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Descartes' Meditations Review

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Descartes' Mediations On First Philosophy exemplifies an epistemological shift from the belief in spiritual phenomena to a more secularized approach of reason. Even though Descartes was a devout Catholic, his philosophy focused on the perception of the universe from a mechanical standpoint. Descartes advocated reason over faith in the pursuit of the truth. Much of his philosophy helped lay the foundation of what was to become scientific method. This is evident in what has become known as Cartesian doubt. Following this was his methodology of thorough analysis in order to form a conclusion with absolute certainty. These are what he referred to as clear and distinct truths. One could not arrive at the end of the equation until they had drawn back to a stance of complete doubt. It is through this method of scientific reasoning that we can see the radical shift in thought. God isn't necessarily out of the picture, but what is evident, is a new way in explaining the universe. There was still a great deal of controversy during the period that Descartes wrote the Mediations. Before this Galileo had been jailed for promoting theories that refuted Christian doctrine. Descartes even dedicated the Mediations to those Most Wise and Distinguished Men, the Dean and Doctors of the Faculty of Sacred Theology of Paris. It's as if Descartes was trying to euphemize his philosophy so the religious authority of the time would indirectly accept a philosophical approach that practically refuted their theological belief in regards to how the universe was understood. Descartes approach was that of reason as opposed to spirituality and in his six Mediations, he demonstrates how this philosophy can be applied. As Taylor states in Sources of the Self, "if we destroy this vision of the ontic logos and substitute a very different theory of scientific explanation, the entire account of moral virtue and self mastery has to be transformed as well (Taylor 1989:144)."

Descartes begins his Mediations with an emphasis on what has come to be known as the radical Cartesian doubt. He states, "reason now persuades me that I should withhold my assent no less carefully from opinions that are not completely certain and indubitable than I would from those that are patently false. For this reason, it will suffice for the rejection of all these opinions, if I find in each of them some reason for doubt (Descartes 1641:13)." Descartes is calling into question any knowledge he possesses that cannot be immediately identified as clear and distinct. A great deal of this knowledge was that of what he had acquired through sensory perception. He thought that a good deal of what is perceived through the senses is information that is obscured and compromised. Essentially he was investigating the human condition of subjectivity. What one hears, sees, tastes, and could not necessarily be concluded in the manner in which one concludes a mathematical equation. It should be mentioned here that Descartes' notion of absolute truth is congruent to his mathematical notions of geometry. In Mediation One, he argues that "it is not improper to conclude from this that physics, astronomy, medicine, and all the other disciplines that re dependent upon the consideration of composite things are doubtful, and that, on the other hand, arithmetic, geometry, and other such disciplines, which treat of nothing but the simplest and most general things and which are indifferent as to weather these things do or do not in fact exist, contain something certain and indubitable (Descartes 1641:15)." This was certainly raising the philosophical argument to a level of scientific inquiry that was based more on empirical reasoning. This methodological skepticism was calling into doubt all things that can be called into doubt. Just the mere notion of doubt alone emphasizes the contrast to faith and blind belief. Throughout this doubt, it's as if Descartes is sifting through all subjectivity and extracting what he can define almost mathematically. This was an obvious move towards the notion of absolute mechanical truth. In other words, "to be free from the illusion which mingles mind with matter is to have an understanding of the latter which facilitates control (Taylor 1989:149)."

What this has been outlining in known as Descartes' disengaged reason. Taylor defines this as a "disengagement from world and body and the assumption of an instrumental stance towards them (Taylor 1989:155)." This pertains to Descartes' argument in Meditation Two: Concerning the Nature of the Human Mind: That It Is Better Known Than the Body. Here he continues on with his radical doubt concerning knowledge and all that he once thought about existence. Here it is evident that he is applying this method of doubt to God. He begins to question by asking, "how do I know there is not something else, over and above all those things that I have just reviewed, concerning which there is not even the slightest occasion for doubt? Is there not some God, or whatever name I might call him, who instills these very thoughts in me (Descartes 1641:17)?" So it is evident that he is taking this radical doubt further than himself. It is a consequence of this doubt of his own knowledge that overlaps with his understanding of God. These doubts also examined the issue of consciousness in



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