An Examination of the Second Meditation of Descartes

analytical Essay
1585 words
1585 words

An Examination of the Second Meditation of Descartes

Baird and Kaufmann, the editors of our text, explain in their outline of Descartes' epistemology that the method by which the thinker carried out his philosophical work involved first discovering and being sure of a certainty, and then, from that certainty, reasoning what else it meant one could be sure of. He would admit nothing without being absolutely satisfied on his own (i.e., without being told so by others) that it was incontrovertible truth. This system was unique, according to the editors, in part because Descartes was not afraid to face doubt. Despite the fact that it was precisely doubt of which he was endeavoring to rid himself, he nonetheless allowed it the full reign it deserved and demanded over his intellectual labors. "Although uncertainty and doubt were the enemies," say Baird and Kaufmann (p.16), "Descartes hit upon the idea of using doubt as a tool or as a weapon. . . . He would use doubt as an acid to pour over every 'truth' to see if there was anything that could not be dissolved . . . ." This test, they explain, resulted for Descartes in the conclusion that, if he doubted everything in the world there was to doubt, it was still then certain that he was doubting; further, that in order to doubt, he had to exist. His own existence, therefore, was the first truth he could admit to with certainty, and it became the basis for the remainder of his epistemology.

In his "Synopsis of the Following Six Meditations," Descartes writes the longest paragraph by far on the Second Meditation. This is hardly surprising, since it is the one most critical to his methodology -- the one without which, his entire system of reasoning would collapse. In the first sentence of it, he presents exactly that conclusion which, as we have just seen, Baird and Kaufmann discussed: "In the Second Meditation," he says (p. 23), "the mind uses its own freedom and supposes the non-existence of all things about whose existence it can have even the slightest doubt; and in so doing the mind notices that it is impossible that it should not itself exist during this time." He goes on to say that this will enable the mind to distinguish itself from the body. At this point he spends a good deal of space speaking of exactly why he will not attempt to prove the immortality of the soul in this section, though perhaps some of his audience might have expected him to.

In this essay, the author

  • Explains descartes' method of carrying out his philosophical work involved first discovering and being sure of a certainty and then reasoning what else it meant one could be certain of.
  • Analyzes how descartes writes the longest paragraph in his "synopsis of the following six meditations" on the second meditation.
  • Analyzes how descartes opens the meditation almost in a frenzy, apparently on the verge of panic about the prospect of "losing" the reality he'd known all along.
  • Analyzes how descartes concludes that only thought is inseparable from his identity.
  • Analyzes how the meditation is devoted to descartes' famous examination of a piece of wax. he pauses and considers that if he perceives the wax to exist at all, then there must be an "i" doing this perceiving.
  • Opines that descartes' preface to the reader is of surprisingly little assistance in preparing oneself for the reading of the meditations to come.
  • Opines that descartes could have done a better job of preparing or following his synopsis in the case of the second meditation.
  • Opines that the meditation can be divided into two parts: the proof for the existence of self, and that for objects independent of the self.
  • Opines that descartes' assertion that external objects are "understood" comes from nowhere and is nowhere supported.
  • Analyzes how the second meditation reveals the mathematical, rational basis on which descartes' methodology rests, and the rationalism inextricable from the thinker's philosophy.
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