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Descartes Meditations

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Meditations is a discussion of metaphysics, or what is truly real. In these writings, he

ultimately hopes to achieve absolute certainty about the nature of everything including

God, the physical world, and himself. It is only with a clear and distinct knowledge of

such things that he can then begin understand his true reality. Descartes starts by looking

at our usual sources for truth. Authority, which is churches, parents, and schools, he says,

are not reliable sources for truth because time shows we all die, and that we are

eventually proved wrong, much in the same way the accepted truths of science have

changed dramatically over the course of history. Also, he considers the generally excepted

view that our senses dependably report the absolute nature of reality. Simiar to authority,

Descartes discards the senses as a source of truth because of the "Dream Argument" or

the belief that based on the senses there is no definite way of proving that you are

dreaming or that you are awake. Therefore it is possible that everything we believe is

false, making the senses an unreliable source. Upon establishing this, Descartes doubts

the existence of a physical or external world. Despite that he has an idea of things in the

world, he has no way of knowing if they exist past his own mind. Another point he

addresses is mathematics. He soon realizes math's truth isn't completely reliable because

of the "Demon Hypothesis", which acknowledges the possibility of an all powerful being

that is deceiving him about everything, including mathematics. As a result, Descartes

ponders the possibility that he has no way of being completely positive about anything,

even his existence. It is only after some deliberation that he decides that it is impossible

to be incorrect about everything because he has doubt, and to posses doubt, there must be

a doubter. Hence, he doubts, therefore he exists. With the assurance of his existence, he is

presented with the deeper question of what he, himself, actually is. Descartes knows that

he is not just a body based on his doubt of the senses. Despite the fact that he feels he is

not a body, he does believe he has properties, such as doubt, that make him a substance.

From this he concludes that his is an immaterial substance and that his essential property

is self-consciousness because you can have no real proof of yourself except through your

own thoughts or consciousness. Descartes states this belief in the statement, "I'm aware

that I'm aware." He established the first absolutely certain foundation of truth that he was

seeking. Hoping to discern the existence of anything else aside from himself, an

immaterial substance, Descartes considers a variety of ideas he has within his mind and

contemplates whether he could have conceived them himself or not. Predominantly, he

finds that he has the idea of a perfect being. Descartes is imperfect in that he is not all

knowing (omniscient) or all powerful (omnipotent), and is most certainly mortal. Another

way in which Descartes proves the existence of God is through an "ontological" proof.

This states that an essential property of a perfect being is existence, or that the idea of a

perfect being proves that there must be one because the definition of a perfect being must

include that it exists. At this point he observes that his existence depends upon God, or

that only God exists necessarily, while everything else exists contingently. Descartes

concludes that the reliability of mathematics can no longer be doubted because God

guarantees the truth of all self-evident ideas,(self-evident not meaning obvious), but ones

that can be calculated through mathematical physics. Therefore, Descartes now knows

that a perfect being exists and that he is not alone. knows what one will do in the future,

then one must do what God knows he will do in the future. This means that one has no

choice in what God knows he will do, since God already knows that he will do it,

therefore eliminating his freewill. These are some of the considerations when thinking

about Descartes proof of God's existence. In the Sixth Meditation, the last section in our

text, Descartes hopes to prove the existence of the external world and matter (physical

objects located in space). To do this first he again acknowledges the existence of minds as

an immaterial substance and God. Next, he shows that external ideas, or images of things

are neither fashioned by himself or by God because he has ideas of things that don't

depend on his will. From this he can say that he will know matter exists if its image was

not a product of the mind or God. To prove this credits the existence of external ideas to

the imagination, which is the psychological power of receiving and processing images.




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