion Descartes comes to is that “when we perceive an object like the piece of wax, there is an act of judgment involved in our perception. I do not see the piece of wax – I infer that it is there from appearances provided by my sense” (in Morton 74). Thus, such consideration is referred to as a wax argument. When people are to consider an object, they are to frustrate from the perception of this object, think objectively and discuss the fundamental characteristics of it.

Descartes Wax Example Explained

There are three primary purposes of the wax argument presented by Descartes. The wax argument “serves as an argument for rationalism and, by implication, nativism”, “it serves as the first sketch of Descartes’ reasoning and theory regarding the nature of corporeal and non-corporeal substance”, and “it serves as an argument that, contrary to common sense, the mind is known better than the body” (Graziano 1).

These purposes help us consider the main metaphysical categories wax argument is applied to, modal properties, numerical identity, and substance-things. It should be concluded that each object has at least one feature when considering the properties of an object.

People are unable to know about each property an object may have under various conditions. However, the basic knowledge about an object helps him/her identify it under the diverse influence. The numerical identity of objects refers to the different ways of identification, numerical and qualitative. Finally, substance-things category relates to the properties of an object which may be a collection of coexisting properties and the predicted ones (Graziano 3).

The Wax Argument: The God

Descartes uses the wax argumentation in consideration of God as an existing creation. A philosopher applies this theory trying to explain that it does not matter that we are unable to see God; we understand that God exists. The perception is reduced to a minimum, and only the deduction is to be applied while considering this issue. This trust in the things which are not absolutely certain is the central theme of Descartes and his philosophy.

When applying to the wax issue, in this case, the philosopher tries to prove that it is possible to trust in God without having any visual support as trying to visualize God we apply to our perception which is not necessary in case of wax argumentation. This is one of the main characteristic features of the wax argument. It teaches people not to see the object but to consider it the way one understands.

Descartes Ball of Wax: Personal

Returning to the discussion of wax as a piece, the following data should be mentioned. A philosopher tries to show us that a personal vision of wax is what important in comparison with wax as an object which is seen. Personal consideration is the primary purpose of wax argument.

People should be able to get the main idea of an issue no matter what conditions the problem is at the moment. Each person applies to experience he/she has in the question of personal understanding of the objects and their qualities. It is essential to see the piece of wax even when it is melted and to be aware of its initial qualities.

Therefore, considering the main idea of the Descartes’ wax argument and its implementation into practice, the following statement should be referred to, “I now know that even bodies are not strictly perceived by the senses or the faculty of imagination but by the intellect alone and that this perception derives not from their being touched or seen but from their being understood” (Descartes 22).


The human mind works so actively that when we see an object, we can consider its main properties no matter under which conditions an object has appeared. The human brain is unique.

People can perceive objects as they are and to consider them in their initial appearance. People are able to consider the main properties essential for a particular object when treating various objects. The main idea of the wax argument is that people usually use their mind to treat an object and to define its characteristics and only when they refer to perception trying to identify the conditions which have affected it.

Works Cited

Descartes, René. Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy: With Selections from the Objections and Replies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.

Graziano, Richard G. Descartes’ wax argument for the sum res cogitans. 2011. 28 Sept. 2012. PDF File. Retrieved from

Lacewing, Michael. Revise Philosophy for AS Level. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2007. Print.

Morton, Peter. A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind, second edition: Readings with Commentary. New York: Broadview Press, 2010. Print.

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