Study Questions: Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, pgs. 24, 30-35

1. What is Descartes’ “general rule” to determine whether what he perceive is true? Remember that word “perceive” (in Latin “percipere”) literally means “to grasp entirely” (per-capere) (pg. 24), and is synonymous with “conceives.”

2. Descartes writes, “surely in this first instance of knowledge [I think and therefore I am], there is nothing but a clear and distinct perception of what I affirm.” (pg. 24). How does the “I think, therefore I am” fit Descartes’ definition of clear and distinct perception?

3. What does Descartes understand by the name or idea of “God”? Does his idea of God match your own? Is there anything he is leaving out? (pg. 30, bottom)

4. In the bottom paragraph of page 30 through the first full paragraph of page 31, Descartes summarizes his argument for the existence of God. Restate Descartes’ argument in your own words.

5. What is the difference between perceiving “the infinite by means of a true idea” rather than “through a negation of the finite”? (pg. 31). Hint: recall that by a true idea, Descartes means a clear and distinct idea. Since the idea of God is a clear and distinct, “nothing can be added to his perfection” (pg. 32).

6. How does Descartes argue, “The perception of the infinite is somehow prior in me to the perception of the finite” (pg. 31)

7. According to Descartes, what gets in the way of understanding this argument for the existence of God? (pgs. 32)

8. Descartes’s second argument for the existence of God begins with the question, “from what source, then, do I derive my existence?” (pg. 32) and ends with the conclusion, “the mere fact of my existence and of there being in me an idea of a most perfect being, that is, God, demonstrates most evidently that God too exists.” (pgs. 34). Provide a summary of this second argument.

9. According to Descartes, how did he receive this idea of God? (pgs. 34-35)

10. According to Descartes, what is the greatest pleasure of which we are capable in this life? (pg. 35).

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Descartes’s “general rule” is that whatever he ‘perceives’ clearly and distinctly must be true. The key to understanding Descartes’ point here is that ‘perception’ here is intended as a metaphor; specifically, Descartes draws on the familiar experience of seeing something clearly and distinctly as a model for what it is like to apprehend something that is true. This is most readily apparent with simple arithmetic propositions like 2 + 2 = 4, which is readily, clearly understood and discerned from other propositions – that is, we ‘perceive’ this proposition in the sense of grasping it entirely. For Descartes, this ‘perception’ accompanying a proposition provides...

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