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Descartes 2 Essay Research Paper DESCARTES (стр. 1 из 2)

Descartes 2 Essay, Research Paper


FROM: Descartes, Philosophy of Rene Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy, Monarch Notes, 1 Jan 1963.


The Meditations were written in Latin and first published in Paris in

1641. Descartes dedicated this book to the Dean and Faculty of Theology at the

University of Paris. He believed that the approbation of those theologians

would constitute a public testimony of approval and support of the truth in

the content of his work.

The Meditations are the most important of all of Descartes’ works. They

contain his full metaphysical and epistemological position. He considers the

problems of the sources and nature of knowledge; the validity of truth; the

nature and destiny of man; the existence of God, and the creation of the

universe. This work is detailed far more than the Discourse.


In the first meditation Descartes explains the reasons for his

methodological doubts. The second meditation describes the nature of the human

mind. The third meditation presents Descartes’ chief argument for the

existence of God. The fourth meditation shows the nature of error and points

out the requirements for conforming truths. The fifth meditation illustrates

the essence of corporeal nature and presents another demonstration of the

existence of God. The sixth and final meditation differentiates the soul from

the body.


In a preface to the reader, Descartes replies to some of the

philosophical criticisms of his earlier book, the Discourse. He continues in

the preface to describe his effort to meditate seriously upon the important

questions of God and the human soul. His readers are advised to detach their

minds from sense pursuits. When they are enabled to remove all prejudices from

their characters, it becomes possible to realize the maximum benefit of these


Meditation I


Descartes declares that it was vital for him to wait until he was a

mature man prior to undertaking the great task embodied in the purpose of this

book. Initially he felt that all of his earlier beliefs must be removed.

Attacking the underlying assumptions of his former beliefs, he asserts that

everything he knew in the past was based upon sense perception. The senses,

however, may be deceptive in that the minute objects are apprehended they may

appear differently from various points of view. It is highly probable that

other things which appear certain through sensation may in reality be the

products of illusions.

Yet there are some objects of sensations which must be accepted as true.

For instance, Descartes affirms that he is seated by the fire clothed in a

winter dressing gown. It would be insane to deny his knowledge of his own

body. We must admit certain characteristics of objects. For instance,

extension, figure, quantity, number, place, time, may be imputed to objects.

In addition, there are mathematical truths relative to objects. We know a

square has four sides and not five.

The sciences which are concerned with composite or complex objects, are

less reliable in the truth of their propositions than the sciences which are

concerned with simple and general objects like arithmetic and geometry. Yet,

Descartes asks, how can I be certain that the knowledge I possess is in

reality true? In order to build a valid structure of knowledge he affirms that

he will consider all external reality as illusion. Even the perfect God will

be questioned in this universal doubt. He will assume the possibility that God

is a malignant demon who deliberately attempts to deceive him. In effect,

Descartes intends to suspend all judgment.

Descartes concludes this meditation with the observation that it is

extremely arduous to accomplish this doubtful state of mind. There is a

tendency for the human mind to return to former beliefs as a secure means of

resolving its problems. In the event that man permits this regression, he may

find it impossible to ever dispel the intellectual darkness.


The Cartesian doubt reflects a contempt for an erudition based upon the

literature of the past. Descartes is not concerned with the arguments from the

great authorities of the past. He bases knowledge upon individual

intelligence. While Descartes approaches philosophy from an a priori position

independent of sense experience, his position regarding the attitude of doubt

necessary for the mind to arrive at truth is the unique contribution which he

makes to science and modern philosophy.

This initial meditation summarizes the earlier position of Descartes

found in the Discourse. In this first meditation, the foundation of Descartes’

philosophy has been restated in the detailed explanation of the rationale

behind his universal doubt. The real beginning of this book is the second


Meditation II


Descartes declares that the acceptance of his universal doubt likens him

to a swimmer plunged suddenly into deep water. He is unable to touch bottom

and unable to see the surface. In this floundering fashion he must achieve

the security of one certain fixed position by which he will know from whence

to proceed. In ancient times, Archimedes thought that it would be possible

for him to move the entire earth if only he could establish one fixed

absolute point. The search for a certain point of departure is vital if one

is to arrive at truthful knowledge from a position of universal doubt.

Descartes asserts that he assumes at this stage that everything is

false. He assumes there is no memory, senses, body, or any reality. It is

therefore possible that he is being deceived by the illusion of reality.

However, if he is being deceived, it follows that he must exist as a deceived

person. In this state of existence I ask, what am I?

Descartes asserts that in the past he believed that he was a man and

that a man was a rational animal. At present he cannot accept this. It would

be necessary for him to prove what an animal was and then determine the nature

of rationality. This is too complicated a problem at this moment of universal

doubt. In similar fashion all the attributes of the body, including his face,

hands, and arms, his senses and feeling that he occupies space as a unique

body separate from all others, must be held in doubt. The only proposition

that he can make at this juncture is that he is a thinking thing. He knows

that he exists only when he is thinking.

I am conscious that I exist. I who know, says Descartes, that I exist

ask the question, “what am I?” Having established that he is a thinking

thing, he proceeds to the problem of what a thinking thing actually is. He

concludes that he is the same being who performs the intellectual activities

of doubting, understanding, affirming, denying, willing, refusing, imagining

and perceiving.

He then proceeds to the more difficult task of proving the existence of

a material body beyond his mental state. He asserts that the body appears more

certain to men because they are able to touch and see a particular body. Yet

when we consider a piece of wax fresh from the beehive, we assume that this

wax possesses the definite characteristics that its color, figure, and size

present to our senses. It seems to have the odor of flowers and is cool and

hard to the touch. But when we place this wax in the fire, all that seems

real to the senses regarding the nature of wax disappears. All that can be

asserted about it is that it is extended, movable, and flexible. The

perception of this wax is not an act of sight, touch or imagination. It is an

intuition of the human mind. All material objects are understood by the mind


It is very difficult to eliminate one’s reliance upon sense knowledge.

Yet we must accommodate ourselves to a reliance upon our minds. Descartes

marvels at the source of error in the mind which occurs from the use of

language. For instance, the same word “wax” is used to describe the same

substance before and after its subjection to the fire. The meaning of words

may create ambiguity and error in thought. In man’s effort to build

knowledge, he must introspectively look within his mind, erasing all sense



Descartes admits intuition as a source of knowledge. While deduction is

admitted as a reliable source of truth, this is considered more complex.

Deduction requires inference and relationships. Deduction, therefore, cannot

be the source by which Descartes asserts his first principle. Existence is

something that is intuited. That is, it is apprehended immediately by an

attentive intellect as true. There exists no possible doubt regarding its

truth. Since this assurance does not proceed from a sensation of external

reality, this rational knowledge is independent of sense experience.

Descartes makes a clear distinction between faith and reason. He cannot

assert his belief in reality on faith at all. Faith to Descartes pertains to

the will alone. It is not an intellectual matter. Faith is something that is

accepted upon trust because we choose to believe it.

Meditation III


Descartes affirms that he is a thinking being who doubts and affirms,

denies and knows. He is certain that he thinks because his knowledge is both

clear and distinct. Although he knows himself, he must establish the

existence of God in order to proceed further into a clear and distinct

knowledge of reality. While no evidence exists to support the supposition

that God deceives his mind into believing in an extra-mental reality,

Descartes states that he must first demonstrate the existence of God prior

to making any inquiry into the possibility of deception.

Descartes proceeds in his demonstration of the existence of God by

analyzing the nature of thought. An idea may be an image, a form, or a

judgment. The image or the apprehended form is never false. The source of

error lies in our judgment. It is necessary to formulate a judgment that this

given idea conforms ith the object it represents. Here resides the most

common source of error in judgment.

Some ideas may be innate. Some ideas are adventitious in that they come

involuntarily into the mind from outside. Other ideas are factitious in that

they are manufactured by myself by combining innate and adventitious ideas.

My innate ideas are guaranteed by nature – a spontaneous force that compels

my assent to the resemblance between my idea and the object my idea

represents. In the act by which I believe my idea of the object represents

the reality of the object, I am motivated by a blind impulse as the source of

my belief. Therefore, I cannot prove rationally that objects exist outside my

mind on this basis.

Descartes asks that our ideas be viewed as modes of consciousness. The

idea is purely subjective in that it resides only in the mind. If we consider

those ideas that are images, we observe a variety of ideas all varying in

perfection. Since the idea is an effect, the cause of this effect must possess

as much reality as the effect. It may be asserted that any cause must have as

much perfection as its effect. For instance, a stone cannot exist unless it

is produced by a cause at least as perfect as the stone. The idea of heat

must be produced in my mind by a cause with as much perfection as the heat.

When this principle is applied to his idea of God, Descartes asserts that the

cause, God, must have as much reality and perfection as his idea of God which

is in the effect. It is of the nature of perfection that a thing is perfect

only if it exists. Therefore, a perfect God must exist.

Descartes knows that he is not the cause of his own idea of God. He

thinks that any idea of an infinite, perfect, all-knowing God transcends his

own mental ability. God, therefore, causes the idea of God in his mind.

Because God is the cause, and the cause possesses as much perfection and

reality as the effect (the idea of God), and an object is perfect only if it

includes the concept of existence, Descartes asserts that the perfect cause,

God, truly exists.

Descartes demonstrates additionally that God exists by reason of the fact

that he himself exists as a thinking being having a concept of God. He asserts

that if he existed as an independent being possessing every perfection, he

would be God. Obviously his lack of perfection precludes the possibility of

this. However, what exactly is the cause of his existence? As a dependent

being, he asks upon whom he depends. If it is stated that he is dependent upon

some other less perfect being than God, then the question will arise as to the

source of this being’s dependence. Eventually it is necessary to state that an

all-perfect necessary being, possessing all the attributes of God, exists as

the cause of Descartes’ own contingent existence.

Since Descartes believes he has established that God caused the idea of

God in his mind, he next inquires into the problem of how he received this

idea from God. Descartes concludes that this idea is innate in him. At the

moment of his creation, God imposed the idea of himself in the mind of

Descartes very much like a worker stamping his name to the product of his

making. Descartes apprehends this idea in the same intuitive way that he

understands the fact of his own thinking existence. He does not deduce God’s

existence. He knows this immediately and intuitively.

Descartes concludes that the contemplation of the idea of God is the

source of greatest happiness in life. Although he admits that this is

incomparably less perfect than the contemplation of God in the life to come as

faith suggests, it is a fact of experience that the contemplation of God

provides great happiness.


It is important to note that Descartes proceeds from the idea of the

infinite to the idea of the finite. This idea of God is the source of his

belief in the reality of objects that are extra-mental. The innate truth of an

infinite and perfect God is considered to be in the highest degree true.

However, Descartes does not assert that he knows God in the same manner in

which he knows his own selfhood. Because God is infinite, He is

incomprehensible to the finite mind. Descartes declares his pleasure in

contemplating this idea of the infinite God but does not suggest that he knows

the infinity of perfections that exist formally in God. There is a real

distinction or a real dualism that exists between the finite and the infinite

consciousness. Man is not identical with God. He is separate from God by

reason of his limitation and finite nature.

Meditation IV


Descartes asserts that his idea of God and the infinite is more clear and

distinct than any idea of finite reality. This idea of God provides a path for

the discovery of the treasures of science and wisdom which reside perfectly in

God. His belief in extra-mental reality cannot be due to any deceptive action

of God. God is a perfect being and deception is imperfect by its nature. Any

mental errors that exist in his mind find their sources in his imperfect

nature. Errors do not proceed from God from the fact that any error is lacking

in reality. It is a defect or privation of knowledge.

It is conceivable that God might have created him as a being incapable of

being deceived. However, any inquiry into this area must presume some

understanding and judgment of the actions of God. God is infinite and

incomprehensible in His nature. The final cause or the purpose for the

creation of things as they are transcends the limited and finite understanding

of man. Descartes asserts that his mind is totally incapable of understanding

God’s actions. Therefore, it is pointless to ask why he has been created in

such a way that he is capable of falling into error. However, each individual

creature must be viewed not as an individual but as a part of the universe as

a whole. Somehow, the imperfections of the individual contribute to the

creation of the perfect universe.

Regarding the source of error, Descartes declares that he discerns that

he possesses a faculty of cognition and one of election or free choice. There

is no possibility of error in the understanding or cognition by itself. The

understanding merely apprehends the idea. When error enters into the

situation, it does this through the action of the will. However, it is not the

power of willing, but the failure of the individual to restrain his will that

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