Friday, July 7, 2017

Descartes / Meditation 5 - Short Summary

In the fifth mediation of René Descartes' "Mediations on the First Philosophy" (titled: " On the essence of material things and the existence of God once more") Descartes finds the essence of material things to be extension, this train of thought leading him to another proof of God’s existence, and explains finally the role of God in his philosophy. Being a rationalist, Descartes reflects on how he can discover truths by examining the essence of things, regardless of whether they exist. Yet God is such (and the only such thing) that necessary existence belongs to his essence. The concept of God contains within it the notion of perfection and eternity and therefore it cannot not exist for non-existence is opposed to perfection and eternity (see separate summary of Descartes' proofs of God). So reflection on God’s essence shows that he exists, necessarily. (Descartes warns us not to not to think that God’s existence depends on our reflecting on this, God precedes our perception of it and in fact enables it). Observing finally how it is not evident that the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides, Descartes remarks that once discovered, it should be that we do not need to go over the proof each time to know this. So long as we have just clear and distinct perception as a touchstone for truth, we could not avoid doing so. If we have proved the existence of a benevolent God, then we have greater security in our material reality. A conviction that a certain truth is evident because we have once proved them is grounded by His existence. In other words, we don’t need to worry about an evil demon constantly fooling us. We can therefore engage in the practice Descartes calls science.

Descartes' meditation 5 is another step in reconstructing our image of the world doubted in meditation 1. Meditation 2 and meditation 3 build a firm assurance of the self (the cogito) and of God. Meditation 4 discusses our ability to know things, which when combined with God's benevolence can assure us regarding the truth of our knowledge and ability to explore reality (as long as we do it rationally and scientifically). The final step in Descartes' Meditation 6 is to discuss the body-mind distinction and our ability to know we exist as part of the conceived material world.

back to: A summary by chapter of Descartes' Meditations 
See also: essential summary of Rene Descartes' Meditations