Cartesian Method and the Goal of the Meditations

Questions for 1/19

On Tuesday 1/19, we begin discussing Descartes’ philosophical project in more detail. In preparation for our discussion, I would like you to read:

  • René Descartes, Discourse on the Method for Conducting One’s Reason Well and for Seeking the Truth in the Sciences (1637) (A & W, pp. 25-34) (For online version click here.)
  • René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy (1641) Letter of Dedication, Preface, and Synopsis (A & W, pp. 35-40) (For online version click here.)

Be ready to discuss the following questions:

Discourse on Method

  1. What does Descartes start off claiming to be “the best distributed thing in the world”? Why does it appear that way?
  2. What is the point of his going through the various stages of his education and what he learned from various kinds of study?
  3. What decision allowed him to free himself “little by little” from errors and obstacles to learning?
  4. From where does he derive the method he outlines with his four rules?
  5. What is it that following this method is supposed to promise?

Meditations on First Philosophy

  1. What are the two central issues that Descartes claims “are chief among those that ought to be demonstrated with the aid of philosophy rather than theology”? Why does he think this is the case?
  2. What advice do we find Descartes giving to his readers? Do you think you are up to the task? Why or why not?

You should also review these slides on ‘Innovation and Orthodoxy’, Aristotelian Natural Philosophy, and Skepticism.

If you have any questions about the content of the reading or the slides, feel free to post them here. I will respond as able, and welcome others to pitch in with suggestions or sympathies.

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