Descartes First Meditation Essay

The author of Meditation one, Rene Descartes found that he was often mistaken having pre-conceptions with matters which he had once thought were necessarily certain. He looked for certainty using philosophical scepticism. Descartes begins the first meditation by discussing the beliefs which he had accepted as truths, without question, during his childhood. He therefore, decides that in order to gain any firm beliefs that will last, he must start over entirely. Descartes did this by doubting his core beliefs so that he could find certain knowledge which he would hold as foundations upon which he could build his belief system.

The first train of thought that shakes Descartes foundational structure of knowledge is his recognition that he relies on his senses which can deceive him. However he does admit that it is prudent not to trust them as, if we doubt everything our senses tell us we would be like mad men who believes they are dressed when they are actually naked. Descartes acknowledges that he doesn’t destabilize his beliefs very successfully as it seems that he is sat by the fire holding, a piece of paper and contemplating philosophically. How could his senses be deceiving him about these entire things?

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Descartes goes on to discover we cannot distinguish between dreaming and ‘real life’ which leads him to doubt his existence in this world, for how do we know that we are not dreaming all the time? This is his second wave of doubt. He then rebukes this idea by pointing out that when we are dreaming we see familiar object, like copies of those which exist in the external world. Therefore we know we cannot be dreaming all the time otherwise where would the duplicated ideas come from? Similarly to when a painter paints an imaginary picture he creates the inspiration from the real world and when something new is created the colours and attributes of the shape are similar to those of worldly objects.

Descartes follows on to say that senses are doubtful; however geometry and mathematics are truths which are certain and cannot be doubted as they are beyond doubt. For example; whether we are dreaming or awake two add two is always necessarily four. This leads to an even more powerful wave of doubt, the third wave. Could God be deceiving him into believing the certainties he holds? Descartes reprimands this and says, as God is perfect, he must have made him perfect and therefore it cannot be God fooling him. However, as he knows of the sense deception he experiences someone or something must be the result of this trickery. He states that even if he doesn’t believe in God, being fooled is an imperfection which means his creator must be imperfect. He therefore has to conclude that a malignant demon is deceiving him about everything. Descarte describes his temptation to keep ‘dreaming’ as he is terrified of waking to find that he has no indubitable beliefs.

Many critics of Descartes say he doesn’t genuinely doubt his own existence because; firstly it is impossible to fully doubt ones own existence otherwise such a person wouldn’t defend themselves and we all do this as a natural repercussion of danger. Secondly, because a man truly unbelieving of his own subsistence would have no reason, or bother, to write in the way he does. One very famous criticism of the Meditations is that Descartes is asking too much when he claims he is searching for indubitable knowledge. This is because some philosophers believe that we can never truly know something whilst living on this earth as our minds are not developed enough to understand the nature around us or because there is some supernatural being that withholds knowledge from us meaning doubt can be bought to every area of our life. This leads to the question why is it that Descartes needed certain knowledge? He even points out himself, that not having certainty is terrifying, so why question what is considered unquestionable by most.

Descartes denies the first two waves of doubt but accepts the evil demon explanation; however criticisms come to light about this as the concept is empty. It doesn’t actually tell us anything useful about our existence other than we, (in some form), are being fooled by some form. It isn’t explicit enough to provide any comfort to him in his search for certainty. Descartes also uses reason to doubt reason which is a huge flaw in his logical argument as we cannot trust his propositions when the premises can be doubted. He could have adapted his final wave to doubt reason with logic which may have increases the arguments credibility.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from the Meditation is his own existence explained through the cogito; ‘I think therefore I am’. Conversely Descarte knew nothing else. On the other hand Descartes was wasn’t helping himself when he made this claim that he has the knowledge of his own existence, whatever form it may be in because he falls into the trap of solipsism. However a counter-criticism of this is that Descartes only wanted to find a certain truth which when in solipsism he had. Although this denies any chances he had of using the certainty he craved for, as a foundation to create a base upon which other beliefs can be placed gaining knowledge.


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