Rene descartes meditation 1 essay


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He supposes that not God, but some evil demon has committed itself to deceiving him so that everything he thinks he knows is false. By doubting everything, he can at least be sure not to be misled into falsehood by this demon. Before retiring for the night, the Meditator indulges in his old beliefs, afraid to awake to a life of confusion. As a result he allows for the tempting falsehoods to continue unabridged.

Descartes saw his Meditations as providing the metaphysical underpinning of his new physics. Like Galileo, he sought to overturn what he saw as two-thousand-year-old prejudices injected into the Western tradition by Aristotle. The Aristotelian thought of Descartes' day placed a great weight on the testimony of the senses, suggesting that all knowledge comes from the senses.

The Meditator's suggestion that all one's most certain knowledge comes from the senses is meant to appeal directly to the Aristotelian philosophers who will be reading the Meditations. The motivation, then, behind the First Meditation is to start in a position the Aristotelian philosophers would agree with and then, subtly, to seduce them away from it. Descartes is aware of how revolutionary his ideas are, and must pay lip service to the orthodox opinions of the day in order to be heeded. Reading the First Meditation as an effort to coax Aristotelians away from their customary opinions allows us to read different interpretations into the different stages of doubt.

For instance, there is some debate as to whether Descartes intended his famous "Dream Argument" to suggest the universal possibility of dreaming—that though there is waking experience, I can never know which moments are dreams and which are waking—or the possibility of a universal dream—that my whole life is a dream and that there is no waking world.

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If we read Descartes as suggesting the universal possibility of dreaming, we can explain an important distinction between the Dream Argument and the later "Evil Demon Argument". The latter suggests that all we know is false and that we cannot trust the senses one bit. The Dream Argument, if meant to suggest the universal possibility of dreaming, suggests only that the senses are not always and wholly reliable. The Painter's Analogy , which draws on the Dream Argument, concludes that mathematics and other purely cerebral studies are far more certain than astronomy or physics, which is an important step away from the Aristotelian reliance on the senses and toward Cartesian rationalism.

Read on its own, the First Meditation can be seen as presenting skeptical doubts as a subject of study in their own right. Certainly, skepticism is a much discussed and hotly debated topic in philosophy, even today. Descartes raised the mystifying question of how we can claim to know with certainty anything about the world around us.

The idea is not that these doubts are probable, but that their possibility can never be entirely ruled out. And if we can never be certain, how can we claim to know anything? Skepticism cuts straight to the heart of the Western philosophical enterprise and its attempt to provide a certain foundation for our knowledge and understanding of the world. It can even be pushed so far as to be read as a challenge to our very notion of rationality. It is difficult to justify a dismissal of skepticism. Western philosophy since Descartes has been largely marked and motivated by an effort to overcome this problem.

Descartes' doubt is a methodological and rational doubt. That is, the Meditator is not just doubting everything at random, but is providing solid reasons for his doubt at each stage. For instance, he rejects the possibility that he might be mad, since that would undercut the rationality that motivates his doubt. Descartes is trying to set up this doubt within a rational framework, and needs to maintain a claim to rationality for his arguments to proceed.

He goes on to suggest more powerful reasons to doubt that his beliefs are true. In general, his method is that of forming skeptical hypotheses — methodic doubt. In the first meditation, he considers whether he is mad, dreaming, or deceived by an evil demon. Descartes' goal — as stated at the beginning of the meditation — is to suspend judgment about any belief that is even slightly doubtful. The skeptical scenarios show that all of the beliefs he considers in the first meditation—including, at the very least, all his beliefs about the physical world, are doubtful.

So he decides to suspend judgment. He will henceforth give up all of his beliefs about the physical world. He also decides to continually remind himself to avoid habitually falling into accepting beliefs without support, a habit to which he is susceptible.

In Meditation II , Descartes lays out a pattern of thought, sometimes called representationalism , [7] in response to the doubts forwarded in Meditation I. He identifies five steps in this theory:.

Descartes’ Meditations 1-3

Descartes argues that this representational theory disconnects the world from the mind , leading to the need for some sort of bridge to span the separation and provide good reasons to believe that the ideas accurately represent the outside world. The first plank he uses in constructing this bridge can be found in the following excerpt:. I have convinced myself that there is nothing in the world — no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Doesn't it follow that I don't exist? No, surely I must exist if it's me who is convinced of something. But there is a deceiver, supremely powerful and cunning whose aim is to see that I am always deceived.

But surely I exist, if I am deceived. Let him deceive me all he can, he will never make it the case that I am nothing while I think that I am something. Thus having fully weighed every consideration, I must finally conclude that the statement "I am, I exist" must be true whenever I state it or mentally consider it. In other words, one's consciousness implies one's existence.

In one of Descartes' replies to objections to the book, he summed this up in the phrase, " I think therefore I am ". Once he secures his existence, however, Descartes seeks to find out what "I" is. He rejects the typical method, which looks for a definition e. He seeks simple terms that do not need to be defined in this way, but whose meaning can just be "seen". From these self-evident truths, complex terms can be built up.

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But what then am I? A thinking thing. And what is that? Something that doubts, understands, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, and also senses and has mental images. To define himself further, Descartes turns to the example of wax. He determines that wax isn't wax because of its color, texture or shape, as all of these things can change and the substance still be wax.

Therefore, he distinguishes between ordinary perception and judgment. When one understands the mathematical principles of the substance, such as its expansion under heat, figure and motion, the knowledge of the wax can be clear and distinct. If a substance such as wax can be known in this fashion, then the same must be of ourselves. The self, then, is not determined by what we sense of ourselves — these hands, this head, these eyes — but by simply the things one thinks. Thus, one "can't grasp anything more easily or plainly than [his] mind".

Descartes concludes that he exists because he is a "thinking thing". If he is the thing that can be deceived and can think and have thoughts, then he must exist. Descartes proposed that there are three types of ideas: Innate , Fictitious, and Adventitious. Innate ideas are and have always been within us, fictitious or invented ideas come from our imagination, and Adventitious ideas come from experiences of the world. He argues that the idea of God is Innate and placed in us by God, and he rejected the possibility that the idea of God is Invented or Adventitious.

Descartes argued that he had a clear and distinct idea of God. In the same way that the cogito was self-evident, so too is the existence of God, as his perfect idea of a perfect being could not have been caused by anything less than a perfect being. The conclusions of the previous Meditations that "I" and "God" both exist lead to another problem: If God is perfectly good and the source of all that is, how is there room for error or falsehood?

If I've got everything in me from God and He hasn't given me the ability to make errors, it doesn't seem possible for me ever to be in error. The framework of his arguments center on the Great Chain of Being , in which God's perfect goodness is relative to His perfect being.

On the extreme opposite end of the scale is complete nothingness, which is also the most evil state possible. Thus, humans are an intermediary between these two extremes, being less "real" or "good" than God, but more "real" and "good" than nothingness. Thus, error as a part of evil is not a positive reality, it is only the absence of what is correct.

In this way, its existence is allowed within the context of a perfectly inerrant God. I find that I am "intermediate" between God and nothingness, between the supreme entity and nonentity.

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Insofar as I am the creation of the supreme entity, there's nothing in me to account for my being deceived or led into error, but, inasmuch as I somehow participate in nothing or nonentity — that is, insofar as I am distinct from the supreme entity itself and lack many things — it's not surprising that I go wrong. I thus understand that, in itself, error is a lack, rather than a real thing dependent on God. Hence, I understand that I can err without God's having given me a special ability to do so. Rather, I fall into error because my God-given ability to judge the truth is not infinite.

Descartes also concedes two points that might allow for the possibility of his ability to make errors. First, he notes that it is very possible that his limited knowledge prevents him from understanding why God chose to create him so he could make mistakes. If he could see the things that God could see, with a complete and infinite scope, perhaps he would judge his ability to err as the best option. He uses this point to attack the Aristotelian structure of causes.

The final cause described by Aristotle are the "what for" of an object, but Descartes claims that because he is unable to comprehend completely the mind of God, it is impossible to understand completely the " why " through science — only the "how". I realize that I shouldn't be surprised at God's doing things that I can't explain.

I shouldn't doubt His existence just because I find that I sometimes can't understand why or how He has made something. I know that my nature is weak and limited and that God's is limitless, incomprehensible, and infinite, and, from this, I can infer that He can do innumerable things whose reasons are unknown to me. On this ground alone, I regard the common practice of explaining things in terms of their purposes to be useless in physics: it would be foolhardy of me to think that I can discover God's purposes.

Secondly, he considers the possibility that an apparent error at the individual level could be understood within the totality of creation as error free. When asking whether God's works are perfect, I ought to look at all of them together, not at one isolation. For something that seems imperfect when viewed alone might seem completely perfect when regarded as having a place in the world.

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