This post isn’t about the 1st Meditation, but just taking the liberty to say what I generally think of Descartes and The Meditations.
I feel very sympathetic with his philosophy and, although I can see that his thought lead to the ‘ghost in the machine’ and even just mechanism, I think that criticism of those ideas is unfairly levelled at Descartes himself and that his influence is often based on misunderstandings of his philosophy.
I think my sympathy lies partly with his aims and partly with the form of his philosophy, at least in The Meditations.
The principle value of The Meditations for Descartes is clearly, as the title states, the ‘demonstration of the existence of God and the real distinction of soul and body’, but that hasn’t been his legacy. And what Descartes means by the ‘I’, or mind, is far from a ghost – it is our doubts, affirmations, loves, hates, feelings, our imaginations, perception, will etc. It is our essence and soul. To dismiss what we most deeply are as a daydream or mistake of thought might only be an expression of (to paraphrase Descartes) the ‘difficulty we have of lifting our eyes above tangible things’ – ‘above ideas received from the senses’ – which neither the soul nor God are.
What I love about the form of The Meditations is the way it takes place on successive days, and its immediacy and the directness with which Descartes speaks to us. There is a brilliant simplicity to the way he settles down to truly think through these things in his dressing-gown by the oven. The form isn’t a device, and it is more than a thought-experiment; he really seems to be going through the experience of doubting everything and being all at sea the first day, then, on the second, thrilled at the discovery of a certainty to overcome scepticism. The next day, affirming the existence of God and pausing, with “the greatest happiness available to us in this life”, to contemplate the ‘diving Majesty’, and so on.