Eryn – Paper #2

Meditation, commonly associated with a physical discipline, is more than a clear mind and a healthy lifestyle. According to Descartes, meditation is an exercise of self-knowledge. When practiced correctly, self-knowledge will achieve meditation’s original goal- to find a foundation that is certain to be true. In his piece entitled, Meditations, Descartes used six meditations to prove God’s existence. Furthermore, he believed his meditations could convert the non-believers by providing an explanation for God’s existence rather than the traditional preaching and lecturing.
Meditation One: Concerning Those Things That can be called into Doubt, reminds readers to doubt everything unless it is certain. For example, “arithmetic, geometry…contain something certain and indubitable”(29). What is certain is “whether I am awake or asleep, two plus three makes five, and a square does not have more than four sides” (29.) Obvious statements such as those should not be considered false, however, everything else must be considered false until proven certain, including God.

Descartes continued to Meditation Two: Concerning the Nature of the Human Mind: That it is Better Known than the Body. This meditation reinforced meditation one and added to doubt memory, for it is deceitful (30). But what if one were to doubt God? The knowledge of God reveals that He is all good and never evil, yet our mind is deceitful. In this case should we question our existence as well as Gods? No because there is no doubt we exist. We take up space, we have substance we have a presence. Even though we must doubt our mind, we should never doubt our senses. Our senses are connected to our body. If my mind senses pain it is because my body feels pain as well. The body and mind are intertwined with senses for certain, yet the mind must be continually questioned for validity since it can be deceitful.
Descartes uses meditation to provide proof of God’s existence in The Third Mediation, Concerning God That He Exists. Unlike the last two meditations, that prepared readers for receiving the truth through the use of meditations, the third meditation uses eminent reality and formal reality to prove His existence. Eminent reality is higher or more real than having something formally (36). For example, God does not have mountainhood but he can bring mountains into being. It is the ability to create or cause other things. Formal reality, which is intrinsic, has formal reality but goes through different stages (37). For example, the idea of a creator existing is a form of formal reality because the creator, God, placed the idea inside my head. My mind is not the idea. Although all ideas have the same formal reality, the content or representation of an idea is defined as objective reality (37). Descartes uses objective to prove God as the idea of “a supreme deity, eternal, infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, and creator of all things other than Himself” (36). Therefore, humans are limited, we are not supreme, eternal, or infinite and we do not have formal reality (37). God on the other hand is not limited and has formal reality (38).
For further explanation, his fourth Meditation regards truth and falsity. In addition to formal reality, Descartes demonstrates why man is subject to mistakes and errors. “It is impossible for God to ever deceive me, for trickery is always indicative of some imperfection (41).” Since God is perfect, as explained in Meditation Three, deception is not the answer. “Rather it just so happens that I make mistakes because the faculty of judging the truth, which I get from God, is not, in my case, infinite” (41). As a result of man’s limitations humans are susceptible to misjudgment and, in contrast, God is infinite therefore He is not.
Although Descartes argued the reason behind the idea of God was His existence, His placement of this idea was purposely distributed into the minds of man, and that He is perfect and infinite, does validate His existence. This is why he wrote the Fifth Meditation, Concerning the Essence of Material Things, and Again Concerning God, That He Exists. This meditation serves as proof for God’s existence and is meant to provide certainty. Within this work he further explained that the idea of God is so clear and descriptive that the human mind is not capable of imagining a creator so great(46). Ultimately, God must have placed this idea into our minds.

Finally, the last meditation, Concerning the Existence of Material Things, and the Real Distinction between the Mind and Body, takes a different route. Instead of justifying the body’s existence, Descartes presents the probability.Within his first observation “there is a great difference between a mind and a body, in that a body, by its very nature is always divisible”(53). He continued to explain the great difficulty to separate the image of the mind and the body. “Although the entire mind seems to be united to the entire body, nevertheless, were a foot or a arm or any other bodily part to be amputated, I know that nothing has been taken away from the mind on that account”(53). Once understood that the mind and the body are separate from one another, the recognition of the different parts of the mind will be comprehended as well. “…The faculties of willing, sensing, understanding, and so on be called ‘parts’ of the mind, since it is one and the same mind that wills, senses, and understands”(53). The second observation regards common sense. He wrote, “my mind is not immediately affected by all the parts of the body, but only the brain, or perhaps…where ‘common’ sense is said to reside”(53). In addition to his second observation, he furthermore provided an explanation of the distinction between the mind and the body. For instance, the body and it’s parts are all connected. In this case if there was a “ cord ABCD, and if the final part D is pulled, the first part A would be moved exactly the same manner as it could be, if one of the intermediate parts B or C were pulled, while the end part D remained immobile”(54). Likewise, he continued, “when I feel a pain in my foot, physics teachers me that this sensation takes place by means of nerves distributed throughout the foot, like stretched cords extending from the foot all the way to the brain”(54). The mind would feel the same pain as the foot. The last observation highlights the richness of sensations and how they “conduct the maintenance of a healthy man” (54). In conclusion to the sixth mediation, “there is nothing to be found in them that does not bear witness to God’s power and goodness”(54).

In the final analysis, Descartes used six meditations to prove God’s existence. He chose this assuming humans to be rational and that in order to be convinced he must provide them with justification and evidence. Ultimately, he found the foundation of certainty and verified his certainly. Not only did he provide readers proof of God but he provided proof of the immortal soul and the different realities. In addition to providing evidence, he provided guidance, like God does with His children, regarding the order of mediations to read. It is with this combination through the use of meditation that he may have reached success converting the non believers to believers. Instead of preaching and lecturing, he laid out the evidence and supported it, a perfect approach to convert a rational man’s way of thinking.

One thought on “Eryn – Paper #2

  1. Eryn,

    This is a good synoptic and analytic look at the scope of the Meditations as a whole.

    Why is it, do you think, that he can’t doubt the stuff on p.29–arithmetic, geometry, and the like? Why is it that he thinks mathematics is a domain that is indubitable, or at least capably of being known clearly and distinctly? This seems similar to the problem that Lindsey raises about Descartes never doubting the power of reason. Why is he so certain of the certainty of mathematics? I think this is a big issue for the theme of our course and for the nature of modernity in general. Is it in the end because mathematics allows us to describe and thus to have control over natural phenomena (whether or not mathematics explains natural phenomena)?

    I think you are a bit confused re: the status of the mind and the senses, although maybe this something like a simple spoonerism. You say: “Even though we must doubt our mind, we should never doubt our senses.” I think this is exactly backwards, although maybe I am misunderstanding the context. For Descartes, we should trust the mind (indeed, we can only know things, e.g., the wax, through the mind) and we should doubt the senses.

    One last comment: it’s worth remembering that Marcus Aurelius wrote a book called “Meditations.” To what extent Descartes is beholden to it (and to other Stoics like Epictetus and to Stoicism in general) would be a very interesting project. Maybe a book!

    I think you do a decent job of trying to sort out some tricky stuff in Meditation Three. Solid overall.


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