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The Modes of Descartes’ First Meditation

  • Richard DaviesEmail author
Chapter
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas Archives internationales d'histoire des idées book series (ARCH, volume 221)

Abstract

The essay comments Descartes’ Meditations I. Starting from the suggestion that the “material” modes of the Pyrrhonists can be distinguished from the “formal” modes of the Academics, the text is read as a sequence of reasons for doubting whole sets of beliefs. These operations are “formal” insofar as Descartes’ meditator recognises that he cannot enumerate one by one the members of these sets. First, he recalls how many beliefs he formed in infancy were erroneous, and identifies one source of error in their coming on the authority of others. He then notices that, even in favourable conditions, he could form false beliefs, for instance if he were suffering from persistent delusions. Favourable conditions cannot be delimited unless one knows one is not so suffering. Yet, sane people have dreams that resemble the delusions of the insane. On one reading of what a dream is, the beliefs threatened by the dreaming hypothesis include all those concerning the past. The final two phases of Meditations I, the deceiving God hypothesis and the evil demon hypothesis, raise the spectre of “transcendental scepticism”, outstripping Pyrrhonist and Academic scepticisms, but they resemble “formal” modes because they supply reasons for doubting about entire sets of beliefs. While the deceiving God hypothesis is rejected on the basis of what is argued in Meditations III (that there is a veracious God), the same does not hold of the demon. But, even if the demon does exist, Descartes can intuit his own existence and thus overthrow transcendental scepticism.

Keywords

Certainty Contrariety of the senses Deceiving God Dreaming Empiricism Evil demon Formal modes Hyperbolical doubt Jesuits Madness Material modes Reason for doubt Simple notions 

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Università degli studi di BergamoBergamoItaly

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