René Descartes' Mediatations--Study Guide

Meditation I

1. What is the dual nature of the project undertaken by Descartes in the Meditations?

2. How does Descartes propose to proceed? How does he argue that this procedure is correct?

3. How does Descartes initially attempt to doubt all sensory experience?

4. What is the problem with the initial attempt?

5. Who or what is the "evil genius"? What role or roles does the evil genius play in Descartes' project?

Meditation II
6. What is the first necessary truth discovered by Descartes? How does he argue for its acceptability?

7. How did Descartes formerly characterize himself?

8. How does he characterize himself now?

9. Describe the piece of wax experiment.

10. How does Descartes argue that imagination is not the source of his knowledge concerning the wax?

11. What other conclusionsis Descartes able to draw from this experiment? How does he defend them?

Meditation III
12. What is the first general rule posited by Descartes?

13. At this point in the process, why does Descartes say that he needs to determine whether or not God exists?

14. Name the three classes of thought identified by Descartes. Define each and give an example.

15. In which of these three does truth and falsity properly belong. How does Descartes argue for this?

16. How does Descartes further subdivide the class of ideas? Define each.

17. What is the difference between "taught by nature" and the "light of nature" for Descartes?

18. How does Descartes argue that "up to this point... it was a blind impulse" that caused him to believe that adventitious ideas were representations of external objects?

19. What does Descartes mean by "objective reality"? Formal reality?

20. What is the relationship between causation and reality for Descartes?

21. How does Descartes arguethat he could be the author of all his ideas except for God?

22. How does Descartes argue for the existence of God?

23. According to Descartes,how do we receive the idea of God?

Meditation IV
24. How does Descartes argue that God is not a deceiver?

25. Why is God not responsible for the mistakes that we, as humans, make?

26. How does Descartes reconcile a perfect God with particular "imperfections" in the universe?

27. Identify and define the roles of the two faculties involved when errors occur.

28. How are humans most like God? Present the argument.

29. What is the highest form of freedom? The lowest form? Explain the difference.

30. What is the source of human error?

31. According to Descartes, God could have made us so that we could not err. How? Can we blame God for not doing so? Why or why not?

32. How can humans keep from making mistakes? Identify and explain the two ways given by Descartes.

Meditation V
33. How does Descartes argue that he is not the source of such ideas as triangles?

34. What is a sophism?

35. How does Descartes use the concepts of "existence" and "essence" to prove that God exists?

36. According to Descartes, why am I not the source of the idea of God?

37. How does Descartes account for the fact of doubt regarding indubitable proofs?

Meditation VI
38. What does Descartes mean by "imagination" and "pure intellection"?

39. How does he differentiate between the two?

40. How does Descartes use the faculties of imagining and sensing to argue for the existence of an external, physical world?

41. How does Descartes elaborate on the concept of "taught by nature"?

42. How does Descartes modify his conception of what it means to be human? Present the argument for his updated position.

43. What is the distinction between the mind and the body?

44. How does Descartes differentiate between being awake and dreaming? Give his reasoning.

Additional points for reflection
45. What is the difference between "deism" and "theism"? In your opinion is Descartes a deist, a theist or neither? Support your answer.

46. What is the "Problem of Evil"? How do you think Descartes would address this problem? Justify your response.

47. Be prepared to evaluate the major arguments given by Descartes in the Meditations.


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