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Descartes First Meditation Summary

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Sandra Watson
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Meditations on First Philosophy by Descartes Summary and Context

Meditations on First Philosophy by Descartes Summary and Context
Summary
The Meditator reflects that he has often found himself to be mistaken with regard to
matters that he formerly thought were certain, and resolves to sweep away all his preconceptions,
rebuilding his knowledge from the ground up, and accepting as true only
those claims which are absolutely certain. All he had previously thought he knew came
to him through the senses. Through a process of methodological doubt, he withdraws
completely from the senses. At any moment he could be dreaming, or his senses could
be deceived either by God or by some evil demon, so he concludes that he cannot trust
his senses about anything.
Ultimately, however, he realizes that he cannot doubt his own existence. In order to
doubt or to think, there must be someone doing the doubting or thinking. Deceived as
he may be about other things, he cannot help but conclude that he exists. Since his
existence follows from the fact that he is thinking, he concludes that he knows at least
that he is a thing that thinks. He further reasons that he comes to know this fact by
means of his intellect, and that the mind is far better known to him than the body.
The Meditator’s certainty as to his own existence comes through a clear and distinct
perception. He wonders what else he might be able to know by means of this sure
method. In order to be certain that his clear and distinct perceptions are indubitable,
however, he first needs to assure himself that God exists and is not deceiving him. He
reasons that the idea of God in his mind cannot be created by him since it is far more
perfect than he is. Only a being as perfect as God could cause an idea so perfect. Thus,
the Meditator concludes, God does exist. And because he is perfect, he would not
deceive the Meditator about anything. Error arises not because the Meditator is
deceived but because the will often passes judgment on matters that the limited intellect
does not understand clearly and distinctly.

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Descartes First Meditation Summary

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