Descartes's Meditations: An Introduction

Descartes's Meditations: An Introduction

Descartes's Meditations: An Introduction

Descartes's Meditations: An Introduction

Synopsis

This new introduction to a philosophical classic draws on the reinterpretations of Descartes' thought of the past twenty-five years. Catherine Wilson examines the arguments of Descartes' famous Meditations, revealing how he constructs a theory of the mind, body, nature, and God from a premise of radical uncertainty. She discusses in detail the historical context of Descartes' writings and their relationship to early modern science.

Excerpt

Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy, first published in 1641, are devoted to the following philosophical questions: What can we come to know about the human mind and its powers? Is there a reality behind appearances, and, if so, how can we have access to it? Do our experiences arise from our bodies and our brains, or could we think, feel, and perceive without them? How can we recognize truth and distinguish it from false and confused opinion? Is there is a God, and, if so, is this God benevolent, malevolent, or simply indifferent to us? If this God is benevolent, how should we understand illness, error, and morally wrong actions?

This book is intended as a first introduction to the Meditations and, at the same time, as an introduction to some basic problems and terminology of analytic philosophy, including the theory of knowledge, metaphysics, philosophy of science, philosophy of perception, and philosophy of language. No previous experience in philosophy is presupposed. Chapter 1 is an introduction to the problem of knowledge in Cartesian terms and Chapters 2–11 lead the reader through the arguments of the Meditations, explaining and commenting on the important points along the way. Chapter 12 offers an explanation of the relationship of the Meditations to Descartes's other writings, and discusses the conflicting perceptions of Descartes in his own time. It outlines the relationship between Cartesian problems and doctrines and the evolution of modern philosophy. While the Meditations are unusual amongst philosophical works, insofar as it is possible to reconstruct and follow Descartes's main arguments without knowing anything about the seventeenth-century background, a brief survey of Descartes's life, character, and aspirations will help to set the stage for a detailed treatment of his text.

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