DESCARTES' MEDITATIONS FROM: Descartes, Philosophy of Rene Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy, Monarch Notes, 1 Jan 1963. Introduction. 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. Synopsis.
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. Preface. 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 meditations. Meditation I Summary. 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. Comment: 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. Meditation II Summary. 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 alone. 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 images. Comment: 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 Summary. 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. Comment: 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 Summary. 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 creates errors.
The will must be restrained or limited to choosing only those objects which are fully understood by the intellect. Clear and distinct ideas are necessarily true. These ideas move the will to action when the ideas reside in the intellect. Descartes asserts that the great clarity of the concept of his own existence residing in the intellect moved his will to accept this truth.
Whenever any idea is lacking clarity or distinction it is necessary to restrain the will from judging the idea as either true or idea until such time that the idea may become clear and distinct false. The individual must assert a state of doubt regarding the Descartes concludes that the action by which he abstains from judgment of an unclear idea is correct. Failure on his part to limit his will opens the door to possible error. Descartes concludes this meditation by asserting that any errors that he accepted in the past were the result of his own imperfections and limitations. He cannot complain or blame anyone else for those errors which were the result of his own choosing. He possessed always the power to restrain his will.
He had the advantage of obtaining clear and distinct knowledge. This knowledge would incline his will to choose the right act or object. In addition, he possessed the resolution to suspend all judgment whenever a truth was not clearly known to him. Meditation V This meditation examines the nature of matter. Descartes analyzes his idea of matter and reasserts his ontological proof for the existence of God. Descartes declares that he will abandon the important questions regarding the nature of God and the nature of the human mind for the moment.
In this meditation he undertakes the question of the certainty of his knowledge of material objects. He proceeds by examining his conscious ideas regarding corporeal nature in order to ascertain which of these ideas are clear and distinct. Because clear and distinct ideas proceed from God, they may be accepted upon all occasions as truth. Descartes affirms that he can imagine distinctly the characteristic of quantity which is called continuous in the philosophical sense, when he reflects upon the idea of matter. In addition, he can imagine the extension of the material object with its correlate length, breadth, and depth. Furthermore, it is clear to him that he can enumerate all the many attributes of matter.
These attributes constitute size, figure, situations, and local motions. Each motion, he asserts, can be assigned certain degrees of duration. Therefore, Descartes accounts for the phenomena of time. Continuing his analysis, introspectively regarding his ideas concerning matter, Descartes asserts that all material objects contain a definite nature. There is a determined form or essence to each object.
This essence is immutable and eternal. For instance, he can formulate a clear and distinct idea of a triangle. The triangle possesses a distinct form or essence. My knowledge of this essence proceeds from my reason alone, asserts Descartes.
Obviously he can never sense an essence. The form is abstracted through the intellectual processes of the mind. Since the idea in the mind is both clear and distinct, he knows it is a true idea of material reality. Material objects must therefore exist. The qualities which he imputes to material objects must similarly exist. Descartes demonstrates the existence of God in the same manner.
He has an idea in his mind of a perfect God. This is a clear and distinct idea. Because the clear ideas are true, he may proceed with an analysis of the concept of perfection. A thing cannot be perfect if it is merely imagined in his mind.
A perfect object is truly perfect only when it includes the attribute of existence. Therefore, the idea of a perfect God necessarily includes existence. Hence, God exists. Having demonstrated the existence of God to his own satisfaction, Descartes uses this knowledge to strengthen his affirmation that material objects have a real existence.
It is evident that if material objects had no real existence and I possessed a clear and distinct idea of their existence, God would be guilty of deception. All clear and distinct ideas proceed from God. However, God is perfect and cannot possess any imperfection. We would be forced to assume He was imperfect if he deceived us into believing the clear and distinct idea regarding the existence of material objects. Therefore, the existence of a perfect God insures our belief that material objects truly exist as our clear and distinct ideas reveal. Descartes anticipates several possible objections to his position.
It might be argued that there is a real distinction between essence and existence. Hence, my idea of the essence of a perfect God does not include the concept of existence. Descartes replies that in God essence is existence. Existence is the supreme perfection and can never be separated from essence. Since essence and existence are one, the argument has no weight.
Another argument might be proposed from the possibility that Descartes cannot be certain that his analysis of corporeal nature does not proceed from a dream state. In fact, what he considers material might be pure illusion. Descartes replies that it is irrelevant whether he is dreaming or awake. He still has a clear and distinct idea in his mind. Clear and distinct ideas are necessarily true. Consequently, his idea of material nature must be true.
Comment: When Descartes reflected upon the nature of intuition, he evolved his criteria of truth. An object is truthful when the idea of it in the mind is clear and distinct. An idea is clear when the concept stimulates the will to accept it as true. This is a forceful stimulation. An idea is distinct when the concept is so precise and so different from all other ideas that the will is moved and the intellect is forced to comprehend it. Meditation VI In this, the final meditation, Descartes continues his demonstration of the validity of his idea of the existence of material reality.
He finally discusses the difference between the soul and the body in man. Summary. While his ideas regarding material things must certainly be accepted as true, Descartes wonders if material things have a real existence independently of his ideas. Although he is more certain regarding the idea of his own existence and the existence of God, Descartes believes that it is certain that there is a material existence. The fact that mathematics describes material objects with clear and distinct ideas supports the fact of the objective existence of material reality. Descartes begins his intellectual demonstration of the certainty of material existence by distinguishing between the imagination and intellection or conception.
It is possible for him to imagine the existence of a triangle or even a pentagon. Through his imagination he is able to conceive a picture of three sides or another picture of five sides. However, he asserts it is impossible for his to imagine a chiliagon, which is a thousand-sided figure. Although he cannot imagine a chiliagon, he can conceive it intellectually. Evidently there is a special effort of the human mind which adds to the action of imagination. This suggests to Descartes that imagination indicates the mere probability of material existence while intellection may infer the necessity of material existence.
It is not possible to make a necessary inference of corporeal existence from imagination because intellection is necessary to the act of imagination. Proceeding further, Descartes recalls many of the concepts which he believed were true in the past upon the basis of sense information alone. It is his intention to examine the reasons for doubting the existence of these things in order to inquire into those ideas he ought to accept as clearly and distinctly true. In the past Descartes asserts that he believed that he had no knowledge unless it proceeded through the senses. As a result, his ideas were lacking in clarity and distinction.
Such a belief leads inevitably to skepticism and complete doubt of everything. It was natural for him to accept the erroneous belief that knowledge proceeded through the senses. His first perception indicates that he possesses a head, hands, feet, composing a material body. His sensations, further indicated that he enjoyed pleasure and suffered pain. He experienced sensually the variety of passions such as joy, sadness, and anger. These sensations occur through no deliberation or act of his will.
They appear involuntarily and therefore suggest the existence of an outside cause. Yet Descartes asserts that it is not possible to affirm the existence of material objects which exist independently of himself with clear and distinct truths. As he grew older and acquired many more experiences, Descartes realized the weaknesses inherent in thinking that material reality exists as a result of sense knowledge alone. With increasing experiences, Descartes' faith in the validity of sense knowledge weakened by degrees. It was apparent to him that the same object appeared differently upon separate occasions when sensed.
For instance, a tower might appear round when viewed on one occasion and again seem square when inspected from another vantage point upon a different occasion. It is evident that sense information leads to errors in human judgment. If he were to depend upon sense knowledge alone, it would be impossible for him to determine whether or not he was asleep or awake. The same senses present a reality to the dreaming mind that is pure illusion, but that indicate extra-mental reality to the awakened mind. How then can anyone be certain as to the existence of material reality Although my sense impressions are independent of my will, Descartes states, I cannot draw the conclusion that what senses reputedly represent has real existence. Descartes believes that he cannot be certain that his sensation proceeds from a sensed object.
Nor can he be certain that the object exists in reality as the senses report it. At present, Descartes asserts that he knows clearly that he was produced by God as a thinking being. With the certain knowledge of his own thinking existence, he began to know himself better and to recognize the Author of his existence. Descartes declares that he possesses a passive faculty by which he is enabled to receive sense impressions. This suggests the presence of an active faculty existing independently of his mind. The active faculty produces the images which are received in my mind.
Now, this active faculty must be either God or some object existing independently of my mind. Descartes affirms that it could never be God. Sense knowledge is frequently erroneous, and obviously God cannot be the source of error. Therefore, he concludes that these ideas arise from the presence of a corporeal object which exists in reality. There are some material objects which are particular in nature.
For example, objects such as the sun are not so clearly understood. Descartes asserts that the source of belief resides in God. God cannot deceive because deception is an imperfection. Because of His perfect nature, God presents ideas that are clear and distinct to the mind. Consequently, we ought to accept these ideas as true. There exists, therefore, a material reality composed of material and at times corporeal existence.
Furthermore, God is the cause of nature and nature teaches one that material reality exists. Nature teaches Descartes that he possesses a material body. The feelings of hunger, thirst, and pain are real and exist because he has a material body. Evidently the mind is not the source of hunger. Therefore we ought to accept the evidence of material existence which nature dictates.
Descartes believes that he is lodged in his body as a pilot lives in a ship. As a result, his mind and his body compose a certain type of unity. The feelings he experiences, such as those that evoke pleasure and pain, are a confusing mode of thinking which results from the interaction of the mind with the body. The needs of the body exist because of the materialistic and mechanical nature of the body. These are known by the mind. Nature teaches that other bodies exist.
It is apparent that they exist from the interaction between his body and other material bodies. Some material objects are a source of pleasure and other objects represent a source of pain to the body. Although nature may lead man to desire the wrong thing, nature is never the cause of error. Error resides in human judgment. For instance, nature may lead one to desire poisoned food.
Nature impels one to desire this food because of the agreeable taste of food, not because there is poison in the food. It is human judgment that determines whether or not the food ought to be taken. Therefore, neither nature nor our bodies deceive us. There are enormous differences between the mind and the body. The mind of man is not divisible. The body may lose one of its parts, such as a foot, but will continue to function.
However, the mind may never be diminished. The mind may receive sense impressions from the brain, and as a result act in its thought processes with unity. It does not receive impressions directly from the separate parts of the body. Descartes asserts his clear conviction that he is a thinking being and therefore spiritual in nature. He is therefore distinct in kind from the material nature of his body. His mind inhabits the body.
Because the mind must interact with the body, it is understandable that errors might be possible due to the weakness and imperfection of such a union. Realizing this imperfection places the mind on guard against the possibility of error. The importance of restraining the will to move only towards those ideas that are clear and distinct is imperative if we are to avoid error. Comment: Descartes affirms that the nature or essence of matter is extension. The essence of mind is thinking. Consequently, the two realities exist.
Both are different from each other in kind. This position of metaphysical dualism is central to the question of man's nature. Since the mind and the body are distinct in kind, the problem arises regarding the interaction of the two. How is it possible for an immaterial substance to come into contact with a material substance Descartes affirms simply that they do.
The statement of Descartes that he inhabits his body like a pilot in a vessel is revealing in the light of the above question. The body is strictly a mechanical and machine-like substance. Its functions are entirely different from those of the spirit. The spirit is synonymous with mind. The purposes of this mind are unique.
The mind serves as the director of the body. It functions as the intellectual agent of the body. However, the purpose of the spirit or mind is not limited to any functional operations of a united body and spirit. The mind is the source of one's individual ego or identity.
This ego is distinct from the spirit of the infinite ego which is God. Therefore, another dualism exists in Descartes' view. This latter dualism distinguishes Descartes from the metaphysical view of Hegel. 31 e.