Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy contain six meditations through which Descartes removes from mind all uncertainties in life, coming to focus only on that which can be known as absolute truth.
In this article we will summarise the teaching of Descartes meditations.
The first Descartes Meditation: Concerning Doubt
The first of Descartes meditations concerns all those beliefs which propagate in the mind of an individual and create a delusional view of existence. Descartes determines to remove from mind all those untruths that dwell in the mind, coming to a new and truthful understanding of things.
In this first Descartes meditation, Descartes argues that all opinions are untruths. This is perfectly understandable. An opinion is merely an opinion; it is the creation of the mind, it is not truth (opinions, by definition, cannot be absolute truth for they are not fact).
Here we come to the first important lesson from Descartes meditations, a lesson that is applicable to all. The lesson is that we learn to recognise that those things we create from our minds – thoughts, opinions, beliefs etc.—are merely in our mind; they are reality. By letting go of our delusional modes of thinking we come to a higher level of perception; we enable ourselves to perceive reality in true light.
Descarte’s meditations Lesson 1: Let go of delusional modes of thought. Discard opinions. Only take for granted those things which cannot be brought in to dispute—which principally are the those things perceived through the senses.
Descartes Meditation 2: On the mind
The second of Descarte’s meditations states that we, as human beings, can only perceive the world through our mind; through perception, ideas etc. Our mind creates representations of reality (such that in seeing, for instance, the coffee on the table in front of me as I write this, I am seeing my mind’s representation of the coffee). This representation is separate from external reality.
In this second Descartes meditation he argues that all of external reality is a self-created delusion. When looking at the sky, for instance, we are in truth perceiving our representation of the sky, rather than the sky itself. The only certainty from Meditation two is the existence of the self. If we are creating and perceiving a world, then there must be some “I” to create and perceive.
Descarte’s Meditation Lesson 2: We must come to understand that we (our essential existence) our not our bodies but some entity / energy that has the capacity to think, perceive etc. We are not the thing that is perceived, we are the perceiver.
Descartes Meditation 3: On God
The third Descartes meditation is the least relevant to this article. In it Descartes argues for the existence of god. The arguments Descartes presents is highly disputable and holds far less weight (and importance, at least as far as this article is concerned) than the five other Descartes meditations).
Descartes Meditation 4: True and False
The fourth Descartes meditation aims to tackle that age old question: if God is perfect, why did he make man imperfectly? Why must man make mistakes? Surely God should have accounted for this.
Descartes makes on very important point in his fourth meditation. The point is that we, as humans, do not have perfectly perception. We don’t see things with 100% accuracy. What is more we cannot know the future. In this way, when we think of something as “wrong” it is more likely that what we think “wrong” is actually “right,” only our imperfect perception cannot see why something is right.
To give a very simple and modern day example of this. Let us presume that we inadvertently insult a friend. We say something (not meaning it to do harm) and our friend is insulted. To our limited perception we think this action must be wrong. It cannot be right to insult a friend. Yet we may later realise that our insult has actually prompted positive action from our friend that has let to an improvement in their life. For instance, we say someone is looking overweight. The other individual is insulted. We feel we have done wrong. But weeks later we discover that our insult led them to lose weight and improve their health. What seemed absolutely wrong has suddenly become quite right. Yes, this is a very simple and modern example!
So, what lesson do we learn from this? Simple. Do not dwell on a sense of right or wrong. Human perception and understanding is imperfect. What seemed wrong may quite soon seem right. Likewise, what seemed right may quite soon seem wrong. While we must be motivated by good intent, there is little use on dwelling on ideas of right or wrong after the fact.
Descarted Meditations four five and six are non-applicable to our online meditation course and therefore have been left out of this article.
So, to summarise what we have learnt from these Descarted meditations:
- We must exist but we are not the thing which we perceive, rather we are the perceiver.
- We must remove ourselves from delusional modes of thinking in order to see reality in true light.
- Our sense of right and wrong is nothing more than a delusional and imperfect perception. While we must act with good intent, we must not dwell on ideas of right and wrong.