Study Guide for Descartes

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Mark Kingwell

D ESCARTES M EDITATIONS - S TUDY G UIDE [Page numbers are from the Penguin Edition] M EDITATIONO NE 1. Foundations (p.95) He realises most of his knowledge (esp. for science) is unreliable, and the only way is to rebuild it from the foundations. 2. Systematic Doubt (95) He proposes to destroy all his opinions, and only accept as knowledge those which are totally certain, rejecting the rest. Opinions should be rejected if there is any way in which they could be false. 3. Mistrusting the Senses (96) The senses are instantly rejected, because they are obviously occasionally deceptive, and they certainty cant be proved. 4. Madness and Dreams (96-7) The idea that daily experience is all wrong seems mad, but then he realises that dreams are a sort of daily madness, and he believe them. There is no clear proof that he is not currently dreaming. 5. Reality remixed (97) Although he may be dreaming, perhaps he can deduce what reality is like - it is the components out of which dreams are made. The major components (hands and eyes) may be imagined, but the basics must actually exist. 6. Mathematics (98) The most basic components (3+2=5, squares have four sides) are reliable, because they dont require any particular things to exist to make them true. 7. Deception by God (98) But it is possible that an omnipotent God exists, and such a being could deceive him about maths, so it isnt certain. 8. Deception by Nature (99) If there isnt a God then he is just the product of chance, which makes his maths even less reliable. 9. Deception by a Demon (100) To force himself to face up to his doubts, he imagines an evil demon who systematically deceives him about everything. MEDITATION TWO 10. Despair and Solipsism (102-3) He finds he is reaching total uncertainty. He must doubt his memory, and whether he has a body. He may be inventing reality himself, in which case he i
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