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1. How does Descartes use the hypotheses of dreaming and/or the evil genius in applying his method of doubt?

2. Select one juicy passage in Med. 1. Present it, give a brief analysis of its role in Meditation 1 and explain why you selected this passage.

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3. “I think, therefore I am” is known fondly as “the Cogito” (from the original Latin). What is D.’s argument for this foundational principle, and why is it important to his work as a whole?

Brief Overview of Descartes’ Meditations

Descartes’ Meditations comprise an extended argument or, as Descartes the great mathematician thinks of it, proof for the existence of God, the external world and non-physical minds. Descartes argues that he is essentially a thinking thing, and not a physical thing. He argues that his mind comprises his essence and it can exist independent of his body.

Meditation 1

The method of doubt is employed to deliberately and intentionally, for the purposes of the greater argument, call the maximum number of beliefs into question. Who’s to say that I’m not dreaming as I sit here on the porch? If I am dreaming, while in my bed sleeping, it’s false that I’m sitting here on the porch. Descartes holds that some beliefs, like those involving fundamental elements of the world, might not be subject to the dream argument. So, in a sort of double whammy, he introduces the possibility of the evil spirit, or evil genius. Who’s to say that there is not an evil spirit bent on deceiving us? How could we prove that there is not? He ends the Meditation on the supposition that an evil genius might be deceiving us about anything and everything. This supposition is his deliberately “maximizing” doubt. Once he calls everything into question that is possible, he will, attempt to show in the end that we can be certain of many things.

Meditation 2

Does any belief survive the ravages of the evil genius hypothesis? Descartes argues that one does and this one is going to be the solid foundation for a reconstruction of his beliefs. That cornerstone belief is know as the “Cogito”: “I think, therefore I am”. Descartes cannot doubt that he exists because he thinks, doubts, fears, etc., and these things require a thinker.

Meditation 3

Using the Cogito, Descartes argues that God exists. This is one of two arguments for God. The other is in Meditation 5. The argument for God’s existence is the necessary bridge to the argument for the external world. Both arguments are of course complicated and highly controversial. Volumes of philosophy have been written on these.

Meditation 4

This Meditation centers on an account of human error, in a world created by an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent God.

Meditation 5

Here is the second “proof” for God.

Meditation 6

Here is the argument that the external world, along with all its objects, exists pretty much as we perceive it, since God is not a deceiver. Also, there is a restatement and reinforcement of the extended argument that there are two kinds of substances in the world: mind and matter.

 
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