Rene Descartes’: Meditations on First Philosophy

20 May

The constant process of philosophy allowing individuals to give their own unique ideas concerning our origin or the existence of God gave Rene Descartes a large opportunity to give his philosophy to solve these ongoing questions. Plato and other philosophers had ideas concerning the mind and thought processes within it. Descartes presented his own ideas about the mind. ‘I think, therefore I am’ was his philosophy to give proofs of our existence and the existence of God. Most would agree with Descartes’ separation between mind and body along with his other groundbreaking philosophy. Rene Descartes’ “Meditations on First Philosophy” solved problems that many people contemplated upon without the resurgence of more questions.

Questions for the existence of God are created by the occurrence of deception of humans by the Supreme Being. Descartes addresses skepticism as a result of the things that go on in this world and why the Supreme Being does not address or prevent them. He talks about the occurrence of deception of humans by God. Christians would address this issue by saying that the bad spirit is what deceives but Descartes comes up with an explanation almost as good. The skepticism that existed is allowed to freely exist due to the ideas of pain and suffering in the world (pain and suffering that a real Supreme Being would not allow), temptation and deception toward sin and lack of certainty of what is real. Dreams are a great example to show deception and lack of distinction between real and imaginary. Later, Descartes gives justifications for why reality is more distinct than dreams but skepticism is allowed due to people not understanding the difference between real and fake. Descartes’ ideas to explain God are amazing breakthroughs.

Descartes states a few things that create his foundation for the existence of God. He discusses the statement that if a person exists, there must be a cause for his or her existence. He gives five causes for a person’s existence and discredits four of them. The first one discusses the possibility that the person is responsible for his or her existence. Descartes states that this cannot be possible due to the fact that if we created our own selves, we would not add all the temptation, deception and sin that continues to exist. If we create ourselves we would make ourselves to live without pain and suffering. The next explanation states that the person has always existed.  Descartes disproves this argument because each person’s existence today does not reflect upon the person’s previous existence. To just assume that we have always existed is an ignorant excuse for explaining our origin. This explanation probably came from a lazy philosopher who did not care enough to pursue answers like Descartes did. The next explanation for existence is the person’s parents. Most would agree that this explanation probably came from a lazy philosopher that did not care enough to pursue answers. Everyone knows the process of birth and the physical explanation of how a human being gets here. There is something beyond assuming that the physical explanation for existence is the only explanation. Descartes states that this explanation leads to an ‘infinite regress’. If one would search upon the family tree of a person, you would just keep going backward to another parent and you would never get anywhere because of how long humans have existed and that there cannot be a human alone responsible for existence of the whole human race. If they went back long enough they would get to how a Supreme Being created Adam and Eve. The next explanation states that existence from is from a being less perfect than God.  If there is a being less perfect than God, this lesser being came from God leading Descartes to the solution to state that God is the reason for existence. The most amazing quote from Descartes discusses existence itself.

With proving the existence of God to explain the existence of humans, the existence of humans being distinct from imagination must also be addressed.  He proves the existence of humans (opposed to everything being imaginary) by saying “I think, therefore I am”. This idea states that if one can perceive and think about perceptions the being must exist and the being is not entirely imaginary. Mental images are only images created by the brain of external things or ideas. Descartes states that if one can think and create images of external things (not just images confined to the brain being imaginary), the being must exist. Descartes often described himself and humans as being ‘thinking things’. Many might connect Descartes’ ideas to the ideas of Parmenides due to how Parmenides stated that one cannot think upon ‘what is not’. If one is thinking, they are thinking about ‘what is’. Descartes says that if this is possible, the existence in reality is factual. Along with the concept of “I think, therefore I am”, an idea explaining deception and temptation is offered. Descartes splits the mind and senses into three areas. The first being senses (all things real that we take in and contemplate upon), imaginary (all things the mind creates itself without the aid of external ideas, an example being how we sometimes have the weirdest and goofiest dreams we have ever thought up) and the evil demon hypothesis. The evil demon hypothesis can be paired with Christianity’s belief in Lucifer or Satan because of how Satan tempts us into sin and tries to lead us downward. The evil demon hypothesis is stated by Descartes to show that God does not deceive us. The idea that God deceives us fueled skepticism a lot and the evil demon hypothesis allowed the proofs for the existence of God to surface and make breakthroughs in philosophy. This large spectrum of thought most likely benefited the lives of people who longed for answers from philosophers about their lives.

Descartes’ idea that he is a ‘thinking thing’ to prove the existence of God, allowed him to elaborate upon the entire structure of the mind very different from Plato’s structure of the mind. Descartes says that the mind is made up of ideas and ideas in action. This spectrum includes ideas so distinct and graspable to understand that they are reality and ideas that are more blurry and much less real. Ideas themselves are separated into three categories including innate ideas, ideas acquired from the outside and ideas produced by the person. Innate ideas can be described as common sense or common knowledge. Innate ideas are knowledge that every human has without any influence from the outside. If you were in a whole universe without anyone with you, you would have these innate ideas because they are a part of the existent brain. The other two categories describe everything else. Ideas acquired from the outside include every mental image and idea that the person had seen outside of the mind. Having a mental image of a bed is not a bed itself but it is an idea of something that exists. Ideas produced by the person are where the phenomenon of dreams fall into.  Most would think that waking up thinking about a dream concerning thousands of elves attacking you is definitely an idea created by the mind itself. No one has seen real elves and elves certainly would not attack a person. The other part of the mind (ideas in action) includes judgments, volitions and emotions. Descartes’ attempt at dividing pure ideas and judgments, volitions and emotions shows the difference in the nature of these parts of the spectrum. Judgments are only opinions. Judgments usually are without proof of facts. Judgments are separate from ideas because judgments are only feelings or opinions upon certain ideas. Volitions and emotions are also separate from ideas because these two things are also feelings upon them. Judgments, volitions and emotions are ideas in action because these points involve action in the mind concerning ideas. Descartes also presents an idea that can be paired with the innate ideas. Some would believe that elements of a Supreme Being, light of nature and an evil demon are included in innate ideas. Light of nature by Descartes is when the light is shown upon the subject. The light is what can be relied upon (such as dialectic as Plato puts it) is revealed in the concept of the light of nature. Learning by the light of nature is the best way to learn anything but learning by nature itself is not the best option (as dialectic can be compared to the light of nature, science can be compared with nature itself) because nature itself is only a secondary source to the light of nature.  It may be true that ideas acquired from the outside and ideas produced by the person are cluttering the space in the mind where innate ideas should really reside. The problems causing questions may be a result of this.

Descartes creates the argument about res extensa and res cognitans from his proof for the existence of god and human reality. Res cognitans is described as mind. Res extensa is described the body. He argues that God can create things that are distinctive from each other that can be fully understood by humans. Throughout the meditations, Descartes describes himself as a ‘thinking thing’.  Res cognitans is the mind or the soul that is able to process and create thought as described in his other meditations. He says that res cognitans can be created because if two distinct things can be created, res cognitans (thinking thing) can be created separately from an essence. The essence is the res extensa. The material substance is the essence of the res cognitans. The mind most likely is better off with an essence or extension. Res extensa is the extended thing because it is a place for the res cognitans. The proofs for the existence of God are influenced by the separation of res cognitans and res extensa. God usually does not have the res extensa but God has a soul enough to be the creator and the all loving being. At some points, res cognitans is helped by the extension or res extensa but it usually happens that res cognitans exists by itself. When one passes away from this world the res cognitans is transported to another universe while the res extensa is lifeless and little happens to it and it does nothing. The concepts of res extensa and res cognitans clearly wrap up the best so far proof of the existence of God.

After reading Descartes’ meditations, one might wonder how many skeptics contemplated again upon their belief against the existence of God. Obviously, skepticism still exists today because people have valuable and valid points as to why they do not believe in God but many may ask how much skepticism declined. Descartes’ ideas make a lot of sense and Christians might not endorse all of his ideas but they would endorse the foundation of his principles. The quote “I think, therefore I am” would definitely be something that Christians agree with even if they would come up with their own final positions that would most likely not be equal to Descartes’.  Maybe if skeptics today read Descartes’ meditations, they would then have to come up with new defenses as to how God does not exist

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