Techniques



Meditations is a discussion of metaphysics, or what is really real. In these writings, he ultimately hopes to achieve absolute certainty about the nature of everything including God, the physical world, and himself. It is only with a clear and distinct knowledge of such things that he can then begin understand his true reality. In order to acquire absolutely certainty, Descartes must first lay a complete foundation of integrity on which to build up his knowledge. The technique he uses to lay this base is doubt. If any belief can be doubted it is not certain, therefore making unusable as a foundation. Descartes starts by looking at our usual sources for truth. Authority, which is churches, parents, and schools, he says, are not reliable sources for truth because time shows we all die, and that we are eventually proved wrong, much in the same way the accepted truths of science have changed dramatically over the course of history. Also, he considers the generally excepted view that our senses dependably report the absolute nature of reality. Like authority though, Descartes discards the senses as a source of truth because of the ‘Dream Argument’ or the belief that based on the senses there is no definite way of proving that you are dreaming or that you are awake. Therefore it is possible that everything we believe is false, making the senses an unreliable source. Upon establishing this, Descartes doubts the existence of a physical or external world. Despite that he has an idea of things in the world, he has no definitive way of knowing if they exist beyond his own mind. Another foundation that he tries to confirm is mathematics. But he soon realizes math’s truth isn’t completely reliable because of the ‘Demon Hypothesis’, which acknowledges the possibility of an all powerful, malicious being that is deceiving him about everything, including mathematics. As a result, Descartes ponders the possibility that he has no way of being completely positive about anything, even is existence. It is only after some deliberation that he comes to the conclusion that it is impossible to be incorrect about everything because he has doubt, and to posses doubt, there must be a doubter. Hence, he doubts, therefore he exists. With the assurance of his existence, he is presented with the deeper question of what he, himself actually is. Descartes knows that he is not just a body based on his doubt of the senses. Despite the fact that he feels he’s not a body, he does believe he has properties, such as doubt, that make him a substance. From this he concludes that his is an immaterial substance and that his essential property is self-consciousness because you can have no real proof of yourself except through your own thoughts or consciousness. Descartes articulates this belief in the statement, “I’m aware that I’m aware.” Furthering this with the belief that the essential property of existence itself is self-consciousness. Accordingly, he has established the first absolutely certain foundation of truth that he was seeking. Although he cannot yet be sure of the existence of anything external to or outside of his mind, the certainty of his own thoughts cannot be doubted. This leads us to wonder about the relationship between the immaterial mind and material body, commonly known in philosophy as the mind/body problem. Descartes takes the stance of a strong dualist or someone who believes that the mind and the body are not only separate, but competent of independent existence. Other positions are that of the weak dualist, who feels that while the mind and body are metaphysically distinct, they cannot exist independently of one another, and that of the materialist who deem that only physical things and physical procedures exist, while the mind does not. Beliefs of this nature are brought up in relation to Descartes’ question of what makes a thing particularly itself through time and change. For him, it is the mind/soul that exists through time and change. Hoping to discern the existence of anything else aside from himself, an immaterial substance, Descartes considers a variety of ideas he has within his mind and contemplates whether he could have conceived them himself or not. Predominantly he finds that he has the idea of a perfect being. And upon