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PHL100Y- Descartes- Meditations 1.pdf

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University of Toronto St. George
Peter King

DESCARTES: MEDITATION 1 [1] Rene Descartes (31 March 1596–11 February 1650): Life and times. The composition of the Meditations, and its publication with the Objections and Replies: first version 1641, second version 1642. The literary genre of the Meditations: a philosophical departure. The Meditator and his freedom from any other aims or interests. [2] The First Meditation begins abruptly. In the first two paragraphs, the Meditator introduces the technique of doubt—variously he calls it ‘metaphysical’, ‘hyperbolical’, ‘exaggerated’, and ‘ridiculous’—and makes a series of moves that set the framework for the meditational enterprise. It’s worth spending some time on this to get it right. The Meditator declares that he is interested in truth. How does this turn into a quest for certainty? [3] Descartes accomplishes the trick by assuming a particular conception of knowledge. On the one hand, knowledge is a guide to truth, since what you know must be so, that is, must be true, and furthermore our access to the truth is via knowledge (it would do us no good to be told that some of the things we believe are true if we didn’t know which ones). On the other hand, knowledge is something that the knower has: it is a particular state of the knower. This leads to a psychological reading of the quest for truth. For the Meditator, the search for truth becomes the drive to be a knower, that is, someone whose beliefs have certainty. [4] What is it for a belief to “have certainty”? Well, the Meditator thinks that there can be no source of doubt about the kind of belief in question. In the second paragraph he declares: Reason now leads me to think that I should hold back my assent from opinions which are not completely certain and indubitable just as carefully as I do from those which are patently false. So, for the purpose of rejecting all my opinions, it will be enough if I find in each of them at least some reason for doubt. In particular, the Meditator will try to cast doubt on whole classes of beliefs by undermining their etiology, that is, the process by which we come to have such beliefs. The remainder of the First Meditation sets out to undermine general knowledge-claims based on sense-perception, then particular claims about here-and-now perception, and finally general claims whose content is independent of sense-perception. (It is more traditional to read the First Meditation in terms of the techniques he employs for hyperbolical doubt: errors, insanity, dreaming, deception by God or an e
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