Past Meetup

What is REALLY going on with Descartes? The Fourth Meditation - Struggle Session

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The "founder of modern thought" often perplexes contemporary readers with his seemingly atrocious missteps. Descartes may have started a ball rolling on which we're all still doing a balancing trick...and this makes him at least as much a bogeyman as a hero.

His epistemology, metaphysics, and natural theology seem like an ungainly mix of sharp insights and gross fallacies. How does it all hang together? What can we read of his that might help us figure him out - something more helpful than his dream skepticism, "I think therefore I am", and ontological argument for God?

One possibility: the Fourth Meditation, which we will consider together in detail. (Bring the text if you have it.) In the Fourth Meditation, Descartes reassures himself that he has reliable faculties, and can trust them to show him the truth under some conditions - because God exists. In other words, in demonstrating God's existence (and certain of His attributes), Descartes has found what he needed to stop worrying that he might always be making mistakes when he tries to learn things.

Here theology allies with epistemology: Descartes' project is shown to link a certain kind of scientific procedure - a procedure for finding out about the world - to the foundational sense of assurance ("CERTAINTY") that he is able to find only by relating to the God of traditional piety.

What does this say about our own feelings of certainty (or lack thereof) when we try to learn about the world?