Table of Contents Overall Analysis and Themes The Meditations are generally considered the starting point of modern Western philosophy, and with good reason. In this one brief text, Descartes turns many Aristotelian doctrines upside down and frames many of the questions that are still being debated in philosophy today. Among other things, Descartes breaks down the Aristotelian notion that all knowledge comes via the senses and that mental states must in some way resemble what they are about.
Indeed, it reads more like the report of an intuition than a formal proof. Descartes underscores the simplicity of his demonstration by comparing it to the way we ordinarily establish very basic truths in arithmetic and geometry, such as that the number two is even or that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to the sum of two right angles.
We intuit such truths directly by inspecting our clear and distinct ideas of the number two and of a triangle. As Descartes writes in the Fifth Meditation: Certainly, the idea of God, or a supremely perfect being, is one that I find within me just as surely as the idea of any shape or number.
And my understanding that it belongs to his nature that he always exists is no less clear and distinct than is the case when I prove of any shape or number that some property belongs to its nature AT 7: Descartes does not conceive the ontological argument on the model of an Euclidean or axiomatic proof, in which theorems are derived from epistemically prior axioms and definitions.
On the contrary, he is drawing our attention to another method of establishing truths that informs our ordinary practices and is non-discursive. This method employs intuition or, what is the same for Descartes, clear and distinct perception.
It consists in unveiling the contents of our clear and distinct ideas. The basis for this method is the rule for truth, which was previously established in the Fourth Meditation.
According to the version of this rule invoked in the Fifth Meditation, whatever I clearly and distinctly perceive to be contained in the idea of something is true of that thing. So if I clearly and distinctly perceive that necessary existence pertains to the idea of a supremely perfect being, then such a being truly exists.
He never forgets that he is writing for a seventeenth-century audience, steeped in scholastic logic, that would have expected to be engaged at the level of the Aristotelian syllogism.
Descartes satisfies such expectations, presenting not one but at least two separate versions of the ontological argument.
These proofs, however, are stunningly brief and betray his true intentions. Whatever I clearly and distinctly perceive to be contained in the idea of something is true of that thing. I clearly and distinctly perceive that necessary existence is contained in the idea of God.
When presenting this version of the argument in the First Replies, Descartes sets aside this first premise and focuses our attention on the second.
In so doing, he is indicating the relative unimportance of the proof itself. Descartes sometimes uses traditional arguments as heuristic devices, not merely to appease a scholastically trained audience but to help induce clear and distinct perceptions.
This is evident for example in the version of the ontological argument standardly associated with his name: I have an idea of supremely perfect being, i. Necessary existence is a perfection. Therefore, a supremely perfect being exists.
While this set of sentences has the surface structure of a formal argument, its persuasive force lies at a different level. A meditator who is having trouble perceiving that necessary existence is contained in the idea of a supreme perfect being can attain this perception indirectly by first recognizing that this idea includes every perfection.
Indeed, the idea of a supremely perfect being just is the idea of a being having all perfections. To attempt to exclude any or all perfections from the idea of a supremely being, Descartes observes, involves one in a contradiction and is akin to conceiving a mountain without a valley or, better, an up-slope without a down-slope.
Having formed this perception, one need only intuit that necessary existence is itself a perfection.In Meditations on the First Philosophy, René Descartes delves into epistemology, or the theory of knowledge.
He asks questions such as whether there is such a thing as knowledge, and if so, what. It contrasts with the ontological proof of the Fifth Meditation in which Descartes argues from the essence of God, as a being possessed of all perfections, to the existence of God (on the ground that existence too must be accounted a.
The Preface of Meditations on First Philosophy: In Focus lists the various editions of The Meditations and their contents. (in French) Meditationes de prima philosophia, éd. de Amstelodami, ex typographia Blavania, ; Meditations on First Philosophy tr.
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Rene Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy Rene Descartes set the groundwork for seventeenth century rationalism, the view opposed by the empiricist school of thought. As a rationalist, Descartes firmly believed in reason as the principal source of knowledge.
Meditations on First Philosophy Fifth Meditation 23 Sixth Meditation Meditations René Descartes First Meditation First Meditation: On what can be called into doubt Some years ago I was struck by how many false things I had believed, and by how doubtful was the structure of.