A Review of Rene Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy

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INTRODUCTION This article is a summary of Rene Descarte’s Meditation on First Philosophy. It seeks, as permitted by the Meditator himself, in his letter to the reader, to examine his treatise with the possibility of instituting change if necessary. ...I doubt not, if you but condescend to pay so much regard to this treatise as to be willing in the first place to correct it (for mindful not only of my humanity, but chiefly also of my ignorance, I do not affirm that it is free from errors); in the second place to supply what is wanting in it, to perfect what is incomplete, and to give more ample illustration where it is demanded, or at least to indicate these defects to myself that i may endeavour to remedy them;1

He starts his meditations which spans over a period of six days by sitting himself, I dare say, comfortably, by the fire side...

MEDITATION I SKEPTICAL DOUBT IN THE First Meditation, the meditator expounds the grounds on which we may doubt generally all things, and especially material objects, so long at least, as we have no other foundations for the sciences than those we have before now possessed. The meditator was struck by how many false things he had believed, and by how doubtful the structure of beliefs he had based on them. He realized that if he wanted to establish anything in the sciences that was stable and likely to last, he needed – just once – to demolish everything completely and start again from the foundations. I can do this without showing that all my beliefs are false, which is probably more than I could ever manage. My reason tells me that as well as withholding assent from propositions that are obviously false, I should also withhold it from ones that are not completely certain and indubitable. So all I need, for the purpose of rejecting all my opinions, is to find in each of them at least some reason for doubt. I can do this without going through them one by one, which would take forever: once

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Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, (Start Publishing LLC: eBook edition, 2012) kobo file.

the foundations of a building have been undermined, the rest collapses of its own accord; so I will go straight for the basic principles on which all my former beliefs rested. Whatever I have accepted until now as most true has come to me through my senses. But occasionally I have found that they have deceived me, and it is unwise to trust completely those who have deceived us even once. 2

The Meditator goes further to say that although our sense perceptions deceive us yet one could not possibly doubt all of what one has come to know through the senses for example, his seating by the fire, clothed in a winter dressing gown or that he is truly in possession of this arms and legs. This led to what is popularly referred to as the dream argument where he argues that; I often have perceptions very much like the ones I usually have in sensation while I am dreaming. There are no definite signs to distinguish dream experience from waking experience. therefore, It is possible that I am dreaming right now and that all of my perceptions are false3

Objection to the dream argument:
It could be argued that the images we form in dreams can only be composed of bits and pieces of real experience combined in novel ways. Therefore, Although we have reason to doubt the surface perceptual qualities of our perception, we have no reason to doubt the properties that we perceive the basic components of our experience to have. (In particular, there is no reason to doubt the mathematical properties that material bodies in general have.)4

The First Meditation can thus be seen as presenting skeptical doubts as a subject of study in their own right. Certainly, skepticism is a much discussed and hotly debated topic in philosophy, even today. Descartes was noticeably the first to raise the mystifying question of how we can claim to know with certainty anything about the world around us. The idea is not that...
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