DESCARTES: MEDITATION 2
 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.
 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).
 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.
 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