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Descartes' Meditations

The way Descartes chose to write this piece literature captivated me. Descartes was a very intelligent man who wanted to make sense of the world he lived in. The format he used was unusual. It seems to me that he may have used this format, which is a replication of the book of Genesis in the Bible, to have a deeper and more profound impact on the reader. There are many similarities between Descartes’ Meditations and the first book of the Bible, Genesis. For example, Descartes’ Meditations was written one day at a time, just as God had created the world one day at a time. Furthermore, the order Descartes’ daily writings took resembled the same order the Bible had for the creation of the world. Meditation One in Meditations coincides with day one of God’s creation of the world. In the Bible, “God divided the light from the darkness.” (Bible Gen. 1:3) In Descartes’ work, day one consisted of separating our senses from reality. “[T]here are no definitive signs by which to distinguish being awake from being asleep.” (Descartes 352) Descartes is actually questioning whether or not the bodies we reside in actually exist or if we are in a continual dream state. I feel that Descartes’ intent in his first entry was to establish a certain state of mind for reading and understanding the remainder of his work. This included, mainly, a separation from our senses as a means of acquiring knowledge and being more open to all possibilities. He firmly maintains that our senses mislead us and we must put them aside in order to see a thing or an event for what it really is. This suggests that all things currently known to us as humans can be called into doubt, including our very physical bodies. This meditation differs from day one in Genesis in the fact that Descartes is questioning our physical bodies. The issue of our physical bodies can be argued in day seven of God’s creation, when He created man in His own image. Meditation Two in Meditations discusses the nature of the human mind. According to the Bible, on the second day of creation, “God made the firmament, and divided the waters from the waters. God called the firmament Heaven.” (Bible Gen. 1:6) Descartes demonstrates his belief that the mind is free. This meditation is my favorite. In the beginning of it, Descartes seems so confused and lost. He questions every little thing around him and within himself. I recall a time in my own life when I felt like that. It was scary when I read this, for it brought back some very terrible memories of my time going through menopause! I, too, had questioned some of the exact same things he was questioning. My doctor informed me that I had a chemical imbalance in my brain due to the lack of estrogen my body was used to. Given my own personal experience, I see Descartes’ meditation in two ways. Perhaps Descartes also had some mental disorders, or else my doctor was wrong and I had reason to feel the way I felt. Perhaps the lack of estrogen in my system made me see things more clearly. I seriously doubt the latter explanation. However, in this meditation, Descartes is separating the mind from the brain, just as God had separated the waters and sky, and created Heaven. I think this meditation was, in almost every way, similar to day two in Genesis. In Genesis the waters and sky were separated. Both the waters and the sky are within the world. Unlike the waters or the sky, Heaven is an abstract thing. In Descartes’ analogy, the mind and the brain are both a part of a human being and they, too, are being separated. Unlike the physicality of the brain, the mind is abstract. Meditation Three in Meditations is Descartes’ opinion of whether or not God exists. Although he claims that he believes in God, he states that, “I do not yet sufficiently know whether there even is a God.” (Descartes 358) He also states, “I understand what a thing is, what truth is, what thought is, and I appear to have derived this exclusively from my very own nature.” (Descartes 358) Throughout most of the third meditation, Descartes gives reasons why he should not believe in God. However, he claims God does exist because the idea of God exists. Descartes believes that the idea that God exists had to have been brought into being by God Himself. In the Book of Genesis, God separates the land from the sea on the third day. I think Descartes’ rationalization in his meditation is similar to the third day of creation in that God showed land on the third day, and Descartes discovered God on the third day. I think this relationship could be interpreted to mean that land is to earth and life what God is to man. Meditation Four in Descartes’ writing concerns truth and falsity. On this fourth day, Descartes deals with perception to a large extent. It is as if his perceptions determine what is real and what is not. He seems upset with the fact that God did not create him as a perfect human, incapable of err. God, being perfect in all respects, should have created man perfect as well, but He didn’t. Descartes states many times in this section, “I have no cause for complaint on the grounds that God has given me a greater power of understanding, greater light of nature, or a will that has a wider scope….” (Descartes 367) Descartes goes on to state, “I have come to know with certainty only that I and God exist…” (Descartes 365) While reading this, I felt as if Descartes was literally trying to convince himself that there is a God. The fourth day of creation in the Bible, “God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also.” (Bible Gen. 1:16) I believe the relationship between day four in the Bible and day four in Descartes’ writing is that there are at least two different ways of seeing things (day or night.) How people perceive something will greatly affect the way they feel about it and react to it. Meditation Five in Descartes’ writing is about the essence of material things and the existence of God. To be honest, I find the next two sections of this work to be almost exactly the same as the first four. The major difference in the last two sections of his work is that he uses different examples to demonstrate the same thing as the first four sections. The fifth meditation relates to the fifth day of creation in the Bible in that they both deal with the essence of material things rather than thoughts, feelings, or ideas. In the Bible, living creatures and plants are created on the fifth day. In Descartes’ Meditations, he questions the difference between his own thoughts and things that do or do not exist. Finally, Descartes is convinced that the truth and certainty of all science depends upon the knowledge of the true God. By coming to this realization, Descartes now believes he is capable of attaining perfect knowledge about anything. This belief is based upon his understanding of mathematics. The Sixth Meditation concerns the existence of material things and the distinction between mind and body. On the sixth day of creation God created man. Descartes says he is a “thinking thing” and his essence consists entirely in his being a thinking thing. He also came to the conclusion that he does not need his body to survive. He believes he has a soul and that his soul, being separate from his body, can survive without his body. His findings on this day uphold the story in the Bible. Not only did God create man in the physical sense, but in a spiritual sense as well. In conclusion, there is an excellent quotation I’d like to share that I felt really summed up the entire writing. “Hence I should no longer fear that those things that are daily shown me by the senses are false. On the contrary, the hyperbolic doubts of the last few days ought to be rejected as ludicrous.” (Descartes 377) The thought processes Descartes used and the ideas he came up with were very interesting - for a while. However, I feel that he just “rattled on and on,” saying the same thing repeatedly in a different way. Furthermore, would it not stand to reason from the above quotation that the entire writing had no purpose except to satisfy his own curiosities? Or could that statement have been made just to soothe the people that the writing was intended for? By the time I finished reading the selection, I had hoped that on the seventh day, Descartes went to seek professional psychological help!

Bibliography

Descartes, Rene. “Meditations on First Philosophy in Which the Existence of God and the Distinction Between the Soul and the Body Are Demonstrated.” Classics of Western Philosophy. 5th Ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. 1999. 343-377. The Inspirational Study Bible. New King James Version. Ed. Max Lucado. Dallas: Word Bibles. 1995. Genesis: 1:2-31.

Word Count: 1500

 

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