Meditations on First Philosophy (with Objections and Replies) | Study Guide

René Descartes

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Meditations on First Philosophy (with Objections and Replies) | Quotes

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1.

I shall straight away attack the very principles that form the basis of all my former beliefs.


Meditator, First Meditation: Of Those Things That May Be Called into Doubt

The Meditator discloses the basic approach of his method, which involves a wholesale rejection of beliefs rather than an individual examination of them. In this way he is looking for the epistemological foundation for the sciences.

2.

I have discovered that [the senses] sometimes deceive us, and prudence dictates that we should never fully trust those who have deceived us even once.


Meditator, First Meditation: Of Those Things That May Be Called into Doubt

The epistemological foundation for many of the Meditator's beliefs is empirical. This means his knowledge claims have been derived directly or indirectly from sensation—sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Since the Meditator seeks a fixed or unchanging foundation for knowledge and since sense perception is not fixed, it cannot be the proper source of knowledge.

Because the Meditator cannot identify the standard by which he can determine dream states from waking states, he cannot tell which ideas are real and which are not. By assuming he is dreaming, he is able to set the question of a criterion aside in order to focus on what type of idea would be true regardless of his state.

4.

I will therefore suppose ... some evil spirit, supremely powerful and cunning, has devoted all his efforts to deceiving me.


Meditator, First Meditation: Of Those Things That May Be Called into Doubt

Just when the Meditator believes he has achieved an indubitable truth—mathematics—he realizes he could be deceived. He sets aside for the moment the possibility that God is deceiving him. He doesn't yet know whether or not there is a God, and if there is, God is perfect and so wouldn't deceive him. The Meditator could just as easily be deceived by an evil genius, which casts initial doubt on the veracity of mathematics.

5.

He can deceive me ... but he will never bring it about that I should be nothing as long as I think I am something.


Meditator, Second Meditation: Of the Nature of the Human Mind; That It Is More Easily Known Than the Body

This is the crucial moment at which the Meditator runs into an idea that cannot be doubted and must therefore be true. The Meditator concludes—or intuits by the "natural light" of reason—that thinking is a mode of being. Consequently, it is impossible to think but not exist.

6.

This proposition, "I am, I exist," whenever it is uttered by me, or conceived in the mind, is necessarily true.


Meditator, Second Meditation: Of the Nature of the Human Mind; That It Is More Easily Known Than the Body

The Meditator relies on this realization when he later claims he cannot be sure he exists when he is not thinking. At present his existence as a thinker is guaranteed when—and only when—he is engaged in a thinking activity.

7.

I am not at all imagining what this wax is, I am perceiving it with my mind alone.


Meditator, Second Meditation: Of the Nature of the Human Mind; That It Is More Easily Known Than the Body

Armed with the certainty of his existence as a thinking thing, the Meditator wants to know more. Although he does not have any proof material things exist, he nevertheless proposes to consider what seems obvious to him; namely, that they do. He uses a piece of wax as his subject.

After examining it he realizes neither his senses nor his imagination told him anything about the wax from one moment to the next. Instead it was a mental act, a judgment, that made this thing—despite its sensible changes, and despite the fact his imagination cannot comprehend the minutiae of these changes—the same object he first picked up.

8.

What do I see other than hats and coats, which could be covering automata? But I judge that they are people.


Meditator, Second Meditation: Of the Nature of the Human Mind; That It Is More Easily Known Than the Body

Having supposed the existence of material things (a piece of wax), despite not yet having the epistemological justification to do so, the Meditator has learned more about what it is to be a thinking thing. More specifically, he has learned it is not the senses that tell him what something is but rather a faculty of his mind. His senses provide information, but his mind makes a judgment about it. Consequently, it is not necessarily his senses that deceive him so much as his errors in judgment.

9.

As a general rule ... everything I very clearly and distinctly perceive is true.


Meditator, Third Meditation: Of God: That He Exists

The Meditator has sought a standard, rule, or principle for determining certainties (and therefore knowledge). The certainty of the "I think" serves as the exemplar of the rule: the "I" is self-evident and, as nothing else has yet been established as true and as the "I" is a simple substance, it is separate from all other (possible) entities.

10.

It is manifest by the natural light ... there must be at least as much reality in the total and efficient cause as in its effect.


Meditator, Third Meditation: Of God: That He Exists

The Meditator is certain the cause of an effect must be at least as real as the effect. It would be strange, for example, to think of the parents of a baby to be less real than the baby. Here the use of "efficient" cause refers to the initiator of an event. So when the Meditator looks at the content of his idea of God and sees that it includes perfection, he concludes the initiator of the cause has to be perfect as well. Since the Meditator himself is imperfect, he cannot be the cause of his idea of God.

11.

If whatever is in me, I have from God ... if he has not given me any faculty of making mistakes ... I can never be mistaken.


Meditator, Fourth Meditation: Of Truth and Falsity

The Meditator, having realized in the Second Meditation that he makes errors in judgment, and also having concluded in the Third Meditation that God exists and is his creator, is now faced with a dilemma. On one hand he knows he makes mistakes, but on the other hand God, his creator, wouldn't create him to make mistakes.

12.

Since the range of the will is greater than ... intellect, I do not confine it within the same limits ... it ... falls away from the true.


Meditator, Fourth Meditation: Of Truth and Falsity

The Meditator uncovers the source of his error; namely, free will (which, in the Second Meditation was associated with judgment) whose scope outstrips his intellect. When the will does not focus solely on clear and distinct ideas, or when it does not refrain from judging in the absence of this sort of idea, it is liable to fall into error.

13.

The thought of a God ... who lacks existence ... is no less contradictory than the thought of a mountain without a valley.


Meditator, Fifth Meditation: Of the Essence of Material Things; And Again of God, That He Exists

Descartes presents the second of two arguments for God's existence, one in the Third Meditation and the other here, in the Fifth Meditation. This ontological argument proceeds from an inventory of God's attributes to his necessary existence. God's essence includes existence since it is impossible for a perfect being not to exist, and God is perfect. The comparison to the concept of a mountain is intended to show what is included in a concept, such that on analysis, those essential elements become clear.

14.

If ... I wish to think of a chiliogon ... I do not imagine the thousand sides ... as present.


Meditator, Sixth Meditation: Of the Existence of Material Things, and the Real Distinction between Mind and Body

The Meditator, having established in the Fifth Meditation that the essence of bodies is extension, now turns his attention to the question of whether or not any bodies are real (i.e., existent) independently of his mind. He first distinguishes the faculty of imagination from "pure intellection" in order to show that the former faculty is associated with things external to the mind. To this end, the chiliogon (a shape with a thousand sides) shows him that he cannot picture (imagine) its thousand sides all at once, but he can understand what it is to be a thousand-sided figure. The mind's picturing apparatus, unlike other mental faculties, is not essential to it. Its function is to "turn outward."

15.

I need no longer fear that the things the senses represent to me in ordinary life are false.


Meditator, Sixth Meditation: Of the Existence of Material Things, and the Real Distinction between Mind and Body

Having established that mind and body are distinct and that bodies really do exist, the Meditator needs to resolve his doubts about the senses once and for all. While his bodily nature may be such as to be inconsistent, it is in general reliable. Provided he trusts his senses somewhat and focuses on affirming clear and distinct ideas, the Meditator can eliminate the hyperbolic doubt he has exercised over the past several days.

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