Friday, March 4, 2011

Descartes' "Meditations on First Philosophy: Third Meditation": A Summary

Read the summary of the first two meditations here.
When last we left off I had discovered that, no matter what else is an illusion, I exist and I think - not a bad start at all. Let's see what else we can hammer out.

Well, how did I figure out that I exist? Because it's so goddamn apparent. It's clear and distinct - there can't be any confusion at all about that question. To doubt it wouldn't make any sense at all. When things are that clear, that un-fucking-contestable, I can know them with certainty. Of course, right now, that's a small set of pretty lonely things... {me}. Awww.

I mean, I also perceive a ton of other shit before me, too - obviously I perceive my couch and my pipe and my house, but ideas about those things doesn't tell me jackshit about their reality. Even math - what if 1 + 1 = 3? What if Euclidean geometry is false? After all, non-Euclidean geometry is a real thing, and it might be how the world really is. God could be a huge fucking troll, just making me think 1+1 = 2 and not really banana.  But I do have all these ideas  - obviously I clearly and distinctly think that 1+1=2. I definitely have an idea of what a couch is even if I can't be sure that there's anything out there that conforms to a couch. So even if these ideas are wrong, I definitely have them. But what the fuck are they? Am I stuck just knowing I have them?

I have all these ideas, but no clue where they come from. I see three possible options - maybe I've always had them, and we all have them; do we all have all the same ideas in our heads, and we just shuffle them around?  Maybe I made them up as I went along - if I said, "Hey, a baby unicorn?" Maybe you wouldn't have that idea, because I made it up. So you'd say, "What the fuck is a unicorn?" And then I'd have to tell you - "Take a horn, right? Now jam it on a horse's head and paint that shit white and glittery. Unicorn." Or maybe they got there some other way, and I have no role at all in their origin - I perceive a couch, and whether that couch is real or some asshole is lying to me, that idea might be coming into me from outside. I mean, my will has absolutely no effect on how comfy this couch is or how warm the fire makes me, which is why I've just always assumed, with no real basis whatsoever, that these ideas represent real things.

So where did I go wrong? Well, probably not my intellect. All that my intellect is good for is perceiving ideas, maybe shuffling them around. But really, my intellect depends on my will to operate, and in that respect I have complete freedom. I'm free like God is free - complete fucking agency over self. So obviously the problem can't be my will, since that shit is perfect and unlimited.  I don't know nearly as much shit as God would, but I can do whatever the fuck I want with the powers that I do have; only my intellect really limits my will. There is the problem; it's not that my intellect or my will are broken, its the fundamental mismatch in scope. My will keeps passing judgment on shit that I don't know enough about in the intellect. My puny intellect is like, 'Well, I don't know anything about that chick, I've never seen her before. She could actually be batshit insane." and my will is like, "HOTTIE? GO, GO, GO, GO." My intellect says, "I'm actually not sure about my body and my mind - it seems like they could be separate," and my will goes, "Body? Mind? Same difference. Next." Really, bros should be more careful with will, and occasionally, you know, not pass judgment when they don't know. Is this couch real? How the fuck do I know? My will jumped the gun again. So reign it in - some things are clear and distinct to the intellect. That's the shit I should be judging. Everything else could be an illusion - seriously, what is God's fucking deal?

Really, he's the source of all this uncertainty. He could be imprinting all sorts of bullshit into my brain - but could he impress the idea of Himself? Obviously, He'd have to, since I sure as shit didn't make Him up. I couldn't have - He's an idea greater than me. I'm this finite little being, and somehow I have this idea of an infinite bro who knows everything, sees everything, lives forever - shit, he fucking invented forever, and everything else besides? That seems pretty unlikely, like my abacus spitting out the design for the Turk, like a calculator inventing Watson on its own. Not happening.

God is one idea, then, I can be absolutely sure of. Where else would it come from? How could it be an illusion? If I didn't make it up, it had to come from someone else; and who the fuck else could have told me about it? Sure, I directly came from my parents, but they were finite too. Where did they come from? How did they get the idea? We can trace this idea back as far as we like, but at the end there has to be God somewhere. So if someone is lying to me, it would have to be God Himself, except the greatest possible being wouldn't lie to me, because the greatest possible being wouldn't be an asshole. We all know an asshole and no one ever thinks, "Man, I'm glad he's such a douchebag, lying and stealing all the time. If he stopped being a douchebag, that wouldn't make him better at all."

So doubting God doesn't even make sense, any more than doubting my own existence makes sense - I have no fucking clue what it means for a perfect being to not exist. A non-existent being is hardly perfect. Since I didn't invent the idea of God, and since I don't perceive Him outside of me, it must be an innate idea - an idea I've always had, that He created me with.  So now I know: God exists, and I can trust the fuck out of Him.


  1. "We can trace this idea back as far as we like, but at the end there has to be God somewhere."

    But...that means that every thought ever has had to exist in some shape or form.


  2. "obviously I perceive my couch and my pipe and my house, but ideas about those things doesn't tell me jackshit about their reality." Hahah great shit, my pipe. Just in time for a paper on the Third Meditation, too.

    And the bit about tracing thoughts back to its origin deals specifically with the idea of infinity. Descartes wasnt saying that the thought must have "existed," but just that it had a cause from something. And he couldn't find anything in the world that could TELL him the idea of infinity, for everything in the world is finite, as far as we finite beings perceive by the senses. But Descartes believed his mind had some sort of relation with the idea of infinity, just enough to grasp its immensity, and was convinced this mean a supreme being had to have given him the idea.

    Perhaps the bro version doesn't do Descartes justice. As whacked as the Meditations feel, he was a solid and coherent thinker. It's all a matter of how down you are for the project of doubt and infinite subjectivity, man.

  3. Descartes would be much more convincing here if so many of our clear and distinct ideas about the world didn't turn out to be so very wrong.

    His other major flaw here is that he falsely claims that we're capable of imagining infinity, or a god. No, we're capable of describing them, but only by wholely inadequate comparison. Human beings aren't even capable of imagining a million with any kind of clarity. We know what the word means, in some sense, but actually visualising a million is basically impossible. The fact that we can do math using big numbers doesn't mean our mind can aprehend those numbers, and the fact that we can write books where we describe (in some sense) a god doesn't mean that our minds can actually form some coherent image of such a being, let alone one that could reasonably be described as 'clear and distinct.'

    Ultimately, one is forced to conclude that Descartes had either far superior mental faculties to every other human being, or that he had a very idiosyncratic conception of clarity and distinctness.

  4. Let's not forget that the meditations are primarily Descartes' own personal investigation, for himself. He wants to establish a framework by which to live - a self-constructed explanation of reality such that no reasoning will bend his own conclusions.

    I guess in short my point is that he's not necessarily being prescriptive. Do it for yourself, or don't. Or read Husserl.

  5. so deep dude. but nice job indeed

  6. What would Descartes think of the Flying Spaghetti Monster I wonder? A clearly contrived infinite being...

    1. well a flying spaghetti monster is comprised of ideas man has already come up with. We know what pasta is, we have some idea of what a monster is, and we understand what it means to fly. So atheists on Reddit came up with this monster as an example of how foolish they think it is to worship such a being. But God is not some guy in the sky. Descartes is saying that he is an infinite being that couldn't have been invented by man. Every fucking human being has some idea about God until it's stifled by atheism. Every tribe worships something. The idea of God is something that every man is born with because it is God-given

  7. To December 2 guy, Descartes doesn't "prove" the existence of the christian god. He "proves" the existence of an all powerful dude. May he be a huge dangling sack of meatballs, good for him. As long as he's all powerful, and a good guy, I'm happy.

  8. You have no idea how much reading and pounding my head against the desk you just saved me. Thanks!

  9. Descartes is like the coolest bro. He was smarter then most people give credit, IMO. Ok so he lived in a time where ppl who went against the church got tortured or even killed! He was smart enough to make up some stupid ass bullshit that "proved" god existed. Right. What ev. I don't fucking buy it. He was smart enough to trick the church that his ideas proved god existed. He came up with all that other shit(and I do mean A LOT of shit), then he was smart enough to know that if he wanted to get his ideas out there, he better damn well make up some stuff to pass as proof of god, to satisfy the church into not fucking killing him. Or at least silencing him.

    It's my opinion that Descartes knowingly lied about proof of god.

    Does anyone share this opinion?