Download The Blackwell Guide to Descartes' Meditations (Blackwell Guides to Great Works) PDF

TitleThe Blackwell Guide to Descartes' Meditations (Blackwell Guides to Great Works)
LanguageEnglish
File Size1.2 MB
Total Pages263
Document Text Contents
Page 1

The Blackwell Guide to Descartes’ Meditations

Page 2

Blackwell Guides to Great Works

A proper understanding of philosophy requires engagement with the foundational
texts that have shaped the development of the discipline and which have an abiding
relevance to contemporary discussions. Each volume in this series provides guid-
ance to those coming to the great works of the philosophical canon, whether for
the first time or to gain new insight. Comprising specially commissioned contribu-
tions from the finest scholars, each book offers a clear and authoritative account
of the context, arguments, and impact of the work at hand. Where possible, the
original text is reproduced alongside the essays.

Published
1 The Blackwell Guide to Plato’s Republic, edited by Gerasimos Santas
2 The Blackwell Guide to Descartes’ Meditations, edited by Stephen

Gaukroger
3 The Blackwell Guide to Mill’s Utilitarianism, edited by Henry R. West
4 The Blackwell Guide to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, edited by Richard

Kraut
5 The Blackwell Guide to Hume’s Treatise, edited by Saul Traiger

Forthcoming
The Blackwell Guide to Kant’s Ethics, edited by Thomas E. Hill, Jr.
The Blackwell Guide to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, edited by

Kenneth Westphal
The Blackwell Guide to Heidegger’s Being and Time, edited by Robert Scharff

Page 131

8

The Cartesian Circle

Gary Hatfield

After Descartes had written his six Meditations on First Philosophy, he invited various philosophers and theologians to offer objections to his arguments and conclusions. One of the most famous objections came from the
theologian Antoine Arnauld, in the Fourth Objections:

I have one further scruple, about how the author avoids a circle when he says that
we are sure that what we clearly and distinctly perceive is true only because God
exists. But we can be sure that God exists only because we clearly and distinctly per-
ceive this. Consequently, before we might be sure that God exists, we ought to be
sure that whatever we clearly and evidently perceive is true. (AT vii, 214)

The problem seems to be that Descartes relies on the existence of God to guar-
antee the truth of clear and distinct perceptions, but his proofs about God are
accepted as true simply because they are clearly and distinctly perceived. Each
result – the existence of God and the truth of clear and distinct perceptions –
would seem to depend on the other, resulting in a charge of circular reasoning.

Descartes responded only briefly to Arnauld. He said that there is no circle if,
when we prove the existence of God, we in fact carefully attend to the arguments
for this conclusion and we in fact do clearly and distinctly perceive that God
exists (AT vii, 245–6). The conclusion of this proof can then be recalled if doubts
arise about the truth of clear perception on an occasion when we are not enter-
taining such perceptions. In effect, he said that in the proofs of God’s existence,
clear and distinct perception can stand on its own, a claim that seems to ignore
his own assertion that we know such perceptions to be true only because we know
that God exists (and is no deceiver). Subsequently, some philosophers have found
that Descartes’ response to Arnauld “begs the question,” that is, that it simply
assumes the very point under dispute. Other philosophers, however, have pro-
posed various strategies for defending Descartes against the charge of circularity
(see Doney 1987).

Page 132

123

The problem of the Cartesian circle, as it is called, has sparked continuing
debate, which intersects several important themes of the Meditations. Discussions
of the circle must address questions about the force and scope of the famous
method of doubt introduced in Meditation I, and they must examine the intricate
arguments for the existence of God and the avoidance of error in Meditations
III–V. These discussions raise questions about the possibility of overturning skepti-
cism, once a skeptical doubt has been introduced. More generally, the problem of
the circle resonates with recent questions about the foundations of knowledge.
Must we be able to validate our methods of reasoning or of knowing before using
them? If we must, would we not be forever stuck at the beginning, unable to use
our methods of reasoning or of knowing in their own validation? The problem of
the Cartesian circle raises general questions about the validation of reason and the
possibility of knowledge.

This chapter examines the Cartesian circle in the context of Descartes’ central
project in the Meditations: to secure the foundations of metaphysics. In carrying
out this project, Descartes felt the need, or adopted the strategy, of examining the
possibility of human knowledge more generally. Such an examination can be
interpreted in various ways. Depending on the interpretation given, the roles
assigned to the method of doubt and the proofs about God may differ, thereby
altering how we see the problem of the circle. We therefore need first to consider
Descartes’ metaphysical project, along with the methods and strategies he adopted
in carrying it out. Subsequently, I will explain and evaluate several main approaches
to the problem of the circle. The chapter concludes with some reflections on the
relation of Descartes’ metaphysics of knowledge to other prominent positions in
the history of philosophy.

Descartes’ Project in the Meditations

Descartes offered his Meditations as a presentation of the “elements of First
Philosophy in its entirety” (AT vii, 9). He used the term “first philosophy” syn-
onymously with “metaphysics” (AT vii, 156–7; also, AT iii, 183). Hence, as in the
title of the French translation of the work (1647), the Meditations should be
viewed as “metaphysical meditations” (AT ixA, xi).

Metaphysics, in Descartes’ view, was the most basic area of science (that is, of
systematic knowledge). As he suggested in Meditation I, the aim of his metaphysi-
cal meditations was to establish “something firm and lasting in the sciences” (AT
vii, 17). Metaphysics would provide the basic concepts and principles for other
areas of knowledge, as in Descartes’ famous image of a tree of knowledge, with
metaphysics as the roots, physics as the trunk, and medicine, mechanics, and
morals as the branches (AT ixB, 14). Descartes specifically intended his Meditations
to provide the foundations for his physics or natural philosophy; that is, for his
general account of the natural world. In letters to his friend Marin Mersenne from

Page 262

253

Meditation I, 3, 4, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20–3,
29, 34–5, 42, 43, 50, 61, 64, 68, 123,
126, 129, 135, 137, 144, 149, 160

Meditation II, 24, 25, 26, 35, 36, 40,
42, 45, 49, 50–2, 54, 57, 58–9,
60–2, 64–5, 68, 107, 114, 127, 168,
194, 195, 199

Meditation III, 4, 10, 21, 26, 39, 40,
41, 66, 67, 68, 76, 86, 87, 88,
89–90, 92–4, 96, 97, 100, 102–3,
104, 105–12, 116–17, 118, 123,
127–9, 130, 131, 136–7, 143, 146,
158, 180, 188, 197

Meditation IV, 41, 42, 46, 123, 130,
140, 142–4, 145, 147, 148, 154,
156, 157–9, 180, 181, 188, 192, 201

Meditation V, 4, 10, 71, 104, 112, 113,
114, 116, 117, 118–19, 120, 130,
136, 167, 168, 180

Meditation VI, 3, 4, 13, 22, 53–4, 55,
56, 57, 61, 66, 67, 70–1, 76, 160,
167, 173–4, 179, 182, 189, 191, 192

see also Objections and Replies
method, 13, 29
mind–body relationship, 5, 13, 48–9,

54–7, 83–4, 151–2, 170–9, 179–92
mind–soul, 3, 5, 13, 19, 48–66, 74, 84,

89–103, 142–59
modes, 13, 73–8, 89–93, 106–12
Molyneux, William, 5, 183
Montaigne, Michel de, 17, 18, 23, 25,

32–4, 44, 46–7
L’Apologie de Raymond Sebond, 17, 32

morality, 5
More, Henry, 168, 176
Morin, Jean-Baptiste, 9
motion, 14, 163, 164–5, 199

The Netherlands, 5, 16, 33, 201
Newcastle, Marquis of, 164
Newman, Lex, 144
Newton, Isaac, 77, 203
numbers, 108

Objections and Replies, 2, 7–8, 10, 11, 12,
15, 24, 67, 140, 170, 171, 194, 201

First, 8, 9, 10, 13–14, 79, 92
Second, 9, 10, 13, 17, 25, 36, 38, 39,

134, 151, 195
Third, 13, 106
Fourth, 8, 11, 12, 98–9, 101, 122,

176–7, 199
Fifth, 12–13, 25, 59
Sixth, 8, 13, 54
Seventh, 6, 12, 42, 43

objective reality, 89–103, 106–7, 109, 111
Ockham, William of, 92
ontological argument for existence of God,

4, 105, 112–21

Paris Formulary (1691), 200, 201, 203
Paris University, 195, 200, 203

see also Sorbonne
Pascal, Blaise, 166
passions, 190–2
Passions of the Soul, 59, 84, 146, 153, 190,

191
perception, see clear and distinct ideas/

perceptions; sense perception
Petit, Pierre, 15
Plato, 1, 45, 48, 71–2, 113–14, 124, 140,

179
Meno, 71

Platonism, 179, 184, 187, 188, 203
Pliny the Elder, 33
Popkin, Richard, 32
Pourchot, Edmond, 203
Principles of Philosophy, 2, 3, 7, 10, 13, 14,

25, 38–9, 55, 59, 60, 61, 66, 70,
77–8, 81, 84, 88, 93, 98, 99, 103,
146, 151, 153, 154, 157, 161, 164,
165, 169, 172, 178, 180, 185, 193,
194–5, 196, 201

problem of evil, 144
Pyrrhonian skepticism, 17, 44, 46–7, 197

Radner, Daisie, 58
reality, formal vs objective, 89–103
Reformation, 1
Regis, Pierre-Sylvain, 200

Response, 200
Regius, Henricus, 56, 183

Page 263

254

Replies, see Objections and Replies
representation, 3, 89–93, 142–59

see also ideas
Rules for the Direction of the Mind, 16, 20,

29, 31–2, 37, 165, 169, 173
Russell, Bertrand, 121
Ryle, Gilbert, 183

Schmaltz, Tad M., 56, 201
scholasticism, 1, 2, 3, 4, 20–1, 38, 49–52,

61, 67, 72, 124–5, 162
see also Aristotelianism

science, 28, 30, 31–2, 53, 65, 84, 86, 114
Search for Truth, 10, 23, 25
sense perception, 2, 17–29, 50, 54–65, 74,

84, 87, 102–3, 125, 162, 168, 173–4
Sextus Empiricus: Outlines of Pyrrhonism,

17
skepticism, 2, 4, 13, 17–29, 30–47, 50,

54, 57–8, 65, 90–1, 123, 142, 148,
160–1, 193, 194, 197

Socrates, 1
Sorbonne, 11, 12, 15
Spinelli, Francesco Maria, 202–3
Spinoza, Baruch, 15, 85, 152, 194,

196–7, 198, 201–3
Ethics, 85, 196, 201

spiritual exercises, 125, 139
Suárez, Francisco, 3, 49, 63, 72–8

De anima, 63
Metaphysical Disputations, 72–4, 76

substance, 3, 67–85, 106–10, 179–92
God as, 70, 72–3, 77–8, 83, 85, 89

substantial forms, 19, 65–6, 74, 124,
177

syllogism, 32, 38

theodicy, 188–90
theology, 15
Thomism, 115
thought, 19, 26, 48, 71, 76, 82, 84, 88,

89–90, 95, 106
Torricelli tube, 166
transparency, 57–65, 66, 181–2
Treatise on Man, 84, 97
Trinitarian beliefs, 175
truth, 4, 133–5

United Provinces, see The Netherlands

Vatier, Antoine, 6
Verbeek, Theo, 12, 195
Vico, Giambattista, 202

wax example, 26, 60–1, 62, 68, 71, 168,
169–70

the will, 4, 52, 76, 142–59
William of Ockham, 92
Williams, Bernard, 27, 29
Wilson, Margaret, 10, 55, 193, 202
Wittgenstein, Ludwig: Tractatus

Philosophicus, 176
world, existence of, 2, 4–5, 17–29, 88–9,

160–78, 179–81
The World (Le Monde), 3, 7, 16, 66, 84,

161–5, 166, 168, 171, 174, 175

Similer Documents