Those three meditations are from the book Meditations on First Philosophy and published for the first time in Latin in 1641. The original title of the book was Meditationes de prima philosophia, in qua Dei existantia et animae immortalitas demonstratur or Meditations on First Philosophy in which the existence of God and the immortality of the soul are demonstrated.
In this paper we are going to present and to explain the different topics of the Meditations I-III by René Descartes.
In that Meditation, Descartes wants to make sure that all the knowledge that he acquired is true. However many of his opinions are based on doubtful principles, and he wants to get rid of all these opinions in order “to establish a firm and abiding superstructure in the sciences”.
“I will at once approach the criticism of the principles of which all my former beliefs rested” that sentence explain well the approach of Descartes. All of his arguments in that first Meditation are very skeptical; he wants to hang all the opinions about any of his beliefs
First of all, He notices that his senses had before misled him and especially with dreaming when he says “How often have I dreamt that I was in these familiar circumstances, that I was dressed, and occupied this place by the fire, when I was lying undressed in bed? At the present moment, however, I certainly look upon this paper with eyes wide awake; the head which I now move is not asleep; I extend this hand consciously and with express purpose, and I perceive it; the occurrences in sleep are not so distinct as all this.”
The skeptical argumentation of Descartes reveals that all of his beliefs are based on doubtful judgment, if he is dreaming then his beliefs are not reliable. For him, the things we see when we are dreaming are based on real objects, shapes etc. that we see. Nevertheless they are sometimes chimaeras, or even crazy, whether they are true and real or false, those events are created in our consciousness.
By putting in doubt all his beliefs Descartes denies them even about God. He introduces still with skepticism the idea of a powerful deceiving God. “We believe that there is an all powerful God who has created us and who is all powerful […] But perhaps Deity has not been willing that I should be thus deceived, for he is said to be supremely good. If, however, it were repugnant to the goodness of Deity to have created me subject to constant deception, it would seem likewise to be contrary to his goodness to allow me to be occasionally deceived; and yet it is clear that this is permitted”. Descartes introduces the argument of a malignant demon instead of a deceiving God: “I will suppose, then, not that Deity, who is sovereignly good, and the fountain of truth, but that some malignant demon, which is at once exceedingly potent and deceitful, has employed all his artifice to deceive me”
After that argument Descartes decides to suspend his judgment, and to always keep in mind to never accept “common” beliefs without material. The only thing he is sure, it is his own existence.
Meditation II: of the nature of the human mind; and that is more easily know than the body
In that second part, Descartes begin to answer to the previous doubts. He supposes that everything he knew before had never existed and that his body posses no senses that put in doubt him in the past. And all the figure, extension, motion and place “are merely fictions of my mind”. He is questioning everything he knew, and concludes that “there is absolutely nothing certain”.
First of all, he builds an argumentation about his own existence. In paragraph number 3, he separates the mind to the body and asks himself about his existence.
“Is there not a God, or some being, by whatever name I may designate him, who causes these thoughts to arise in my mind? [â€¦] Far from it; I assuredly existed, since I was persuaded. But there is I know not what being, who is possessed at once of the highest power and the deepest cunning, who is constantly employing all his ingenuity in deceiving me. Doubtless, then, I exist, since I am deceived; and, let him deceive me as he may, he can never bring it about that I am nothing, so long as I shall be conscious that I am something.”
All his argumentation is based on the fact that we can only be certain to exist if we are thinking. He ends that first argumentation by saying I am, I exist explaining that one conscious involve one existence. The third paragraph is very important in the argumentation of the nature of the human mind, if one conscious implies one being as he explains, it involves that the mind is more easily known than the body.
The rest of the text is based on the argumentation that the mind is more certainly known than the body. Descartes first is asking himself what he is.
“What then did I formerly think I was? Undoubtedly I judged that I was a man. But what is a man? Shall I say a rational animal? Assuredly not [â€¦] In the first place, then, I thought that I possessed a countenance, hands, arms, and all the fabric of members that appears in a corpse, and which I called by the name of body”
“But [as to myself, what can I now say that I am], since I suppose there exists an extremely powerful, and, if I may so speak, malignant being, whose whole endeavors are directed toward deceiving me”
“I am therefore, precisely speaking, only a thinking thing, that is, a mind (mens sive animus), understanding, or reason, terms whose signification was before unknown to me. I am, however, a real thing, and really existent; but what thing? The answer was a thinking thing.”
Those three examples show the thinking of Descartes. He thinks that it is possible that all the knowledge he has, and in that case about his body is false because of a malignant demon. However he says that he cannot be deceived by his own existence or by his own nature as a “thinking thing”.
In order to define himself, he makes an analogy with the wax, in the paragraphs 11 and 12.
“Does the same wax still remain after this change? It must be admitted that it does remain; no one doubts it, or judges otherwise. What, then, was it I knew with so much distinctness in the piece of wax? Assuredly, it could be nothing of all that I observed by means of the senses, since all the things that fell under taste, smell, sight, touch, and hearing are changed, and yet the same wax remains.”
He thinks that the different states of wax don’t define what wax is. If the wax is heated, melted, boiled or in any other states the wax remains. He thinks that wax is parented as mind alone. In the following quote there is another example of the difference between perception and judgment. By the example of the pedestrians passing by his window thanks their appearance, and by the ability of seeing, he believes that they are persons.
“I should forthwith be disposed to conclude that the wax is known by the act of sight, and not by the intuition of the mind alone, were it not for the analogous instance of human beings passing on in the street below, as observed from a window. In this case I do not fail to say that I see the men themselves, just as I say that I see the wax; and yet what do I see from the window beyond hats and cloaks that might cover artificial machines, whose motions might be determined by springs? But I judge that there are human beings from these appearances, and thus I comprehend, by the faculty of judgment alone which is in the mind, what I believed I saw with my eyes.”
Meditation III: Of God: That He exists
The third Meditation deals about the existence of God. Descartes is till doubtful about the reality of things, but he is sure that he exists, is a thinking thing, who understands, dreams and senses. We have seen that Descartes put everything in doubt even God who has deceived him in the past. To be sure that he is not deceived he must find out the real nature of God.
With the beginning of answers he started to get from Meditation I and II, point out that his ideas are clear and distinct. He considers that judgment can only be wrong.
Descartes in that meditation separates his thoughts in three different kinds: Innate, adventitious and others made by himself, factitious. For the last kind he uses some mythological examples such as sirens, hippogryphs. Descartes wants to separate the different kinds of ideas he has in order to determine which are the most pertinent and reliable. Those ideas are separate according to their origins. Some ideas are innate, some are adventitious depending on his life-experience and finally some have been invented by him. The aim of the argumentation here is to prove that the idea of God is innate.
Focusing on adventitious idea he considers where they are from. The two mains hypotheses are that he has natural desire to believe in them and they are not created by him. It is a natural trend to believe in things without any adequate proof or thoughts. In reference of the dreaming argument in Meditation I, he is aware of his ability of creating ideas of pictures of objects that do not exist in the real world.
Descartes classes thoughts under different types: images, volitions and finally desire/emotion/ judgment. The images that we have for example when he says: “whether I imagine a goat or chimera, it is not less true that I imagine the one than the other” signifying that what we imagine may not exist in the real world. On the other hand the judgment can mislead us, because judging involves thinking about something that corresponds to an outside object. “There thus only remain our judgments, in which we must take diligent heed that we be not deceived”.
Firstly, he concludes that all the ideas must have as much cause and as much effect. He means that if we have a certain idea and in that case the infinite, so the only thing which is the cause for creating that idea must have enough power (“reality) for producing such an idea at first sight. (i.e: a thing producing the idea of the infinite must be itself infinite).
“And although an idea may give rise to another idea, this regress cannot, nevertheless, be infinite; we must in the end reach a first idea, the cause of which is, as it were, the archetype in which all the reality [or perfection] that is found objectively [or by representation] in these ideas is contained formally [and in act]. I am thus clearly taught by the natural light that ideas exist in me as pictures or images, which may, in truth, readily fall short of the perfection of the objects from which they are taken, but can never contain anything greater or more perfect.”
He also refuses the idea that the idea of a God had arisen from the opposite of a finite being. Descartes makes a very interesting description of God and the ideas related to him “all-knowing, all-powerful”. By describing such a powerful Deity Descrates involves the fact that he cannot be the origin of such a magnificent being and concludes that finally a divinity must exist.
“There only remains, therefore, the idea of God, in which I must consider whether there is anything that cannot be supposed to originate with myself. By the name God, I understand a substance infinite, [eternal, immutable], independent, all-knowing, all-powerful, and by which I myself, and every other thing that exists, if any such there be, were created. But these properties are so great and excellent, that the more attentively I consider them the less I feel persuaded that the idea I have of them owes its origin to myself alone. And thus it is absolutely necessary to conclude, from all that I have before said, that God exists.”
By using that argumentation, Descartes wants to prove that the idea of God cannot be from himself because he is not infinite. The idea of God does not only exist only from the opposite and for exposing his thought he uses the example of the light and the darkness. But the most interesting argument is when he says: “I possess the perception (notion) of the infinite before that of the finite, that is, the perception of God before that of myself, for how could I know that I doubt, desire, or that something is wanting to me, and that I am not wholly perfect, if I possessed no idea of a being more perfect than myself, by comparison of which I knew the deficiencies of my nature?” It involves that the idea of being imperfect comes from the idea of perfection and so from God itself.
Therefore the idea of God must not come from him, and could not come from nowhere, so it must come from something infinite. He goes on by saying that God who is infinity in his formal way and can create the idea of infinity must be the cause.
He uses in that argumentation the image of “the mark of workman impressed on his work” for explaining that God leaves in us his own idea. God left us this idea in our minds in order to think about our non perfection, our effort to be better persons, that lead us to think of someone perfect who would have created us and possess all the qualities. It implies that God exists and created us with the idea of him. And it also means that God cannot deceive us because it is imperfection other than Deity is perfection. That last argument is very interesting according to the two previous Meditations. Such an idea cannot come from nowhere and it must have come from something infinite.
“And the whole force of the argument of which I have here availed myself to establish the existence of God, consists in this, that I perceive I could not possibly be of such a nature as I am, and yet have in my mind the idea of a God, if God did not in reality exist–this same God, I say, whose idea is in my mind–that is, a being who possesses all those lofty perfections, of which the mind may have some slight conception, without, however, being able fully to comprehend them, and who is wholly superior to all defect whence it is sufficiently manifest that he cannot be a deceiver, since it is a dictate of the natural light that all fraud and deception spring from some defect”