May 132009
 
descartes711

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).

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  35 Responses to “Episode 2: Descartes’s Meditations: What Can We Know?”

Comments (22) Pingbacks (13)
  1. I just took philosophy 101. I look forward to listening to this.

  2. Thanks Sam — hope you enjoy it.

  3. 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. 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. Really? Mark?

    I was sure it was my neighbour’s cat.

  6. 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. @Colin
    This is the most common version of which I’m aware:

    http://www.amazon.com/Discourse-Method-Meditations-Philosophy-ebook/dp/B004L628V8/ref=sr_1_49?ie=UTF8&qid=1302611315&sr=8-49&tag=theparexalif-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0198245971

    Sorry I can’t make the link more readable – you can get it in paperback or Kindle and it’s not expensive.
    –seth

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

  9. 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?

    • 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”:

      • 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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…

    • 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.

  12. 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!

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

  14. 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 !

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

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