Friday, July 7, 2017

Descartes / Meditation 1 - Short Summary

In the first mediation of René Descartes' "Mediations on the First Philosophy" (titled: "On the things that may be called Into doubt") He introduces his project of building a new edifice of scientific and philosophical knowledge using his method of doubt (first proposed in his "Discourse on the Method"). According to Descartes neither the senses nor reason can be trusted so long as it possible that we are mistaken about their deliverance. We are familiar with everyday errors in perception and this should suggest, in this extreme philosophical enterprise, that we reject the evidence of the senses entirely, since they are not infallible. Yet there is surely a difference between a local mistake, such as seeing a square tower as round in the distance, and a global mistake, which would be when everything we experience is mistaken. But since any veridical sensory experience could be reproduced as a dream, if there is no means of distinguishing dreaming from wakefulness, we cannot be sure whether experience faithfully reflects a world beyond the mind or not. The dreaming hypothesis would leave knowledge of such things as mathematical truths alone, for they are no less true in dreams. Yet, Descartes holds, if there could be an malicious demon with full control over my mind, then he could deceive me constantly, for the certainty that naturally attends even the simplest of thoughts, such as that 2+2=4, could be nothing more than his making me feel certain. It therefore appears I can be certain of nothing and this is the point in which meditation 1 ends.

In Meditation 1 Descartes presents his radical doubt and its consequences on our ability to know anything. In a sense Descartes breaks down reality and knowledge for the purpose of reconstructing it on firmer, more scientific grounds. The next meditation will try to do just that but in order to do so Descartes needs to find his base, of what he calls his " Archimedean point" of certainty which is to subject of meditation 2.  


Suggested reading on Renè Descartes: