Descartes - Meditation 1

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  • The unreliability of the senses
    • Everything he has accepted as true has either been acquired through the senses or from them
      • But from time to time he has discovered that senses can in fact decieve, and Descartes thinks that its prudent to never have complete trust in senses - those which have deceived us even if it was only once.
        • Yet although senses do occasionally deceive us - as in objects which are really small or far away in the distance, there are quite a lot of beliefs about which doubt is impossible, even though they are mostly derived from the senses.
          • As an example: Descartes states that he was sat sitting by the fire, wearing his dressing gown, holding a piece of paper in his hand, and so on. Again, how could it be denied that his hands or in fact his whole body actually belonged to him and him alone?
            • Unless he was to compare himself to madmen, whose brains are so damaged by 'persistent vapours of melancholia' that they hold a belief that they are kings and queens when they are peasants, or say that they are dressed nicely in blue when they are half-naked. But these such people are insane, and Descartes' thinks that he would be as mad as them if he took on board anything said from them as a model for himself.
    • Descartes' Method of Doubt - Meditation 1
      • The Dreaming Argument
        • Descartes' calls this a 'brilliant piece of reasoning', as if he were not a man that goes to sleep every night and does quite regularly have the same experiences whilst asleep as madmen do whilst they're awake - even sometimes more honourable ones.
          • How often, when he's asleep at night, is he convinced that of such familiar events, - such as sitting by the fire in his dressing gown - when he is in fact undressed in his bed?
            • All of this would not be happening with such distinctness to someone asleep. As he thinks on this more carefully, Descartes' sees more plainly that there are never any sure signs of which being awake can be distinguished from being asleep.
              • Even dreams have content and seem to be constructed from resources that are real
                • Suppose that Descartes' is dreaming - and that his eyes are open, that he is moving his head and stretching out his hands - but this is not true. Perhaps he doesn't even have hands or a body at all. Nonetheless, it surely can be said that visions which come in sleep are like paintings - which must've been fashioned in the likeliness of things that are real, and hence that general things such as eyes, heads, hands etc are things which are not imaginary but are real and exist.
                  • For even when painters try to create sirens and satyrs with the most extraoirdinary bodies, they cannot give them natures which are new in all respects, - they simply jumble up the limbs of different species.By similar reasoning, although these general kinds of things - eyes, heads, hands etc could be imaginary, it must at least be admitted that certain other even simpler and more universal things are real.
                • Things that might survive the dream argument
                  • This class appears to include corporeal nature in general, and its extension; the shape of extended things, the quantity or size, number of these things; the place in which they may exist, the time through which they may endure, and so on.
        • Analysis
          • God is the deceiver
            • The phenomenon of false awakenings exacerbates this concern
        • Evaluation
          • He can't prove that we are always dreaming - if so the concepts of 'dreaming' and 'awake' would be meaningless.
          • Dreams are bizarre and fragmented, whilst reality is mundane.
      • The deceiving God argument
        • Firmly placed in Descartes' mind is the long-running opinion that there is an all-powerful God who made him the man that he is. How does he know that this God has brought it about that there is in fact no earth, sky no shape, no size, no place, whilst at the same time ensuring that all these things appear to exist?
          • What is more, just as he considers that others sometimes go astray in cases where they think they have the most perfect knowledge, how does he know that God hasn't brought it about that he goes too wrong every time he does 3+3 or any other simple matter?
        • Problems with the counter objection that God wouldn't do that
          • Mayhaps God wouldn't have allowed Descartes' to be deceived in this manner, since he is apparently all good. But if there were inconsistencies with his goodness to have gone through creating him in a way that he is being deceived all the time, it would seem equally alien to his goodness to even allow him to be deceived even only once in a while.
        • Even saying there is no God doesn't solve this problem
          • Mayhaps there may be some who would follow the belief that there is in fact no such thing as a mighty-powerful God rather than believe that everything is uncertain. Let's not argue with them, but grant them that everything said about God is a fiction. According to their viewpoint, Descartes has arrived at the present state by chance/fate or some other means.
            • Yet since deception and error seem to be imperfections, the less powerful they make his original claim, and the more likely it is that he is so imperfect as to be deceived all of the time.
        • Analysis
          • Material reality must exist because God wouldn't systematically deceive him
      • The malicious demon argument
        • Descartes' will suppose that there is no supremely powerful God who is the source of all truth, but that there is an evil demon, supremely powerful and cunning, who works as hard as he possibly can to deceive him.
        • Analysis
          • The ultimate in skepticism - an argument about a priori beliefs
        • Evaluation
          • He couldn't communicate with us or even himself if the meanings of the words were constantly being interfered with by the demon.
    • Analysis
      • Apart from these, aren't senses mostly reliable?
      • From a distance, objects do generally appear small

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