Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Descartes Discussion Questions

Here are some discussion questions about Descartes Meditations (1-6). Responses should be informed by the readings and discussions but also your own views.

Please respond to at least three questions; please respond at least three times to your peers here and/or on the BLOG discussion board. 

Please see the syllabus guidelines on what these discussions should be like. 

Questions that correspond to each Meditation:

1. What's Descartes' strategy to avoid false beliefs? Do you think it's a good strategy? If so, how and why, or why not? Do you have any better ideas for him? What (else) would you do to try to avoid false beliefs and find true beliefs, justified beliefs and/or knowledge? What strategies do you think would be effective toward that goal?

2. Your essence is this: take away anything you can that - if you lose it, you can still exist - and then you are left with your essence. (E.g., if you lose your hair, you will still exist, right? So your hair is not part of your essence). What does Descartes think he is, in his essence? How does he come to that view? Do you agree with him on what his essence is? What do you think your essence is? Why?

3a. Descartes' thinks he has the idea of God: what is that idea? He also thinks that since he has the idea of God, God must exist. What this argument? Do you think it's a good one? Why or why not?

3b. Descartes argues that (a) there is a God and (b) that since there is a God, whatever he "clearly and distinctly perceives" is true. Can you explain what he seems to be thinking or reasoning here? And, in general, if someone argues that they know something because of something they claim to know about God, does that seem like a good way to show that they indeed know that thing? In general, how does appealing to religious beliefs to justify any claims to knowledge typically work out? 

4. Descartes wonders why, if God exists, God would allow him to have false beliefs. What's Descartes' answer? Do you think it's a good answer? If you think there's a God, it's interesting to wonder why - not just why God would allow us to do evil - but why God would allow us to have false and unjustified beliefs. Why do you think God might allow that? Is that a good reason?

5. Descartes argues that since the idea of existence is part of the idea of God, God must exist. Can you explain how this argument might work? Do you think it might be a good argument?

6. Descartes thinks that his mind and his body are separate things, and that he could exist without a body. Why does he think that? Do you agree with him, either with his reasoning or with the claim that you could exist without your, or any, body?

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