January 26, 2012
Phil 202, Sec. #2
Summary of Descartes’
Meditations on First Philosophy
The First Meditation commences with the Meditator acknowledging the many
falsehoods he has believed and the consequent deceptions that arise from a faulty
foundation of knowledge. He concludes that he must question the reasons behind his
present opinions so as to urge him to search for more reliable foundations of knowledge.
Upon questioning the validity of his present opinions, he discovers that his most
true opinions have been derived from his senses. He also notices that although at times it
is difficult for him to perceive reality from his dreams, sensations contained in dreams are
still existent because they come from real things or experiences.
The Meditator then delves deeper considering that a belief in an all powerful
Creator also gives way to the possibility that God has the power to deceive us even in
such basic foundations like our mathematical understanding. But, if we believe that God
is perfectly good, then He will not deceive us. If there is no God, then it can be assumed
that our creator is even less perfect, so we have even more reason to doubt all our beliefs.
Instead of God being the author of our deceptions, the Meditator accuses an evil demon
as responsible for our reason to doubt all sensatory and mathematical knowledge.
From this, the Meditator is now able to prove his existence. He is capable of being
deceived, therefore, he exists. While the objective content of his thought can be
questioned, he cannot be deceived about his existence because he thinks, senses, reasons,
and perceives. This train of thought, however, only is acceptable in proving that he is
merely a thinking thing.
Although it is not possible to question his existence as a thinking thing, however,
it is possible to question his knowledge of external objects, such as his body. He
compares this to wax, proving that as the wax is melted but remains the same piece of
wax, so also do we know through our mind, not through our senses or imagination. This
is proof that our mind is much more clearly known to us than our body.