Descartes has been indicated as the first modern philosopher. He is renowned for having made and important connection between geometry and algebra that brought about the solutions to geometrical problems by way of algebraic equations. He is also famous for having promoted a new conception of matter which allowed for the accounting of physical phenomena by way of mechanical explanations. However, he is most famous for having written a relatively short work, Meditationes de Prima Philosophia (Meditations on First Philosophy), in which the Existence of God and the Distinction between Mind and Body are demonstrated. This was published in 1641 and provided a philosophical groundwork for the possibility of sciences.
Today, Descartes Meditations is by far Descartes’s most popular work, though this would not have been the case in Descartes’s day. Descartes Meditations opens by developing skeptical questions concerning the possibility of knowledge. Through a series of several carefully thought out meditations, six meditations to be exact, the reader establishes groundwork for the possibility of knowledge (scientia). Descartes Meditations uses skepticism as a vehicle to motivate his reader to “discover” by way of philosophical investigation what constitutes this ground.
Descartes Meditations was dedicated to the faculty of the Sorbonne, which was the divinity school of the University of Paris. Descartes was a devout Catholic and had no desire to offend the Church, though he certainly hoped to make a contribution to its understanding. There are two driving issues behind Descartes Meditations: proving the existence of God and the immortality of the soul through natural reason. Here are some samples of Descartes Meditations 1 and 2:
Descartes Meditation 1 – OF THE THINGS OF WHICH WE MAY DOUBT.
1. SEVERAL years have now elapsed since I first became aware that I had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions for true, and that consequently what I afterward based on such principles was highly doubtful; and from that time I was convinced of the necessity of undertaking once in my life to rid myself of all the opinions I had adopted, and of commencing anew the work of building from the foundation, if I desired to establish a firm and abiding superstructure in the sciences. But as this enterprise appeared to me to be one of great magnitude, I waited until I had attained an age so mature as to leave me no hope that at any stage of life more advanced I should be better able to execute my design. On this account, I have delayed so long that I should henceforth consider I was doing wrong were I still to consume in deliberation any of the time that now remains for action. To-day, then, since I have opportunely freed my mind from all cares [and am happily disturbed by no passions], and since I am in the secure possession of leisure in a peaceable retirement, I will at length apply myself earnestly and freely to the general overthrow of all my former opinions.
This is just one of the twelve paragraphs that’s in Descartes Meditations 1, which is all about Descartes establishing his ideas about the world in which he can doubt their truth.
Descartes Meditation 2 – OF THE NATURE OF THE HUMAN MIND; and THAT IT IS MORE EASILY KNOWN THAN THE BODY.
1. The Meditation of yesterday has filled my mind with so many doubts, that it is no longer in my power to forget them. Nor do I see, meanwhile, any principle on which they can be resolved; and, just as if I had fallen all of a sudden into very deep water, I am so greatly disconcerted as to be unable either to plant my feet firmly on the bottom or sustain myself by swimming on the surface. I will, nevertheless, make an effort, and try anew the same path on which I had entered yesterday, that is, proceed by casting aside all that admits of the slightest doubt, not less than if I had discovered it to be absolutely false; and I will continue always in this track until I shall find something that is certain, or at least, if I can do nothing more, until I shall know with certainty that there is nothing certain. Archimedes, that he might transport the entire globe from the place it occupied to another, demanded only a point that was firm and immovable; so, also, I shall be entitled to entertain the highest expectations, if I am fortunate enough to discover only one thing that is certain and indubitable.
This is just one of the sixteen paragraphs in Descartes Meditation 2; here he lays out a pattern of though, sometimes called representationalism, in response to the doubts forwarded in Meditation 1, arguing that this representational theory disconnects the world from the mind, leading to the need for some sort of bridge to span the separation and provide good reasons that the ideas accurately represent the outside world.
Descartes Meditations I, II, III, IV, V, and VI, are writings that discards all his beliefs in things which are not absolutely certain, and then he tries to establish what can be known for sure.