Descartes\' Meditations


Descartes overall objective in the Meditations is to question knowledge. To
explore such metaphysical issues as the existence of God and the separation of
mind 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 discovering
what is of absolute certainty. In my explication, I will examine meditation two
in order to discover why knowledge was so important to Descartes.

Meditation One The first meditation acts as a foundation for all those that
follow. Here Descartes discerns between mere opinion and strict absolute
certainty. To make this consideration he establishes that he must first “attack
those principles which supported everything I once believed.”(quote, paraphrase)
He first examines those beliefs that require our senses. He questions, whether
our senses are true indicators of what they represent. By inspecting our
sometimes firm belief in the reality of dreams, he comes to the conclusion that
our senses are prone to error and thereby cannot reliably distinguish between
certainty and falsity. To examine those ideas that have “objective reality,"
Descartes makes the improbable hypothesis of “an evil genius, as clever and
deceitful as he is powerful, who has directed his entire effort to misleading
me” ( ). By proposing this solution he is able to suspend his judgment and
maintain 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 on
his journey of truth. Attempting to affirm the idea that God must exist as a
fabricator for his ideas, he stumbles on his first validity: the notion that he
(Descartes) exists. He ascertains that if he can both persuade himself of
something, and likewise be deceived of something, then surely he must exist.
This self validating statement is known as the Cogito Argument. Simply put it
implies whatever thinks exists. Having established this, Descartes asks
himself: What is this I which “necessarily exists”? Descartes now begins to
explore his inner consciousness to find the essence of his being. He disputes
that he is a “rational animal” for this idea is difficult to understand. He
scrutinizes whether perhaps he is a body infused with a soul but this idea is
dismissed 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 a
thing that thinks.”(20 ) A thing that doubts, understands, affirms, denies,
wills, refuses, and that also imagines and senses. To prove that perception on
the part of the mind is more real than that of the senses Descartes asks us to
consider a piece of wax. Fresh from the comb the qualities we attribute to the
wax are those derived from the senses. Melted, the qualities that we attribute
to the wax are altered and can only be known to the intellect. Descartes
demonstrates how the information from the senses gives us only the observable,
it is the mind that allows us to understand. The results of the second
meditation are considerable, doubt has both proven the certainty of Descartes
existence and that his essence is the mind.

Meditation Three Descartes main objective in the third meditation is to prove
the existence of God. Before he can begin he must first explore his concept of
ideas. Moreover, he must clarify what constitutes an idea as being clear and
distinct. Using his existence as an example he reasons that whatever he
perceives very clearly and very distinctly is true. Concerning the beliefs he
holds of the sensible world, he comes to the conclusion that these things could
have been caused by things outside himself, and the ideas are similar to those
things. Up to this point Descartes has held that God could deceive him about the
truth of simple matters, such as that 2 + 3=5. To affirm that such objective
ideas are safe from doubt, Descartes has to prove that God exists and that he is
no 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 could
only have been placed in our minds by a perfect being. His reasoning for this
is as follows: “At the very least there must be as much in the total efficient
cause as there is in the effect of the same cause.”()