Rene Descartes, in his Meditations on First Philosophy endeavors to resolve the most enduring philosophical questions ever to challenge man, namely: Do I exist? And: Does God exist? His second and third meditations, translated by Donald A. Cress, deal specifically with these queries. Ultimately, Descartes determines that he cannot doubt the existence of either himself or of God.
ôMeditation Twoö aims to assuage any doubt that the author does indeed exist. Descartes begins this process by forgoing the existence of all things that his ôdeceitful memory represents ever existedö (Cress, 1998, p. 63). In this, he abandons the senses and the body, reducing his sphere of knowledge to contain only the fact that nothing is certain. Essentially, Descartes must persuade himself that there is nothing in the world: ôno sky, no earth, no minds, no bodiesö (Cress, 1998, p. 64).
From this, can he then possibly deduce that he does not exist? The answer to this seemingly simple question is a resounding ônoö. He must exist, for the very act of persuading oneself of some notion (even if that notion is that nothing exists), indicates that there does (and must) exist a self that can be persuaded. Descartes admits that it is possible that his meditation may be the product of a grand deception, that it is possible that a supremely powerful being is perpetually and deliberately deceiving him. Therefore, his contentions may be false. However, that he his capable of conceiving of himself as something (which he certainly is), and that he is capable of being deceived (which he cannot deny), both support the basic claim that even if he has been deceived about everything, so long as he thinks that he is something, then it cannot be that he is nothing. A supreme deceiver, Descartes insists, should one exist, can ônever bring it about that I am nothing, so long as I shall think that I am somethingö (Cress, 1998, p. 64).