Possible Essay Questions for Exam I


  1. Why would it make sense for someone to decide to question all previous beliefs? What does Descartes, in particular, hope to gain by doing this? What stages does the Meditator go through in doing this and what does conclusion is reached concerning what can be brought into doubt?
  2. Why can’t the Meditator doubt the truth of the claim ‘I am, I exist’? What is it about that claim that is so unique? How do the other considerations of Meditation Two (e.g., the attempt to answer the question ‘what am I’ and the experiment with the piece of wax) lead to the conclusion that the mind is better known than the body?
  3. Why can’t the Meditator be the source of the idea of God? What is it about that idea that is so unique? How does it allow the Meditator to establish the trustworthiness of the principle: whatever I perceive clearly and distinctly is true?
  4. If God exists and is not deceiving us, how is it possible for human beings to make errors? What are the two mental capacities involved in the Meditator’s explanation, how do they open up room for error, and how can we be sure to use them in such a way that we avoid making mistakes?
  5. According to Descartes view of the will, we exercise it most freely when our assent is compelled by the clarity and distinctness of some idea. In these cases, it is not psychologically possible for us to withhold our assent (i.e., we cannot do otherwise than assent). How does this create a problem for some views of freedom? Why might someone who accepts the existence of God find the Cartesian view of freedom preferable to other ways of conceiving of it?
  6. What is the general line of thinking involved in the argument for God’s existence from Meditation Five? How does it relate to the discussion of true and immutable natures there? Why might this line of thinking be convincing to someone? What might it add to the conclusion of the argument from Meditation Three?
  7. How does the Meditator reach the conclusion that there is no longer any good reason to doubt that bodies exist? Why can’t that conclusion be established with complete certainty? Does it seem right to you that the mind really is better known than the body? Why or why not?