Danielle Baker

Intro to Phil short paper


Descartes: Meditation II

In Meditation II, Descartes discusses the idea of "being" in terms of the differences between his body, mind, and soul. After reading the Meditation, Descartes' philosophy can best be described as an organized chaos. He mentions off handedly, "thus, from a single question, I should insensibly glide into others, and these more difficult than the first; nor do I now possess enough of leisure to warrant me in wasting my time amid subtleties of this sort. I prefer here to attend to the thoughts that sprung up of themselves in my mind, and were inspired by my own nature alone, when I applied myself to the consideration of what I was.", as his reason for not inquiring deeper within what an animal is. He then goes on to contradict himself while discussing his being as a "thinking thing" by defining the body and soul, and then doubting whether a soul is existent only within a body or entirely separate, which did nothing to validate his point of view or credibility as a philosopher. I believe Descartes' philosophy could be seen as an insightful, albeit bordering random discussion. Is this an entirely bad thing, or does Descartes' esteem as one of the most noted philosophers in time redefine what is good and bad about his meditations and the purpose they serve for those who read them?

In philosophy, nothing is certain surely. Descartes begins the mediation stating "I will proceed by casting aside all that admits of the slightest doubt, not less than if I had discovered it to be absolutely false; and I will continue always in this track until I shall find something that is certain, or at least, if I can do nothing more, until I shall know with certainty that there is nothing certain." I believe this approach is the only way philosophers can look at their ideas, but the meditation has done more to confuse than reassure anything that Descartes "discovers" or "concludes" on or whether he makes comes to any conclusions at all. My whole point in bringing this up is that Descartes' Meditations have become a canon of philosophical thought and I wonder at the reason behind the meditation's popularity. Whether it is really brilliant, or just another philosophizing mind connecting with younger minds throughout time, what it teaches and why we continue to read it. If we approach philosophy as Descartes would, we would not even read the meditations, instead relying only on our own thought. So the reading is in itself a contradiction if we mean to learn from what we read.

Descartes admits, "I know not what part of myself which is not imaginable". He proposes that there is "some being, by whatever name I may designate him, who causes these thoughts to arise in my mind? But why suppose such a being, for it may be I myself am capable of producing them?". Is there true genius in doubting one's own perceived notion of intelligence and knowing? Is that the only way to reach actual truth? How then, would one go about philosophizing, something we believe to be necessary and vital to the human condition. Regarding the "being", I don't believe Descartes sees this entity as something entirely "religious". He is referring to something that is greater and much wiser than any of us can conceive, because it has conceived us. These thoughts go along with my understanding of Agnosticism and its meaning to me. Without the tools necessary to understand, how do we expect to? Where do we obtain such tools, and is this "being" or existence cruel because they have been taken from us, or more not granted in the first place.

Learning from Descartes can be more blinding than eye opening because at the end of the day, we expect this philosopher to throw all notions out the window. Though he makes great efforts and squanders much time over the inquiries as seen obviously through the meditations. He still insists on seeking for understanding, but is also not truly convinced that understanding can be reached, and if reached, truly understood through the false mind, body and souls we reside in now as human beings. He brings up dreams and the possibility that they may serve as the portals to the truth, but again, only in theory. Maybe more than understanding what really is, we must understand the theory of what can be. Descartes is only certain that he must continue to think, because that is what he is, and essentially what he believes all men to be. "Thinking things" that "doubts, understands, [conceives], affirms, denies, wills, refuses; that imagines also, and perceives".

In reading Descartes' Meditations, I was presented with more questions than answers, which is probably the only purpose to any philosophy. There was some level of expectation I had in myself in reaching understanding but Descartes has managed to shake that expectation and redefine it. To define anything as brilliant, or better than others, I realize now, is impossible. Does Descartes deserve literary fame over any other thinking mind? Should the Meditations be read before any other philosophical or modern text? Would anyone reach the same conclusion as I, or do we all take separate and vastly different things from identical pieces of text? If I'm taking Descartes' advice, I would feel as though I'm going in circles between what I think I know and what I should believe. He maybe repeats over and over in different words, "Question everything.", and that is his only and most important message.