Meditations 1 and 2
**In the first of his six Meditations
on First Philosophy, Descartes presents his method for establishing
a set of beliefs that are secure and that will therefore serve
as a good foundation for other beliefs, including those developed
by the sciences. Our goal will be to understand exactly what
Descartes' method of doubt amounts to. In thinking over the structure
of the first Meditation, you will need to think about what this
method is and how it is supposed to work. The following questions
may be helpful:
1. Descartes claims to be setting out to doubt all that he had
previously taken to be true. What exactly does this mean? How
is it possible to doubt everything one had previously believed?
2. Is Descartes' doubt as radical as he claims it to be? Or is
it more specific?
3. Do dreams work as Descartes claims they do?
4. Can we really doubt that there is no external world? that
we do not have hands? What about insanity? Is there a link between
philosophy and madness?
5. What exactly is the hypothesis of the evil genius that Descartes
invokes towards the end of Meditation 1? What does he do? Does
this secure Descartes' program of "hyperbolic doubt"?
**In the second Meditation, Descartes
proposes to stop the hyperbolic doubt he has raised in the first
Meditation with his own existence. This is a fact, he
claims, that he cannot doubt. But why exactly does he think that
he cannot doubt his own existence? Be sure to look closely at
the text and go over his process of reasoning.
By the way, Descartes' conclusion is often rendered as Cogito
ergo SumI think, therefore I am. How does this formulation
differ from the one in the second Meditation? Is the difference
Descartes goes on to discuss his nature as a `man'. What does
he identify as his nature? What does he see as not essential
to his being? How does he justify his distinction?
Finally, can you figure out what the point of Descartes' discussion
of the piece of wax is?