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    Descartes’ Meditations Essay (2578 words)

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    Descartes overall objective in the Meditations is to question knowledge. Toexplore such metaphysical issues as the existence of God and the separation ofmind and body, it was important for him to distinguish what we can know as truth. He believed that reason as opposed to experience was the source for discoveringwhat is of absolute certainty. In my explication, I will examine meditation twoin order to discover why knowledge was so important to Descartes. Meditation One The first meditation acts as a foundation for all those thatfollow.

    Here Descartes discerns between mere opinion and strict absolutecertainty. To make this consideration he establishes that he must first attackthose principles which supported everything I once believed. (quote, paraphrase)He first examines those beliefs that require our senses. He questions, whetherour senses are true indicators of what they represent.

    By inspecting oursometimes firm belief in the reality of dreams, he comes to the conclusion thatour senses are prone to error and thereby cannot reliably distinguish betweencertainty and falsity. To examine those ideas that have objective reality,”Descartes makes the improbable hypothesis of an evil genius, as clever anddeceitful as he is powerful, who has directed his entire effort to misleadingme (). By proposing this solution he is able to suspend his judgment andmaintain that all his former beliefs are false. By using doubt as his tool,Descartes is now ready to build his following proofs with certainty. Meditation Two Comparing his task to that of Archimedes, Descartes embarks onhis journey of truth. Attempting to affirm the idea that God must exist as afabricator for his ideas, he stumbles on his first validity: the notion that he(Descartes) exists.

    He ascertains that if he can both persuade himself ofsomething, and likewise be deceived of something, then surely he must exist. This self validating statement is known as the Cogito Argument. Simply put itimplies whatever thinks exists. Having established this, Descartes askshimself: What is this I which necessarily exists? Descartes now begins toexplore his inner consciousness to find the essence of his being. He disputesthat he is a rational animal for this idea is difficult to understand. Hescrutinizes whether perhaps he is a body infused with a soul but this idea isdismissed since he cannot be certain of concepts that are of the material world.

    Eventually he focuses on the act of thinking and from this he posits: I am athing that thinks. (20 ) A thing that doubts, understands, affirms, denies,wills, refuses, and that also imagines and senses. To prove that perception onthe part of the mind is more real than that of the senses Descartes asks us toconsider a piece of wax. Fresh from the comb the qualities we attribute to thewax are those derived from the senses.

    Melted, the qualities that we attributeto the wax are altered and can only be known to the intellect. Descartesdemonstrates how the information from the senses gives us only the observable,it is the mind that allows us to understand. The results of the secondmeditation are considerable, doubt has both proven the certainty of Descartesexistence and that his essence is the mind. Meditation Three Descartes main objective in the third meditation is to provethe existence of God. Before he can begin he must first explore his concept ofideas. Moreover, he must clarify what constitutes an idea as being clear anddistinct.

    Using his existence as an example he reasons that whatever heperceives very clearly and very distinctly is true. Concerning the beliefs heholds of the sensible world, he comes to the conclusion that these things couldhave been caused by things outside himself, and the ideas are similar to thosethings. Up to this point Descartes has held that God could deceive him about thetruth of simple matters, such as that 2 + 3=5. To affirm that such objectiveideas are safe from doubt, Descartes has to prove that God exists and that he isno deceiver. He finds that doubt carries within it the idea of certainty.

    From this query he follows with the idea of a perfect being, which by comparison,he is aware of his imperfections. It is Descartes view that such an idea couldonly have been placed in our minds by a perfect being. His reasoning for thisis as follows: At the very least there must be as much in the total efficientcause as there is in the effect of the same cause. () From this declaration heascertains that a perfect thing exists and by definition the perfect thing isGod.

    He also concludes that God is no deceiver: for it is manifest by thelight of nature that all fraud and deception depend on some defect. Contentwith his claims Descartes is now ready to move ahead with his argumentconcerning true and false. Meditation Four Descartes having proven that God exists must now make someclarifications concerning why God is no deceiver. The main question that needsclarification is this: If God is no deceiver then why do we err? Descartesanswers that we are prone to make mistakes because our wills are infinite butour intellect is not. The will gives us the faculties of assertion, denial andsuspension of judgment. The intellect allows us to perceive things clearly anddistinctly.

    Like God we have an infinite will, but we are imperfect because areunderstanding is finite. Descartes concludes that because we are free we areresponsible for our errors. It is possible however, that if we use ourfaculties properly we will not assent false judgments. Confident that God hascreated us such that if we perceive things clearly and distinctly our reasoningwill not be wrong;Descartes is now free to explore the possibilities ofmaterial things and the mind body relationship.

    Meditation Five In the fifth meditation the essence of material things isconsidered. Before he begins with material considerations however, Descartesfeels it necessary to offer another proof for the existence of God. SinceDescartes has just demonstrated that we gain understanding through ideas, he isable to continue with an ontological argument proving that God necessarilyexists. The claim that is the glue to this argument is that a supremely perfectbeing must necessarily exist.

    If this is not the case the being in question doesnot meet the criterion for perfection. God without existence is like a trianglewithout 3 sides or a mountain without a valley. (paraphrase) A supremely perfectbeing would lack some perfection. That taken care of, he turns his attention tomaterial issues, namely the body. First Descartes separates sensation as beingseparate from his imagination because he does not have any control over it. Doubt takes over at this point and Descartes must again face the same problem hedid in meditation one: the unreliability of the senses due to dreams orhallucinations.

    To counter this Descartes concludes that our knowledge ofmaterial things is based on our knowledge of God. He asserts that God hascreated him with such a strong belief in the existence of material things thatthey must not be false because God is not deceptive. By using God as his prooffor the material world, Descartes has left himself in a precarious situation. Were it to be found that God does not exist the rest of his assertions wouldsubsequently crumble. Nevertheless, Descartes is satisfied with the progressthat he has made and is now ready to prove the existence of material things.

    Meditation Six There remains but one question as we draw near the end of themeditations, whether material things exist. To prove the existence of thematerial objects Descartes draws on his previous meditations to find the answer. He believes that material things can exist, if they are the object ofmathematics. We can prove the existence of these objects because we canunderstand them with our intellect.

    There remains a question regarding ourimagination. Descarte reasons that it is not essential. The understanding isgreater than the imagination. Descartes assumes to have a body based on whathis senses perceive. He begins to explore this notion that he had previouslydismissed to doubt. He inquires whether his senses give him reason for bodiesto exist.

    He comes to the conclusion that they do because God has given us agreat inclination to believe that these ideas proceeded from corporeal things. () This proof progresses into the nature of how mind and body co-exist. Descartes beliefs are as follows:It is from nature that we distinguish otherbodies and their interpretation. We are inclined by nature towards things thatbenefit us.

    This is for our own self- preservation. Descartes makes thedistinction between mind and body. He states that the mind is a thinking,unextended thing, while the body is a physical extended thing. The mind isindivisible whereas the body can be divided. It is the minds task todifferentiate the part of the body affiliated with a certain sensation.

    God hasendowed us with these natural inclinations to allow us self preservation. Descartes now dispels his dream hypothesis because he realizes that wakefulnessis the interaction of both mind and body. He leaves us with the message that we must acknowledge the infirmity of our nature. ( )Explication It is Descartes hope in Meditation two that he is able to find hisfirst certainty.

    By use of the Cogito argument Descartes does just that. Having proven his existance he turns his attention toward the essence of hisnature. As the title of the second meditation suggests, he proves that areessence is of the mind and thus more known to us than the body. The Cogito argument as it looks in the Meditations runs like this:”Thus, after everything has been most carefully weighed, it must finally beestablished that this pronouncement “I am, I exist” is necessarily true everytime I utter it or conceive it in my mind.

    ” (P. 18)Descartes Second Meditation is an attempt to find a truth that he can acceptwith certainty. In order to accomplish this, Descartes has established thathis postulate must be open to strict scrutiny as to expel all doubt to itsvalidity. By the third paragraph of the meditation he has discovered such acertainty, the claim that I think, therefore I exist. What he is trying tosay with this statement is that every time he thinks something in his mind, hehas proof that he exists.

    It is not possible to think without also existing. This proof, known as the Cogito, is Descartes first progression towards his goalof perfect knowledge. For this reason it is important that we examine thisproof so that we can have a better understanding of its meaning. To evaluate the Cogito argument, we must first understand it clearly. Thereare four key statements in meditation two that lead Descartes to the certaintythat he exists. Herewith is a summation of Descartes’ argument:1) Am I so tied to the body and to the senses that I cannot exist without them?2) But certainly I should exist, if I were to persuade myself of something.

    3)Then there is no doubt that I exist, if he (evil demon) deceives me. 4) I am,I exist or in other words I think, therefore I am. These claims respectively suggest, that by denying, persuading, and beingdeceived; a certain faculty of thought is being used. By thinking, one can becertain that he exists.

    Though the argument may seem simple and straightforward, upon closer inspectionthis is not the case. There seems to be some questions concerning the Cogito’sinterpretation, the most important being: What is the first certainty thatDescartes uncovers?What perspective does he use to rationalize thiscertainty?, and how does he back it up? By examining the inferential,intuitional and epistemic interpretations, we can discover which interpretationof the Cogito was meant by Descartes in Meditation two. At first it seems obvious that Descartes had meant for the Cogito to be aninferential argument. Of the key propositions in the Meditations all seem tohave the commonality of thinking as their first premise.

    Similarly the secondpremise and the conclusion seem to follow the same pattern. The second premiseposits the notion: Whatever thinks exists; followed by the conclusion:therefore, I exist. To know something by inference, is to discover something based on previousknowledge. In Descartes case, he has come to know a metaphysical certainty,existence, based on a prior metaphysical certainty, thinking. The soundness ofthis reasoning is good because know matter what we do it is impossible to denythat we think.

    It seems simple enough, until we consider that Descartes seemsto emphasize that his first absolute certainty is existence. Using the criteriafor inference then, it is impossible that I exist is the first certainty. This is a weak argument for in order for this inference to work; Descartes wouldhave to make revisions to meditation two. However, since he feels so stronglyof this first certainty, I am not convinced that Descartes had meant for thisinterpretation. The intuitional interpretation of the Cogito, maintains that it ismetaphysically certain because Descartes has intuited it.

    Descartes idea ofintuition is likened to a flash of insight. It can be seen to be true, thesame way we know that that 2+3=5. He simply knows he exists based on a directunderstanding. With this interpretation, cleary the proposition I exist is thefirst certainty. The problem of this argument is that the idea of intuition istoo subjective an interpretation to prove that he exists. There is no way toreplicate this procedure and obtain the same conclusion as Descartes.

    Theevidence for this interpretation is not strong enough to render it to be theone Descartes intended. The evidence for the epistemic interpretation of the Cogito is good. I feelthat this is the most reasonable interpretation because it seems to be incharacter with the whole of the meditations. Descartes reasoning behind hismetaphysical certainty is that he simply has no reason to doubt it.

    Previous tothe second meditation, Descartes had used doubt as his tool; in doing so he feltit necessary to suspend all judgment. Here he is able to scrutinize all themajor arguments of meditation two and come to the conclusion that he has noreason to doubt that I exist. It could be conceded that Descartes did notexplore enough sources of doubt. This objection seems inconsequentialconsidering the scope of the problems from the other interpretations.

    Having established his existence, Descartes finds that his essence is the mind. He places a major importance on the intellect. In further meditations it is themind, through understanding, that leads us to various conclusions. Near theend of Meditation two, Descartes demonstrates how the ideas of the mind are moreattune to finding knowledge than are senses are. The point that he makes here isthat only through the mind can we understand the essential qualities of the wax. Melted a piece of wax exhibits qualities such as extension and mutability.

    These are concepts that are only clear to the intellect. The main point thatDescartes was trying to get across by using this wax experiment is, that if hecan understand the wax better with his mind, then it certainly follows that heshould know himself better through the same faculty. The Meditations has given me a better understanding of philosophical issues. Ihave learned to suspend judgment so that I may use my intellect to understandthings.

    Descartes presentation of the mind body problem has given me a newtopic to explore. Is it the mind that rules the body or the body that rules themind. Where does one begin, and the other end? By using some of Descartesmethods I have attempted to see his arguments, and tried to come to my ownconclusions. The mere fact that Descartes found so many certainties in theMeditations is surprising. It is not always easy to find a hypothesis thatstands up to doubt.

    The Meditations have taught me to be open minded, and toacknowledge that sometimes we make mistakes. However, if we take caution anduse reason carefully we are capable of finding certainty.

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