“I would not urge anyone to read to read this book except those who are able and willing to meditate
seriously with me”, Descartes says to his readers in the Preface, and he makes it clear that me means
not to be a treatise, a mere exposition of philosophical reasons and conclusions, but
rather an exercise in thinking, presented as an encouragement and guide to readers who will think
Its thoughts, correspondingly, are presented as they might be conducted by
its author – or rather, as though they were being conducted at the very moment at which you read them.
Indeed, the “I” who is having these thoughts may be yourself.
Although we are conscious, in reading
, that they were written by a particular person, René Descartes, and at a particular time,
about 1640, the “I” that appears throughout them from the first sentence on does not specifically
represent that person: it represents anyone who will step into the position it marks, the position of the
thinker who is prepared to reconsider and recast his or her beliefs, as Descartes supposed we might,
from the ground up.
This “I” is different, then, from the “I” that occurs in the
. (Extracts from both
of these also appear in this volume; how they came to be written is explained by the translator in his
Note on the text.)
, Descartes speaks straightforwardly for himself, and the “I” represents
the author of the
The “I” in the
themselves represents their narrator or
protagonist, whom we may call “the thinker”.
Of course the author has to take responsibility for the
He takes responsibility both for the conduct of them and for their outcome, where
that includes the beliefs to which we shall have been led if we are persuaded by the arguments, and also
the improved states of mind that the author expects us to reach by following his work.
But the author is
not answerable for every notion entertained by the thinker and for every turn that the reflection takes on
The series of thoughts has an upshot or culmination, reaching in the Sixth Meditation, and
some of the thinker's earlier thoughts have been overcome and left behind in the process of reaching
that final point.
Some of those who submitted the
found it hard to follow the working out of this idea, and to