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PHL100Y- Descartes- Meditations 2.pdf

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Department
Philosophy
Course
PHL100Y1
Professor
Peter King
Semester
Fall

Description
DESCARTES: MEDITATION 2 [1] Four things happen in the Second Meditation: (a) the Meditator’s discovery of his existence as the sought-for metaphysically certain first principle; (b) the subsequent recognition that he is essentially a thinking thing and exploration of his nature; (c) the real distinction between mind and body; (d) proof via the wax-example that the mind is better-known than the body. [2] The most famous bit of philosophical reasoning: Cogito ergo sum. There are two broad kinds of interpretations of the Meditator’s certainty regarding his own existence: the traditional or inferentialist reading, and the so-called ‘performative’ or, as I’ll refer to it, the pragmatic reading. Each is supported in Descartes’s writings. I take the latter to be better, both as an interpretation (at least of the Meditations) and as a philosophical position. Here’s why. On the Inferentialist Interpretation, the Cogito represents an inference: from his reflections the Meditator draws the conclusion that he exists—he is thus deductively certain of his existence, inferring it from some other claim(s). The most obvious candidate is the most famous one: the “I think”. But as many have pointed out, this further requires knowing some intermediate proposition linking thought to existence, e.g. “Only existing things think” (which should be subject to doubt). [3] On the Pragmatic Interpretation, the Meditator finds himself in the very special situation in which his very act of propounding a claim makes the content of that claim true. Put as generally as this, we can easily find other examples of the genre, such as saying “Someone is speaking English”. The very act of saying “Someone is speaking English” makes the content of what is said true—it just is the state of affairs in which someone is speaking English. Well, the Meditator can only propound a claim by thinking it, since for all he knows he has no body and hence no way to express a proposition through writing or speaking. What claim? “I exist” (or equivalently “I am”). The very act of thinking this claim (which is how it’s propounded) validates its content, since he could not think it were its content not the case, that is, were he not to exist. That is why Descartes calls it necessarily true: it is a contingent proposition, of course, but one that must be true whenever propounded (just as “I am dead” must be false whenever propounded). Such self-supporting claims have their truth-conditions necesarily satisfied by the conditions of their expression. This is a noteworthy way in which a claim can be true, and Descartes was quite right to call attention to it as something special. Its truth (a semantic property) is guaranteed by pragmatic considerations, similar to the way token-reflexive propositions can be true (“I am here” or “This sentence has five words”). Note that necessary truths, discussed at the end of the First Meditation, are not self-supporting. Neither are self-supporting truths necessary, except in that they cannot be false when thought—exactlywhat the Meditator says. [4] After discovering his existence, the Meditator then turns to exploring the kind of thing he is, that is, he attempts to uncover his nature. (This should be taken in conjunction with the worries in the First Meditation.) The reasoning seems to go as follows: (1) There are thoughts. (2) Thoughts are owned, i.e. this thought is mine. (3) Thoughts are real attributes or modes. (4) Real attributes or modes belong to something. (5) The s
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