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

René Descartes

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Meditations on First Philosophy (with Objections and Replies) | Synopsis of the Following Six Meditations | Summary

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Summary

Descartes summarizes each of the six meditations that constitute Meditations on First Philosophy. He highlights the doubt that begins in the First Meditation, focusing on what is particularly doubted (material things) given the existing foundations for science. He also highlights the benefit of it; namely, liberation of the mind from prejudice, withdrawal from the senses, and guarantee that no further doubt is possible when truth is discovered.

The Second Meditation proceeds to intensify the doubt of everything that exists, only to realize it is impossible without the mind to engage in the doubting. By this process the mind discovers what belongs to its "intellectual nature" and what belongs to the body. At this point the immortality of the soul would also be proven, but Descartes declares that a "clear and distinct" conception of the soul must be achieved first. Understanding that clearly and distinctly perceived ideas are true is proven in the Fourth Meditation. A distinct conception of a body's nature is developed partly in the Second, and then also in the Fifth and Sixth Meditations. From these developments it follows in the Sixth Meditation, Descartes tells his reader, that clearly and distinctly perceiving different substances means that these substances really are distinct and "in a sense contrary." Body is, after all, divisible, while mind is not. From this it follows that the destruction of the body does not cause a similar destruction of the mind. This conclusion is derived, Descartes asserts, from premises that "depend on an explanation of the whole of physics." God has created everything that is. As such, substances are "incorruptible"; they cannot become nothing unless God annihilates them. So although the body—as composite—changes, it does not disappear. The mind, as a "pure" substance, will always remain the same.

Descartes declares the argument for the existence of God in the Third Meditation as his "principal proof." In an effort to avoid enlisting anything related to the senses so as to continue the mind's focus, Descartes says he "decided to make use of no comparisons derived from bodily things." This may have led to some confusion for the reader, although he hopes the reader will gain understanding in his Replies to Objections.

The emphasis of the Fourth Meditation lies in the proof that all clear and distinct ideas are true. Here also is provided an explanation of falsity.

The Fifth Meditation is concerned with an explanation of the general nature of bodies, along with a second proof of the existence of God. In addition, Descartes asserts that geometrical demonstrations depend on knowledge of God.

In the Sixth Meditation, Descartes distinguishes intellect from imagination, proves the mind is distinct from the body (but intimately connected to it so as for form a single entity), and explains the reality of material things.

Analysis

The usefulness of the Synopsis is not simply that it provides an overview of the work without rehearsing all its details, but also that it includes the moments of the Meditations Descartes chooses to highlight; namely, his chief points concerning God and the soul. For example, the distinction between mind and body is said to be dependent on the knowledge that clear and distinct perceptions are true (Fourth Meditation) and is fortified by the knowledge of material things (Second, Fifth, and Sixth Meditations).

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