Descartes gives a complicated proof for the existence of God in Meditation III (see Slideshow for reconstruction of the argument). The importance of this proof is seen in Meditation VI, where Descartes uses the existence of God to prove what about our minds and bodies, and what about our knowledge of objects outside our minds?
Plato and Descartes
!? Plato and Descartes aim at determining what the proper
method for arriving at knowledge is.
!? Both begin with the observation that we claim to ?know? a
lot of things. But what marks the differences between
opinions, true belief, and knowledge?
!? The Meno begins not with the quetions
!? WHAT IS VIRTUE?
But with the question:
!? CAN VIRTUE BE TAUGHT?
!? This is why many philosophers read Meno as a dialogue
not about ethics and virtue, but about knowledge.
!? The problem of knowledge first appears mid-way
through the Meno:
Socrates (summarizing Meno?s claim): ?Do you not realize
what a debater?s argument you are bringing up, that [one]
cannot search either for what [one] knows or for what
[one] does not know? [One] cannot search for what [one]
knows?since [one] knows is, there is is need to search?
nor for what [one] does not know, for [one] does not
know what to look for.? (p. 70, 80e)
!? Socrates: Perhaps we know by recollection
?As the soul is immortal . . .? (p. 71, 81c-d)
?These opinions have been stirred up like a
dream . . .? (p. 77, 85c-d)
!? Recollection: ?And he will know if without having been
taught but only questioned, and find the knowledge
within himself.? (p. 77, 85d)
!? Supposing we have knowledge of something?
!? Either we acquired knowledge at some time or we have always
!? If we have not acquired this knowledge in our present life, then
we acquired this knowledge at some other time.
!? Recall: Socrates takes it that the slave?s knowledge of
geometry was not acquired in his present life.
!? If the knowledge was acquired before this present life, then our
we acquired it before this life.
!? Therefore, (i) the soul is immortal; and (ii) knowledge is always
in our soul.
Descartes on Achieving
?Suppose [someone] had a basket
full of apples and, being worried
that some of the apples were
rotten, wanted to take out the
rotten ones to prevent the rot from
spreading. How would he proceed?
Would he not begin by tipping the
whole lot out of the basket? And
would not the next step be to cast
his eye over each apple in turn, and
pick up and put back in the basket
only those he saw to be sound,
leaving the others? (con?t)
In just the same way, those who have never philosophized
correctly have various opinions in their minds which they have
begun to store up since childhood, and which they therefore
have reason to believe may in many cases be false. They then
attempt to separate the false beliefs from the others, so as to
prevent their contaminating the rest and making the whole lot
uncertain. Now the best way they can accomplish this is to reject
all their beliefs together in one go, as if they were all uncertain
and false. They can then go over each belief in turn and re-adopt
only those which they recognize to be true and
indubitable? (Objections and Replies to the Meditations)
!? Descartes? Method of Doubt
?I realized that it was necessary, once in the course of my life, to
demolish everything completely and start again right from the
foundations if I wanted to establish anything at all in the sciences
that was stable and likely to last. . . . I am here quite alone, and at
last will devote myself sincerely and without reservation to the
general demolition of my opinions.? (17)
?Reason now leads me to think that I should hold back my assent
from opinions which are not completely certain and indubitable
just as carefully as I do from those which are patently false. So, for
the purpose of rejecting all my opinions, it will be enough if I find
in each of them at least some reason for doubt.? (18)
!? The Method of Doubt Applied in Three Waves
Doubting beliefs based on sense experience: ?[F]rom time to time I
have found that the senses deceive, and it is prudent never to trust
completely those who have deceived us once.? (18)
The dream argument: ?How often, asleep at night, am I convinced of
just such familiar events?that I am here in my dressing-gown, sitting
by the fire?when in fact I am laying undressed in bed! [?] As I
think about this more carefully, I see plainly that there are never any
sure signs by means of which being awake can be distinguished from
being asleep.? (19)
Evil genius hypothesis: ?I will suppose that . . . some malicious
demon [or genius] of the utmost cunning has employed all his
energies in order to deceive me.? (22)
!? I have reasons to doubt the beliefs formed on the basis of
sense experience are true.
!? I have a reason to doubt the laws of the natural sciences
and the rules of the applied sciences are true. (dream
!? I have a reason to doubt the abstract principles of science
and mathematics are true.
!? What?s left?
!? ?Therefore I suppose that everything I see is false. I believe that
none of what my deceitful memory represents ever existed. I
have no senses whatsoever. Body, shape, extension, movement,
and place are all chimeras. What then will be true? Perhaps just
the single fact that nothing is certain.? (24)
!? Question: Can the evil demon/genius deceive me even
regarding my own existence?
!? ?And let him do his best at deception; he will never bring it about
that I am nothing so long as I shall think that I am something.
Thus, after everything has been most carefully weighed, it must
finally be established that this pronouncement, ?I think, I exist? is
necessarily true every time I utter it or conceive it in my mind.?
!? Question: What kind of thing am I?
Descartes: ?Yet I am a true thing and am truly existing; but
what kind of thing? I am a thinking thing?But what then
am I? A thing that thinks. What is that? A thing that doubts,
understands, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, and that also imagines and
!? Recall: We have reason to doubt that we have a body (first
wave of doubt).
!? But we have no reason to doubt our existence as a thinking
?At present I am not admitting anything except what is
necessarily true, I am, then, in the strict sense only a thing
that thinks; that is, I am a mind, or intelligence, or intellect,
or reason ? words whose meaning I have been ignorant of
until now.? (27)
!? Question: Why draw the inference from ?I think? to ?I am
a thinking thing?? Might there only be thoughts?
!? Descartes response: No thoughts without a thinker
!? Substance vs. Mode
!? Substance: An independent thing
!? Mode: A modification of a substance
!? So: I (or the mind) am a substance; my thoughts are modes
!? After two meditations, I know:
(a) that I exist;
(b) that I am a mind (?thinking thing?);
(c) that I have thoughts (my thoughts exist)
!? But what else can I know?
!? Stay tuned for Meditations III and VI
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