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Descartes and Meditations

In Meditations, the philosopher Rene Descartes seeks to establish the things that are knowable with certainty by starting with the method of eradicating the things that he doubts. A thorough reading of the text reveals the true intentions of Descartes—to create a guide for meditation which will enable the person to have a greater philosophical understanding of knowledge. In order to arrive at the things that he is looking for, Descartes ingeniously adopts a 6-step framework where each of the steps contributes to the entire 6-day meditation.

Each step in the meditation process is specifically designed to tackle a significant aspect of his philosophical undertaking, thereafter leading to a theological if not “divine” justification for the existence of material things. Right after the first meditation, Descartes knows for certain that his senses are deceiving him since they have deceived him before; the chances of his senses deceiving him now can therefore be never remote. Apparently, Descartes seeks to establish the idea that nothing that our senses permit us to experience is certain or is the case as a matter of fact.

Thus, the initial step of suspending judgment on what we think we know is simultaneously a step towards giving sufficient room for the things that will come about as certain. In essence, the purpose of the first phase of the meditation is to rid the mind of all uncertainties, making it capable of absorbing new facts that are without doubt certain and true. In the second part of the meditation, Descartes aims to establish his existence by juxtaposing his doubts to that of his capacity to doubt. That capacity to doubt then becomes the fundamental basis for Descartes in claiming that such capacity is proof of his existence.

To put it in another way, his capacity to doubt only proves that there is someone “doubting”. Thereafter, Descartes attempts to know what “I” is in one of his notable phrases—“I think, I am”. Descartes responds to that question by asserting that the “I” is an “I” that doubts and is capable of mental images. Towards the end of the second meditation, Descartes provides the idea that he is capable of doubting and, consequently, he must exist, and that his ability to mentally grasp what something is without having to depend on its corporeal substance is another proof.

Descartes takes another turn at the onset of the third meditation. In it he provides the argument that God exists since nothing cannot cause something and that God caused Descartes’ existence. In the fourth meditation, he then points out that error is the absence of what is correct, or that something is false because of the absence of truth. That way, Descartes is able to justify the idea of an unerring and perfectly good God. Moreover, in the fifth meditation, he also ascribes the idea of God’s existence to the idea that perfection requires existence.

Since God is perfect, it naturally follows that God exists according to Descartes. In the final part of the meditation, he culminates with the idea that the mind is distinct from the body and that, therefore, material things outside the mind similarly exist. All in all, it appears that Descartes crucial and ultimate basis for his claims on the knowledge on the existence of God, the mind and things external to the latter is his concept of a doubting mind.

A doubting mind presupposes existence and it is that very idea which leads Descartes to pursue and establish his other claims in the Meditations. With the concept of a perfectly good God in his arguments, Descartes is able to establish the idea that committing errors simply mean the inability to perform that which is good. To a certain degree, Descartes believes that God cannot err. Rather, the errors that we see and commit arise from our state of being imperfect human beings who are not fully able to grasp and understand the world.

It then makes sense to say that our senses can indeed deceive us and trick us into believing into something that is dubious. One will only have to wonder if throughout his meditations Descartes is not being deceived by his own mental faculties. References Descartes, R. Meditations on First Philosophy. Retrieved April 30, 2008, from http://oregonstate. edu/instruct/phl302/texts/descartes/meditations/Meditation6. html Garber, D. (1988). Descartes and Method in 1637. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, 2, 226.

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