Demolition of his opinions



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Reading Questions: Descartes, Meditations One and Two

  1. Descartes begins the Meditations though a "demolition of his opinions." Why does he feel it necessary to start his project in this way? What is the danger that he set out to avoid?

  2. What reason does Descartes give for not automatically trusting his senses? Why is it only madmen who have false apparitions appear to them?

  3. Why are the tenets of physics, astronomy, medicine and all the other disciplines, which depend on the study of composite things doubtful? Why does arithmetic and geometry appear to be on a more solid footing?

  4. How do I know that He [God] has not brought it about that there is no earth, no sky, no extended thing, no shape, no size, no place, while at the same time en­suring that all these things appear to me to exist just as they do now?

How would you put into your own words the possibility that Descartes describes here? Do you think that God would be able to do this?

  1. Why does Descartes decide to assume that “some malicious demon of the utmost power and cunning has employed all his energies in order to deceive me.”?

  2. What would it be like to believe the assumption in 5? Can we rule it out – that is, be sure that it is false?

  3. If there were an all-powerful evil demon bent on deceiving you, why would you not be able to trust your memory? Would you be able to trust your conviction that 5+7=12? Are you sure?

  4. How does Descartes motivate the doubt about his having a body, and about the existence of any material substance in the world?

  5. What attribute does Descartes “at last” discover to be inseparable from him? Why?

  6. Why is it impossible to doubt that you’re thinking? Couldn’t a very powerful evil demon mess with you so that you’d be wrong about this as well?

  7. Why can’t the appearance that he is thinking merely be a figment of Descartes’ deluded imagination?

  8. Why is Descartes so absolutely sure of the following? “I am a thing which is real and which truly exists. But what kind of a thing? As I have just said—a thinking thing.”

  9. What is “having a sensory perception”? Is it the same thing as “appearance” in Sextus?

  10. In the "wax" example: How do we tell that we have the same piece of wax when, after heating it, all its observable qualities change?

  11. "I must therefore admit that the nature of this piece of wax is in no way revealed by my imagination, but is perceived by the mind alone." - Why does Descartes say the the mind "alone" perceives "the wax itself" - and not the senses?

  12. Last paragraph:

I now know that even bodies are not strictly perceived by the senses or the faculty of imagination but by the intellect alone, and that this perception derives not from their being touched or seen but from their being understood; and in view of this I know plainly that I can achieve an easier and more evident percep­tion of my own mind than of anything else.

Put this in your own words.



  1. So what does Descartes claim to have learned from the second meditation, and why is it such a big deal?

  2. What would Sextus think of Descates' "discovery" that he actually exists? Could he dispel that dogmatic illusion?



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