A Discourse on Method and Meditations

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

Check Price Now


Classics Currently Reading Favorites French Library Non Fiction Nonfiction Philosophy School To Read

About this book

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

Paul Gibson

Descartes has some interesting words to say but I can't agree with his conclusions.I agree that God seems infinite but to define God negates infinity; definite can't be infinite. This is a contradiction that negates the value of God as infinite.Perhaps I misunderstand him but moments later he says something like this, "I should not have the idea if an infinite substance because I am a finite being, unless it were given to me by some substance that is infinite." I disagree. Like so many things in life, once I comprehend one thing, I will probably imagine the opposite. What I find curious is that he says something like this himself within the same page, "And I must not imagine that I imagine the infinite by way of a true idea but by negation of the finite . . . in the same way I gauge darkness by lightness . . . But how can I know of the idea of an infinite God when I am not infinite? . . . The idea has to be given to me by God."But not only can I imagine opposites, I can imagine a greater version of that opposite something. And if his reply were, "How can you know?" Then I can reply with the same question, so still there is no proof. But what I really mean to say is that if I can't imagine something greater than what God is, then I say he imagines too low because God is greater than his definition. A greater imagination of God that will equal God is indeed infinite and not definite.


"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


Let us suppose, then, that we are dreaming, and that all these particulars--namely, the opening of the eyes, the motion of the head, the forth- putting of the hands--are merely illusions; and even that we really possess neither an entire body nor hands such as we see. Nevertheless it must be admitted at least that the objects which appear to us in sleep are, as it were, painted representations which could not have been formed unless in the likeness of realities; and, therefore, that those general objects, at all events, namely, eyes, a head, hands, and an entire body, are not simply imaginary, but really existent. For, in truth, painters themselves, even when they study to represent sirens and satyrs by forms the most fantastic and extraordinary, cannot bestow upon them natures absolutely new, but can only make a certain medley of the members of different animals; or if they chance to imagine something so novel that nothing at all similar has ever been seen before, and such as is, therefore, purely fictitious and absolutely false, it is at least certain that the colors of which this is composed are real. And on the same principle, although these general objects, viz. [a body], eyes, a head, hands, and the like, be imaginary, we are nevertheless absolutely necessitated to admit the reality at least of some other objects still more simple and universal than these, of which, just as of certain real colors, all those images of things, whether true and real, or false and fantastic, that are found in our consciousness (cogitatio),are formed.


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.


"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!


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.'

Edward Smith

Descartes philosophy is a cornerstone of Modern thought, however that doesn't necessarily mean his writing is accessible. I find him to be rather boring and tedious at times, even for a philosopher. Part of it is the result of his success, after all reading Locke with him explaining his political theory is tedious since it has become the consensus on which American society was built upon, and Adam Smith is incredibly tedious in The Wealth of Nations despite it being the origins of Capitalism. After all, nobody alive today needs 3 pages to explain how division of labor works anymore nor be convinced of its advantages. Part of it also has to do with Descartes' nuancing and self-censoring to avoid attracting the ire of the Catholic Church, which had just dealt a smackdown on Galileo Galilei who said things rather similar to his own words. Of course, Descartes ended up on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum anyway.My biggest problem with Descartes is the sense of instability his philosophy has. He seems to open the door for skepticism rather widely, and then rather unconvincingly claims to have refuted the likes of Montaigne who pushed skepticism to its limits of doubting everything. I think his failure to do so is why Modern Thought has become so dominated by materialism, and skepticism has largely returned with postmodernism severely attacking the ability to claim knowledge.

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.

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.


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

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.


I cannot comment on this book. I am, upon honest reflection, inadequate to say anything.


The Cartesian subject gets a bad wrap these days, but I'm down with "cogito, ergo sum" with a couple of (admittedly pretty major) modifications from psychoanalysis and poststructuralism.First, when I'm assuring myself of my own ego-existence by thinking, "I am thinking, therefore I am," that's all well and good. But sometimes I might slip and think something like, "I am winking, therefore I am" becuase I'm distracted by the memory of a cute girl that winked at me today--in other words, the smooth functioning of the internal monologue that assures "me" that "I" exist is constantly being interrupted by the unconscious. That's why we need to add insights from psychoanlysis to Descarte's subject.Second, the "I am" bit needs to undergo a critique of the metaphysics of presence based upon Derrida's discussions of signification and being. The auto-affecting interior monologue happens in language, and language works by difference and reference to a whole system that must have a ghostly presence-yet-abscence to function. So when I say "I am," I'm also referring to a whole system of signification which is not "present" in the way we usually mean. So, the being indicated by the "I am" of the Cartesian subject should be modified by poststructuralist critique so that we understand it as a kind of being that is not simply unified, proximate, and present-to-itself. That being is necessarily characterized by difference, dispersion, and deferral in time.On another note, the God proofs--a restatement of Anselm's ontological argument along with Descarte's own version--are intriguing but still don't cut it for me. Ultimately, I don't think reason can pull that off--I think it's revelation or nothing (in my view as an athiest-leaning agnostic the answer is, "nothing," but that's up for debate).

Jennifer Mcbain

Finding this book really hard going- compulsory for my current studies and need to be alert to read- lose concentration easily. Having said that, when I am engrossed, it's beautiful to understand something so foreign to me. And it is fascinating.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *