What am I?
What is “I”?
These two fundamental questions that Descartes grapples with throughout his two meditations present the reader with some interesting logic to follow. I can agree with Descartes’ desires to re-lay his foundation of beliefs so as to have a more authentic base to build future knowledge upon. However, as he continues through his first meditation, the tone of doubt that permeates his logic made me ask a few questions:
1. Why is this alleged great deceiver, if there is one actually working against man and God, going through such great lengths to construct this idea of being alive? What would be the point of that?
2. If all belief is discounted based upon the abovementioned assumption by Descartes, then what is he looking for to “counter-balance the weight of old opinion”? (3)
I found the reasoning in the first meditation to be a bit too aggressive. To completely discount every belief on this quest for enlightenment seemed a bit too hasty for me. I’m of the mindset that our beliefs keep us alive. They’re the reasons we continue going through life. We believe that if we do certain things consequences whether desirable or undesirable will follow. This is the ebb and flow of life (in my opinion). If you don’t believe in anything what do you do?
The second meditation was a bit more rational because of the supposition that as beings we could believe at least one thing: We are thinking things that exist, comprised of doubts, understanding, affirmation, denial, desires, refusals, imagination and awareness. But this was the only thing Descartes was willing to believe beyond the shadow of a doubt. If this was to be his new foundation to build upon, what else was there out in the universe to believe? He had discredited everything else other than this singular notion.
I can understand and appreciate where Descartes is coming from with these meditations, but overall I found these two together to be a bit egocentric in the sense that it was focused so much on him. The only belief he allowed to exist at his core was the belief that he existed, and everything else, according to him, was a product of some great deception. What if someone else were to come to this same conclusion. Would both of them be right (they were each individually the only thing that existed and they each individually were just products of great deception in the mind of the other)? How could this be explained? I’m sure with the rest of the meditations Descartes’ logic is flushed out more extensively, but these are my first impression of reading him.
3 thoughts on “The Only Certainty is Uncertainty”
I agree with what you said about Descartes’ argument seeming to be a bit egocentric. At the same time, I think that (because the mediations are focused on Descartes stripping himself of all beliefs and false beliefs) Descartes can only state things from the viewpoint of himself. He could speculate about whether or not others are in the same position – for example, at the mercy of an evil demon, but I think the point of the mediations were personal and that is why they come from a somewhat egocentric perspective. I also wonder as to whether Descartes does say anything about others and whether or not they are a product of the same deception. I think, by default, he would say that we all merely exist and are products of the same deception.
While reading your post, I came to a similar conclusion as Hilleary. I see what you mean when you say that Decartes’ Meditations seem egocentric, but if we were to write about anyone other than himself, his argument would not hold. I do not think he is discounting that others can exist, but by his definition of existing, which is I think, therefor I am, he could not possibly be certain of the existence of another because he does not know what another is thinking. Just like with the wax, the entire world might just be a deception, something that tricks one into perceiving a certain thing. So to assume that another exists somewhat contradicts Decartes’ point about deception and his definition of existence. That being said, it is still egocentric to denounce almost everything in the world simply based on Decartes’ own thoughts.