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Summary: Descartes “Meditations on First Philosophy.”
In this essay, we shall summarize the first two Cartesian meditations, offering a thorough and comprehensive vision in Descartes thought.
In the first meditation, Descartes lays the groundwork for his epistemology. To him, doubt is the first and principal concept where the rest of the other ideas lie. That way, if we doubt, there is no use in affirming or denying any “truth”. To him, affirming on the truth or falsehood of any given concept or notion would be useless and stupid. However, despite truth or falsehood, experience remained unaltered through his life. However, the sole experience would be of no use since our senses deceive us. To Descartes, our senses are deceitful because they show us a filtered and altered version of reality. An example would be Saint Augustine’s broken oar analogy, where the philosopher saw an oar in the water, and it appeared to be broken or crooked. When he took it out of the water, the oar was untouched. He, like Descartes’, thought the following “If my senses have failed me before, how would I know they are not failing me again?”
These inquiries lead Descartes to think about the existence of God and his willing to deceive us. He then goes and asks himself whether God wants us to live in deception or not. Nevertheless, he considers that situation as an impossibility. To the philosopher, that view would be incompatible with the idea of a god of supreme goodness that Christian religion has created. That way, he concludes there must exist a sort of evil genie that wants drives us to the error and intends to put us back in our search for “how we know we are.”
After that realization, Descartes supposes that everything he sees is false. If everything we see, and experience is false, why would “I” exist? According to that thought, the body, and all the extensions of it are just constructions of the mind and the spirit. This self-doubt puts Descartes in a tight spot as if we cannot take anything for certain, is there a degree of certainty in the world? However, Descartes does not consider that if bodies do not exist, the mind does not either. To him, if the mind persuades us of something, or if we do think something is because we exist. Ergo, if we think, we exist.
After sorting that problem, the philosopher thinks about who are those who think. To him, thinking is understanding; feeling and imaging. If we are capable of such endeavors, we are. Then, that being is a quality of the spirit and the soul. Furthermore, if we perceive things that are nothing, those perceptions are things the soul do, and not necessarily, characteristics found in our minds. Our eyes see, yet it is our imagination what decodes those perceptions and turns them into something we can know. Descartes sees those perceptions as constructions that we do not see but lay in the spirit, pretty much as the Augustinian imaginatio. In the Second Meditation, the philosopher’s goal seems to demonstrate how the spirit, or the soul, places an important part of how we know ourselves and differentiate from those things that might not be.
In these two Meditations, Descartes seeks to lay the foundations of his most known aphorism “Cogito ergo sum”, by saying that to be is being able to perceive the differences and understand the possibilities of our spirit and not our mind as the place where our being is.
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