Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy

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Puritanboard Clerk
We don’t read Descartes so we can find out if we exist, or what the mind is. His methods in those areas border on bizarre. Descartes, however, did do a fine job in clarifying the issues under discussion. He mainstreamed several powerful philosophical concepts and tools.

First Meditation: the things that are doubtable

How do I know an evil genius or a demon isn’t deceiving my senses about the external world, my existence, etc.? Or to put it in modern parlance: how do I know I am not a “brain in a vat” with memories that were pre-programmed five minutes ago?

Second Meditation: The Nature of the Human Mind

Descartes’ initial answer to the problem: in order for me to doubt, I have to first exist in order to doubt.

What am I? I am a thinking thing. What is a thinking thing? It is a thing that doubts, understands, affirms, etc. While my senses may deceive me that I am seeing red et al, it is quite certain that I seem to be seeing red et al. In other words, I am being appeared to redly.

Third Meditation: Of God, that he exists

Descartes advances Anselm’s ontological argument. It’s not as profound as Anselm’s nor as powerful as Plantinga’s. I have ideas imprinted on my mind which are not in the senses (and so Descartes rightly rejects the old scholastic dictum). Therefore, a greater, yet immaterial, reality must exist.

Meditation Six: Of the existence of material things; mind and body

Bodies are divisible. Minds aren’t. I can’t cut up the mind into will, faculty, reason, etc.


Puritan Board Graduate
Great synopsis. I have this book, not a big fan of the autonomy. But historically it's important. Thank you though.
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