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Analysis Of Rene Descartes' Meditations On First Philosophy

1559 words - 6 pages

Rene Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy

Rene Descartes set the groundwork for seventeenth century rationalism, the view opposed by the empiricist school of thought. As a rationalist, Descartes firmly believed in reason as the principal source of knowledge. He favoured deduction and intellect over the senses and because of this he did not find comfort in believing that his opinions, which he had developed in his youth, were credible. It is for this reason that Rene Descartes chose to “raze everything to the ground and begin again from the original foundations,” (13). On page thirteen of his Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes made the claim that these opinions from his youth were false, and therefore those opinions that he had built upon them were also false. In this book, Descartes claims to have freed his mind of all those false opinions and begins by believing nothing, because he is attempting to obtain an objective view of the truth, and this is something he cannot do if he is being influenced by his previous misconceptions. On page fourteen, just before nineteen in the margins, Descartes discusses the deceptive nature of the senses. He claims that “whatever I had admitted until now as most true I received either from the senses or through the senses” (14), and because Descartes believes that we should never put our trust in anything that has deceived us even once (14), he concludes that he cannot trust anything he has known as true up until now. This is Descartes’ reasoning behind doubting everything he once thought he knew, and from this conclusion, he goes on to arrive at the one absolute certainty that he exists.
To arrive at this certainty, he first mentions that in order to determine that we know anything, we must begin with a firm foundation of only indubitable beliefs. This means that one should reject any opinion that can be doubted, leaving only the unquestionable and self-evident beliefs. Such self-evident beliefs like “four plus four equals eight” should not be subject to doubt because they remain obvious and true whether one is awake or asleep as a priori knowledge. It is here that Descartes questions his existence but quickly arrives at the conclusion that his existence is an indubitable concept; however, he reasons: “doubtless I did exist, if I persuaded myself of something”. In this thought process, Descartes doubts his existence, but in doubting he is therefore existing because doubting requires thinking. To Descartes, thinking implies existence; therefore as long as he is a thinking thing and a rational being, he indubitably must exist, and the “pronouncement ‘I am, I exist’ is necessarily true every time I utter it or conceive it in my mind” (18). In Meditation 3, Descartes has concluded three things: he exists, he has ideas, and God exists. Following this, he concludes that thinking is a perfection that only a being like God could have instilled in us; therefore the ultimate cause of one’s existence must...

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