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Second Meditation by Descartes - Ultimate or Absolute Truth in Meditations of First Philosophy

Updated on June 5, 2011

This is a paper based on the written work of the father of early modern philosophy, Rene Descartes. Meditations on First Philosophy contains his method of radical doubt which sets a stage for a new philosophy ("cogito ergo sum").

The paper explores the nature of certainty and experiences, using Descartes' thoughts as a base.

Rene Descartes
Rene Descartes

Second Meditation

Often we believe that there is more to our existence than what we experience.

Many religions state that there is an afterlife and this current life is part of a test, part of redemption, part of an experience.

What is reality? Is it what we feel, what we see, hear or touch? Is the life we know all that there is to it, the ultimate truth?

Or is this an illusion?

These religions speak for themselves. If there is more to this life, then it can be said that the absolute truth is the afterlife, and that this life is an illusion.

What purpose this illusion serves, we can only guess, but it is certainly an option to believe that the world and our lives as we know it are merely experiences in an illusion.

There needs to be a reference point in this illusion. If everything were an illusion, then everything would also be a reality as everything is all that there is. Descartes uses himself as a reference point, noting that he knows that he exists and is experiencing this illusion, so he must be an absolute truth, a reality.

Using that logic, we can identify ourselves as being real, but only from our perspectives, as we cannot identify others being real unless you go into their perspective.

But what makes you? Your experiences, even if in an illusion, are still real. Descartes goes on further to say our mind is real, our thoughts are real. But what are these thoughts based on? Our experiences? But what are our experiences based on? Our senses.

It cannot be said that our senses are not real as they are an integral part in our experiences, which are real even if in an illusion. These experiences determine how you think, and if your thoughts are real then it must surely be said that your experiences and therefore your senses had a part in this reality. Descartes combines these all into thinking; our senses are thoughts, our experiences are thoughts.

However, Descartes often chooses not to trust his senses because the world around him is an illusion. But how would we acquire thought without experiences, as experiences are directly attributed to our sensations. Our minds have attributed the idea of wax because of experiences with wax, having seen or touched it to make an image in our thoughts.

So to assume that our mind is real but that the senses are not to be trusted is incorrect, because our thoughts are based on these senses. Otherwise, you can assume that your thoughts are also an illusion, and therefore you yourself are an illusion, but that is not the case.

If this is an illusion, it can be said that this illusion creates a number of realities; we touch, we feel, we hear, and thus create thoughts and images in our mind. Therefore, we should keep it in the back of our minds that this is an illusion, but submit to the realities of the illusion as they are in the illusion, and not as they may be in the ultimate truth of things.

For how are we able to see the ultimate truth when we have our sights in an illusion?


Descartes, Rene. "Meditations on First Philosophy: First and Second Meditations" from Meditations and Other Metaphysical Writings. Classics of Western Philosophy. 1:77-88.


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      All of my questions setahed-tltnks!

    • mrpopo profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Canada

      Shifting from "effect" to "cause" - I like that notion lonestar! One I am still working on achieving. If there is a God in me (and all of us for that matter), it is quite difficult to tap in its potential. You are right, whatever awakens does so in moments of inspiration or tragedy. Many great stories echo this thought. Unfortunately it seems my moments of inspiration are fleeting and any foreseen tragedies are either very far in the future or are dissipated very slowly through time. Kind of like a frog jumping out of a pot of boiling water if it changes temperature quickly, but if it slowly and steadily increases the frog will remain in the pot.

      PS: I had no Idea Rene created cartesian coordinates. Brilliant!

    • lone77star profile image

      Rod Martin Jr 

      7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      We can thank Rene Descarte for the cartesian coordinates we love so much in science and math. A great thinker!

      He also said "dieu en moi" (God in me). I'm not entirely sure what he meant by this, but Genesis 1:26 implies that we are each baby gods (created in the image). Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34 echo this sentiment.

      So many of the modern fundamentalists choose to ignore reality (diss science), and thus court delusion. This makes such religiosity not only laughable, but sad as well.

      Part of the difficulty, I've found, is that "Man" is a complex entity--both physical and spiritual. In the physical, we have the very tangible Homo sapiens body and the decidedly intangible ego. In the spiritual, we find something which rarely awakens except in moments of inspiration or impending tragedy.

      The key to mastering this "illusion" is in accepting the invisible immortal spirit in lieu of the equally invisible, but frequently much more enticing, ego. The gain by this maneuver is one of shifting from "effect" to "cause" (the "dieu en moi").

    • mrpopo profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Canada

      Ah, are you referring to multiple universes, Ixxy? It's quite interesting to think about. I myself think that there may be an infinite number of realities taking place. Right now I'm only conscious for one of these realities. Maybe some sort of reincarnation in a different universe in space-time is what happens in death? Who knows.

      Let's enjoy this vacation, my friend. Thanks for the comment :)

    • lxxy profile image


      8 years ago from Beneath, Between, Beyond

      Always great to read a lil byte of philosophy.

      Personally I think the world is much stranger--and feel that not only am *I* a complete coherent life, but the multiple roads I may have taken in life also exist in some space-time.

      Reality my be an illusion, but I'd like to think of it as a vacation.

    • mrpopo profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Canada

      Hey qwark, thanks for checking out the Hub :)

      Don't worry, I don't take many of these things seriously, if I even understand what they're talking about. But it's interesting to see some of these philosophers talking about problems that are centuries ahead of their time.

      By illusion though I didn't necessarily mean an afterlife (although that's probably the wishful thinking I was going for), but just anything we don't know about or are aware of, which is a great deal.

      After all, the wisest man ever to have lived said all he knew was that he knew nothing.

      Thanks again for checking out the Hub and your insightful comment afterwards, I appreciate it :)

    • qwark profile image


      8 years ago


      Cogito ergo sum!...:-)

      During my college years I studied all the great philosophers.

      Study them all. But don't take any of them too seriously. Their thinking and study was very basic and their minds evolving.

      Ya have to remember that all the great advancements in knowledge have taken place in the last 100 yrs....and we're still; "groping."

      In your studies of biology you have been introduced to an understanding of "SOR" (Stimulous,Organism,Response) ..right?

      All life on this planet is involved in the processes of SOR.

      Lets get real. Forget this "illusion" crap.

      Academicians love this kind of "jargon."

      You are just an animal gifted with the unique anomaly "consciousness."

      For some reason, I think arrogance, we, Homo/sapienssapiens, want to consider ourselves "special" life forms that deserve immortality i.e. an afterlife....which is pure unadulterated, pardon my French, BULL SHIT!

      When we die we suffer the same rotting processes as any other life and that which the "blessed" consider a soul, is just wishful thinking.

      You wrote this hub well. Don't stop writing.

      Good luck with college! :-)

    • mrpopo profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Canada

      To be honest, I don't know what I was writing about when I wrote this thing :P

      But, I agree with you and the Buddhist thought. Everything is changing, a transient nature, and we should come to accept that. If we're wrong on that though, no biggie :)

      I just noticed though, if you read the article that this was based on it makes a lot more sense to find what I was talking about. I realized I went off talking about the wax comparison that Descartes made, but I never illustrated it because it ate up space in the paper (it was limited to a page). I liked the article, it's one of the more interesting ones in the book, as far as philosophy goes!

      Thanks for the comment mega!

    • mega1 profile image


      8 years ago

      acceptance is the key - its a radical Buddhist thought - that by accepting the world as you live in it, you also accept your thoughts about it, and further accept that it will all change, it is all changing - transient nature of everything! So if its an illusion or not - live in it and accept it! woohoo! the secret of life! Or did I get this whole thing wrong? no matter - kookookooroo!


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