Libyrinths's Reviews > Meditations on First Philosophy: With Selections from the Objections and Replies

Meditations on First Philosophy by René Descartes
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U 50x66
's review
Jan 12, 2012

really liked it
Read in December, 2011

Descartes attempts to prove that mind exists, therefore he exists, therefore God exists -- in far more detail than he did in the Discourse.

I really liked this particular edition, translated and annotated by Michael Moriarty. I found the Objections and Replies section invaluable for getting a better understanding of what Descartes had laid out. And Moriarty gives selections, for which I was grateful after getting into some of them. He did a superb job of selecting, noting whether one of Descartes' replies referred to something he hadn't selected and explaing it, and showing the foundation of an objection. It was almost like having a teacher there with you as you read.

One of the things I found fascinating about the Objections was to see how even well-respected philosophers and thinkers of the time rarely saw exactly what Descartes was saying, or gave it enough time to question their own reactions and reread to be sure they were correct, but often simply saw things through their own lenses, failing to see or address what Descartes actually said or meant. Some were better than others; some you wondered what planet they were on. Apparently Descartes wondered something similar in some of his replies.

Descartes didn't convince me he'd proved what he said he proved, at least on a purely logical level. I say that because one of the things Descartes insists on is that one has to use his method, which is basically a meditative method with similarities to some basic Buddhist meditation methods -- without the breathing or such. As such, some subjective observations become axiomatic in his proofs when he tries to put them into a logical framework. He urges the reader to do the same exercise he has done, and then look at his arguments. That's fair enough, but most people, and most philosophers won't do that. And most Western philosophy relies on a logical structure in which at least the core of an argument is available to all, and not reliant on highly subjective experience and its interpretation.

Nevertheless, Descartes redefined the mind and in the process, the soul as well. Today, the study of the mind is separate from the study of the soul. Both are constructs, and who knows whether that separation of constructs has been to our benefit or detriment? I'm not sure we know any more about the "mind" than they did 400 years ago or 3000 years ago. But thanks to Descartes, we do know more about the physical world, and may some day find out just what the mind is.


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