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Examine the arguments in the first Meditation through which Descartes tries to call all his previous beliefs into doubt. Are the arguments successful in achieving the aim of the Meditations in rendering all beliefs doubtful

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6Descartes Arguments in the First Mediation

Descartes Arguments in the First Mediation

Descartes Arguments in the First Mediation


In his Discourse, Descartes uses mediation as a technique of putting his knowledge and understanding of the on a firm foundation. He argues that it is important for man to develop knowledge of the world before he can seek justification for possessing that knowledge. This can be facilitated by a process of establishing the foundation of that knowledge and then develop it. In the first mediation, Descartes incorporates skepticism as in the critical examination and questioning of his beliefs (Bennett 2004). The main objective of this essay is to examine Descartes first mediation and assess the extent to which his arguments are successful in calling all beliefs to doubt.

Descartes arguments in the first mediation

Arguments espoused by Descartes in the first mediation are responses to his critics on the role of senses with regard to epistemology. According to Descartes, it would be erroneous to develop an argument that he was not sure that he possesses a body however, he asserts that in his dreams he often experiences a reality whose ability to convince is synonymous to that of his waking reality (Bennett 2004). This makes it relatively hard for Descartes to develop an effective way of distinguishing between waking life and sleep. He continues by arguing that if it is possible to dream of hands, feet and the body, then these entities exist in reality. Whenever an individual dreams he uses information gathered from his experiences (Cottingham 1999). Even if it is possible to argue that certain complex entities do not exist, Descartes asserts that basic colors and shapes that constitute these entities actually exist. In a similar manner, Descartes develops the argument that physical sciences can be said to be uncertain because they study composites (Simpson 1982). This is unlike geometry and arithmetic, which are involved in the study of simple objects such as angles, shapes, and numbers hence trustworthy. In the first mediation, Descartes trusts that his perception of self-evident truths of shapes and numbers because of the belief that an all-powerful God created these entities (Skerry 2016).

In the first mediation, Descartes assets his uncertainty if God or an evil demon is tricking him. However, the belief that God is good and that he would not deliberately deceive him. Descartes blames a malignant demon as responsible for the tricks. The demon, in the view of Descartes has created a world of illusion to deceive him. To rebuild his knowledge based on doubt, Descartes sets to prove, using reason, that there are things that are beyond doubt (Frankfurt 2008).

Assessment of Descartes arguments in the first mediation

Descartes is correct in asserting that senses play a deceptive role in the lives of individuals. However, his skeptic approach towards senses is unwarranted because in his presentation of the case he gives varieties of examples in which he discovered that his senses played some role in deceiving him (Tweyman 2013). To justify claims that senses are responsible for deception, it would be important for an individual to recognize when an error occurs. This means that it would be necessary for such an individual to be able to distinguish between being correct and being mistakes. In the process of presenting examples of how senses deceive, it is important to present examples of how an individual is able to see through the deception hence challenging the very claim for which he argues (Tweyman 2013). It is ironical that in arguing that his senses have deceived him Descartes also argues that it is possible to see through these deceptions. This assertion does not present the argument that it is not possible to be deceived so long as one can see through the deception. Instead, it asserts that it is possible to trust senses so long as they are suitably cautious. This is because senses sometimes fail but doubting senses because of this attribute can be compared to refusing to use a climbing rope because of its ability to break. To this extent the arguments presented by Descartes fails in the justification of the degree of skepticism alleged (Tweyman 2013).

Inasmuch as films such as The Matrix makes the dream arguments presented by Descartes seem plausible, his claims that there are no ways to be certain that one is not asleep and dreaming can be countered (Tweyman 2013). This is because of the underlying claim that there are numerous ways of distinguishing between dream life and the waking life. One of the outstanding differences is that dream life is lacking in the continuity that characterizes the waking life. Dream life and waking life are also governed by different sets of rules and law. In dream life, it is possible for nonliving things to come to life and being such as people can fly (Tweyman 2013). These things do not occur in the waking world. The ability to distinguish between the waking and dream world is an indication that the argument presented by Descartes fails in warranting the degree of skepticism he espouses.

The evil demon presented by Descartes as responsible for deception is a formidable opponent that can be defused through careful consideration of the topic of possibility. It may be possible that an evil demon whose main reason for existing is to deceive (Wright 1991). However, any claim on the existence of such a being is to make a heavy claim that requires a strong support without which there is limited reason for accepting the possibility that such a being exists (Wright 1991).

Inasmuch as Descartes clearly considers even the most remote possibilities in his methodology of doubt, all he offers is that such a being could exist. His method of doubt undercuts itself to the degree that if an individual is always in a state of doubt, then he must also be doubtful of the existence of a deceiver. For an evil demon to generate some level of doubt, it must be possible for such a demon to exist. Doubting the existence of such an evil demon is an indication of the failure by the arguments presented by Descartes to warrant the degree of doubt that it claims (Tweyman 2013). In conclusion, the above arguments are an indication that while the arguments by Descartes are well reasoned and powerful, they are not sufficient in the creation of the desired degree of doubt.


Bennett, Jonathan 2004, René Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy in which are

demonstrated the existence of God and the distinction between the human soul and body. http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/assets/pdfs/descartes1641_1.pdf

Cottingham, J 1999, The Cambridge companion to Descartes. Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge

Univ. Press.

Frankfurt, H G 2008, Demons, dreamers, and madmen the defense of reason in Descartes’s

Meditations. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. http://public.eblib.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=445487.

Skerry, J 2016, Rene Descartes, in Feiser, J. and B. Dowden, B. (eds)

Simpson, P 1982, “The Dream Argument and Descartes’ First Meditation”, Auslegung 9
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