Upon reading the second meditation of Descartes, I am perplexed by an illustration Descartes presents involving wax. For reference, this illustration, or argument, is contained within the 11th and 12th page of this pdf, which is an english rendering of the Meditations on First Philosophy.
My Understanding of The Wax Argument
Now, based on what I have comprehended, the argument proceeds as follows (employing direct quotes with "direct quote"):
1) The physical qualities of the wax changes as it melts.
2) "Yet the same wax remains"
3) Hence, the conception of wax is derived not from the senses
4) This piece of wax, however defined, permit of "infinitude of similar changes" as a particular change of shape.
5) Hence, since the imagination cannot "compass the infinitude," the conception of the wax originates not from "the faculty of imagination."
Note: Steps 4 and 5 applied to two specific conceptions of the wax divorced from its primary qualities, namely "flexible and movable" and "extension." As Descartes puts it, "Let us attentively consider this, and, abstracting from all that does not belong to the wax, let us see what remains. Certainly nothing remains excepting a certain extended thing which is flexible and movable."
6) Therefore, the conception of the wax is derived not from imagination but from the mind: "We must then grant that I could not even understand through the imagination what this piece of wax is, and that it is my mind alone which perceives it." Descartes defines this perception as "neither an act of vision, nor of touch, nor of imagination ... but only an intuition of the mind, which may be imperfect and confused as it was formerly, or clear and distinct as it is at present." In other words, this perception is an intuition of the mind rather than a sense perception as commonly conceived.
7) Descartes then reveals weaknesses in ordinary language, such as the sentence "I see the same wax" after it melts even though the visual qualities of the wax change. After that, this colorful paragraph is presented, the meaning of which I haven't extracted with a sufficient degree of certainty to explicate it properly:
"A man who makes it his aim to raise his knowledge above the common should be ashamed to derive the occasion for doubting from the forms of speech invented by the vulgar; I prefer to pass on and consider whether I had a more evident and perfect conception of what the wax was when I first perceived it, and when I believed I knew it by means of the external senses or at least by the common sense as it is called, that is to say by the imaginative faculty, or whether my present conception is clearer now that I have most carefully examined what it is, and in what way it can be known. It would certainly be absurd to doubt as to this. For what was there in this first perception which was distinct? What was there which might not as well have been perceived by any of the animals? But when I distinguish the wax from its external forms, and when, just as if I had taken from it its vestments, I consider it quite naked, it is certain that although some error may still be found in my judgment, I can nevertheless not perceive it thus without a human mind."
8) Finally, in the last segment of this illustration, Descartes shows how every judgement of any certainty pertaining to the wax, or to corporeal matter in general, provides more evidence for the existence and nature of the human mind. Descartes states in the end of the second to last paragraph of the second meditation devoted to this: "And further, if the notion or perception of wax has seemed to me clearer and more distinct, not only after the sight or the touch, but also after many other causes have rendered it quite manifest to me, with how much more evidence and distinctness must it be said that I now know myself, since all the reasons which contribute to the knowledge of wax, or any other body whatever, are yet better proofs of the nature of my mind! And there are so many other things in the mind itself which may contribute to the elucidation of its nature, that those which depend on body such as these just mentioned, hardly merit being taken into account"
9) Descartes thus concludes by summing up his central argument, that since bodies are only understood through the understanding, not by the faculty of the senses or imaginations, the mind is the easiest thing to know. Descartes puts it such: "since it is now manifest to me that even bodies are not properly speaking known by the senses or by the faculty of imagination, but by the understanding only, and since they are not known from the fact that they are seen or touched, but only because they are understood, I see clearly that there is nothing which is easier for me to know than my mind."
My Questions about this Argument
I understand the driving conclusion, yet several particulars escape my comprehension, bothering me thus.
How does Descartes conclude that the "same wax remains" in step 2? Where does this piece of knowledge come from, considering that Descartes in this meditation is approaching knowledge from a skeptical position (having just established the demon position in the previous meditation without any counterarguments)?
Furthermore, what is the meaning and purpose of the paragraph presented in step 7. Finally, why was driving this point that it is easier to understand the mind so necessary, when he already established that he can only understand himself as a thinking being?