Emanuela Scribano’s guide to Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy is extremely insightful to understanding 17th century philosophy, and the adaptation of Aristotelian Scholastic philosophy to Descartes’ practical philosophy. Scribano’s vivid comprehension of Meditations is apparent through her rich analyses and ability to reference Descartes directly to aid her claims.
Clearly and effectively writing in the Genesis of the Work, Scribano credits Descartes to delving into metaphysics in a way previous philosophers regretted to do. In the Meditations, she explains, Descartes is firm in establishing God and the mind on a purely scientific foundation. Scribano credits the Cartesian decision to make oneself as a purely thinking thing apart of the foundation of the new science. Accordingly, the self in the Meditations is the author of the narration (Scribano 21) where truths are discovered before the eyes of the reader. The Metaphysical work Scribano insists is ordering apart from the infinite, pivoting on what one can know to be absolutely true, starting from the finite subject The self, then, is both the protagonist and the center of the Cartesian system of metaphysics (21).
Scribano flows through the development of Cartesian physics, beginning with the First Meditation, which lays the foundations and establishes firm and lasting discoveries in the new sciences. In order to carve a precise foundation for the new sciences to lay on, Descartes must prove his findings to be indubitable and purely objective. To arrive at a distinction of what is to all and what is to an individual (subjective), Descartes proves the composite things to be doubtful, such as astronomy, physics, medicine, time, and matter. In his findings, and eloquently explained by Scribano, the simple natures or indubitable truths, are only arithmetic and geometry. In order to arrive at an unshakeable foundation, the meditator is left with no other means than to doubt everything they had accepted to be true. Now, if there is any inclination to doubt a statement, readers become forced to set these notions aside as if it were false. Scribano’s ability to personify the Cartesian doubt is helpful in gaining insight on the senses ability to deceive even those who are the masters or proprietors of their studies.
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The main character of the Cartesian scenario is split in two; an old self and a meditating self, in which the meditating self conducts an investigation, subjecting the old self into question the grounds of her beliefs. The old self attempts to chastise the meditating self, but in turn is left with fewer opinions that she can continue to believe because of the meditating self’s ability to convince. Scribano effectively transcribes the transitional point in Descartes philosophy, where I think, therefore I exist, morphs into I am, I exist. By exempting the therefore in this claim, there is no reliance on the action of thought in order to exist.
The proposition I am, I exist, emerges as the first certainty in which Descartes arrives at. Scribano notes that the cogito is not original with Descartes, however. What Scribano constitutes as original to Descartes’, is using the cogito to draw conclusions about the nature of the meditators mind. Thinking, therefore, involved not intelligible species as the Scholastic philosophers had once thought, but ideas implanted in the mind through God. Descartes concurs that God is endowed to a much greater degree than he is, and is an omniscient and omnipotent God. However, both his will and God’s will are comparable. Will consists of the ability to make judgment despite not having complete knowledge of an event. What is different between God and Descartes, is God’s intellect being equivalent to his will, meaning he is exempt from error. Humans, are not exempt from error, due to their freedom of choice exceeding their knowledge. Human intellect only provides room to perceive ideas, not to make judgements on them, therefor disproving it as a source of error alone. However, will, which is infinite, allows the ability to affirm or deny the claims made by one’s intellect. The mere ability to think, is in it of itself enough to provide enough certainty to the existence of being.
Later in the analysis of the work, Scribano delves into Descartes’ in-famous wax example. She explains the idea of extension as a necessary condition for clearly perceiving any features of the wax. Therefore, innate Cartesian ideas, which in origin are intellectual, allow one to realize the components that provide structure to experience and make it possible, and contrary to basic knowledge, not obtained through experience itself. A Priori knowledge is then introduced, and thought to be the idea that there is certain knowledge in which one is born with in advanced, and acquires by means of sensory perception.
Throughout her commentary, Scribano analysis the role of the self, and the knowledge of the self opposed to the knowledge of the bodies (as Scholastics had thought), as well as the direct divine assistance in which the Augistinians held traditional. She is able to note that Cartesian innate ideas differ expediently from Kantian forms of intuition and understanding. Descartes’ innate ideas, as noted by Scribano, serve not only as functioning molds for philosophy, but possess their own content that are of enough substance to gain information about how the external world is structured.
Scribano provides enough background information to inform the reader on traditional philosophy if they are unfamiliar. Being able to reference Plato and Aristotle, and St. Augustine aids her commentary and allows for a better reading experience and enriched comprehension.
I think that Scribano’s analysis of the Meditations is an essential text that should be read by all. She takes what is a intellectually complex topic and morphs it into a simplistic yet thorough explanation. She carefully credits Descartes in the remarkable philosophical findings of the 17th century, as well as interjects some ways in which she thinks the text is ought to be perceived as. By simplifying the main arguments of the six Meditations, the text is enjoyable and easy to follow along with.
The purpose of the Meditations is for the reader to unlock knowledge that is already had, but not yet accessible. The Discourse Scribano writes serves as a map for readers that slowly walk them through the process to unlock these truths for themselves.
She appropriately, and with clarity explains Descartes initiation to the study of the mind and the soul in retrospect to the choices one makes, and knowledge one obtains. She credits Descartes with being a hero for modern philosophy, and the pseudo-problem that heterogeneity between the mind and body introduces. When commentating on the Nature of the Self, Scribano scribes that it would be an error to liken Cartesian doubt in the first meditation to classic skepticism, as it is likewise erroneous to consider the revival of skeptical arguments against the sensible knowledge that has nothing to do with the Cartesian enterprise. In this segment, she drives home the importance of being able to asses possibilities of knowledge independent from bodies.
Scribano also notes Descartes aim to move against the Scholastic tradition through his works in metaphysics. Suggesting that, the knowledge of bodies depends on the sole nature of the mind, that which is immaterial is the condition for knowledge of that which is material. She vindicates his claims and provides further evidence to support his findings through his philosophy. She says that the more the reader delves into the logic of habitual reasoning and stir up results that might contradict their thoughts, the more convinced the reader is likely to be.
Scribanos notes are both vindicating of Descartes original thoughts in the Meditations, and enjoyable to read. Her understanding of the culture and insight into the mind of the 17th century philosopher is unmatched and top tier. There are no shortcomings of her accuracy and attention to detail to the original Meditations. If one had not been familiar with philosophy, this would be the perfect book to read. This aids in understanding the complexity of the ideas Descartes presents. There is a clear distinction between Scribano’s thoughts, and Descartes original proclamations, which provides clarity and is effective in establishing her poise as an author.
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