Throughout his lifetime Descartes realized certain things about life. In an effort to get his thoughts across he wrote the Meditations to help people learn how to live the way he believed to be most beneficial. Meditation 1, The Method of Doubt, is built around clearing ones mind of all knowledge in order to build it back up with clear and distinct ideas. Meditation 2 defines finite beings existence, or lack thereof. Meditation 3 explains why God is a clear and distinct idea. Meditation 4 explains how an individual can fall into error even though they were created by an infinite and perfect being. Meditation 5 tells the comparison between the essence of bodies/material things and minds. Lastly Meditation 6 describes how material things exist.
In Descartes first meditation he uses what is called the Method of Doubt. He wants to know what knowledge we there is that can be known with certainty and the only way to do that is to call everything into doubt and get rid of all pre-conceptions. He states in Mediation 1, “Some years ago I was struck by the large number of falsehoods that I had accepted as true in my childhood, and by the highly doubtful nature of the whole edifice that I had subsequently based on them.
I realized that it was necessary , once in the course of my life, to demolish everything completely and start again right from the foundations if I wanted to establish anything at all in the sciences that was stable and likely to last.” With that we now start at the foundations and rebuild our knowledge by only accepting those things which are absolutely certain.
Throughout this process Descartes comes to the realization that he cannot trust his senses because they could be being deceived, at any moment, by a being greater than himself so he does not take senses into account when starting at the foundation and rebuilding his knowledge. In the second meditation he quickly comes to the realization that in order to think or doubt in the first place, he must exist. As he stated in Meditation 2, “But doubtless I did exist, if I persuaded myself of something. But there is some deceiver or other who is supremely powerful and supremely sly and who is always deliberately deceiving me.
Then too there is no doubt that I exist, if he is deceiving me. And let him do his best at deception, he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I shall thing that I am something. Thus, after everything has been most carefully weighed, it must finally be establish that this pronouncement “I am, I exist” is necessarily true every time I utter it or conceive it in my mind.”
From that we know that even if the devil himself was trying to deceive us that we exist because we are being deceived, and in order to know we are being decided we are thinking beings. This is the first clear and distinct idea that Descartes comes to. In his third meditation Descartes comes to find his second clear and distinct idea. He says that that is the idea of infinity or the idea of God.
He states in meditation 3, “It must be concluded that the mere fact that I exist and have within me an idea of a most perfect being, that is, God, provides a very clear proof that God indeed exists.” ( )Because there is no way that he as a finite being could have produced this idea of God on his own, so God being an infinite and perfect being must have given him the idea and thus must exist. From this Descartes reasons that God would not deceive him because he is a perfect infinite being.
In the fourth meditation we call truth and error into account. Descartes questions how he can make mistakes and do wrong if God exists and had created him, because if God created him he’d be responsible for his faculties. To argue that God cannot be at fault for our mistakes Descartes states in Meditation 4, “Every clear and distinct conception is doubtless something, and as such cannot owe its origin to nothing, but must of necessity have God for its author.”, that in being a finite being you are open to error and since we are finite we do not hold the capacity to know all, but since God is an all-knowing perfect being and we are not, we will not be able to comprehend the reasons He created us with the ability to make mistakes. Human error arises when we try to think of things beyond our knowledge. Descartes says the way to avoid that error is to refrain from making any judgements unless your perception is very clear and distinct. Descartes calls into question the essence of bodies or material things as opposed to minds in the fifth meditation.
The mind is for thinking and bodies have extension, they take up a certain amount of time and space, and they are extensions of our mind. To get the point across we can use triangles. You can think of a triangle and you’ll get an image in your mind of it. You can attempt to draw it based on your perception but that drawing will not be a true depiction of a triangle because it is not perfect.
At the end of the day no triangles have ever existed outside of the mind but they still have a certain essence or set of properties separate from the mind. Descartes says that we can find the essence of things through intellect alone. So the parts of triangles we perceive as clear and distinct are true. Therefore our bodies are extensions because extension is as clear and distinct. In this final meditation, Meditation 6, Descartes is trying to prove the existence of material things.