Meditations on First Philosophy: In Which the Existence of God and the Distinction of the Soul from the Body Are Demonstrated by René Descartes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The version of Meditations I had read was broken into four parts. The meat of the Meditations, and what most people are familiar with occur in the fourth part. This is where Descartes lays out his 6 Meditations on truth and existence. The first two meditations concern the breaking down of beliefs and illuminating that because of disbelief how can one truly believe what exists exists? The second meditation is where the often cited, but incorrect adage, “I think therefore I exist” is born. The real posit is “I exits because I am an thinking thing thinking.” Not very flowing, but more to the point. That is the crux of the meditations, thought. That is what it all boils down to, that thinking is the only way we can define our selves. Outside stimuli, even that in the body, are not reliable because the sense can deceive, form can change. There is a separation between things and ideas and things give rise to ideas, but thinking is above ideas. One could deny the existence of things but could not deny the existence of ideas or thinking. Therefore existence is a thinking being thinking. But because one can think and is separate from things and perception of things is not perfect, one is not perfect and those things are not perfect because they can deceive.
His meditations then turn to the proof of the existence of God and vacillates between perfection and deception. Because (to paraphrase) “I exist, and I am not perfect, I could thus not be the creator of myself, for I am imperfect. Therefore there must be a cause before me that created me, a perfect cause. My existence is also dependent on there being other things or beings, and those are not perfect and thus require a cause before them. God, a perfect being would not deceive. Therefore, God must exist because I can imagine there being a perfect being and a perfect being would have to be the creator of all that exists, and there must be something perfect that created all that exists. Furthermore, something cannot come of nothing.”
The remaining Meditations concern building on the first three to challenge truth and falsehood. God is truth and perfect, but “I am imperfect and thus can be deceived, not by God but by the falsehood of others and my own senses.” Since God is perfect he would not create falsehoods and deceive. Because I am a Thinking thing thinking, and must exist in a world with things that are not me, those things exists as God, a perfect being, would not deceive me.
The other three parts of the book, the prefaces include his treatise on how he developed the Meditations over many years. This is prefaced by a letter of dedication. The Meditation themselves are prefaced by a letter included some criticisms to his ideas.
This book was a rather challenging read but I am glad I stuck with it.
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