descartes_guide2 - SECOND MEDITATION The nature of the...

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SECOND MEDITATION The nature of the human mind, and how it is better known than the body The sceptical hypotheses of the First Meditation had called into question apparently all the beliefs that had hitherto been taken for granted: empirical beliefs in the familiar everyday world of trees and buildings, fires and dressing gowns; beliefs in the entire physical world, ‘body, shape, extension, movement and place’, including belief in the thinker’s own body; beliefs in a priori mathematical truths, that were challenged by the Demon hypothesis. Descartes hopes to find just one certainty that will be invulnerable to the sceptical hypotheses, one Archimedean point, and he finds it in the argument: cogito ergo sum . This famous formulation of the argument is from the version in Descartes’ Discourse on Method : ‘. ..this truth ‘I am thinking, therefore I exist’ [is] so solid and secure that the most extravagant suppositions of the skeptics could not overthrow it’. In the Meditations he puts the argument like this. I have convinced myself that there is absolutely nothing in the world, no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Does it now follow that I too do not exist? No: if I convinced myself of something then I certainly existed. But there is a deceiver of supreme power and cunning who is deliberately and constantly deceiving me. In that case I too undoubtedly exist, if he is deceiving me; and let him deceive me as much as he can, he will never bring it about that am nothing so long as I think I am something. So after considering everything very thoroughly, I must finally conclude that the proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind. What kind of an argument is this? Is it strictly an argument at all? The traditional formulation, ‘I think, therefore I am’ looks like an argument in every way: it has a premise (‘I think’), a ‘therefore’ indicating an — 18 —
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inference, and a conclusion (‘I am’). On the other hand, Descartes says in reply to the Second Objections: When we observe that we are thinking beings, this is a sort of primary notion, which is not the conclusion of any syllogism; and, moreover, when somebody says; I am thinking, therefore I am or exist, he is not using a syllogism to deduce his existence from his thought, but recognizing this as something self-evident, in a simple mental intuition. Descartes’ readers have disagreed about whether the cogito is an inference, or a simple ‘intuition’. Others have said that the cogito is not quite an inference, not quite an intuition, but a ‘performance’. 4 The special status of ‘I think’ and ‘I am’ Descartes says that there is something special about his belief that he is thinking , and his belief that he exists . What exactly is special about these thoughts? Descartes says that it is impossible to doubt these
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This note was uploaded on 01/25/2012 for the course PHIL 201H1F taught by Professor Derekallen during the Fall '10 term at University of Toronto.

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descartes_guide2 - SECOND MEDITATION The nature of the...

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