Knowing that the existence of such objects is possible, Descartes then turns to the prevalence of mental images as proof. To do this, he draws a distinction between imagination and understanding; imagination being a non-linguistic “faculty of knowledge to the body which is immediately present to it […] without intellection or conception”, which therefore exists like a mental photograph; and understanding (or apprehending) being something that is not necessarily pictured. He uses an example of this to clarify:

When I have a mental image of a triangle, for example, I don’t just understand that it is a figure bounded by three lines; I also “look at” the lines as though they were present to my mind’s eye. And this is what I call having a mental image. When I want to think of a chiliagon, I understand that it is a figure with a thousand sides as well as I understand that a triangle is a figure with three, but I can’t imagine its sides or “look” at them as though they were present (…) Thus I observe that a special effort of mind is necessary to the act of imagination, which is not required to conceiving or understanding (ad intelligendum); and this special exertion of mind clearly shows the difference between imagination and pure intellection (imaginatio et intellectio pura). (Descartes, Meditation VI: On the Existence of Material Objects and the Real Distinction of Mind from Body).[10]

Descartes has still not given proof that such external objects exist. At this point, he has only shown that their existence could conveniently explain this mental process.


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