Reading: Descartes’s First Meditation

What I did on my hols.

I’ve been meaning to write something about my trip to Australia for a while, but goodness, I took a lot of photos. This, however, is one little thing I did for me that I thought I’d share.

Sitting on a beach in Merimbula, Australia, looking out at the Pacific ocean, I read my favourite philosophical passage, in which Descartes begins the destruction of all his opinions, that he might start again from a solid foundation of first principles that cannot be doubted.

He employed his method of doubt, which I wrote about for my MA dissertation*, exploring the idea that it can be read as a form transcendental argument, i.e. he argues that certain fundamental truths can be certainly known because their truth is necessary for one to doubt anything at all, and therefore if one is doubting, the very act of doing so demonstrates their truth.

The First Meditation concerns itself solely with the destruction of Descartes’ uncertainly held opinions. The Second Meditation begins the task of building these up again with Descartes’ most famous argument: I think, therefore I am. Or, more accurately: I doubt, therefore there is something that doubts, and I am at minimum that thing that doubts.

I finish the reading after the dreaming argument, which I take to the be the most powerful argument in Descartes’s arsenal of demolition, and the most beautifully articulated.

I use the John Cottingham translation of Descartes’s Mediations on First Philosophy, which is divine.

I did this for me, but I’m sharing it because everyone should have the chance to hear this iconic text.

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*From the perspective of Janet Broughton’s analysis in her Descartes’s Method of Doubt.

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