1. Watch the videos2. Write a 150-word summary for EACH video highlighting their main points. 3. Complete the reading:a. Plato: Plato Theaetetus.pdfAccessible version: theaetetus _accessible.docxb. Descartes, Meditaton 1 only! (pgs. 1-3) Descartes’ Meditations.pdf4. Answer the reading questions. I’ve included both a doc and pdf version for your convenience.Plato:reading questions plato knowledge justified true belief-2.pdfreading questions plato knowledge justified true belief-2.docxDescartes: Reading questions descartes.docxReading questions descartes.pdf
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Meditations on First Philosophy
in which are demonstrated the existence of God and the distinction between
the human soul and body
René Descartes
Copyright © Jonathan Bennett 2017. All rights reserved
[Brackets] enclose editorial explanations. Small ·dots· enclose material that has been added, but can be read as
though it were part of the original text. Occasional •bullets, and also indenting of passages that are not quotations,
are meant as aids to grasping the structure of a sentence or a thought. Every four-point ellipsis . . . . indicates
the omission of a brief passage that seems to present more difficulty than it is worth.—In his title for this work,
Descartes is following a tradition (started by Aristotle) which uses ‘first philosophy’ as a label for metaphysics.
First launched: July 2004
Last amended: April 2007
Contents
First Meditation
1
Second Meditation
3
Third Meditation
9
Fourth Meditation
17
Fifth Meditation
23
Sixth Meditation
27
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
beliefs that I had based on them. I realized that if I wanted
to establish anything in the sciences that was stable and
likely to last, I needed—just once in my life—to demolish
everything completely and start again from the foundations.
It looked like an enormous task, and I decided to wait until
I was old enough to be sure that there was nothing to be
gained from putting it off any longer. I have now delayed
it for so long that I have no excuse for going on planning
to do it rather than getting to work. So today I have set all
my worries aside and arranged for myself a clear stretch of
free time. I am here quite alone, and at last I will devote
myself, sincerely and without holding back, to demolishing
my opinions.
I can do this without showing that all my beliefs are false,
which is probably more than I could ever manage. My reason
tells me that as well as withholding assent from propositions
that are obviously •false, I should also withhold it from ones
that are •not completely certain and indubitable. So all I
need, for the purpose of rejecting all my opinions, is to find
in each of them at least some reason for doubt. I can do
this without going through them one by one, which would
take forever: once the foundations of a building have been
undermined, the rest collapses of its own accord; so I will
go straight for the basic principles on which all my former
beliefs rested.
Whatever I have accepted until now as most true has
come to me through my senses. But occasionally I have
found that they have deceived me, and it is unwise to trust
completely those who have deceived us even once.
[The next paragraph presents a series of considerations back and
forth. It is set out here as a discussion between two people, but that isn’t
how Descartes presented it.]
Hopeful: Yet although the senses sometimes deceive us
about objects that are very small or distant, that doesn’t
apply to my belief that I am here, sitting by the fire, wearing
a winter dressing-gown, holding this piece of paper in my
hands, and so on. It seems to be quite impossible to doubt
beliefs like these, which come from the senses. Another
example: how can I doubt that these hands or this whole
body are mine? To doubt such things I would have to liken
myself to brain-damaged madmen who are convinced they
are kings when really they are paupers, or say they are
dressed in purple when they are naked, or that they are
pumpkins, or made of glass. Such people are insane, and I
would be thought equally mad if I modelled myself on them.
Doubtful (sarcastically): What a brilliant piece of reasoning! As if I were not a man who sleeps at night and often has
all the same experiences while asleep as madmen do when
awake—indeed sometimes even more improbable ones. Often
in my dreams I am convinced of just such familiar events—
that I am sitting by the fire in my dressing-gown—when in
fact I am lying undressed in bed!
Hopeful: Yet right now my eyes are certainly wide open
when I look at this piece of paper; I shake my head and it
isn’t asleep; when I rub one hand against the other, I do it
deliberately and know what I am doing. This wouldn’t all
happen with such clarity to someone asleep.
1
Meditations
René Descartes
Doubtful: Indeed! As if I didn’t remember other occasions
when I have been tricked by exactly similar thoughts while
asleep! As I think about this more carefully, I realize that
there is never any reliable way of distinguishing being awake
from being asleep. This discovery makes me feel dizzy, [joke:]
which itself reinforces the notion that I may be asleep!
Suppose then that I am dreaming—it isn’t true that I,
with my eyes open, am moving my head and stretching out
my hands. Suppose, indeed that I don’t even have hands or
any body at all. Still, it has to be admitted that the visions
that come in sleep are like paintings: they must have been
made as copies of real things; so at least these general kinds
of things— eyes, head, hands and the body as a whole—must
be real and not imaginary. For even when painters try to
depict sirens and satyrs with the most extraordinary bodies,
they simply jumble up the limbs of different kinds of real
animals, rather than inventing natures that are entirely
new. If they do succeed in thinking up something completely
fictitious and unreal—not remotely like anything ever seen
before—at least the colours used in the picture must be real.
Similarly, although these general kinds of things— eyes,
head, hands and so on—could be imaginary, there is no
denying that certain even simpler and more universal kinds
of things are real. These are the elements out of which we
make all our mental images of things—the true and also the
false ones.
These simpler and more universal kinds include body,
and extension; the shape of extended things; their quantity,
size and number; the places things can be in, the time
through which they can last, and so on.
So it seems reasonable to conclude that physics, astronomy, medicine, and all other sciences dealing with things
that have complex structures are doubtful; while arithmetic,
geometry and other studies of the simplest and most general
First Meditation
things—whether they really exist in nature or not—contain
something certain and indubitable. For whether I am awake
or asleep, two plus three makes five, and a square has only
four sides. It seems impossible to suspect that such obvious
truths might be false.
However, I have for many years been sure that there is
an all-powerful God who made me to be the sort of creature
that I am. How do I know that he hasn’t brought it about
that there is no earth, no sky, nothing that takes up space,
no shape, no size, no place, while making sure that all these
things appear to me to exist? Anyway, I sometimes think
that others go wrong even when they think they have the
most perfect knowledge; so how do I know that I myself don’t
go wrong every time I add two and three or count the sides
of a square? Well, ·you might say·, God would not let me
be deceived like that, because he is said to be supremely
good. But, ·I reply·, if God’s goodness would stop him from
letting me be deceived •all the time, you would expect it to
stop him from allowing me to be deceived even •occasionally;
yet clearly I sometimes am deceived.
Some people would deny the existence of such a powerful
God rather than believe that everything else is uncertain.
Let us grant them—for purposes of argument—that there
is no God, and theology is fiction. On their view, then, I
am a product of fate or chance or a long chain of causes
and effects. But the less powerful they make my original
cause, the more likely it is that I am so imperfect as to be
deceived all the time—because deception and error seem to
be imperfections. Having no answer to these arguments, I
am driven back to the position that doubts can properly be
raised about any of my former beliefs. I don’t reach this
conclusion in a flippant or casual manner, but on the basis
of powerful and well thought-out reasons. So in future, if I
want to discover any certainty, I must withhold my assent
2
Meditations
René Descartes
from these former beliefs just as carefully as I withhold it
from obvious falsehoods.
It isn’t enough merely to have noticed this, though; I must
make an effort to remember it. My old familiar opinions
keep coming back, and against my will they capture my
belief. It is as though they had a right to a place in my
belief-system as a result of long occupation and the law of
custom. These habitual opinions of mine are indeed highly
probable; although they are in a sense doubtful, as I have
shown, it is more reasonable to believe than to deny them.
But if I go on viewing them in that light I shall never get out
of the habit of confidently assenting to them. To conquer
that habit, therefore, I had better switch right around and
pretend (for a while) that these former opinions of mine are
utterly false and imaginary. I shall do this until I have
something to counter-balance the weight of old opinion,
and the distorting influence of habit no longer prevents me
from judging correctly. However far I go in my distrustful
attitude, no actual harm will come of it, because my project
won’t affect how I •act, but only how I •go about acquiring
knowledge.
So I shall suppose that some malicious, powerful, cun-
Second Meditation
ning demon has done all he can to deceive me—rather than
this being done by God, who is supremely good and the
source of truth. I shall think that the sky, the air, the
earth, colours, shapes, sounds and all external things are
merely dreams that the demon has contrived as traps for my
judgment. I shall consider myself as having no hands or eyes,
or flesh, or blood or senses, but as having falsely believed
that I had all these things. I shall stubbornly persist in this
train of thought; and even if I can’t learn any truth, I shall at
least do what I can do, which is to be on my guard against
accepting any falsehoods, so that the deceiver—however
powerful and cunning he may be—will be unable to affect me
in the slightest. This will be hard work, though, and a kind
of laziness pulls me back into my old ways. Like a prisoner
who dreams that he is free, starts to suspect that it is merely
a dream, and wants to go on dreaming rather than waking
up, so I am content to slide back into my old opinions; I
fear being shaken out of them because I am afraid that my
peaceful sleep may be followed by hard labour when I wake,
and that I shall have to struggle not in the light but in the
imprisoning darkness of the problems I have raised.
Second Meditation:
The nature of the human mind, and how it is better known than the body
Yesterday’s meditation raised doubts—ones that are too
serious to be ignored—which I can see no way of resolving.
I feel like someone who is suddenly dropped into a deep
whirlpool that tumbles him around so that he can neither
stand on the bottom nor swim to the top. However, I shall
force my way up, and try once more to carry out the project
3
Meditations
René Descartes
that I started on yesterday. I will set aside anything that
admits of the slightest doubt, treating it as though I had
found it to be outright false; and I will carry on like that until
I find something certain, or—at worst—until I become certain
that there is no certainty. Archimedes said that if he had
one firm and immovable point he could lift the world ·with
a long enough lever·; so I too can hope for great things if I
manage to find just one little thing that is solid and certain.
I will suppose, then, that everything I see is fictitious. I
will believe that my memory tells me nothing but lies. I have
no senses. Body, shape, extension, movement and place are
illusions. So what remains true? Perhaps just the one fact
that nothing is certain!
Second Meditation
exist: let him deceive me all he can, he will never bring it
about that I am nothing while I think I am something. So
after thoroughly thinking the matter through I conclude that
this proposition, I am, I exist, must be true whenever I assert
it or think it.
But this ‘I’ that must exist—I still don’t properly understand what it is; so I am at risk of confusing it with something
else, thereby falling into error in the very item of knowledge
that I maintain is the most certain and obvious of all. To get
straight about what this ‘I’ is, I shall go back and think some
more about what I believed myself to be before I started this
meditation. I will eliminate from those beliefs anything that
could be even slightly called into question by the arguments I
have been using, which will leave me with only beliefs about
myself that are certain and unshakable.
Well, then, what did I think I was? A man. But what is a
man? Shall I say ‘a rational animal’? No; for then I should
have to ask what an animal is, and what rationality is—each
question would lead me on to other still harder ones, and
this would take more time than I can spare. Let me focus
instead on the beliefs that spontaneously and naturally came
to me whenever I thought about what I was. The first such
belief was that I had a face, hands, arms and the whole
structure of bodily parts that corpses also have—I call it the
body. The next belief was that I ate and drank, that I moved
about; and that I engaged in sense-perception and thinking,
which I thought were done by the soul. [In this work ‘the soul’
= ‘the mind’; it has no religious implications.] If I gave any thought
to what this soul was like, I imagined it to be something
thin and filmy— like a wind or fire or ether—permeating my
more solid parts. I was more sure about the body, though,
thinking that I knew exactly what sort of thing it was. If
I had tried to put my conception of the body into words, I
would have said this:
[This paragraph is presented as a further to-and-fro argument between two people. Remember that this isn’t how Descartes wrote it.]
Hopeful: Still, how do I know that there isn’t something—
not on that list—about which there is no room for even the
slightest doubt? Isn’t there a God (call him what you will)
who gives me the thoughts I am now having?
Doubtful: But why do I think this, since I might myself
be the author of these thoughts?
Hopeful: But then doesn’t it follow that I am, at least,
something?
Doubtful: This is very confusing, because I have just said
that I have no senses and no body, and I am so bound up
with a body and with senses that one would think that I can’t
exist without them. Now that I have convinced myself that
there is nothing in the world—no sky, no earth, no minds,
no bodies—does it follow that I don’t exist either?
Hopeful: No it does not follow; for if I convinced myself
of something then I certainly existed.
Doubtful: But there is a supremely powerful and cunning
deceiver who deliberately deceives me all the time!
Hopeful: Even then, if he is deceiving me I undoubtedly
4
Meditations
René Descartes
By a ‘body’ I understand whatever has a definite shape
and position, and can occupy a ·region of· space in
such a way as to keep every other body out of it; it can
be perceived by touch, sight, hearing, taste or smell,
and can be moved in various ways.
I would have added that a body can’t start up movements
by itself, and can move only through being moved by other
things that bump into it. It seemed to me quite out of
character for a body to be able to •initiate movements, or
to able to •sense and think, and I was amazed that certain
bodies—·namely, human ones·—could do those things.
But now that I am supposing there is a supremely powerful and malicious deceiver who has set out to trick me in
every way he can—now what shall I say that I am? Can I
now claim to have any of the features that I used to think
belong to a body? When I think about them really carefully,
I find that they are all open to doubt: I shan’t waste time
by showing this about each of them separately. Now, what
about the features that I attributed to the soul? Nutrition or
movement? Since now ·I am pretending that· I don’t have a
body, these are mere fictions. Sense-perception? One needs
a body in order to perceive; and, besides, when dreaming I
have seemed to perceive through the senses many things that
I later realized I had not perceived in that way. Thinking? At
last I have discovered it—thought! This is the one thing that
can’t be separated from me. I am, I exist—that is certain.
But for how long? For as long as I am thinking. But perhaps
no longer than that; for it might be that if I stopped thinking
I would stop existing; and ·I have to treat that possibility as
though it were actual, because· my present policy is to reject
everything that isn’t necessarily true. Strictly speaking, then,
I am simply a thing that thinks—a mind, or soul, or intellect,
or reason, these being words whose meaning I have only just
come to know. Still, I am a real, existing thing. What kind of
Second Meditation
a thing? I have answered that: a thinking thing.
What else am I? I will use my imagination to see if I am
anything more. I am not that structure of limbs and organs
that is called a human body; nor am I a thin vapour that
permeates the limbs—a wind, fire, air, breath, or whatever I
imagine; for I have supposed all these things to be nothing
·because I have supposed all bodies to be nothing·. Even if
I go on supposing them to be nothing, I am still something.
But these things that I suppose to be nothing because they
are unknown to me—might they not in fact be identical with
the I of which I am aware? I don’t know; and just now I
shan’t discuss the matter, because I can form opinions only
about things that I know. I know that I exist, and I am
asking: what is this I that I know? My knowledge of it can’t
depend on things of whose existence I am still unaware; so
it can’t depend on anything that I invent in my imagination.
The word ‘invent’ points to what is wrong with relying on
my imagination in this matter: if I used imagination to show
that I was something or other, that would be mere invention,
mere story-telling; for imagining is simply contemplating
the shape or image of a bodily thing. [Descartes here relies
on a theory of his about the psychology of imagination.] That makes
imagination suspect, for while I know for sure that I exist, I
know that everything relating to the nature of body ·including
imagination· could be mere dreams; so it would be silly
for me to say ‘I will use my imagination to get a clearer
understanding of what I am’—as silly, indeed, as to say ‘I
am now awake, and see some truth; but I shall deliberately
fall asleep so as to see even more, and more truly, in my
dreams’! If my mind is to get a clear understanding of its
own nature, it had better not look to the imagination for it.
Well, then, what am I? A thing that thinks. What is that?
A thing that doubts, understands, affirms, denies, wants,
refuses, and also imagines and senses.
5
Meditations
René Descartes
That is a long list of attributes for me to have—and it
really is I who have them all. Why should it not be? Isn’t it
one and the same ‘I’ who now
doubts almost everything,
understands some things,
affirms this one thing—·namely, that I exist and think·,
denies everything else,
wants to know more,
refuses to be deceived,
imagines many things involuntarily, and
is aware of others that seem to come from the senses?
Isn’t all this just as true as the fact that I exist, even if I am
in a perpetual dream, and even if my creator is doing his best
to deceive me? …
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