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How do we know that reality is what we think it is? How do we know that what we see is true?
Descartes believes he has the answer to such perennial questions: our ability to think.
Who Should Read “Meditations on First Philosophy” and Why?
“Meditations on First Philosophy” is a classic, but it is not a book for everyone, simply because it is a bit complex for understanding.
It tries to explain how the human mind and the ability to think proves our existence, as well as the existence of God.
If you love philosophy and philosophical books, though, then this is a read that you should definitely put on your shelf.
About René Descartes
René Descartes was a French philosopher widely both criticized and acclaimed for his works.
He was the one who created skepticism and broke away from the earlier philosophical tradition which followed Aristotelian footsteps.
“Meditations on First Philosophy Summary”
People make sense of the world relying on their five senses: taste, smell, touch, sight, and hearing.
However, the sense is not always reliable.
Let’s take dreams for example.
When you dream, everything in the dream feels real, no matter how bizarre it may be. You only realize the dream’s absurdity when you wake up.
So, although we may think that senses give us an actual and utterly realistic image of the world that surrounds us, the fact is that the information we get from the senses can be distorted by external forces.
But if we cannot entirely rely on our senses and the information we get from them, what can we do?
Well, we should start perceiving everything there is with a dosage of skeptical doubt.
Wait, what exactly can we get from skepticism?
About other things, we cannot guarantee, but one thing that we can guarantee is that skepticism will make you think.
Thinking, in fact, is the only reliable technique that we can use to evaluate the world.
This is why Rene Descartes said: I think, therefore I exist.
However, what is thinking and what is just processing the information the senses give us?
Well, when you think, your mind makes a judgment about the world and defines events and objects. But if thinking is a way to prove our own existence, how can we prove that the world exists as well?
Don’t we get a sense of the world through the senses, which we already said cannot be trusted?
It is significant to have in mind that some things in the world are understood with the sole use of our minds.
We are talking about concepts that people do not need to encounter in the physical world in order to grasp them.
Other things, on the other hand, are imposed on us from the outside world whether we like it or not – like the feeling of cold or warm for example.
However, since our senses can be fooled, it is logical to note that the concepts we grasp using our minds are more reliable than those which we understand based on our senses.
Just think about people in the past and how they perceived nature. They were wrong, weren’t they?
If we solely use our senses, we would just see the sun as a small ball on the sky, and not understand its true nature.
The smallest degree of reality, however, have the ideas that we create ourselves.
In any case, the ability to think proves that the mind actually exists, and not the other way round.
However, this thinking does not need to be “trapped” in a physical form in order to happen – thinking can happen without physical properties.
In fact, body and mind pose two different levels of existence.
The mind is the highest form, and the body is the secondary, sensory form.
Since the mind and the body exist in two different levels, it means that they are not dependent upon each other.
In other words, they can exist independently.
What does this mean for you?
Simply put, it proves that the soul or mind, whatever you may call it, can continue existing even after the death.
We understand that the concepts we played out briefly for you may seem abstract since it is impossible to explain them in such a short space thoroughly, so we recommend you read the whole book, so you get a better understanding of the topic
Now, we move on to the key lessons.
Key Lessons from “Meditations on First Philosophy”
1. Always Question Your Senses
2. Thinking Proves Your Existence
3. Three Categories of Truth Exist in This World
Always Question Your Senses
Your senses do not always show you the true image of the world. Many times they will give a distorted concept of reality, and that is why you must doubt your senses and question them at all times.
Only through skepticism and careful thinking you can come to the truth.
Thinking Proves Your Existence
If senses are not to be trusted, then what can we rely on?
Descartes believes that human thoughts are the way to prove existence. The judgments the brain makes on things whether they are based in reality or imaginary, prove that you are alive.
Three Categories of Truth Exist in This World
Each thing in this world can be considered as one of three categories of truth.
The first group is the things that you can explain only using your minds, or by thinking.
The second category is the things that can be explained by using your senses.
Finally, the third category is a mix of the previous two.
According to Descartes, the first category of truth is the most reliable since thinking is more reliable than senses.
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“Meditations on First Philosophy Quotes”
It is only prudent never to place complete confidence in that by which we have even once been deceived.
Doubt is the origin of wisdom.
But what then am I? A thing that thinks. What is that? A thing that doubts, understand, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, and that also imagines and senses.
When I turn my mind’s eye upon myself, I understand that I am a thing which is incomplete and dependent on another and which aspires without limit to ever greater and better things.
The destruction of the foundations necessarily brings down the whole edifice.
Our Critical Review
“Meditations on First Philosophy” is far from an easy read. It is a classic that will make you question everything you know, but in order to understand it, you will have to consult the Internet and more books.