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