Descartes' Meditations

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In Descartes’ Second Meditation, he makes a major breakthrough in his philosophical studies resulting from the doubts presented in the First Meditation. This indubitable truth, referred to as the cogito, proves his own existence whenever he is thinking and is the only thing, thus far, that Descartes has been able to clearly and distinctly perceive. He uses the basis in finding his own existence later in the Meditations to seek further understanding of other ideas, such as God and the physical world. His skeptical view of all that he knows leads to great advancements in philosophy, where the idea of clear and distinct thoughts plays a crucial role.

In order to understand where the idea of the cogito originated, it is necessary to return to the First Meditation and examine the progress that Descartes has already made. He begins the Meditations by stripping away all of his prior beliefs and starting his quest for knowledge from the foundations. He thinks that if he can cast out all foundations as doubtful, then all of his beliefs would be false. Sense perception, as he sees it, is the source for everything that he believes is true, so therefore, it is the first foundation that he examines. He first proves that the particular things of the world, like sensible real objects, can be doubted. When we dream, we cannot tell the difference between these real objects and the objects of this dream “world” from our senses. Due to the fact that this instance of sense perception can be ruled as unreliable, these a posteriori beliefs, all of which come from experience or senses, can be doubted as a whole. He then looks at a priori beliefs, or necessary beliefs, that do not need additional proof but rather are definitional and naturally “true” on their own. Although at first he seems rather certain that these ideas are wholly reliable, he thinks of a way in which all of these beliefs can be doubted; that being the idea of a evil demon who deceives all humans into believing that...
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