Methods and Meditations on First Philosophy is a discourse by Rene Descartes, which largely focuses on the nature of humanity and divinity. This essay is a discussion of this discourse, and will summarize, explain and object to various parts of his work. The majority of this essay focuses on Descartes Sixth Meditation, which includes his argument that corporeal things do exist.
1. There clearly exists a passive faculty of sensing and I use it involuntarily.
2. If there exists a passive faculty of sensing within me and I use it, then there exists an active faculty of producing sense ideas, either in me, or in something else.
3. Therefore, there exists an active faculty of producing sense ideas, either in me, or in something else.
4. God has given me a great propensity to believe that the active faculty of producing sense ideas is in corporeal things.
5. If the active faculty of producing sense ideas is not in corporeal things then God is a deceiver.
6. God is not a deceiver
7. Therefore the active faculty of producing sense ideas is in corporeal things.
8. If the active faculty of producing sense ideas is in corporeal things then corporeal things exist.
9. The active faculty of producing sense ideas is in corporeal things.
10. Therefore corporeal things do exist. Descartes’ argument that corporeal things exist exemplifies his use of, and basis in epistemological foundationalism.
Richard Feldman’s Arguments
To clearly understand how Descartes argument reflects this, we must first explain what epistemological foundationalism is. In his essay, Epistemology, Richard Feldman explains that foundationalism is when, “The argument is sound.
There are basic justified beliefs, and they are the foundation upon which all our other justified beliefs rest” (Feldman 51).
He continues this line of thought by saying further, “All justified nonbasic beliefs are justified in virtue of their relation to justified basic beliefs. ” (Feldman 52). In other words, basic justified beliefs allow for other nonbasic beliefs to be justified through their own justification. And it is only through these basic justified beliefs that one can make sound arguments while using a fundamentalist mentality. The nonbasic justified beliefs that are used for argumentation are true only to the point that their supplemental basic justified beliefs are true.
With this understanding of foundationalism through Feldman’s work it can be said that Descartes meditations exhibit these features. The argument that Descartes gives for the existence of corporeal things certainly exhibits the features of foundationalism. The method that Descartes used in his meditations was to clearly ground all of his arguments upon basic justified beliefs. This foundation on basic justified beliefs provides Descartes with the ability to come up with further nonbasic justified beliefs, all of which are based upon one of his basic justified beliefs.
This is evident throughout Descartes’ argument for corporeal beliefs as he believes that the entirety of his argument lies upon basic justified beliefs. Without the existence of God, Descartes would not be able to justify his beliefs for the existence of corporeal things. The premises that involve God in this argument are all nonbasic justified beliefs, because they all rest upon the foundation that God exits. The justified belief of Gods certain existence that Descartes holds depends upon an argument that does not use any other beliefs.
Therefore his conclusion that God exists becomes a basic justified belief for Descartes, and he bases many of his nonbasic justified beliefs upon its foundation. Some of Descartes premises in his argument for the existence of corporeal things clearly rely upon his basic justified belief that God exists. For God to have given Descartes any type of inclination, as Descartes believes is justified in premise four, it is clear that his existence must first be justified.
Through his argument for the existence of God, Descartes is able to use his basic justified belief that God exists to affirm his nonbasic justified beliefs through their relation to God’s existence. This implication that Descartes uses for his reasoning is exemplary of foundationalism. Descartes does not use any beliefs that he does not justify through their dependence upon a basic justified belief. For his sixth premise that God is not a deceiver also depends upon this same basic justified belief for it also to be justified.
Descartes criteria for what can constitute a basic justified belief must also be relevant if the justification of his argument lies upon such beliefs. It seems that the goal of Descartes’ meditations was to begin with a clean slate, and from there, distinguish only things that are certain. Descartes method required him to only accept things as true if they are certain.
Through Feldman’s definition of foundationalism it is apparent that Descartes method can be considered as such. Descartes primary focus was to find only what is basic, clear, distinct, and justified before further building upon those beliefs. For a belief to be basic for Descartes, it must rely upon no other beliefs.
It must then be reliant upon self-evident, completely provable truths to be able to describe which beliefs can be justified through deduction. This is a very basic foundation to begin from and is truly foundationalism at its roots. For Decartes’ meditations the beliefs that he is a thinking thing and therefore he exists is used from the beginning as his first basic justified belief. The first premise in Descartes argument is a basic justified belief. He believes that there clearly exists a passive faculty of sensing and I use it involuntarily.
The second premise of the argument raises questions about how this can be a justified belief. Descartes believe that if there exists a passive faculty of sensing within me and I use it, then there must exist an active faculty of producing sense ideas, either in myself or in something else. Descartes is able to justify this belief that there exists two different faculties of sensing, by using the basic justified beliefs about imagination and understanding and the difference between the two. Namely that understanding goes beyond our ability to imagine something, and Imagination seems to depend upon extended bodies.
Through these beliefs Descartes is able to conclude that there must be two different faculties of sense ideas. A passive faculty of perceiving sense ideas within me that I use and an active faculty of producing these sense ideas. There is a problem with Descartes’ foundationalism, however. The problem, for Descartes is that, while everything is based upon each other, if one of the beliefs that provides justification to other beliefs is not clearly justified then none of these beliefs can be taken as truths.
This not only shakes these beliefs, but, can question the soundness of his whole argument and any further nonbasic justified beliefs that may arise from the questioned belief. While his argument is valid and seems to be sound, upon further questioning, it may be possible to find that the argument may not be sound. If enough of a doubt can be provided so that one premise seems doubtful, I believe we can call into question the soundness of his whole argument. For Descartes’ fourth premise, it seems as though his only justification for the belief is an inclination supposedly given from God, who supposedly exists.
This inclination is that the active faculty of producing sense ideas is in corporeal things. For Descartes, as a foundationalist, to base his premise off of a natural inclination that he has should seem suspicious enough. Descartes supplements his inclination by stating that it comes from God. This is an opportunity to question the base of this premise. How does Descartes reason that this inclination is given from God. “For God has given me no faculty at all for recognizing any such source for these ideas; on the contrary, he has given me a great propensity to believe that they are produced by corporeal things.
“Through this statement Descartes attempts to justify his premise for this active faculty existing in corporeal things. While I must agree that as humans, we are born with a propensity to believe that the active faculty of producing sense ideas is in corporeal things, it is possible to see that there could be other ways that we have gotten this propensity. Is it possible that we have received this inclination as a disillusion from a source other than God. At the time, Descartes may have seen this as irrational.
But, today it is easier to imagine that this is possible through either superior technology, or through some type of force of mental control. The idea that superior technology is able to supply humans with the active faculty for producing sense ideas can be exemplified through the movie “The Matrix”. In the movie it is a superior technology that controls mankind and projects into their mind that corporeal things are real, when in fact it is just images being projected into their minds that supplies them with what they believe is reality.
Not only does Descartes assume that it is God who put this propensity to believe in our minds, but this follows Descartes assumption that God exists. While Descartes has an argument that proves the existence of God, it is possible to argue against the existence of God. If that argument can be objected to, this also would provide more than enough doubt to discount the soundness of Descartes’ argument that corporal things exist. The debate upon the existence of God is not necessary for my objection, however, as I have already provided doubt to the premise even if God does exist.
The ability to fathom a different idea than God putting this active faculty in corporal things provides enough doubt that it is possible to question the soundness of Descartes foundationalist argument. How would Descartes defend his view against this objection? I think that the possibility of this, provides a similar problem to that of our dreams. If that would be projected upon us, we still are thinking, and therefore still continue to exist. So there must be some type of reality in which we are centered in. This would lead us to believe that either this “matrix” is reality, or there is some other kind of reality.
Since we know that this “matrix” is not reality, there must be some other kind of reality. This makes it difficult for us to understand what reality truly is. The possibility of this makes me think Renee Descartes would have to submit that what he believed as justified truths, can not be so. This thought would not only shake this premise, but would compromise the rest of his argument for the belief that corporeal things exist. With the inability to clearly justify statements he previously believed to be true, I believe that Descartes would have a more difficult time trying to prove that corporeal things exist.
I also believe that without this premise, this whole argument looses it’s soundness because of the dependency upon God being the supplier of our propensity to believe that corporeal things exist. This one belief being no longer justified, in the nature of foundationalism, would necessarily effect the nonbasic justified beliefs of Descartes which previously were believed to be justified. The more beliefs which are no longer justified, work only to further the process and dejustify beliefs dependent upon the previous ones.