Rene Descartes’ Mediastones on First PhilosophyJune 27, 2021
The full name of Descartes’ little book written in 1640-41 is the First “Meditations on Philosophy”. The word “first” here is remarkable.
If you sat by the fireplace and wanted to philosophize on different meanings, as Descartes did most nights, what comes to mind at first? Don’t you start by reviewing what you think you know? So what can you know for sure? This will be the starting point for Descartes as well. In these six meditations that make up his most famous work, Descartes seeks the primary. In other words, he is looking for a proposition that cannot be doubted so that he can use it as the basis of knowledge.
Descartes takes us step by step in this intellectual adventure in search of certainty. The same Descartes wrote in his “Discourses”:
“Since my childhood, I have been nurtured by science and literature, and since I was convinced that clear and precise knowledge of everything useful in life can be achieved through them, I was extremely eager to learn them. But as soon as I completed the education curriculum and was naturally accepted to the rank of read, I completely changed my mind. Because I found myself beset with so many doubts and errors that I realized that my efforts to be educated had actually brought me nothing but a growing awareness of my ignorance.”
As such, Descartes’ starting point is reality and what can be known about reality. Here Descartes takes a metaphysical approach and asks: “What is out there? What kinds of things do I know?” The moment you ask these questions, you are engaged in epistemology. Because the next question would be: “How do you know the ordinary things you think you know?” For Descartes, the sword of doubt is sharper, goes deeper than the questions of philosophy.
Even the sciences like physics, anatomy, chemistry are ultimately based on observations, all observations created by your senses.
Intermediate Note: “The reports of the senses cannot be trusted,” says Descartes, “because the senses have deceived me in the past”. In his meditations, he says: “It would be prudent to never completely trust those who deceive us, even once.” If the existence of material objects such as billiard balls, tides, or microscopic organisms is in doubt, then the experimental sciences that explain the behavior of these objects must also be suspect.
However, in mathematics, the situation is different. Doubts about empirical sciences are not valid here, since Descartes thought that this branch of science did not have to depend on really existing material objects in reaching its conclusions. For example, when you read a stock page that talks about losses, gains and dividends, you can rely on these reliable indicators, right? Or when you look at the results on the previous day’s sports pages, aren’t they just as accurate? However, Descartes discovers a new reason for doubt here. Suppose that “there is an extremely powerful, cunning and evil genie who devotes all his energy to deceiving you,” he says in his first meditation. What if all this reality you claim to be observing is nothing but a dream created in your mind by such an omnipotent being? Undoubtedly, this is also a possibility. Even sciences like geometry or calculus are in doubt.
Second Meditation: Is There Anything Undoubted?
After the thorough and sheer doubts of his first meditation, Descartes set about renewing his search for exact knowledge. The lesson from that first exercise, it seems, is that everything can be doubted, because all roads to knowledge end in futile dead-ends. What is left? Was there even a starting point that would allow Descartes to emerge from this first destructive meditation and be reborn and shape knowledge? In other words, was there one thing he couldn’t doubt? Was it true, sadly, that all he could be sure of was that he could be sure of nothing? In the second meditation, Descartes first examines his previous doubts: “I convinced myself that there is nothing in the world, neither the earth, nor the sky, nor minds nor bodies.” Well, didn’t it follow from all this that Descartes never existed?
Starting Point: I Think, Therefore I Am
The question posed by Descartes in his second meditation is about mental activity. If he doubted something or approved, wanted or thought something, then these activities meant that it existed. Thus, “I think; therefore I am” became the first piece of information Descartes had.
that he knows. The only thing was that it existed. How Does? Because that was the only thing he couldn’t doubt. In other words, whenever he tried to doubt his existence, he saw that his existence was real. As for that evil demon, let him deceive as much as he wants, he said. As long as he (Descartes) thinks he’s something, it’s an omnipotent trick.