Philosophy 202
Great Traditions of Western Thought
The Modern Period

 

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 significant?

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?

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