Descartes’, Meditations on First Philosophy explores how an individual can obtain knowledge without the use of one’s senses. He decides to rebuild his knowledge from the ground up. Through Meditations one and two Descartes investigates various concepts. Firstly, Cartesian doubt, he begins doubting everything he’s ever known claiming that there is no way for one individual to be correct in everything they believe they know. Secondly, the possibility of the deception of simple pieces of information of the world by God. Lastly, the ability to identify when and when not, your senses are lying. Descartes is able to prove the facts of one’s existence and the ability of one’s reason to recognize when senses are lying.
Descartes believes that all the knowledge one obtains is through their senses. But, somehow, we are still mistaken about things. He believes the only way to truly understand is to completely start fresh and build his knowledge from the ground up without relying on his senses. Descartes also adds the possibility that, what if we are in fact dreaming rather than awake? Descartes writes, How often does my evening slumber persuade me of such ordinary things as these: that I am here, clothed in my dressing gown, seated next to the fireplace??”when in fact I am lying undressed in bed! (60 Descartes). He explains that dreams can be so real, that they can cause us to believe they actually happened. So, with that theory, what if every memory and experience he thought he had was just a dream? Next, he asks, what if it is not only a dream, instead is being deceived into what he thinks he knows. Descartes concludes that the only being smart enough to create the simplest of ideas such as colors for example, is God. So, between the possibilities of dreaming and deception, he determines he cannot trust his senses about anything. With this realization, Descartes is able to discover that he exists as a person, But there is some deceiver or other who is supremely powerful and supremely sly and who is always deliberately deceiving me.
Then too there is no doubt that I exist, if he is deceiving meThus, after everything has been most carefully weighed, it must finally be established that this pronouncement “I am, I exist” is necessarily true every time I utter it or conceive it in my mind (64 Descartes). He describes, even if he is being deceived, there has to be someone to be deceived, and if he is doubting, he has to be thinking. Therefore, even if everything he is sensing, and thinking is completely wrong, it proves that he exists as a being. Finally, he uses an analogy with wax to describe how one can identify when their senses are lying to them. You know what a piece of wax is, what it looks, feels, and smells like. But, what happens when you apply heat? The wax melts and everything you thought you knew about it changed except one thing, you still know it is wax. Your senses didn’t help you, but you still knew what it was. This leads to the conclusion that not all knowledge can be understood through the senses alone, but only from being understood by the mind. It is not just up to trusting one’s senses, but instead one’s own reasoning.
I believe that Descartes took a very intellectual and easy to follow approach to this problem. By throwing everything out and starting from the beginning, it allows the reader to start at the same level as him and to better understand the process. There is only one area of his argument that I have difficulty with. When he states the possibility that we could be believing our dreams, I don’t think that is the most solid statement. I do agree that sometimes dreams can come across very real and we may wake up believing they happened, but not to the extent Descartes describes. Especially because in most cases, people forget their dreams. You go through the routine of sleeping and waking up for so long that I do not believe you could convince yourself of so many false memories without realizes it when you awaken.
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