Friday, December 26, 2014

Meditations, by René Descartes

Meditations, by René Descartes, was published in 1641.  It is not an autobiography in the usual sense, but it is an examination of one's life based on the ability to contemplate about one's own existence.  Hence: I think, therefore I exist.  You know that.

I was so excited to dig into this work simply because of my meager knowledge of Descartes from a philosophy class I had taken in college.  Philosophy is interesting to me, but given that this was not a typical autobiography, and that Descartes wrote about thinking about thinking (no, that was not a typo), this book quickly became mind boggling, and I lost interest. 

If I had to take a test on this book, I would fail.   Oh, I underlined and circled frequently and starred my favorite quotes, but if I had to recall points or give a thorough synopsis, I have not much.  So this is not a review or opinion of the actual work, but simply my lame leftover response of having gone through this book several weeks ago.  


If I learned anything, Descartes was obsessed with truth and the human mind but insecure about his inability to determine what was absolute.  In order to prove truth, he presented six meditations, which were situations and ideas to consider.  Then he delved into serious doubts and discussion to prove each situation, like he was playing devil's advocate with himself.  He also answered objections about these ideas.

In the end, he concluded that he is a thinking thing, and because he can think, he must exist.  He proved that the mind and body are separate entities.  Feelings and emotions are not as reliable; only judgments made using the intellect are certain.  And if I understand correctly, God is perfect, but man is imperfect; therefore, God exists because imperfect man could not conceive a perfect entity in his mind, and a perfect God would not deceive man of His existence.  Did you get that?  


Let me finally add that when I came to a stopping place in my reading and then picked the book up again a few days later to continue, I found that I had finished Meditations and did not have to continue anymore.  I had not realized that I had come to the end.  Happy dance.  I was very grateful to not have to read anymore about thinking.  My brain hurt.  

10 comments:

  1. :-D I hope that your brain has recovered. While I think that it's beneficial to question, certain authors take it to an extreme, into areas that we simply cannot know. I can't agonize over these issues with no answer. If I could answer everything I would be God. God knows and that's good enough.

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    1. When I was doing the happy dance, I was fully recovered. I was glad to be done. I didn't hate the work; I was just utterly confused. It was like doing algebra.

      While I am glad someone else doesn't mind contemplating difficult questions, I am also grateful I don't feel the need to ponder that obsessively. God's in control.

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  2. *In the end, he concluded that he is a thinking thing, and because he can think, he must exist. He proved that the mind and body are separate entities. Feelings and emotions are not as reliable; only judgments made using the intellect are certain. And if I understand correctly, God is perfect, but man is imperfect; therefore, God exists because imperfect man could not conceive a perfect entity in his mind, and a perfect God would not deceive man of His existence. Did you get that?*

    I did! I love philosophy. Not sure I could take more than a paragraph at a time. I'd really think on that paragraph though! :)

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    1. That was too much, right? That's how I felt. I was being fed too much info at one time.

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  3. Congratulations on completing this book! I find I have a similar experience when I try to read a book of pure philosophy. A lot of abstract reasoning without the solid anchor of story structure can try the brain. Some of these great thoughts are best taken a paragraph or two at a time. I prefer my philosophy packaged in an entertaining novel. Still the great thinkers are worth reading and like you, once I start a book, I try to finish the thing.

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    1. "I prefer my philosophy packaged in an entertaining novel." - Yes, like Leo Tolstoy's novels. I love when he goes off on tangents about life.

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  4. I am not a huge fan of philosophy either, but there's this series of books that are collections of philosophical essays on pop culture things that I really love. I have Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy and Sherlock Holmes and Philosophy, though I can only read them an essay at a time once in a while because, yes, lots of deep thinking all at once is like eating a whole cake all at once. I really want to get Lost and Philosophy and Harry Potter and Philosophy too, and I gave my brother Star Trek and Philosophy for his birthday a couple years ago and want to borrow it from him at some point. They're really fascinating and thought-provoking, and because they're based around stories and characters I'm familiar with, they're much more interesting than just... thinking about thinking.

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    1. Now, see, those sound entertaining. In fact, I saw a few of them at Barnes and Noble and wondered what they were all about.

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    2. They are a LOT of fun, and I've learned quite a bit about philosophy from them because they do take "real" philosophical theories and stuff and apply them to these characters and so on. If you ever find one for a show or book you're into, by all means check it out :-)

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    3. I'll see if my library has a few. Thanks!

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