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Preliminary Interpretation of Descartes Meditations

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Preliminary Interpretation of Descartes Meditations Ren´┐Ż Descartes was a revolutionary figure in the 17th century during the renaissance period, at a time when the way people viewed the world was changing dramatically. In the past people had described things using a mixture of colour, hot, cold, sweet tasting, hard (secondary qualities) and distance, velocity, time, mass and acceleration (primary qualities). But in a time of dramatic change, mathematical science was, through mathmaticalised theories and predictions of measurable quantities proving primary qualities to be more reliable and efficient than secondary qualities. A now scientific, world seen predominantly by primary qualities left no place for secondary qualities. Descartes was in the forefront of renaissance maths, natural philosophy (physics) and wrote many books on geometry and astronomy among many other subjects. However in his book 'Meditations and Other Metaphysical Writings' he attempts to maintain his place as a mathematical scientist yet find a place for the secondary qualities, afraid that science will sweep them away. The place he finds for these secondary qualities is as part of the thinking substance. Descartes begins the first meditation of 'Meditations and Other Metaphysical Writings' by introducing reasons why we can doubt everything which we have come to believe, even those things which we seem most sure are correct. "Some years ago I noticed how many false things I had accepted as true in my childhood, and how doubtful were the things that I subsequently build on them" As children we learn and accept many things without really looking deeper or challenging them; as we grow older we subsequently add more knowledge on top of this unchallenged knowledge, believing its foundations to be correct since we have always believed them and have never had reason to challenge them. Therefore Descartes suspects that he has acquired many incorrect beliefs. A building with rotten foundations, for example, might look structurally sound; nevertheless it has no stability and will eventually collapse. ...read more.


Nobody else can be conscious of what other people are thinking or are conscious of, since the mind provides such a boundary keeping all internal representations inside, therefore one person's representation of something may not be the same as another person's representation of that same thing. Descartes leads on from the mind to compare it to our knowledge of material things using a piece of wax as an example. Consider a piece of wax, something which most people would consider they understand by just looking at it, it doesn't appear a difficult object to grasp but this is exactly Descartes point. "For example, let us take this wax. It has just been extracted from its honeycomb. It has not yet completely lost the taste of honey and it still retains some of the scent of flowers from which it was collected. Its colour, shape and size are obvious. It is hard, cold, easy to touch and, if tapped with a finger, it emits a sound. Thus it has everything that seems required for a body to be known as distinctly as possible" In spite of this when the wax is moved closer to the fire, it looses what remains of its taste and smell, the colour changes, it looses its shape, increases in size, becomes a liquid, becomes hot and can barely be touched and does not emit a sound if tapped. Yet no one can deny that it is still the same wax, so what exactly was it about the wax that was perceived and understood so clearly when it was first considered, since everything that we first assigned as a part which made the wax, wax has now changed or disappeared. So what exactly is the wax and how do you tell wax from anything else? Descartes answer to this is that the wax is an extended matter i.e. despite a number of changes it still takes up space and time. ...read more.


I can also use memory, which links present sensations with previous sensations, as well as my understanding which has already looked into all causes of error. Therefore I should no longer fear that those things are false which my senses reveal to me on a daily basis" The extreme doubt from the beginning of the meditations which resulted from Descartes inability to distinguish between being awake and being asleep, should be disregarded. Descartes now realises that dreams are never joined by memories with all other activities in life, compared with when he is awake. For when things occur in such a way that Descartes can see distinctly where they came from, when and where they occur and how they link in with the rest of his life without having to interpret them, then he can be certain that he is awake and not dreaming. He can now also never doubt the truth since, if he can call upon all his senses, memory and understanding to examine something and receives no sign that it is false, then he has no reason to doubt that thing. Descartes concludes the meditations by saying that since God is not a deceiver, then, if we use our senses, memory and understanding carefully then we will never be wrong in our judgements. However the fast pace of life does not always allow us enough time to judge things carefully enough therefore the nature of human life often leads us to be mistaken. "For the fact that God is not a deceiver it follows that, in such cases, I am completely free from error. But the urgency of things to be done does not always allow us time for such a careful examination; it must be granted, therefore, that human life is often subject to mistakes about particular things, and the weakness of out nature must be acknowledged." Michelle Saunders Page 1 ...read more.

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