Descartes meditations on first philosophy sparknotes

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descartes meditations on first philosophy sparknotes

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Cartesian Skepticism - Neo, Meet Rene: Crash Course Philosophy #5

Third Meditation, Part 1: clear and distinct perceptions and Descartes' theory Continue your study of Meditations on First Philosophy with these useful links.

The Meditator tries to clarify precisely what this "I" is, this "thing that thinks. After all, he may be dreaming or deceived by an evil demon, but he can still imagine things and he still seems to hear and see things. His sensory perceptions may not be veridical, but they are certainly a part of the same mind that thinks. The Meditator then moves on to ask how he comes to know of this "I. Similarly, he concludes, he cannot trust the imagination. The imagination can conjure up ideas of all sorts of things that are not real, so it cannot be the guide to knowing his own essence. Still, the Meditator remains puzzled.

The Second Meditation is subtitled "The nature of the human mind, and how it is better known than the body" and takes place the day after the First Meditation. The Meditator is firm in his resolve to continue his search for certainty and to discard as false anything that is open to the slightest doubt. He recalls Archimedes' famous saying that he could shift the entire earth given one immovable point: similarly, he hopes to achieve great things if he can be certain of just one thing. Recalling the previous meditation, he supposes that what he sees does not exist, that his memory is faulty, that he has no senses and no body, that extension, movement and place are mistaken notions. Perhaps, he remarks, the only certain thing remaining is that there is no certainty. Then, he wonders, is not he, the source of these meditations, not something? He has conceded that he has no senses and no body, but does that mean he cannot exist either?

The Third Meditation, subtitled "The existence of God," opens with the Meditator reviewing what he has ascertained to date. He is still doubtful of the existence of bodily things, but is certain that he exists and that he is a thinking thing that doubts, understands, wills, imagines, and senses, among other things.
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Third Meditation, Part 1: clear and distinct perceptions and Descartes' theory of ideas

The First Meditation, subtitled "What can be called into doubt," opens with the Meditator reflecting on the number of falsehoods he has believed during his life and on the subsequent faultiness of the body of knowledge he has built up from these falsehoods. He has resolved to sweep away all he thinks he knows and to start again from the foundations, building up his knowledge once more on more certain grounds. He has seated himself alone, by the fire, free of all worries so that he can demolish his former opinions with care.

The Meditator reflects that he has often found himself to be mistaken with regard to matters that he formerly thought were certain, and resolves to sweep away all his pre-conceptions, rebuilding his knowledge from the ground up, and accepting as true only those claims which are absolutely certain. All he had previously thought he knew came to him through the senses. Through a process of methodological doubt, he withdraws completely from the senses. At any moment he could be dreaming, or his senses could be deceived either by God or by some evil demon, so he concludes that he cannot trust his senses about anything. Ultimately, however, he realizes that he cannot doubt his own existence. In order to doubt or to think, there must be someone doing the doubting or thinking. Deceived as he may be about other things, he cannot help but conclude that he exists.

List of Characters. Overall Analysis and Themes. First Meditation: skeptical doubts. Second Meditation, Part 1: cogito ergo sum and sum res cogitans. Second Meditation, Part 2: the wax argument. Third Meditation, Part 1: clear and distinct perceptions and Descartes' theory of ideas. Third Meditation, Part 2: Descartes' theory of ideas cont.

When considering God as "a substance that is infinite, eternal, immutable, independent, supremely intelligent, supremely powerful, and which created both myself and everything else," the Meditator realizes that the idea of God must have far more objective reality than he has formal reality: God is an infinite substance whereas he is only a finite substance. Since the idea of God cannot have originated in himself, he concludes that God must be the cause of this idea and must therefore necessarily exist. The Meditator counters the argument that he might conceive of an infinite being through negation, that is, through conceiving of it in contrast to his own finite being. Doubts and desires come from an understanding that we lack something, and we would not be aware of that lack unless we were aware of a more perfect being that has those things which we lack. While he can doubt the existence of other things, he cannot doubt the existence of God, since he has such a clear and distinct perception of God's existence.


  1. Guiomar A. says:

    SparkNotes: Meditations on First Philosophy

  2. Lauren W. says:

    Meditations on First Philosophy - Wikipedia

  3. Max J. says:

    From the SparkNotes Blog

  4. Mollie W. says:

    SparkNotes: Meditations on First Philosophy: Second Meditation, Part 2: the wax argument

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