Tag Archives: meditations

Descartes fourth meditation – short essay

Descartes’ fourth meditation is on ‘Truth and Falsity’. His aim in this meditation is to show how and why we err.

By this stage of the meditations, we doubt everything, except for the existence of ourselves as ‘thinking things’, and the existence of a god (*Assuming Descartes’ has achieved his aims in the previous meditations*). At the end of Meditation three, and the beginning of Meditation four, Descartes’ tells us that god cannot be a deceiver, because that would suggest imperfection. Since this is not the case, we need to know how, if he is perfect, he created us to err.

Descartes aims to show that it is not god who deceives us; we are simply ‘allowed’ to be deceived. This is not an error on gods part, but in fact our fault for using the ‘gifts’ we have incorrectly.

He notes that we have infinite free will; god has not limited us in this way. However, we cannot possibly have infinite knowledge. Our capacity for error comes not from god, but from the mismatch of our level of knowledge to our infinite free will.

Descartes’ claims that we make ‘judgments’ on situations, using our free will, in spite of our lack of knowledge. This is the true nature of error. However, he also wants to give us a way of negating, or at the very least, reducing our degree of error.

He uses his notion of god, in conjunction with ‘clear and distinct’ ideas to show that if we only assent/dissent from propositions that we clearly and distinctly perceive, when we are lacking in complete knowledge, then we cannot be led astray. Where we do not have a clear and distinct idea, we must reign in our will and withhold our assent/dissent.

With assistance from clear and distinct ideas, free will, and the finite nature of our ‘nature’, Descartes places our free capacity of judgment as the sole source of error. God, much as he gave us the capacity for truth and knowledge, would not limit our free will, and so cannot stop us being wrong. God is not at fault; we are, for going beyond our knowledge even when we do not have a clear and distinct idea about the proposition in question.

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Descartes’ First Meditation – Dreaming Argument Short Essay

The first of Descartes’ meditations posit an argument which suggests no objective way to confirm whether we are awake, or actually dreaming. However, Descartes’ did not actually think the world could be a dream; his dreaming argument was ‘designed’ to break the readers’ belief/acceptance of sensory experience, at least casting doubt on its capacity to provide ‘truth’.

Descartes’ was embarking on a sceptical project to clear away the rubble of what he thought were false ideas. This project was essentially against all metaphysics of his day, which was generally Aristotelian. To begin his destruction of sense experience as a giver of truth, he needs to cast doubt on them.

His dreaming argument does this; he begins by noticing how strong and vivid his experience is. Sitting by the fire, warm from the heat, writing by the glow of the fire. Then he begins to doubt, claiming that he has often had dreams which were so vivid that he has thought he was sitting by the fire, when in fact he was asleep in bed. He aims to show that we have no sure way of knowing the difference between dreaming and reality. Our senses do not always give us correct information about the world.

Part of this project was to prepare the reader meditating with him for his theories of mind and ideas. With this dreaming argument, along with his ‘evil demon’ argument which follows (to cast doubt on mathematical knowledge), he aims to lead the reader down a path of acceptance in innate ideas, particularly of an incorporeal self, and of god.

After inducing this doubt, and proving the existence of a soul, and god, Descartes will return the use of sensory experience in defined limits. So Descartes certainly does not wish to suggest that the world could be a dream; he simply wants to induce doubt on the senses, and prepare the reader for his ‘new’ theory of mind, and the necessity of a god.