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Descartes' Meditations (PH9E5)

Descartes’ masterpiece gave birth to modern philosophy. In it, Descartes took himself to have defended the possibility of human knowledge. In the course of doing that, he took himself to have demonstrated that each of us can know that we exist, that God exists, and that our minds are non-corporeal substances. That much seems uncontroversial, but the details remain opaque. We’ll undertake a close reading of the text shaped, in part, by reflection on its historical context. Our twin aims will be to understand and to assess Descartes’ arguments.

The following is a list of topics for this module in the 2016/17 academic year; precise seminar content may change from year to year.

  • Intellectual Background to the Meditations
  • First Meditation: Scepticism and the Method Doubt
  • Second Meditation: The Cogito; Understanding what this ‘I’ is; the Mind is better known than body
  • Third Meditation: Extracting a method from the Cogito; the theory of ideas; two arguments for the existence of God
  • Fourth Meditation: Judgement, Error and the Will
  • Fifth Meditation: The Ontological Argument for God’s existence
  • Intermission: The exit from scepticism and the Cartesian Circle
  • Sixth Meditation: The Real Distinction between Mind and Body; Mind-Body Interaction and the Material World

Module Director

Guy Longworth


This module is worth either 20/30 CATS depending on your programme of study.

Download Sample Reading List for this Module(PDF Document)