8. Why does Descartes write ‘Meditation of first Philosophy’? Explain the main issues of
the book. What kinds of questions is Descartes trying to answer in his book?
In an ever-changing world at the height of the Scientific Revolution, Descartes wrote his
novel. The main question he wants answered is ‘how can we find truth in this world?’He
begins by stripping away everything that he believed in, and he doubts everything. He wants
to gain knowledge from his doubt about the way that the world really is. He questions God’s
existence, his own existence, the relationship between mind and body, the existence of life
outside ourselves, and the reason for our shortcomings and mistakes. Known as the “Father of
Rationalism,” Descartes attempts to use reason rather than faith to gain knowledge of the
world that we live in. He gives us a new way of looking at the world.
9. At the end of Meditation I, he says: ‘I will suppose not a supremely good God, the
source of truth, but rather an evil genius, supremely powerful and clever, who has
directed his entire effort at deceiving me’. How does he come to this conclusion? Explain
his vision of reality in Meditation I.
He comes to the conclusion that God is not the root of the deception, because God is all good.
In doubting everything, he learns that “an evil genius” is the source of deception. He also
concludes that our senses are deceiving, so therefore, we cannot trust our senses. This stems
from his original idea to doubt everything to find the truth. Because doubt is used to discover
truth, and because is a bad thing, he concludes that truth must also come from “an evil
genius.” In the sciences, we must use our senses; thus, the sciences can be deceiving. He also
has difficulty understanding during which parts of his life that he is dreaming and which parts
are tangible realities.
He comes to this conclusion through questioning the origin of doubt. He believes that doubt is
NOT a good thing, whereas God is supremely good. Therefore, God would not be able to
create doubt. Rather, it is created by an “evil genius.” However, it is through doubt that we are
able to find the truth. Therefore, he believes that whoever created doubt, in turn, created truth.
This negative view of truth stems from his vision of reality that he describes as “like a
prisoner who enjoys an imaginary freedom while dreaming, but once he realizes he is asleep,
he fears being awake.” He concludes that our body (like our senses) deceive us, and we can
only rely on our mind.
10. Descartes discovers with 100 percent certitude: “… it must finally be established that
this pronouncement: “I am, I exist” is necessarily true every time I utter it or conceive it in my mind.” How does he come to this conclusion and what does he mean by the
definition of himself as a ‘thinking thing’? (Meditation II)
Descartes believes that there is one principle of truth that allows us to create more and more
truths. For him, this is our ability to doubt, which means that we are thinking, which means
that we are existing. From this one principle, Descartes coins the phrase, “I think, therefore I
am” (Cogito ergo sum). Essentially, because we think, we exist. Likewise, because we exist,
we think. This, however, is a circular argument.
In Meditation II, Descartes is searching for one certain truth, even if that truth is that there is
no certainty. He also says that there is a difference between “I” and “body,” because Descartes
realizes that he is not his body. The body is perceived through the senses,