Rene Descartes on Meditations on First Philosophy
1. In Meditation 1, what are the two main arguments that the meditator gives for the possibility of doubting even the propositions of arithmetic and geometry?
In Meditation 1 of Rene Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, he basically argues that he now doubts everything that he used to be certain of and that in order for him to discover a solid foundation for the principles of science, such as arithmetic and geometry, he must establish an absolute truth. Basically, what he meant here is that he has to doubt all his beliefs even those that are only slightly doubtful in order for him to come up with the truth. He reasons that he is being deceived for he cannot seem to distinguish between his life in dreams and reality. Therefore, for him, arithmetic and geometry, which study shapes, numbers, and angles, are doubtful as these tackle complex combinations of objects. He also surmised that he is being deceived by a demon who distorts his perception of reality and illusion.
2. In Meditation 2, what is the first belief that the meditator thinks cannot be doubted? What argument, if any, does he give for the claim that it cannot be doubted? Take the viewpoint of a skeptic. Are you convinced that the meditator can indeed be certain of this belief? Why or why not?
Basically, in Meditation 2, Descartes claimed that the first belief that he thinks cannot be doubted is that fact that he exists. For him, it cannot be doubted because the fact that he is able to doubt, understand, perceive, and deny means that he must exist. He argues that he if doubts, that there must be a certain thing that does the doubting, which in this case is his mind. He therefore asserts that he is a “thinking thing” (Hughes, 2009) and that his consciousness implies his existence. For me, I am convinced that he is certain of this belief because he uses concrete examples to substantiate his claims. For example, he used wax as an example to illustrate his belief that a person’s mind is capable of perception and thought. He explained that both wax and the wax melted from a candle are the same type of material- wax. Thus, the mind was able to use reasoning and judgment and was not deceived unlike the senses. In short, since he is able to think, he exists, which is the only thing that cannot be doubted and which also shows that there is no doubt that he is certain of this belief.
Hughes, G. (2009). The Condensed Edition of Rene Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy. Retrieved March 4, 2009 from http://www.btinternet.com/~glynhughes/squashed/descartes.htm.
SparkNotes.com. (2009). Rene Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy. Retrieved March 4, 2009 from http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/descartes/section2.rhtml.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2008). Rene Descartes. Retrieved March 4, 2009 from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/descartes/.