Descartes' Meditations Essay

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Descartes' contributions to philosophy have established him and indeed, many agree that he is the first modern philosopher. In fact, in the history of philosophy, Descartes marks the moment of a fundamentally new philosophical perspective. His treatise, Meditations on First Philosophy, was published in 1641 and this is the work that he is most renowned for nowadays. Because what we experience rationally is what we consider real and we claim that such "activities" as dreaming are a different "state of affairs," Descartes sought to illuminate such claims which we base our knowledge on. His method may appear reductive at first, as he suggests to set aside whatever knowledge that is obtained without control, but thereon, he requests analytical judgement that is to be applied to any knowledge in a step-by-step process. That is to say, knowledge is to be subjected to a division process with an emphasis on the basic elements which need to be simple and distinct. Because of such thinking, Descartes has often been regarded a skeptic but, as we shall see, skepticism, in the philosopher's vision, is the instrument by which philosophical investigation is conducted.

Descartes' treatise is compound of six meditations to which, philosophers and theologians of the era responded objectively. Later on, an edition was published containing the philosopher's meditations, the objections and Descartes' replies to each critic.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Essay on Descartes' Meditations Assignment

The first meditation encompasses Descartes' theory of doubt which the philosopher claims is the foundation of doubtless or certain philosophy. As he comes to the realization that most, if not all, of the theories he had accumulated for many years proved wrong, Descartes sets on reforming his entire knowledge to get to that secure point which would enable him to reconstitute every piece of information on the world. Thus, by acknowledging "that I first became aware that I had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions for true, and that consequently what I afterward based on such principles was highly doubtful," (Descartes, 1901, para. 1) Descartes becomes uncertain as to which of the beliefs can he now render as true and which he cannot. The philosopher believed that skeptical doubtfulness could eventually lead to certainty, because doubt, seen as a way for man to relate to his self, can generate a special type of metaphysics. Therefore, it is not merely the reconstruction of the world such as it is, but a pondering as to our mind's ability to comprehend the world in itself, and not according to what knowledge has been passed on.

Because of his uncertainty, Descartes seeks to reconsider his beliefs, not by evaluating them one by one which he sought would be "an endless labor," but by seeking those with "some ground for doubt." As such, if he would have found beliefs with no reason of doubt, then those beliefs were to be the foundations of his reformed knowledge. But Descartes testifies that "All I have, up to this moment accepted as possessed of the highest truth and certainty, I received either from or through the senses." (Descartes, 1901, para. 3) However, senses can deceive according to Descartes' understanding because they lead to false belief. A world excluding thought, respectively, man's physical form and that which is outside his body can be perceived as mere illusion. There's no criteria, according to Descartes, to distinguish between the actual state of reality and the realm of dreams as any different from one another, when this issue is concerned with reality outside thought. Descartes also brought into question mathematics but not so much as to indicate if what he is counting are tangible objects, but rather, if what he is counting is correct and not just another product of misinterpretation or false perception. In this respect, "whether a deceiving God may make me go wrong in counting the sides of a square will be equally meaningful when we consider an experiment of counting the sides of a given figure (a drawing) as it is when we consider an analysis of the definition of square," according to Halil Turan (1999).

But God "is said to be supremely good" (Descartes, 1901, para. 9), therefore the hypothesis of a deceiving God cannot stand by itself. This is why Descartes reforms his concerns and starts anticipating the hypothesis of the evil demon:

I will suppose, then, not that Deity, who is sovereignly good and the fountain of truth, but that some malignant demon, who is at once exceedingly potent and deceitful, has employed all his artifice to decive me; I will suppose that the sky, the air, the earth, colors, figures, sounds, and all external things, are nothing better than the illusions of dreams, by means of which this being has laid snares for my credulity; I will consider myself as without hands, eyes, flesh, blood, or any of the senses, and as falsely believing that I am possessed of these. (para. 12)

Therefore, Descartes constructs his theory that the whole world, thus, all of man's experiences, are, in fact, the illusory creation of this deceitful demon. Senses can therefore be dismissed entirely. But the philosopher agrees that any false statements come from our own judgement and, as such, the Evil Demon is a facet of our own mind's capacity to deceive. Indeed, "the Evil Demon -- a figure devoted to deception and inducing error -- can only be ourselves, albeit in a guise that we are not able to recognise at first. More exactly, the demon is simply the subject that does not know its own nature and ground, the subject that has not discovered its true identity or being." (Crome, 2005, pp.6-7) Therefore, to overcome evil one must first recognise it and identify its cause.

In 1619, Descartes had a series of three consecutive dreams on which interpretation he would base his Meditations on First Philosophy. No wonder then that one of the main arguments in his treatise rests by what has been perceived by many a myth of divine, or rather, diabolical revelation. In any case, his argument is that man cannot know for sure the difference between being awake and dreaming, therefore man cannot rely on his perceptions. He states that "in the habit of sleeping," man is able to represent in dreams the very things he represents in his waking moment. Descartes advances the argument because it is something most readers would be able to relate to, after all, dreaming falls into the category of common experiences, it is something each individual has had an acquaintance with, and therefore it is an undeniable experience. This would have served him well considering first and foremost that his Meditations sought to disparage Aristotle's reasoning. But to put forward an argument relevant for the treatise, it is more likely to consider that Decartes' purpose has been all the while to determine the meditator to doubt his own senses. To support this, he takes the situation he is in ("How often have I dreamt that I was in these familiar circumstances, that I was dressed, and occupied this place by the fire, when I was lying undressed in bed?" (para. 5)) to illustrate that the narrator himself cannot take his experience for certain and thus, he has a reason to doubt what he is perceiving. Consequently, he doubts everything based on sense perception, including the belief that he now has eyes that open, motion of head, and hands (para. 6). But the dream argument does not reach for all of his beliefs and, in this respect, he uses the painting analogy to support his arguments in which, even though the painter uses his imagination to create his art, the instruments he uses in the process are nevertheless real. As such, our dreams materialize according to our experiences when awake.

Descartes postulated the idea that the existence of a deceiver who deceives man implicates the very existence of man. He called this the "Cogito" argument. In this respect, in whatever state of mind, whether imagination, sense, feeling, reasoning, man is proven to exist. Deception therefore is only applied when considering the judgement of thought, but not in terms of man's existence and of the fact that man perceives. Descartes convinces himself that he exists because doubting would lead to the necessity of a thinking mind having to exist in order to do the doubting. He concludes that mind's solely purpose is to think and that it is therefore a thinking thing. Because of such arguments, the Evil Demon, understood as the manner in which man addresses thinking, does not impose a fatalistic deception, that is to say, complete deception is not possible, so long as man does not thrive on ignorance, but on knowledge. And as such, deception of man is possible to such an extent that he allows himself to be deceived by his own mind.

Bouwsma (1949) hypothetically considered the "evil genius" to work deceitfully through the intermediary of illusions. To support his case, he considered an evil genius that decided tomorrow he "will change everything, everything, everything"… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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