The Meditations: Introduction - The Richmond Philosophy Pages

The Meditations: Introduction
What happens in the Meditations - the really short version
The Meditations is a short book of six chapters. In the first chapter, sets out his project:
to look for what can be known with certainty. He then introduces his method: to doubt
everything he takes himself to know to see if anything cannot be coherently doubted
and hence can be taken as certaintly true. He quickly finds grounds for doubting
everything he so far thought he knew. Is then knowledge impossible? No. In the
second chapter, he proves that he exists - at least, he as a conscious mind exists.
That's the first thing he can be certain of. He then establishes that God exists and
finally that the world outside his mind exists.
Descartes starts by wondering whether knowledge is possible and concludes that it is.
This does not mean he has simply ended up where he started. The Meditations is
designed to establish Descartes' rationalism. Knowledge does not begin with the
senses - with our perception of the world - but with reason or pure intellectual activity.
Furthermore, Descartes discovers a sharp distinction between the physical world of
matter and the non-physical world of minds. The famous position that minds and
physical things are essentially different substances is known as substance dualism.
The structure of the Meditations
Prior to publication, Descartes had copies of his manuscript sent to other great thinkers
of the day. They wrote comments, known as the objections, to Descartes' work.
Descartes then wrote replies to these objections. The complete version of the
Meditations thus contains three parts: Descartes' original text, the objections and his
replies. It is considerably bigger that the six chapters of the Meditations alone. You will
come across material from the objections and replies. Here's a table of who wrote the
Key Themes
Chapter 1:
The Project: to find certainty. The method of doubt. Unreliability of the
senses: dreaming. The demon and the possibility of global scepticism.
The Cogito: the proof that Descartes exists as a conscious mind. The
essential nature of mind: thought. The wax argument: knowledge of the
world is less certain that knowledge of the mind.
Chapter 2:
Chapter 3:
The way to truth: clear and distinct ideas. The Trademark arguments
that prove that God exists.
Chapter 4:
Why we make errors even though we have perfect intellects: our will
leads us into error.
Chapter 5:
The essential nature of physical things: extension. The ontological
argument for God's existence.
Chapter 6:
The difference between imagination and intellection. The conceivability
argument for dualism. The divisibility argument for dualism. The human
body and why it sometimes malfunctions. The proof that the external
world exists after all.
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The authors of the objections:
Objections 1:
Caterus (Johan de Cater): a Catholic theologian from Holland
Objections 2:
Marin Mersenne
Objections 3:
Thomas Hobbes: an English philosopher.
Objections 4:
Antoine Arnauld: a French theologian and logician.
Objections 5:
Pierre Gassendi: a French philosopher and scientist.
Objections 6:
'various theologians and philosophers' according to the original
text, compiled by Mersenne.
Objections 7:
Pierre Bourdin: a French Jesuit philosopher.
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