Full version Descartes- 2nd Meditation

Descartes- 2nd Meditation

This print version free essay Descartes- 2nd Meditation.

Category: Philosophy

Autor: reviewessays 01 December 2010

Words: 819 | Pages: 4


At the beginning of the Second Meditation, Descartes is stuck in the middle of nothingness. As he regards everything that is around him to be false he has nothing to believe in. He considers what he has learnt to be false too and as his senses deceive him he can't trust them either. Everything that he has ever seen, learned or thought is now external from what he believes to be true and he is beginning his knowledge from non-existence. He feels like he is "in a whirlpool which tumbles me around so that I can neither stand on the bottom nor swim to the top."(Second Meditation 24). Descartes is certain of one thing: nothing; because to be certain of nothing is still to be certain of something. As he is a rational thinker he rationalizes that nothing in the world is known. He decides to re-start his belief process and call everything he has ever believed in, into doubt.

Descartes reasons that as he is debating complex ideas in his head and doubting his existence in the world, he has to be certain. The fact that he is having these thoughts proves that he exists. Descartes then states with certainty "I am, I exist" (Second Meditation 25). This is the first accurate idea that Descartes is confident about.

Once Descartes recognizes the unquestionable truth that he exists, he then attempts to further his knowledge by discovering the type of thing he is. Trying to understand what he is, Descartes recalls Aristotle's definition of a human as a rational animal. This is unsatisfactory since this requires investigating into the notions of 'rational' and 'animal.' Continuing his quest for identity, he recalls a more general view he previously had of his identity; he is composed of both body and soul. He can't refer to himself as a thing that has a body, though, since this involves sensory perception. He claims that attributes such as eating, movement, and sensation can't be part of the soul since this involves a body, which in turn, is based on the senses. Descartes continues examining other theories of human existence and attributes about himself that he can imagine and comes to a conclusion that thinking is the only attribute that he can justifiably claim. This is proven when he says, ""but what then am I? A thing that thinks. What is that? A thing that doubts, understands, affirms, deniesВ…" (Second Meditation 28)

Through the Meditation, Descartes tries to say that "I" know not only that the mind exists, but also "I" know more about the mind than about the world outside the mind. This argument would only hold if every thought, perception and imagination told "me" something new about the mind. But all these thoughts tell "me" only one and the same thing: that "I" exist, and that "I" am a thing that thinks.

In order to get a better understanding of his relationship between his body and mind, Descartes melts a piece of wax. He observes the wax in two different states, the first in a solid form and the second in a melted form. He questions how his senses can show him two entirely different forms of the same substance. But he still knows that the substance, even though in different states, is wax. The mind was able to understand the essence of the wax. Although the senses were not entirely capable of making the connection between the two forms of wax, the senses assisted the mind in determining what the substance was. This experiment proves to be important to Descartes because he is able to make a link between the senses and the mind. He is able to determine that sense perception happens on the level of the mind and not the senses and that we use judgement to organise our ideas. In conclusion, Descartes thinks he has proven a foundation for knowledge: the fact that he exists. The only certain thing is that his mind thinks and that is the only attribute that he can be certain about.

"Cogito, ergo sum" is really based on the validity and truth of the principle of contradiction. This principle asserts that it is impossible for something to be and not to be at the same time. Descartes becomes certain of his own existence by the very fact of his "thinking" or "doubting." He perceives clearly that it is impossible to "think and not think," to "exist and not exist" at the same time. If Descartes were consistent and really doubted the principle of contradiction, he would have to affirm that it could be possible for a being to "think and not think," to "exist and not exist" at the same time. But, then, according to his own belief, he could not be sure after all that the ultimate fact of his existence is certain, and his famous "Cogito, ergo sum" has no real objective value.