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Lecture 1: Rene Descartes, Meditations 1 and 2

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University of Toronto St. George
Margaret Morrison

Rene Descartes Meditations One and Two  Born 1596  Famous for having made connections between geometry and algebra – some geometrical problems can be solved using algebraic equations.  Physics – mechanical explanation – rival to Newtonianism  Wrote several scientific treatises.  “Le Monde” (1633) withheld from publication due to the Galileo affair. Medieval Scholastic Thought:  Stemmed from Scripture and Aristotle  Did not always agree with modern emerging science but Scholasticism was an attempt to reconcile them.  Church discouraged free learning and deviations from authorized belief. Descartes is often called the “Father of Modern Philosophy” due to:  his break with the traditional Scholastic-Aristotelian philosophy prevalent at his time  to his development and promotion of the new, mechanistic sciences. Break with Scholastic philosophy was twofold:  Descartes thought that the Scholastics‟ method was prone to doubt given their reliance on sensation as the source of knowledge.  He wanted to replace their final causal model of scientific explanation with the more modern, mechanistic model. Scholasticism (St. Thomas Aquinas - attempt to reconcile Christian theology with Aristotle). Challenges to Scholasticism - Dispute about the nature of evidence and explanation:  Reason and Observation - Authoritarian Doctrine  Physical Laws and Measurable Properties - Divine Purpose How can the new scientific spirit of investigation be reconciled with theology?  The basis of knowledge needs to be re-evaluated in order to achieve a reconciliation.  Philosophical inquiry needs to deal with the philosophical implications of the new scientific method. Two modes of knowledge:  Importance of experiment and sense experience, a posteriori  Logical reasoning from self-evident truths (mathematics), a priori  Meditations open by developing sceptical questions about the possibility of knowledge.  Scepticism is used as a vehicle to motivate the reader to discover, by way of philosophical investigation, what constitutes the “ground” of knowledge.  What are absolute truths? How do you know anything for sure? Method of doubt introduced in the first meditation:  Descartes realizes that many of his beliefs are unreliable  Knowledge must be based on certainty, the only route to knowledge is to reject what‟s uncertain. Ultimate aim - discover a secure foundation for knowledge and the new science.  Descartes raises the question of doubt only to show how it can be answered.  He reveals why the new science is preferable to scholasticism.  How science and religion can be reconciled (despite appearances to the contrary). Foundation for the new science is both:  Epistemic - (What truths are basic and how do we know those truths.)  Metaphysical – (What things are fundamental and how we can prove their existence.) Two part strategy to achieve these goals: 1. Tries to show that the only way to answer radical scepticism is with a philosophy that provides a solid foundation for the new science and religion. Scholasticism and material atheism are both inadequate, neither can answer the radical scepticism of Meditation One 2. Argument designed to show that the soul is a substance distinct from the body. The essence of mind and matter are different. Argument of the Meditations 1. There is a real sceptical problem. 2. Tries to solve it by proving that clear and distinct ideas are true by demonstrating the existence of God. 3. This shows that physics has a solid foundation and that this requires and is therefore compatible with the existence of God. 4. Proper scientific understanding of matter reveals that soul and body are distinct.  Therefore, physics and religion are secure. Meditation One  Doubt doesn‟t require thinking that all one‟s beliefs are false; it means suspending judgment regarding their truth.  The possibility of falsity means that it is not an absolute truth thus, it is not reliable  Varying stages of doubt – possible to be deceived while sleeping, dreaming doubt  Dreaming doubt can only be discerned from reality by its discontinuity with it  Hyperbolical doubt: Possible that all my beliefs are false and that my entir
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