A Discourse on Method and Meditations

ISBN: 0879755261
ISBN 13: 9780879755263
By: René Descartes Robert M. Baird Stuart E. Rosenbaum

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Is knowledge possible? If so, what can we know and how do we come to know it? What degree of certainty does our knowledge enjoy? In these two powerful works, Descartes, the seventeenth-century philosopher considered to be the father of modern philosophy, outlines his philosophical method and then counters the skeptics of his time by insisting that certain knowledge can be had. He goes on to address the nature and extent of human knowledge, the distinction between mind and body, the existence of God, and the existence of external objects.

Reader's Thoughts


"Thus the diversity of our views does not result from the fact that some people are more reasonable than others, but simply from the fact that we guide our thoughts along different paths and do not think about the same things. For it is not enough to have a good mind; it is more important to use it well." P.5"The first [maxim:] was to obey the laws and customs of my own country, holding firmly to the religion in which, by the grace of God, I had been instructed from my infancy, and guiding myself in everything else by the most moderate and least excessive views that are generally accepted in practice by the most sensible people among those with whom I was to live" P 19"For it seemed to me that I could find much more truth in the reasoning that each person does about things which are important to them, and which have harmful consequences for them if they misjudge, than in those made by a scholar in their study about speculative matters that have no consequences and whose only effect on them, perhaps, is that the further removed they are from common sense the more vain they will be about them...I always had a great desire, also, to learn to distinguish what is true from what is false, in order to see my way clearly in actions and conduct myself with confidence in this life." P. 10"When I noticed that this truth 'I think, therefore I am' was so firm and certain that all the most extravagant assumptions of the skeptics were unable to shake it." P.25

Jack Bates

A great edition of one of the most significant philosophical works in modern times. This discussion of the method for which Frances Bacon was missing is one of the most enlightening reads an individual can embark upon. I would recommend this as required reading for any middles school child through high school and on in to college. This is also a book that should be revisited from time to time. Life experience will definitely influence how much a reader gets from this work as the more the reader brings to Descartes the more he gives in return.

Bob Nichols

In a quest for certainty, Descarte questions (doubts) everything and wipes the slate clean by pretending that "everything was false." But then he rebuilds reality through his recognition that if he thought all was false, then thought itself must be real. Hence his well-known observation that, "I think, therefore I am." As to the question of why man, unlike other beings, has rationality, Descarte weaves the science of cause and effect into his argument and concludes that such rationality, while its expression is imperfect in man, must necessarily stem from a perfect being, which is God. From there, Descarte states that man's objective on earth was to use reason to approximate the perfection of God. But Descartes' philosophy leads humans away from their biological being. The world of thought takes precedence over the body. We become heads without bodies, rational souls not biological souls. We are deep in knowledge about the external world but not about ourselves. With his famous "I think" observation, he assumes "I" is "think," when it could just as easily have been stated that that "I exist, therefore I think." Afterall, if the body dies, how can one think? Our existence as biological beings leads to a different type of certainty (how to live, live well and, perhaps, how to live authentically). It leads to a different kind of perfection (how to preserve oneself) and a different kind of philosophy (how to use reason to preserve the self and how to promote social order in ways that preserve the self), but this is not the path that Descarte follows.


"i think, therefore i am." interesting to read, impossible to accept (or rather, I refuse), especially for those of us who have experienced our minds as our own worst enemies. because it dwells on the past and tries to anticipate the future, thinking robs us of BEING in the present; i can only "think" about the past and the future, but I cant BE anywhere other than the present, and being in the present requires no thought at all. I cannot rewind and live in the past (which i cannot change) and i cannot fast-forward and live in the future (which i cannot predict). I can only live, can only be, in the present, and I can only be in the present when I am fully conscious of the right here and now and NOT thinking about the past or the future. Therefore, i am NOT when I am THINKING(in the past or in the future), but I AM when I am NOT thinking (in, and fully conscious of, the present moment). when I think I am in the past or future, and I CANT be alive in either realm, and, thus, I cant feel alive when I'm thinking. and so, descartes, i come to this conclusion: "i think, therefore I am NOT," I am not present, not here, not now, and not even really alive. and i confess that I desperately wish to break free of my thinking mind and finally start feeling alive!


Rene Descartes was my very first introduction to philosophy and now I am glad he was. For centuries philosophy was dominated by the big three (Socrates, Plato & and Aristotle) until along came this French rationalist and philosophy as we knew it was never the same again. With the precision of a surgeon he began carving his own brand of philosophy which paved the way for other philosophers such as Leibniz, Spinoza, Pascal, Kant and many others.Descartes is easy to read and therefore easy to get hooked on. He makes you feel that you to can think like a philosopher. He makes quick work with fundamental questions such as how do I know that I exist at all and how do I know that God exists. The ultimate rationalist, he laid the groundwork on how one should go about thinking and he was absolutely right about knowledge comes exclusively from the mind and its ability to reason; I hope I don't offend the empiricists. There are times where I find myself not sure of anything and find solace in the pages of Meditations. As Einstein loved Spinoza, I love Descartes.I have convinced myself that there is nothing in the world — no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Doesn’t it follow that I don’t exist? No, surely I must exist if it’s me who is convinced of something. But there is a deceiver, supremely powerful and cunning whose aim is to see that I am always deceived. But surely I exist, if I am deceived. Let him deceive me all he can, he will never make it the case that I am nothing while I think that I am something. Thus having fully weighed every consideration, I must finally conclude that the statement “I am, I exist” must be true whenever I state it or mentally consider it. - René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy (Meditation II: On the Nature of the Human Mind, Which Is Better Known Than the Body)"Je pense, donc je suis"


read and re readthough to be taken with cautioni haven't read it in yearsi don't trust anything however can't say that is newshould probably read it again. good conversation starternot for the weak of heart or mindspent the next year of my life (i exaggerate perhaps) attempting to ascend or descend platforms at the least justifying my ability to do so. once there finding purpose. oh philosophy.for rizzeal.neitzche comes in handy after the illusory world takes over and the otherwise truly screwed by a cruel god, a non existing god, a stupid self, a damned self, or never known outside of oneself...perhaps his teachings were found while meditating...harrr. rolling boulders up hills? sipping on some syrups? yes i'm straight twisting the philsophers. by the way as i'm ranting or tangenting... i was thinking some months ago about the proclaimed (or was it?) i hope some ttt. philosophy hit is getting crazy on my misappropriations on this ish. and my grammar/spelling ffargarg okay. about the fool or decided to in platos cave taste the bit of honey off the leave as he fell to doom into the dragons teeth and ran from doom into the fire or whatever it was... and how in my class back however many years ago? yikes.. WOW many years ago now...people said he was stupid or that he should run or that he should dwell in the nook of a cave. but really he was or she was what it is is I am smart to lick the nectar of the leaf because i am about to die and that is the sweetest that life has to offer me and it makes me perhaps foolish in some peoples eyes to not be looking for cover where danger is headed for me at both angles but also brave in the eyes of danger and opportunistic which is how life thrives..correct, flowers? descartes didn't mind warp me i suppose i took the class at the right time. hopefully i'm somewhat coherent


Combined notes on both texts.Discourse:I. The premise is introduced that reason is naturally equal in all, and truth is to be found by conducting it correctly. Descartes attempts to show how he himself has attempted this, not to dictate how everyone should.II. The method. Descartes wished to rebuild the very foundations upon which his opinions and views were formed. He decided to do this by systematic doubt. The key point is to never accept as true anything that is not known to be evidently so.III. Descartes outlines his provisional moral code that he used during his search, saying that if one wishes to rebuild their house, they must have alternate accommodation while doing so.IV. From his first unquestionable principle, 'I think, therefore I am', Descartes moves on to his proof for the existence of God.V. Largely a description of a treatise he never published, and discussion of the difference between human and animals souls. This part is generally of less interest, not written with such clarity and wit.VI. Here, he describes why that treatise was never published, his thoughts on experimentation, and his plans for future publications. This suffers from the same issues as part five. The real meat of the Discourse is to be found in parts one through four.Meditations:I. Descartes outlines what can conceivably be doubted, which is quite a lot of things. For the purposes of his sceptical method, he supposes a hypothetical 'malicious demon' which seeks to deceive on every point. All corporeal existence must be deemed an illusion.II. Descartes considers his own mind, concluding that there is nothing so easy to understand, and that his own existence and 'thinking' are certain.III. The argument for the existence of God. Considering this proved, Descartes goes on to declare that God is not a deceiver, considering that He contains all perfections and 'deceit' stems from a defect.IV. The idea of 'clear and distinct' perceptions, previously stated as the criteria for certainty, is clarified. Judgement (or will) applied to a clear, distinct perception (understanding) will lead to truth. Error results from a judgement made without proper understanding.V. Descartes likens knowledge of God to knowledge of mathematics and geometry, saying that existence is to God as three sides are to a triangle. Furthermore, all true knowledge depends upon God's existence, since deception is always a possibility otherwise.VI. Here is where Cartesian Dualism comes into its own. Descartes argues that mind and body are separate, and that corporeal things do exist after all.'... the life of man is very often subject to error in particular cases; and we must, in conclusion, recognise the infirmity and weakness of our nature.'


Descartes's reasoning to prove the existence of God seems to be based on the unstated assumption that it is impossible that our physical selves could produce rational thought. That humans have some magic essence that makes us fundamentally different from other animals and which has no basis in our corporeal bodies. He associates rational thought with the soul, so humans have souls and other animals don't.A few hundred years later it seems clear that, in fact, our ability to reason is a direct consequence of the structure of our nervous system. And it also seems, to me at least, that while of course humans are much better at reasoning than other animals, the difference is not one of kind, it's of degree (even if it's a very great degree). For that matter, I think computers can do what Descartes would have considered rational thought. It seems to me that all "proofs" of the existence of God revolve around one very primitive line of thought: I don't understand how this could happen, therefore it must have been done by an intelligent supernatural being. Most (all?) societies initially apply this thought to common natural phenomena: I don't understand why the seasons change, or why storms happen, or why the sun rises and sets, or why the stars move the way they do, therefore there must be a god manipulating these events. As it turns out, of course, there are physical explanations for all these things that don't require the interference of a god. So more recent arguments focus on things that are harder to explain. Descartes used rational thought. Others, from Thomas Aquinas to just about every modern Christian apologist, use the origin of the universe. However, we've been through this process so many times in human history, that this is clear now to many intelligent people: The fact that I don't understand something does not imply that a supernatural being is causing it. On Descartes's "Method"... as far as I can tell he never got around to explaining what his method actually was. What was it about nonmodern authors that kept them from expressing themselves clearly and concisely?

Dave B.

Descartes’ determination to identify reality is the central point of his argument. He breaks down his interpretation of reality through a series of logical introspective questions. These questions lead to his famously quoted line: “I Think therefore I am” from his essay, “A discourse on methods” my interpretation of this argument, there is only one true reality and that is our thinking. Everything else is filtered through our thinking. This is a concept that we know is true through modern psychology. There are a lot of recent laymen books on this idea of perception versus reality. This major essay was a good read and interesting argument. The following meditations were harder to get through because of his argument that God exist because he is the only avenue for the concept of perfections and eternity. Descartes ignores the ability of the human mind to imagine or conceive ideas without some sort of external catalyst. That is the point where his argument goes wrong in my opinion. Descartes meditations show how our own cognitive biases generate improper thinking when they are not corrected through external experimentation or collaborative discussion with peers.

Bola Shokry

مقال عن المنهج كُتِب عام 1637 بواسطة رينيه ديكارت أبو الفلسفة الحديثة وباعثها والفيلسوف الأشهر على الإطلاق بعد المعلم الأول أرسطو والأباء المؤسسين للفلسفة الإغريقية القديمة.هدف ديكارت الوصول للـ"يقين" وأخذ من "الشك" طريقا للوصول لليقين المنشود.تأمل ديكارت فوجد أن للمعرفة سببين وهما البداهة والقياس, وفي تأمله في العلوم وجد أن الرياضيات هي العلم الأقوى يقينا لأنه مؤسس على بديهيات, والبديهيات وهي المعارف البسيطة التي لا يراود العقل فيها شك مثل ان مجموع زوايا المثلث يساوي قائمتين.فعزم ديكارت أن يؤسس منهج معرفي جديد قائم على البديهات, فيكون له متانة الرياضيات. وفي هذا, وضع ديكارت قواعده الأربعة للمعرفة وهي:ـ1- قاعدة اليقين: وهو ألا يقبل شيئا على أنه حق, ما لم يعرف يقينا أنه كذلك.2- قاعدة التحليل: أن المعضلة ينبغي أن تقسم إلى أجزاء بسيطة بقدر ما تدعو الحاجة لحلها.3- قاعدة التركيب: أي أن يسير أفكاره بانتظام بادئا بأبسط الأمور واسلسها معرفة ثم يتدرج إلى المعارف الأكثر تركيبا.4- قاعدة الاستقراء التام: أي ان يعمل من الاحصاءات الكاملة والمراجعات الشاملة بما يجعله على ثقة انه لم يغفل شيئا.ولم يغفل ديكارت سعادته, فهو يرى ان السعادة والنجاح لا يجتمعان مع الشك, وحيث أن مبدأ ديكارت المعرفي قائم على الشك فهو يضع لنفسه ثلاثة قواعد مؤقتة للأخلاق, يلتزم بها في رحلة شكه حتى وصوله لليقين وهي:1- أن يطيع قوانين بلاده ويحترم عاداتها مع الثبات في الديانة التي نشأ عليها.2- أن يكون أكثر ثباتا في أعماله وأن يتجنب الشك والتردد في سياسته.3- أن يجتهد في مغالبة نفسه, لا في مغالبة الحظ.وبعد أن أعد العُدة, يمضي ديكارت في منهجه الشكي, ويصل للبديهة الأولى "أنا أفكر إذا أنا موجود" ـومنها يثبت منطقيا تمايز النفس والبدن, ثم يضع 4 إثباتات منطقية يثبت بها وجود الله.في رأيي شهرة ديكارت لا ترجع فقط لمنهجه أو كونه فذا, لكن بلاغة اسلوبه السلس والسهل ساعد كثيرا في انتشار كتاباته وتوصيل أفكاره للعوام دون تعقيد, حتى في قرائتك تشعر وكأنك تقرأ عمل أدبي وليس فلسفي.


Descaretes's, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, is a very thought provoking book on Descartes's method of applying reason in thought. There are many things that he talks about that I agree with and a few things that I disagree with. He starts out saying that evry person has equal reasoning and the reason for different oppinions is surroundings and interpretation. He mentions to listen to ones self because perfection comes from individuals, not groups of people. According to Descartes, he has come up with an effective way of applying reason that includes four laws and four moral codes to live by. The four laws basicly say to be skeptical, analitical, and careful about thoughts and actions. The first moral code i have a problem with, it says to remain faithful to laws, customs, and religion, I think that staying true to this code would seriously cut down on his ability to reason and be skeptical of new suroundings. He hoped to find certainty and happiness by following these rules, even though with true reason the only thing anyone can be certain about is that it is nearly impossible to be certain about much at all. Later in the book he devides that anything that is doubtfull at all is false and this leads him to abandon his senses, demonstrative thinking, and images that enter his mind, because to him they were nothing but leftover dreams. While being skeptical one day, he realized that doubting something requires thought and the fact that he was thinking proves that he exists. This is where the phrase "I think, therefore I am" came from. He also concludes that God exists because existance is certain and this shows that our clear perception is true when reasoned properly. This bothers me because he claims he is certain by doin something 'properly', but what is proper other than what we have previously perceived as proper?

Kyle Muntz

Descartes was the one of the best but mostly the worst of philosophers. His philosophy is extremely relevant historically but hasn't aged as well as Hume, Locke, Schopenhauer or Spinoza, mostly because it was so deeply Catholic. I read this when I was about 15 and thought it was brilliant, but now, despite a few good arguments, the thing feels like a skyscraper built out of toothpicks. Unlike Hume or Locke (who feel fairer than the others I mentioned, since they were closer to being his contemporaries), there's not much here for us now, especially if you aren't interested in a sort of dualistic Platonism.

David S. T.

This is the second time I've read these works. The first time I read Discourse on Method was a public domain edition and this, the Cress version, is far more readable and superior. On the other hand, the first time I read Meditations on First Philosophy was with the Cambridge Cottingham edition which had a far superior introduction, notes and perhaps translation (since I can't read Latin, I can't confirm the accuracy of this).Discourse is pretty interesting, Descartes decides to throw way everything he's learned and approach everything as geometric proofs where he builds on top of what he can completely infer. At first he rejects all senses and perceptions because they could be an illusion, the only thing he knows is, “I think therefore I am” (or if you read the Cottingham version, 'I am thinking therefore I exist'). From this he bases everything. He later goes to present his own modified version of the ontological argument, basically he thinks of something more perfect than himself, since he knows there is something more perfect then this, then eventually the most perfect thing is God. I'm sure many theists will agree with him that perhaps God is the only other thing they know is true, but I'm not sure how the thought of a most perfect being is more apparent than everything he experiences around him. I realize that his could be in illusion, but the thought of a most perfect being is more concrete? If someone doesn't perceive of this most perfect being instead assumes that everything is partially flawed does god cease to exist? Meditations further explains his ideas. He rejects everything he was taught and arrives at the fact that he exists, god exists, finally that other things exist and that the body is separate from the soul. It seems his god argument in this one slightly expands to a slightly different argument, namely that something can not come out of nothing and since imperfect things can only come from something more perfect than themselves, if you go up the line of perfection the most perfect thing or God. I guess to me all of these years later, I don't see how this proves god. Secondly I'm curious if the idea of god is natural, meaning if someone was born and never hear the idea of god mentioned would he arrive at the same conclusions of a perfect being or was Descartes influenced by his opinions found from a lifetime of learning from “the great book of the world”. For the material things he realizes that for god to be perfect he wouldn't deceive him by making everything around him an illusion, therefore since God is not a deceiver, matter is real. My initial thought is that if an insane person perceives things as existing which do not, then they're not real and therefore would god then become a deceiver using this reasoning? Anyways regardless of one agrees with Descartes, these works are pretty interesting and for their importance to philosophy alone they are essential reads.

Erik Graff

I enrolled in Loyola University Chicago's graduate program in philosophy after two years of dead-end jobs upon completion of seminary. The motivation was primarily intellectual. Previous study had served to raise questions more than answer them and some knowledge of the history and thought of the modern West had served to raise questions about their foundations. More specifically, the study of continental depth psychologies had indicated a philosophical as well as an empirical basis for them. My roommate, Mike Miley, was attending Loyola as an adult undergraduate, was enjoying it and had informed me that it had the largest philosophy program in the United States. Besides, it was walking distance from our apartment.Having already completed four years of graduate school, my transcripts and thesis were submitted for advanced standing consideration. That took a year. In the meantime, I enrolled in basic courses, aiming to fill in the gaps of a previously spotty study of philosophy. Plato, naturally, came up immediately as a concern as did Descartes.In considering the teaching of philosophy, I've marvelled at how students at an introductory level are introduced to the field by such figures as Kant, Hegel and Heidegger. This is crazy. One cannot read them without knowing a good deal about their predecessors. What an undergraduate student can get into immediately are some of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Locke, Nietzsche and Descartes, particularly his Discourse and his Meditations.Incidentally, Descartes was read for the History of Classical Modern Philosophy, taught by a barely competent woman fresh out graduate school whose name escapes me.


Written after I read this as a junior in college:René Descartes spent much of his life in travel, studying the great works of philosophers and scientists. After the majority of his formal learning was completed, Descartes began writing prolifically. The Discourse on Method, written in Holland, and finished in 1637, was written not long after his previous works of, Rules for the Direction of the Mind (1629), and Treatise on the World (1633) were completed. In accompaniment to Discourse on Method, were three essays entitled Dioptric, Meteors, and Geometry. Although his philosophy was accepted by some, the majority of Holland found his works controversial and radical. This work is a great representation of the thought that was evolving during this time period. The era of enlightenment was emerging, and the new approach was positivistic in scope–to verify everything with absolute fact. Descartes’ Discourse on Methods is a representative work of the important link between metaphysical thought and objective scientific discovery. Descartes believed that only things sensed can be defined as real, even more particular, only things that can be reasoned are legitimate. According to Descartes, even God is legitimized only to the degree that Descartes himself can sense and reason. The only way to know if something exists, argued Descartes, is that it can be measured. This is very significant because the emerging philosophy of all great minds of the time period, is that of scientific verification–of understanding the world through measuring, sensing, gathering, analyzing, and concluding. Through his study and thought, Descartes discovers that great advances may be made in the world as man discovers how to explain, and eventually control the things he can change; the physical things around him.As with any other man who emerges with “enlightened” philosophy–new knowledge to the public, his work is not accepted by the majority at first. This method however, becomes the approach that many succeeding scientific minds adopt. As these scientists later implement these principles, they discover many scientific advances that greatly benefit society.It was very interesting to read how Descartes went about finding truth in his own life. Although his singular use of reasoning led him to many important truths, it also resulted in a few false assumptions. His false interpretation about the mechanisms of the beating heart show us that even a man who’s life and thoughts were devoted to the power of reason, cannot always make an accurate deductive interpretation of all the facts that surround him. Science in all its forms requires constant testing and refining. Descartes also admits that his knowledge came not from divine bestowal, as he believed it had come to many of the other philosophers and scientists. His knowledge, he claimed, came from the reading of many great books, his education, and his travels abroad. And yet with all of his knowledge and reasoning powers, he humbly admits that the more he learned, the more he found he didn’t know. This principle can be applied to all who don’t believe they have bestowed with intellectual treasures from God. Persistence and hunger for truth can lift any man to greatness.

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