Stage 3 (Journeyman): Meditations on first philosophy, chapter 1

Meditation 1: Of The Things That We May Doubt

  1. Several years have passed by since I first started doubting my personal knowledge, regarding the surrounding world and opinions I forever believed to be true. From that very moment, I was convinced of the necessity to call whatever opinion I used to have into questioning, and revolutionizing the way I myself perceive. In other words, I have to rebuild the foundation of opinions and beliefs I have long held, and start from scratch in the work of establishing my superstructure(1) in the sciences. To-day, since I have freed my mind from all cares and passions, and since I have retired, I will at length apply myself to the general overthrow of all my former opinions.
  2. However, there is no need to disprove all of these, as I believe finding fault in beliefs that are manifestly false is more worthwhile than considering those that are just partly dubitable(2).Having said that, it will also be unnecessary to deal with each individual belief, which would truly be an endless labor, but just like a building out of brick, I would rather remove the very fundamental(3) beliefs and the things built upon them will consequently fall.
  3. I can attribute my most certain opinions and beliefs up until now to the perception from my very own senses. However, as I could observe, they can sometimes mislead us.
  4. Nevertheless, the senses only occasionally deceive us when we observe minute objects and those remote from the point of observation. In most cases, they tell the truth. For instances, I am in this room, seated by the fire, wearing a winter dressing gown, holding a piece of paper in my hands. If I deny having these hands, these legs and the skin in which I am, there is no escaping from my being considered mad.
  5. Though I am not mad, I must however consider that I am a man, and I am in the habit of sleeping and dreaming. How many times have I seen myself resting aside the fireplace while I was in fact lying undressed in bed? At the moment, I am looking at this piece of paper with eyes wide awake, my head is moving wakefully and my arm extending with lucid(4) purpose; I can perceive all of these sensations and movements of my body which, were not very distinct in my dreams. Nonetheless, I can never forget being tricked in sleep by illusions similar to those. There exists no remarkable difference between my perception during consciousness and that during my dreams.
  6. Let us suppose that we are dreaming, and all of our physical features – the feeling of our body parts – are merely illusions, and that we have neither body nor hands such as we see. But it must be true that objects that we see in dreams bear their imagined appearances because they derive(5) from the likeness of realities. Therefore, those objects are not simply imaginary, but are at least partly existent. When artists of ancient Greek represented creatures like sirens and satyrs, they did not give them features that were totally original, but from a mixture of those of different animals. Even if they attempt to create something so unique, something that is purely fictitious(6) and absolutely false, it is at least certain that the colors of which this is composed of are real.
  7. However, on the same principle, we have to admit that the reality of some objects are more simple and universal than others. This class of objects tends to possess corporeal(7) qualities; though I can doubt composite(8) things, I cannot doubt the simple and universal parts from which they are constructed like shape, quantity, size, etc.
  8. By this reasoning, we can conclude that Physics, Astronomy, Medicine and all the other subjects of science that seek to study composite objects are indeed of a doubtful character, while Arithmetic, Geometry and the other sciences that regard only the simplest and most general objects rather than their existence are certain. Because no matter if I am awake or sleeping, it remains true that two and three make five and that a square has four sides. Truths so obvious(9) cannot ever fall under
  9. Nevertheless, I have long believed that there exists a God who has created me such as I am. How do I know that I am not deceived(10) each time I add together two and three, or count the number of sides the square has, or form a simple judgement? God would not deceive me in this way, for he is said to be supremely good. However, if God did not want me to be deceived constantly, it would seem likewise to contradict(11) his goodness if he allows me to be occasionally deceived, which is clearly to be permitted.
  10. Some, indeed, would perhaps prefer the existence of a God to the belief that nothing is certain. However, if we suppose there is no God, then there is an even greater likelihood of us being deceived, since our imperfect senses would not have been created by a perfect being.
  11. Observations(12) and considerations are not enough, care must be taken likewise to keep them in memory. Because I have those old and deep-seated opinions that keep returning, and repetitiveness gave them the authority(13) to sometimes occupy(14) my mind. It is for this reason I am convinced that I should not be doing wrong if I become my own deceiver and suppose that all those opinions are entirely false and imaginary, until I have balanced my old by my new prejudices. Then my judgement would not be lopsided.
  12. I will now suppose, then, that it is not Deity, who is supremely good and the fountain of truth, but some malignant(15) demon who has planted all his tricks to deceive me. I will suppose that everything surrounding me, the body I possess and the senses that I have are nothing but illusions leading me into the snares of that demon. Even though this might not lead me directly to the knowledge of truth, I shall at least do what is in my power, for example, to suspend my judgement and keep myself from agreeing to what is false. But this task is challenging and I can easily be taken back to the captivity of deception. How shall we remove the darkness that will arise from the difficulties that have now been raised?

+ GlOSSARY

  1. superstructure (n): something built on top of something else
  2. dubitable (adj): open to doubt or question
  3. fundamental (adj): basic; primary; essential
  4. lucid (adj): Clear and easily understood
  5. derive (v): to obtain from a specified source
  6. fictitious (adj): imaginary
  7. corporeal (adj): bodily (rather than spiritual); of a bodily form; material; tangible
  8. composite (n):a combination of two or more substances that creates a new material with different properties.
  9. obvious (adj): apparent
  10. deceive (v):  to make someone believe something that is not true
  11. contradict (v): to speak against; to say the opposite
  12. observation (n): Information obtained through the senses.
  13. authority  (n.) :persons who exercise (administrative) control over others; an expert whose views are seen as definitive
  14. occupy (v): to live in, fill or take up something
  15. malignant (adj): deadly, extremely harmful, evil; spiteful, malicious

One thought on “Stage 3 (Journeyman): Meditations on first philosophy, chapter 1

  1. Thank you for a very interesting piece written. I especially like the way the existence of God is put in question in number 9. There are things we must consider “truths” as the base to stand on, without questioning. There are other things that are mere “opinions”, whose values depend on beliefs. Our job is to 1) recognize the objectiveness in everything we perceive, 2) question the prejudices and sciences, and 3) prevent people like Hitler who deceive others by telling a big enough lie frequently enough.

    Like

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