Rene Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy

Descartes' Aims in The Meditations 12th Grade

In the meditations, Descartes aims to provide a sound basis for science, and to vindicate rationalism by proving that true source of scientific knowledge lies in the mind and not the senses. In order to prove that the mind should be the true source of such knowledge, Descartes subjects all knowledge derived from the senses to doubt. He argues that as a child, he accept a large number of falsehoods and has subsequently built a 'whole edifice' on them of a 'highly doubtful nature'. He argues that such childhood prejudices arise naturally through immersion in the senses. He uses the example of optical illusions such as a stick in water appearing bent to show the unreliable nature of the information gathered through the senses, and argues that we should reject such information as a result. Here, Descartes leaves it solely to the individual to assess the reliability of knowledge. It could be argued that the reliability of sense data could in fact be improved though corroboration with others, and it should not simply be rejected.

In order to provide a truly solid foundation for knowledge Descartes feels the need to subject all knowledge to doubt, and uses two thought experiments to do so. He says that we cannot doubt the things we...

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