Considered by many the starting point of modern Western philosophy, Meditations on First Philosophy was written by René Descartes and published in 1641. The meditations are a series of philosophical reflections in which Descartes methodically examines the nature of knowledge, reality, and the self. The work was written during the Scientific Revolution and took part in the emergence of new ways of thinking. In this one brief work, Descartes turned key Aristotelian doctrines upside down and framed many of the questions that philosophers would debate for centuries to come. While we can trace Descartes’s enormous influence to the development of mind-body dualism and modern skepticism, he also provided the Cartesian Circle, the Wax Argument, as well as his theories of ideas, of body, and of perception—all of which became important seeds for philosophical debate. 

The meditations begin with a radical doubt, where Descartes questions the certainty of all beliefs, aiming to establish a secure foundation for knowledge. The famous statement “Cogito, ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”) emerges as a foundational point, affirming the existence of the thinking self. Descartes proceeds to argue for the existence of God and the distinction between mind and body.

Meditations on First Philosophy reflects Descartes’s commitment to mathematical reasoning and skepticism in response to the uncertainties of his time. The work had a profound impact on subsequent philosophical thought, influencing thinkers such as Spinoza, Leibniz, and later philosophers of the Enlightenment. Descartes’s method of systematic doubt and emphasis on the individual's rational capacity continue to shape philosophical inquiries. Its ideas have influenced various works in literature, science, and philosophy.

Read the overall summary, the overall analysis, and an explanation of the Wax Argument in the context of Meditations on First Philosophy. Or, learn more by studying SparkNotes guides to other works by René Descartes.

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