Episode 2: Descartes’s Meditations: What Can We Know?

Posted by
|

Discussing Descartes’s Meditations 1 and 2.

Descartes engages in the most influential navel gazing ever, and you are there! In this second and superior-to-the-first installment of our lil’ philosophy discussion, we discuss what Descartes thinks he knows with certainty (hint: it is not you), the Matrix, and burning-at-the-stake.com. Mark and Wes agree to disagree about agreeing that they disagree. Seth had a long day and is very tired. Plus: Some listener feedback; whom is this here podcast aimed at? Why, you, of course!

To increase your enjoyment, download and read the text.

Here, also, is the Descartes chunk of Philosophy and the Matrix that Seth refers to.

End song: “Axiomatic” by New People from The Easy Thing (2009).

If you enjoy the episode, please donate at least $1:

Comments

  1. Sam

    January 7, 2010

    I just took philosophy 101. I look forward to listening to this.

  2. Avatar of Wes Alwan

    Wes Alwan

    January 11, 2010

    Thanks Sam — hope you enjoy it.

  3. Geoff

    March 29, 2010

    I just got through listening to the episode. Though I can’t be certain.

    It was quite odd. I was just this morning, on my way to work, thinking about the nature of colour, and what it means for something ‘to be red’ and so forth.

    Anyway, I have listened to the first couple of episodes now and just wanted to say thanks, I think.

  4. Avatar of Seth Paskin

    Seth Paskin

    March 29, 2010

    Thanks Geoff, we appreciate that you are enjoying the podcast and care enough to tell us. I should inform you, however, that you are dreaming. Mark is the Evil Demon.

  5. Geoff

    March 30, 2010

    Really? Mark?

    I was sure it was my neighbour’s cat.

  6. Colin

    April 11, 2011

    What’s the best, or at least, officially recommended PEL translation of the Meditations? Just found the podcast, and your description of the book as good reading has me wanting to check it out, but not sure which (English) translation to check out.

  7. kjc

    May 9, 2011

    enough with the supercasual intro! it’s boring when you try to be interesting. just talk about something besides the podcast.

    • Avatar of Mark Linsenmayer

      Mark Linsenmayer

      May 9, 2011

      The scan forward button works nicely, as does the “listen on double speed” feature on iPhones and probably other things.

  8. Brian

    February 6, 2012

    In light of all the talk about how the radical skepticism and chasing after certainty is unrealistic and intellectually damaging and unnecessary, it’s really interesting to note (and I was surprised to read it myself) that Descartes himself in some sense seems to agree with that practical sentiment. As he writes,

    “But it is not sufficient to have made these observations; care must be taken likewise to keep them in remembrance. For those old and customary opinions perpetually recur– long and familiar usage giving them the right of occupying my mind, even almost against my will, and subduing my belief; nor will I lose the habit of deferring to them and confiding in them so long as I shall consider them to be what in truth they are, viz, opinions to some extent doubtful, as I have already shown, but still highly probable, and such as it is much more reasonable to believe than deny.”

    Also, Descartes submits that his conclusion that 2+3=5 could be the result of a deception everytime he does the addition. But I don’t see how this kind of fallibility of reasoning can be stopped from being absolutely global. What if Descartes is merely deceived every time he forms the clear and distinct judgment “I think therefore I am”? What is it about this judgment that is infallible in a way that 2+3=5 is not?

    • David Clark

      February 6, 2012

      Also, Descartes submits that his conclusion that 2+3=5 could be the result of a deception everytime he does the addition. But I don’t see how this kind of fallibility of reasoning can be stopped from being absolutely global. What if Descartes is merely deceived every time he forms the clear and distinct judgment “I think therefore I am”? What is it about this judgment that is infallible in a way that 2+3=5 is not?

      If Descartes is being deceived, here… who is being deceived? Someone who exists, no? Being deceived requires being, I think?

      I don’t think the cogito earns its keep either, but for a different reason – what if ‘I think’ is said by a fictional character?

      As with everything I’ve ever thought, it turns out it’s been figured out by someone else already – here’s a fun tour of the cogito of fictional characters by Nicola Ciprott, from the astonishingly unlikely “Icelandic E-Journal of Nordic and Mediterranean Studies”:

      • Brian

        February 6, 2012

        If Descartes is being deceived, here… who is being deceived? Someone who exists, no? Being deceived requires being, I think?

        I get the argument, I just don’t think that it survives the kind of radical skepticism Descartes applies to statements like “2+3=5″ or “a square has four sides”. The same basis for being skeptical about statements like these would seem applicable to *any* statement. For instance, perhaps Descartes’ logical argument about the cogito and its attendant feelings of clarity and definiteness are themselves a deception caused by an evil deceiver, just as he says his analytic/mathematical truths and their attendant feelings of clarity and definiteness could be attributed to such a deception. So I’m not critiquing the cogito as much as I’m critiquing what seems like an incongruity in Descartes’ application of skepticism.

  9. Ryan

    February 6, 2012

    I read the cogito not as a rational argument in itself, rather as an event that happens to take place. It is a clear and distinct certainty that where thoughts occur, there is some form of thinking being involved. The cogito is not only an old and customary opinion, it is also happening to you right now and always, but if that were to unimaginably stop being the case, Descartes would be ready to reject it too.

    His other beliefs are not subjected to the same radical skepticism. There is only an incongruity if you are already on board with the cogito, but can’t accept the very next move toward God, which is always involved in his other beliefs that require justification.

  10. Ben

    May 26, 2012

    Just a clarification…as far as I know, the meditations is not an argument. At least, it is an ambiguous question whether or not to call it an argument with no clear consensus in professional circles. Perhaps this is easily overlooked because philosophy is so strongly associated with argumentation, and because Descarte makes clear applications of logic in his meditations. Some believe that the meditations may be an enthymeme, an informal argument with an implied premise, but this too is unclear…

    • Avatar of Seth Paskin

      Seth Paskin

      May 26, 2012

      That seems a rather dry point. If Descartes really thought it was a throwaway speculation he wouldn’t have spent so much time in the Letter of Dedication covering his ass.

  11. Merima Dz

    November 6, 2012

    Thank you for your activities!! I’m so happy that in the world there are really a lot of people who are still passionate about true and ultimate questions which can always be revived, we should really have some more methodological doubth in our lives! Greetings from Podgorica, Montenegro!

  12. Conor

    November 8, 2012

    This has genuinely rekindled my love of philosophy all over again! Thankyou!

  13. JJ

    March 11, 2013

    I just wanna make add that mby 1/10 of the world population has already considered the notion that all this might be an illusion, being that view the one expressed in the end of the bhagavad gita.

    thanks for sharing your thoughts guys !

  14. Gabrielle

    June 26, 2013

    Thank you so much for this Podcast. I listen to it on my way to work and it just lights up my whole day!
    Keep on the good work
    Greetings from Montreal!

  15. Brendan

    November 16, 2013

    Just wanted to recommend another free source for the text. I found it after trying the ubiquitous John Vietch translation of Descartes’ Meditations (which I found fairly awful). The translation from http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/ was much clearer to me, in particular the presentation of segments of the text as dialogue. I found this interesting as Seth had commented in the podcast that he could imagine parts of the text as dialogues.

    This website has versions of some the other texts from your podcast that might be useful to listeners.

  16. Stan

    January 13, 2014

    So glad I found this show. I only took philosophy 101 in college but I am a philosopher at heart. Looking forward to rest of the shows. Thanks!

Add a comment

  1. Topic for #31: Husserl’s Phenomenology | The Partially Examined Life | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog11-29-10
  2. "Prima Facie Weirdness?" | The Partially Examined Life | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog06-20-11
  3. Metaphors of Deception in "The Matrix" (incl. Plato's Cave) | The Partially Examined Life | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog07-18-11
  4. Partially Examined Life Podcast Topic #43: Arguments for the Existence of God | The Partially Examined Life | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog08-09-11
  5. Timothy Brennan On Baruch Spinoza and Giambattista Vico | The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog04-25-12
  6. Topic for #62: Voltaire’s Novel “Candide” | The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog08-03-12
  7. Dallas Willard on Nietzsche and Jesus | The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog09-03-12
  8. Topic for #74: Lacan on the Self/Subject | The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog03-18-13
  9. “Conceptual Primaries” (Rand vs. Deleuze) | The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog05-24-13
  10. Descartes meditation: What can we know? | Caroline+Kühn10-31-13
  11. Topic for #85: John Rawls’s Theory of Justice | The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog11-10-13
  12. Nick Mount on Samuel Beckett and Existentialist Drama | The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog11-21-13
  13. Topic for #89: Bishop George Berkeley’s Empiricist Idealism | The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog02-18-14
  14. Partially Naked Self-Examination Music Blog: | The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog06-14-14
  15. Episode 2:  Descartes’s Meditations: What Can We Know? | sojourning mendicant07-15-14