A Beginners Guide to Descartes’s Meditations

(Wiley-Blackwell, 2007)

René Descartes’s Meditations on the First Philosophy is undeniably one of the most important works in Western philosophy. First published in 1641, it contains the bulk of Descartes’s central philosophical opinions, making it an ideal introduction to the founding father of modern philosophy.

A Beginner’s Guide to Descartes’s Meditations offers a concise and readable summary of the Meditations, geared toward students embarking on their studies (at A-level, or on undergraduate degree courses) and general readers. Well illustrated with tables, diagrams, and images, it provides a clear explanation of the seventeenth century text’s central themes, ideas, and terminology. The guide balances critical analyses of Descartes’s main arguments with discussion of his correspondence with his contemporaries (the Objections and Replies) and subsequent criticism. It also provides references to further readings, films, and literature that contain similar philosophical themes. A glossary of difficult terms and relevant biographical and historical information make A Beginner’s Guide to Descartes’s Meditations an ideal companion for those new to the study of philosophy.

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This book is currently available in paperback and hardback editions from various sellers (I’ve listed a few of these below). If you are having difficulty getting hold of a copy where you live, please get in touch. NOTE: some of the links below are affiliate links – see here for more information.

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Reviews

As the costs of textbooks continue to soar without surcease we should be grateful to Southwell and Blackwell Publishing for producing such a highly effective teaching tool for just under twenty dollars.

International Philosophical Quarterly, 2010

Perfect! BUY THIS! This is the best book on Descartes’s Meditations. Accessible and has great analogies! Very clear.

Amazon review (5 stars)

In my first year studying philosophy, I found getting to grips with Descartes quite difficult. This book basically allowed me to get a first in my exam. I cannot recommend this book enough.

Michelle, Amazon review (5 stars)

I purchased this book upon starting the ‘set texts’ module of AS level philosophy. I was studying this module without any teaching, and used this book as my main revision tool. It is very readable and interesting, and it really helped me to achieve 100/100 on my philosophy exam!

I fully recommend this book to anyone who wishes to gain a full understanding of Descartes’ Meditations. It is not too complicated, but neither is it too simplistic. The book includes useful tables, diagrams and easy-to-read sections about each chapter of Descartes’ book.

I truly believe that I could not have achieved such a good mark on my philosophy exam had it not been for this book :]

T. Leggett, Amazon review (5 stars)

Hats off to Gareth for a great guide to Descartes’ Meditations. This book is ideal for A Level students (and teachers like myself). It covers all the key arguments of The Meditations in order (including the cogito, the wax argument, ontological argument, etc.), then delves deeply into the critical themes of the text, such as certainty, the existence of God and dualism, providing some much needed evaluation points along the way. There’s a useful overview of The Meditations providing snapshots of just the main points, as well as selected summaries from the Objections and Replies that can form the basis of discussion of the text with students. The whole thing is written in a light, accessible style with good humour and clearly with students in mind.

N. Condliffe, Amazon review (5 stars)

“When I began teaching AS Level philosophy at short notice I was very grateful for the author’s philosophyonline resource, which formed the starting point for this book and which I still heartily recommend. The summaries which first appeared online, particularly those of the objections and replies, are highly useful and the author’s precise and entertaining drawings add to the book’s appeal (I particularly like Galileo vs Aristotle).

It can be difficult to find texts that are a suitable complement to A Level study as most authors seem to think that they can get away with writing books that are suitable for first year undergraduates and above with very little compromise. Even some of the books supposedly written specifically for the AQA syllabus are guilty of this, though there are signs that this is being addressed for the new syllabus.

This book genuinely attempts to explain the basics at the right level due to the author’s own teaching experience and is therefore highly welcome. Sections that I found particularly strong include a clear treatment of the wax example in the Second Meditation, with helpful illustration, and a useful section on Rationalism v Empiricism in the Critical Themes chapter. This chapter includes plenty of useful discussion but I feel that some areas, for example clear and distinct ideas, are not quite as sharp as the Philosophy In Focus guide: ideally the two could perhaps be used in conjunction but I would not hesitate to recommend this book in isolation as there is certainly sufficient here for an A grade. I am also using it for this year’s synoptic paper and it looks as though it will serve well for A2 in the new syllabus.

So, a very welcome teaching aid that fills a gap in the market, and I will be buying the Nietzsche book in the same series shortly as I consider whether to teach the beloved iconoclast next time round.

Tom Wickenby, Amazon review (4 stars)