Great Books III Fall 2021

Discourse on Method and The Meditations - Rene Descartes

"What is Real?"

Reading/Discussion Schedule

Aug 31 - Discourses 1-3; September 3 - Discourses 3-6;

September 7 - Meditations 1-3; September 10 - Meditations 4-6


Reading Prompts 

August 31 

  1. What does Descartes mean by the statement: "there is only one truth of each thing."?
  2. Which of his four steps in Discourse 2 is most difficult?
  3. How does Descartes ultimately acquire certainty of anything?
  4. What is Descartes' ultimate goal?
  5. What causes us to change our minds? What causes us to realize that we are wrong?
  6. What would be Descartes' first axiom in the world of things knowable?
  7. Draw a picture of his conception of the whole of knowledge.
  8. Scan the Rules for the Direction of the Mind. Select one that you wish to discuss in class.

September 3

  1. Describe the steps that lead up to Descartes' "cogito." What follows?
  2. What is required in order to be a sceptic? What are the risks and benefits?
  3. What if there exists no "I"?
  4. How does Descartes know that there is something besides Descartes? That there is a God?

September 7

  1. Is it possible to invent a new color?
  2. How are we to determine whether we are dreaming?
  3. What is the most important lesson for Descartes w/r/t to the wax?
  4. What happens to our world if there is no human thought/thinking?
  5. What is objective reality? formal reality?
  6. Where does reality reside?
  7. What is the connection between objective reality and cause/effect?
  8. What is the difference between essence and existence? between an idea and an object?
  9. Where does God reside?
  10. What is the essence of Descartes' proof of God's existence? How does he pull it off?

This is worth your time:

Rules for the Direction of the Mind


Short Writing - Due Electronically by September 7

Write one page on either a) What is Real? or b) What does it mean to be Cartesian? 

Aim for creative thought.

September 10

  1. Bring your own Cartesian questions.
  2. Which is more important: avoiding error or finding truth?
  3. How do we know that corporeal objects exist?
  4. Why does Descartes treat this problem at the end?
  5. Explain Descartes' conceptualization of sin.
  6. In what way is imperfection a part of God's perfection?
  7. What is the connection between the corporeal world and objective/formal reality?







Ludwig Wittgenstein

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

6.41 The sense of the world must lie outside the world. In the world everything is as it is and happens as it does happen. In it there is no value—and if there were, it would be of no value. If there is a value which is of value, it must lie outside all happening and being-so. For all happening and being-so is accidental. What makes it non-accidental cannot lie in the world, for otherwise this would again be accidental. It must lie outside the world.