A Discourse on Method and Meditations

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

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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.


I've been rereading this while rereading LOTR, and I cannot help hearing Descartes as Morgoth, Sauron, Saruman, or any number of other characters who look at reality as something to be conquered and bent to one's will.

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.

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.


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


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).


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.'

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.

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.


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.

Lacey Louwagie

It was sheer stubbornness that pushed me to finish Descartes' fourth, fifth, and sixth meditations, after which point my mind had turned a little mushy and I didn't even try to slow down and comprehend what I was reading. But I'd added the book to my Goodreads list, so I must finish it!This is not easy stuff, and I would have never attempted it outside of some sort of formal education context to guide me through it (I read it for my Coursera class, "Know Thyself"). I read the Meditations before watching the lectures so that the lecture could tell me what the heck they meant.Reading these meditations is sort of like being in algebra class, which is fitting, since Descartes was also a mathematician. But you know how in algebra (or any math class), everything you learn depends on you understanding what you learned before it? So you may have a mind capable of comprehending what you learned the first six weeks in class, but that has great difficulty building upon that for what comes later. That's how I felt reading these Meditations. I was able to follow Descartes' reasoning through the first three Meditations as long as I paid close enough attention; but the last three depended too much on the first three, and while I understood those well enough to grasp them on their own, I just didn't have enough time to understand them at the level that would have been necessary to sufficiently build on them.Still, some interesting reflections on the nature of self and the existence of God, and you gotta admire Descartes for taking on the tasks of proving that both he and God exist!


Even as I experienced a "deeper" sense of the REALITY of God, and His gift to us (choice & thought), I thoroughly enjoyed this read, albeit an "occasional" struggle with its content.Descartes (day-cart)'s thought process (in seeking intellectual clarity), "doubt everything", existed on several levels._____EXCERPT: "I ought to reject as absolutely false all opinions in regard to which I could suppose the least ground for doubt, in order to ascertain whether after that there remained aught in my belief that was wholly indubitable. Accordingly, seeing that our senses sometimes deceive us, I was willing to suppose that there existed nothing really such as they presented to us"_____The first level is doubts about the senses and here he follows a long tradition which goes back to Saint Augustine and to Plato of casting doubt on the senses as an essentially unstable source of knowledge. The senses Descartes says sometimes deceive us. One famous example is the stick in water, which looks bent. Our sight tells us that me it's bent, when it's actually straight, OR IS IT...?Another example is the sun, which if you look up in the sky looks to your eye about the same size as the moon whereas actually it's immensely, vastly, almost unimaginably bigger. OR IS IT...?So he proposed, the senses don’t always reveal what’s correct, so, seek clarity, first, through doubt.This "process" proved problematic when the "dilemma" of "I" could not be rectified. If I doubt myself, if I am NOT REAL, from whence do my "thoughts" emanate...?This led to his statement " I think, therefore, I am"...!etc., etc., etc.His "views" on God, and His Sovereignty, are deeply compelling, and worth further exploration by the "heart" which seeks a GREATER understanding of the Majesty of Our Lord._____EXCERPT(s): "And because it is no less unacceptable that something more perfect should be a consequence of and dependent on something less perfect than that something should come from nothing, I could not derive this idea from myself. Thus, I concluded that the idea had been put in me by a nature which was truly more perfect than I was, even one which contained in itself all the perfections about which I could have some idea, that is to say, to explain myself in a single phrase, a nature which was God."..."that if there were some bodies in the world or even some intelligences or other natures which were not completely perfect, their being had to depend on God's power, in such a way as they could not subsist for a single moment without Him."..."thence, I went in search of other truths"._____Credited with being the "father" of modern thought, his "methods" were, are STILL, "fervent & effectual".I enjoyed "The Discourse on Method", and HIGHLY recommend it.


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?




"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!

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