Rene Descartes’s Meditations on “First Philosophy”

Rene Descartes was a famous French philosopher, mathematician, physicist, and mechanic. He made a considerable contribution to science: he laid the foundation of rationalism in philosophy, introduced many symbols that are still used in algebra, investigated optical phenomena. Descartes’ scientific approach marked the beginning of the transition of European science at that time from outdated rules to new objective and progressive methods. In his work Meditations on First Philosophy, he formulated the principle of doubt and arguments in favor of the existence of God. In his philosophy, Descartes recognized the duality of soul and body, ideal and material. Although in the First Meditation he introduces the Deceiver’s argument, it is still necessary to emphasize that God exists, and if people do not perceive this, then they live in a complete lie.

In the First Meditation, Descartes describes thinking about the lies and their number, which he believed in his life. To reveal the whole truth, it is necessary to start all over again from the very beginning and update your knowledge in connection with new circumstances. His new worldview is based on sensory perception, although sometimes feelings can also mislead. While the mediator sleeps, he makes sure that he feels the reality of objects (Descartes, 2008). He learns this through the sensation of fire and realizes that it is how he sits by the fire that he saw in his dreams.

By itself, the First Meditation can represent skeptical doubts as to an independent subject of study. Skepticism is a very debated topic in philosophy, even in the modern world. Descartes raised the mysterious question of how people can claim to know with certainty anything about the world around them (Tweyman, 2022). The idea is not that these doubts are likely, but that their possibility can never be completely ruled out. Skepticism touches on the very essence of the Western philosophical enterprise and its attempt to provide a specific basis for the knowledge and understanding of the world (Descartes, 2008). In the matter of skepticism, one can even go so far as to consider it as a challenge to the very human idea of rationality.

Descartes saw in his reflections the metaphysical basis of his new physics. He sought to refute what he considered to be two-thousand-year-old prejudices introduced into the Western tradition by Aristotle. The Aristotelian thought of Descartes’ time attached great importance to the evidence of the senses, assuming that all knowledge comes from feelings (Tweyman, 2022). The Meditator’s assumption that all the most reliable knowledge comes from the reasons is intended for direct appeal to the philosophers of Aristotle, who will read the Meditations on First Philosophy. The motivation behind the First Meditation is to start from a position that the Aristotelian philosophers would agree with and then subtly seduce them away from it (Tweyman, 2022). Descartes realizes how revolutionary his ideas are, and to be listened to, he must verbally acknowledge the orthodox opinions of that time.

It is difficult to justify the rejection of skepticism. Western philosophy since the time of Descartes has been primarily marked and motivated by attempts to overcome this problem. The Mediator does not just doubt everything at random, but at each stage gives good reasons for his doubts. For example, he rejects the possibility that he might be crazy, as that would undermine the rationality that motivates his misgivings.

Descartes tries to justify this doubt within a rational framework and must support the claim of rationality for his arguments to continue. He then offers more compelling reasons to doubt the truth of his beliefs. In general, his method consists of the formation of skeptical hypotheses – methodological doubts. In the First Meditation, he considers whether he has gone mad, is asleep, or has been deceived by an evil demon.

Although his current sensations may be dream images, he suggests that even dream images are extracted from the waking experience, which is very similar to paintings in this respect. Even when an artist creates an imaginary creature, for example, a mermaid, the components are drawn from real things – women and fish in the case of a mermaid. Even when an artist creates something completely new, at least the colors in the painting are based on actual experience. Thus, although he can doubt complex things, he cannot doubt the universal and straightforward parts from which they are constructed, for example, in shape, quantity, size, time, etc. Although one can doubt research based on complex things, such as medicine, astronomy, or physics, still, one cannot doubt research based on simple things, such as arithmetic and geometry.

Upon further reflection, the Meditator realizes that even simple things can be doubted. Almighty God could refute even peoples’ ideas about mathematics. Someone may object that God is supremely kind and will not make him falsely believe in all these things. But reasoning in this way, people should think that God will not deceive in anything, yet this is not the case. If to assume that there is no God, then the probability of being deceived is even higher because peoples’ imperfect senses were not created by a perfect being.

The Meditator finds it almost impossible to get his habitual opinions and assumptions out of his head, no matter how hard he tries. He decides to pretend that these opinions are entirely false and invented to balance his habitual way of thinking. The Meditator wishes to avoid excessive skepticism and instead uses the skeptical method, which is a significant difference (Chamberlain, 2020). He assumes that it is not God, but some evil demon who has committed himself to deceive him, so that everything he thinks he knows is false. He can at least be sure that this demon will not mislead him by doubting everything. Before going down for the night, the Meditator indulges in his old beliefs, afraid to wake up to a life full of confusion. As a result, he allows the seductive lie to continue unabated.

Based on the First Meditation of Rene Descartes, people can be sure that false premises ultimately lead to the correct conclusions. Unfortunately, it is not always clear to the reasoner when the moment marked by the right one will come since the intermediate result is often perceived as the actual truth. What a person does not strive for during the existence of individual individuals, or humanity in general, will not be possible to reach a conclusion that determines reality (Chamberlain, 2020). Therefore, it does not matter whether a person lives surrounded by false assumptions, or he defends what has been proven to be accurate. People continue to exist in a world of changing opinions, one way or another, based on the judgments made by their contemporaries and ancestors.

Descartes identifies several arguments that underlie his work. The first type of argument put forward within the framework of the skeptical view is aimed at refuting the doctrine of naive realism. As a result of his reflections on the unreliability of sensory cognition, Descartes concludes that feelings mislead people in two ways. Feelings inspire people with the erroneous idea that the primary qualities of material things, such as size, shape, location, are perceived by the senses as they are (Descartes, 2008). In reality, people do not always perceive material bodies as they actually exist; sometimes, they are perceived as they really are not.

The second type of argument put forward by Descartes is that objects perceived or sensually visualized in a dream state may not exist. In addition, a person may think that he perceives some really happening things and events, although nothing like this happens (Chamberlain, 2020). In addition, people do not have such tools that would allow them to distinguish a dream from reality. As a result, the reliability of knowledge about the material bodies of the outside world and other people’s consciousnesses is under threat (Descartes, 2008). It should be borne in mind that the argument about the impossibility of distinguishing a dream from reality by its scope of action is more universal than the argument about the unreliability of sensory cognition.

The third kind of argument put forward by Descartes consists in a consistent consideration of the hypotheses that the almighty God is a deceiver, that God does not exist at all. Moreover, the author emphasizes that there is not an all-good God who is the supreme source of truth, but some powerful and malicious demon who uses all his powers to mislead the thinking subject (Descartes, 2008). This hypothesis about the existence of a powerful demon-deceiver makes people’s confidence in the reliability of the truths of logic vulnerable and calls into question the reliability of the presence of God and the doubting subject.

For Descartes, feelings are not a road to reliable knowledge but an obstacle on the way to it. Sensory cognition turns out to be a kind of veil standing between a person and the reality they know. At the same time, the facts of the unreliability of sensory cognition cannot serve as irrefutable proof of the impossibility of reliable cognition in general and cognition of the external world in particular. The reason for this is that cases of the unreliability of sensory awareness cannot be considered widespread and, in principle, cannot be eliminated (Chamberlain, 2020). For all its appeal to the hypothesis of epistemological skepticism, arguments about the unreliability of sensory cognition do not imply the possibility of constant self-deception.

In conclusion, Rene Descartes, in his work the First Meditation, describes his philosophical point of view on some aspects of people’s lives. This concerns the existence of the Supreme God and the lies in which people are accustomed to living. To reveal his thought most accurately about the presence of God, the author uses a Deceiver who brings lies into people’s lives. In addition, Descartes’ work raises the question of whether everything that happens is a reality and not a dream. The author puts forward several doubts that he has formed. These doubts are connected with the fact that no judgment based on the testimony of feelings can be reliable. It is also a doubt that people cannot be entirely sure that their life is not a dream, and the last doubt is that God exists. Nevertheless, it can be understood that the author recognizes the existence of an almighty God.


Chamberlain, C., 2020. What am I? Descartes’s various ways of considering the self. Journal of Modern Philosophy, 2(1), 1-2. Web.

Descartes, R. (2008). Meditations on First Philosophy: In which the existence of God and the distinction of the soul from the body are demonstrated. BN Publishing.

Tweyman, S. (2022). Descartes’ meditations: New approaches – Introduction. The European Legacy, 1(1), 1-8. Web.

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