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An Explication of Descartes Meditations

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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."() From this declaration he ascertains that a perfect thing exists and by definition the perfect thing is God. He also concludes that God is no deceiver: "for it is manifest by the light of nature that all fraud and deception depend on some defect." Content with his claims Descartes is now ready to move ahead with his argument concerning true and false.

Meditation Four Descartes having proven that God exists must now make some clarifications concerning why God is no deceiver. The main question that needs clarification is this: If God is no deceiver then why do we err? Descartes answers that we are prone to make mistakes because our wills are infinite but our intellect is not. The will gives us the faculties of assertion, denial and suspension of judgment. The intellect allows us to perceive things clearly and distinctly. Like God we have an infinite will, but we are imperfect because are understanding is finite. Descartes concludes that because we are free we are responsible for our errors. It is possible however, that if we use our faculties properly we will not assent false judgments. Confident that God has created us such that if we perceive things clearly and distinctly our reasoning will not be wrong; Descartes is now free to explore the possibilities of material things and the mind body relationship.

Meditation Five In the fifth meditation the essence of material things is considered. Before he begins with material considerations however, Descartes feels it necessary to offer another proof for the existence of God. Since Descartes has just demonstrated that we gain understanding through ideas, he is able to continue with an ontological argument proving that God necessarily exists. The claim that is the glue to this argument is that a supremely perfect being must necessarily exist. If this is not the case the being in question does not meet the criterion for perfection. God without existence is like a triangle without 3 sides or a mountain without a valley. (paraphrase) A supremely perfect being would lack some perfection. That taken care of, he turns his attention to material issues, namely the body. First Descartes separates sensation as being separate from his imagination because he does not have any control over it. Doubt takes over at this point and Descartes must again face the same



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