Descartes On Metaphysics

Descartesí Meditations is a discussion of metaphysics, or what is really real.

In these writings, he ultimately hopes to achieve absolute certainty about the
nature of everything including God, the physical world, and himself. It is only
with a clear and distinct knowledge of such things that he can then begin
understand his true reality. In order to acquire absolutely certainty, Descartes
must first lay a complete foundation of integrity on which to build up his
knowledge. The technique he uses to lay this base is doubt. If any belief can be
doubted it is not certain, therefore making unusable as a foundation. Descartes
starts by looking at our usual sources for truth. Authority, which is churches,
parents, and schools, he says, are not reliable sources for truth because time
shows we all die, and that we are eventually proved wrong, much in the same way
the accepted truths of science have changed dramatically over the course of
history. Also, he considers the generally excepted view that our senses
dependably report the absolute nature of reality. Like authority though,

Descartes discards the senses as a source of truth because of the ĎDream

Argumentí or the belief that based on the senses there is no definite way of
proving that you are dreaming or that you are awake. Therefore it is possible
that everything we believe is false, making the senses an unreliable source.

Upon establishing this, Descartes doubts the existence of a physical or external
world. Despite that he has an idea of things in the world, he has no definitive
way of knowing if they exist beyond his own mind. Another foundation that he
tries to confirm is mathematics. But he soon realizes mathís truth isnít
completely reliable because of the ĎDemon Hypothesisí, which acknowledges
the possibility of an all powerful, malicious being that is deceiving him about
everything, including mathematics. As a result, Descartes ponders the
possibility that he has no way of being completely positive about anything, even
is existence. It is only after some deliberation that he comes to the conclusion
that it is impossible to be incorrect about everything because he has doubt, and
to posses doubt, there must be a doubter. Hence, he doubts, therefore he exists.

With the assurance of his existence, he is presented with the deeper question of
what he, himself actually is. Descartes knows that he is not just a body based
on his doubt of the senses. Despite the fact that he feels heís not a body, he
does believe he has properties, such as doubt, that make him a substance. From
this he concludes that his is an immaterial substance and that his essential
property is self-consciousness because you can have no real proof of yourself
except through your own thoughts or consciousness. Descartes articulates this
belief in the statement, "Iím aware that Iím aware." Furthering this
with the belief that the essential property of existence itself is
self-consciousness. Accordingly, he has established the first absolutely certain
foundation of truth that he was seeking. Although he cannot yet be sure of the
existence of anything external to or outside of his mind, the certainty of his
own thoughts cannot be doubted. This leads us to wonder about the relationship
between the immaterial mind and material body, commonly known in philosophy as
the mind/body problem. Descartes takes the stance of a strong dualist or someone
who believes that the mind and the body are not only separate, but competent of
independent existence. Other positions are that of the weak dualist, who feels
that while the mind and body are metaphysically distinct, they cannot exist
independently of one another, and that of the materialist who deem that only
physical things and physical procedures exist, while the mind does not. Beliefs
of this nature are brought up in relation to Descartesí question of what makes
a thing particularly itself through time and change. For him, it is the
mind/soul that exists through time and change. Hoping to discern the existence
of anything else aside from himself, an immaterial substance, Descartes
considers a variety of ideas he has within his mind and contemplates whether he
could have conceived them himself or not. Predominantly he finds that he has the
idea of a perfect being. And upon further consideration, he feels that he could
not have been the cause of this thought because it is impossible for an
imperfect being to be the cause of the idea of a perfect being. Descartes is
imperfect in that he is not all knowing (omniscient) or all powerful
(omnipotent), and is most certainly mortal. Based on