Lindsey – Paper #2

In Meditation one, Descartes addresses the things that can be called into question, and makes a case as to why we can doubt everything.  This doubt is useful in “freeing us from all prejudices.” (26)  This freedom from prejudice allows us to start fresh and discover for ourselves the things that are true. The things we are taught when we are young and take for granted that they are true cause a weak foundation, because of this we should “raze everything to the ground and begin again from the original foundations, if I wanted to establish anything firm and lasting” (27).  This is, however,impossible to do without being free of all cares and prejudices, as well as being prepared to withdraw from the world so as not to be contaminated by the outside world.  Descates suggests “witholding assent from opinions that are not completely certain,” rather than proving all of your previous opinions false (28). Even though he says that we should “raze everything,” it seems that he views reason as something that he can count on.

The senses are called into question almost immediatley in the first meditation, and they aren’t just dimissed, they are harshly critiqued and seemingly forbidden (28).

It seems that after this Descartes reconsiders the severity of his claims and reconsiders saying, “…still there are many ither matters concerning which one simply cannot doubt, even though they are derived from the very same senses” (28).  He seems to think that the senses are accurate most of the time and even poses the question, “ …on what grounds could one deny that these hands and this entire body are mine” (28).  Then he brings up dreaming, and seems to begin questioning the senses again.  It is like he’s saying humans sleep and wake, but who is to say that our waking moments aren’t just dreams.  Descartes says, “I see so plainly that there are no definiteive signs by which ti distinguish being awake from being asleep,” and as a result of this confusion he is “ becoming quite dizzy and this dizziness nearly convinces me that I an asleep” (28). As an answer to this problem Descartes says that there are three types of ideas: innate, adventitious, and fabrications. The innate ideas come from one’s own nature, adventitious are concieved bodily and fabrications are generated by the mind.  For Descartes, these three classes allow us to conclude, “…that physics, astronomy,medicine and all the other disciplines that are dependent upon the consideration of composite things are doubtful” (29).  These categories also allow us to see that things that are seen in an arithmetic way are “certain and indubitable” (29).

Descartes begins to take on the existence of God in Meditation one, but finishes it in Meditation three.  He believed that he was created by someone or something, and that this innate idea was put into him by the very same substance that created him. He says that some people believe that God is fictious and that, “…they supose that I came to be what I am either by fate or by chance, or by a connected chain of events, or by some other way” (29).  Descartes thinks that the “author of his origin” is not an “evil genius” type, but rather “ a supremely good God” (29).  His proof for that is, more or less,  his reason, will and ability to make sense of things.  The basis for his proof of God is the three types of reality: eminent,formal and objective.  Eminent reality is the ability to cause other things, formal reality is the intrinsic reality of something, and objective reality is the content of an idea.  Based on these types of reality and the fact that Descartes never doubts causal principles, he lays out his first proof, “ Now it is indeed evident by the light of nature that there must be at least as much reality in the efficient and total cause as there is in the effect of that same cause” (35).  Things have to have some sort of cause because they don’t just spontaneously appear out of nothingness, they are caused and those causes have to have reality, especially in the case of ideas, meaning that the idea has to have at least as much formal reality as the idea has objective reality.  The next proof Descartes lays out is that his idea of God had to come from somewhere since it is as clear and distinct as it is, and that the giver of this idea must have be infinite since a human is finite and cannot give such an idea.  Descartes phrases this proof, “ a certain substance that is infinite.independent,supremely intelligent,supremely powerful anf that created me along with everything else that exists” (38).  Everything has some type of reality, but it is limited since they cannot just snap their fingers and create more, which means something with infinite formal reality must exist since things must be created.  Since humans are most definitely limited, we don’t have infinite formal reality which is cause to believe that there exists something separate from humans that has this infinite formal reality.


One thought on “Lindsey – Paper #2

  1. Lindsey,

    I like that you point out that Descartes never seems to doubt the power of reason. As I mentioned in class, Descartes never seems to doubt causal principles either. For instance–and this is key for your paper–he never seems to doubt that there must be at least reality in the cause as in the effect. Of course, since he says he knows this by the natural light of reason, maybe the causal principle problem collapses into the reason problem that you highlight.

    I think you do a decent job of trying to sort through the various levels of reality and the status of the ontological and cosmological proofs for God’s existence. I agree that Meditations One and Three are key for an understanding of God. I think, though, that Meditation Five is also key, and perhaps you could have spent a bit of time on that. As I read the Meditations, Meditation Five is important because of the status of judgments that he has established in Meditation Four. In other words, he hasn’t lent his assent to God’s existence in Meditation Three, despite having apparently demonstrated it. But he does so in Meditation Five, once he has explored in Four the “true and the false” (i.e., judgments).

    By and large, I think you have the causal picture down, though; it isn’t easy to keep the objective, formal, and eminent stuff distinct, but by and large I think you pull it off.

    There are minor typographical errors but overall this is solidly written and arranged.


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