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Revised Phil Paper

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Michael Hafner
Dr. Samantha Langsdale
PHIL 1800
December 2nd, 2015
The Delusion Dilemma Rene Descartes once proposed a tedious accusation about dreaming, and how our senses that we use to perceive what is considered reality should not be trusted fully. In the Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes attempts to convey the fascinating illusion of always being in a dream without a certain ability to distinguish what is actually reality or what is a dream, or at bare minimum prove that there are no certain marks to prove otherwise. He states, “…as I think about this more carefully, I see plainly that there are never any sure signs by means of which being awake can be distinguished from being asleep. The result is that I begin to feel dazed, and this very feeling only reinforces the notion that I may be asleep” (First Meditation). In my attempts to contrast what Descartes argument was comprised of and what certain illusions made him feel this way about our perception of physical existence. I turned my attention to his famous dream argument originally brought forth in his Mediation on First Philosophy, and will be using different ideologies between a John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, two famous English philosophers who have attempted to refute Rene Descartes’s dream argument by providing useful and insightful situations to further explain against the idea, as well as provide my own insight in concluding that we are not dreaming right now. It should be noted that within the context of Meditations, which is atypical from traditional philosophical text, the narrator is considered ‘I’ and is intended to be a fictional character by Descartes. This invites any thinker in a search for inevitability to be able to relate. It should also be noted that what set the argument in motion, and what was seemingly the cornerstone of the idea itself, was in the deficiency of comprehending the state of mind whilst in a dream. Descartes treats the absence of understanding as the result of our perception and that dreams are potentially made of the same content. “…Every thought I was having while awake I can also think of myself as sometimes having while asleep; and since I do not believe that what I seem to perceive in sleep comes from things located outside me, I did not see why I should be any more inclined to believe this of what I think I perceive while awake.” (The Philosophical Writings of Descartes).
John Locke, an English philosopher who is considered the “Father of Classical Liberalism”, hassles Rene Descartes argument by asking the presence of physical pain experienced in reality versus pain experienced within a dream. “I believe he [Descartes] will allow a very manifest difference between dreaming of being in the Fire, and being actually in it.” (An Essay concerning Human Understanding). John Locke’s claim is that we cannot have the same physical presence of pain in dreams as we seemingly have in real life. His claim, if proved true, could sabotage Descartes’s argument by providing evidence that there is an indeed certain distinction between reality within waking life and dreams.
Yet, Locke’s assumption has seemed have been proved otherwise as science and technology advance. During a study in 1998, conducted by the Medical Research Council of Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada titled, the Nature and Prevalence of Pain in Dreams, one hundred and eighty-five participants completed a series of questions while logging their dreams for two consecutive weeks and shocking results were brought to attention. Eighteen of the dreams recorded showed the presence of experiencing pain while three of the eighteen subjects were victims to “excruciating” symptoms. While John Locke’s assertion is logical, the conclusion of the study in 1998 was as follows. “Cognitive systems that contribute to the representation of pain imagery are sometimes functional during dreaming.” (Pain in Dreams).
Another insightful viewpoint attempting to rebuttal this argument comes from the work of another famous English philosopher named Thomas Hobbes, who was best known for his work in political philosophy. Thomas Hobbes wrote Leviathan and later established the “social contract theory”, which seemingly provides the foundation for western philosophy. Hobbes’ provides an interesting differentiation on this situation by stating the lack of identifying illogical absurdities within dreams. He claimed that if you were able to recall a dream, you could remember that you would allow for all different types of extreme and bizarre happenings without you even battling from what is considered normal or what is deemed obscure. For example, occurrences much like in the scene from the recent movie Inception written by Christopher Nolan, where the characters in a dream allow for such extreme happenings in which the buildings literally folded on top of one another as they strolled down main street in a very beautiful, science-fiction manner. Hobbes believes that it does not occur to us that whatever obscurities we seem to experience within a dream are that of only an illusion.
To reinstate, the dream argument is a suggestion that in the bare minimum, our senses that we trust to perceive reality should not be taken truthfully. Knowing the premise of the argument Hobbes stated, “…because in waking, I often observe the absurdity of Dreams, but never dream of the absurdities of my waking Thoughts; I am well satisfied, that being awake, I know I dream not; though when I dream, I think my self awake.” (Leviathan). In conclusion to Thomas Hobbes compelling insight, I would agree with his view that even if we cannot truly know during a dream that we are in fact dreaming, one can still have the ability to understand that when an individual is awake, they are in fact awake.
In having two useful insights from two separate philosophers, John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, I can support my argument against the idea and conclude that one cannot be so sure as to if they are in a dream. First, with John Locke’s remark of the cognitive ability to distinguish physical pain from reality, to the physical sensation of pain in dreams, I gave credit to science of the modern age to further disprove his accusation towards Rene Descartes. Disproving Locke has allowed for Descartes dream argument to continue puzzling many who attempt to disprove it. Though, using Thomas Hobbes’ claim to the lack of the sense of absurdity within dreams has allowed me, as the reader, to understand truly that we can know when we are truly awake versus when we are asleep. His viewpoint is that of a simple yet powerful mediator in the dispute. Stating that our brains do not seem to even attempt to defuse what is absurd within a dream, rather it simply lets us continue with said dream. Yet, in what is considered waking life, if you were to see main street fold on top of one another, clearly you would have some indication to call in sick at work that day. Rene Descartes argument is indeed pleasant to read, and many have attempted to disprove this claim, and I invite any and all to read. In conclusion, using two different claims, one for the argument and one against, I have presumed that as I am writing this currently, I am not in a dream.

Works Cited

Descartes, René, and George Heffernan. "First Meditation." Meditationes De Prima Philosophia = Meditations on First Philosophy. Notre Dame, IN: U of Notre Dame, 1990. 12-14. Print.

Leviathan, ed. C.B. MacPherson, Penguin, 1968 (1651), Part I, chap. ii, p. 90.

Locke, An Essay concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter Nidditch, Oxford: Clarendon, 1975, IV.ii.14.

"Pain in Dreams." ResearchGate. Research Gate, 8 Oct. 1998. Web. 28 July 2014. <>.

The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, translated by Cottingham, Stoothoff and Murdoch, Cambridge University Press, 1984, vol. II, p. 13. (CSM II 13)

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