Within Meditations on First Philosophy (1641), René Descartes undertakes the project of developing a new belief system regarding his existence. Descartes begins this project by demolishing his former belief system. Having his trust in the senses eliminated through a process of methodical doubt, Descartes attempts to establish a sound platform, upon which he will build an indubitable foundation for all knowledge. Upon evaluation of the first two meditations, three conditions for establishing this indubitable foundation are evident. In the first meditation, he sets out to completely overturn all that he had accepted as true. This is the initial condition toward establishing the foundation. In the process of methodically doubting all his beliefs, it becomes clear that cerebral studies should not depend on sensory experience. Descartes surmises that the senses are unreliable. This introduces the idea of mind-body dualism – in effect – the mind is distinct from the body. Within the second mediation, Descartes establishes that he exists, in so far as he is thinking. This will serve as the second condition towards establishing an indubitable foundation for knowledge. Once Descartes has found his Archimedean point, he further explores his nature in order to determine if he is anything beyond a mind, leading to the third condition, the conclusion that the mind is better known than the body and material things. Through an evaluation of Descartes' first two mediations, I will examine these three conditions upon which one is capable of establishing an indubitable foundation for all knowledge. Within the first meditation, Descartes is successful in overturning the foundation upon which his most mundane beliefs stand. As well, he introduces preliminary evidence that the mind and its faculties must be studied independently of the senses in order to obtain true knowledge. This is an idea quintessential to establishing an indubitable foundation for all knowledge. Upon beginning the task of overturning his most mundane beliefs, Descartes realizes that all knowledge which is certain relies on the senses. This leads Descartes to develop several doubts that demonstrate that our senses are unreliable. Even our most certainly held beliefs stand on an unsound platform. This meditation attempts to undermine Aristotelian philosophy which suggests that all knowledge is obtained through the testimony of the senses. This Aristotelian way of thinking was dominant during the time when Descartes undertook the project of the meditations. By calling all these certainly held beliefs into doubt, he is able to demonstrate that the mind cannot rely on the senses. Therefore, the mind must analyze independently from the senses if true indubitable knowledge is ever to be obtained. The primary concern in the first meditation is the overturning of former beliefs. In the process of doing so, Descartes introduces the evil demon hypothesis as a means to establish doubt of all previously held beliefs. This hypothesis proposes that there is an omnipotent evil mind bent on deceiving Descartes at all times. This makes such clear and distinct ideas as mathematics and geometry dubitable, as an evil demon could be deceiving Descartes into believing in these mathematical laws. Therefore, Descartes cannot even be certain that he exists as a mind. This leads Descartes to the conclusion that he cannot be certain of anything. Therefore, he has successfully undermined his former foundation and overturned his beliefs. From this epistemological ground zero, Descartes can begin searching for a new foundation – one that is indubitable and unquestionable. This initial process of overturning beliefs that may be in doubt is a key component of the intellectual pursuit to establish an indubitable foundation for all knowledge. Without committing to this first step, one will continuously build on feeble and dubitable ground, thereby remaining susceptible to
Discussion Analyses January 21, 2015 Rene Descartes: Meditation 1 an d2
1. Identify the author’s essay thesis, i.e. the position the author supports on the topic.
Descartes begins to question and place doubt on all the beliefs that come to us from senses. He basically questions is it knowledge and if so what makes it different from opinion.
2. Identify the position against which the essay’s author argues.
Descartes uses three very similar arguments to open all our knowledge…