The Cave Discussion

March 8, 2022
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The Cave Discussion

The Cave Discussion

What is due?

Please summarize this week’s readings in 150-300 words total. If you’d like to, you may divide the summary in two parts corresponding to the two readings.


This assignment is meant to assess your critical understanding of the texts, and your capacity to identify their main tenets and argumentative strategy.

Meditations on First Philosophy by Rene Descartes – Guided reading
(Source of the text: Comments mine)
1. SEVERAL years have now elapsed since I first became aware that I had accepted, even
from my youth, many false opinions for true, and that consequently what I afterward based on
such principles was highly doubtful; and from that time I was convinced of the necessity of
undertaking once in my life to rid myself of all the opinions I had adopted, and of commencing
anew the work of building from the foundation, if I desired to establish a firm and abiding
superstructure in the sciences. But as this enterprise appeared to me to be one of great
magnitude, I waited until I had attained an age so mature as to leave me no hope that at any
stage of life more advanced I should be better able to execute my design. On this account, I
have delayed so long that I should henceforth consider I was doing wrong were I still to
consume in deliberation any of the time that now remains for action. To-day, then, since I have
opportunely freed my mind from all cares and am happily disturbed by no passions, and since I
am in the secure possession of leisure in a peaceable retirement, I will at length apply myself
earnestly and freely to the general overthrow of all my former opinions.
2. But, to this end, it will not be necessary for me to show that the whole of these are false–a
point, perhaps, which I shall never reach; but as even now my reason convinces me that I
ought not the less carefully to withhold belief from what is not entirely certain and indubitable,
than from what is manifestly false, it will be sufficient to justify the rejection of the whole if I
shall find in each some ground for doubt. Nor for this purpose will it be necessary even to deal
with each belief individually, which would be truly an endless labor; but, as the removal from
Descartes decides to examine all
his former opinions.
He decides to withhold belief from
what is dubitable; and to start from
the most basic and foundational of
his beliefs.
below of the foundation necessarily involves the downfall of the whole edifice, I will at once
approach the criticism of the principles on which all my former beliefs rested.
3. All that I have, up to this moment, accepted as possessed of the highest truth and certainty, I
received either from or through the senses. I observed, however, that these sometimes misled
us; and it is the part of prudence not to place absolute confidence in that by which we have
even once been deceived.

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4. But it may be said, perhaps, that, although the senses occasionally mislead us respecting
minute objects, and such as are so far removed from us as to be beyond the reach of close
observation, there are yet many other of their informations (presentations), of the truth of
which it is manifestly impossible to doubt; as for example, that I am in this place, seated by the
fire, clothed in a winter dressing gown, that I hold in my hands this piece of paper, with other
intimations of the same nature. But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body,
and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so
disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors as to cause them pertinaciously to assert that
they are monarchs when they are in the greatest poverty; or clothed in gold and purple when
destitute of any covering; or that their head is made of clay, their body of glass, or that they are
gourds? I should certainly be not less insane than they, were I to regulate my procedure
according to examples so extravagant.
5. Though this be true, I must nevertheless here consider that I am a man, and that,
consequently, I am in the habit of sleeping, and representing to myself in dreams those same
things, or even sometimes others less probable, which the insane think are presented to them in
their waking moments. How often have I dreamt that I was in these familiar circumstances,
that I was dressed, and occupied this place by the fire, when I was lying undressed in bed? […] He wonders whether he should
stop believing his senses, because
they have sometimes deceived
It seems that some basic
deliverances of our senses are
certain. If I put them in doubt, I
would be considered mad.
But what if I were dreaming?

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