René Descartes’s 1641 Meditations on First Philosophy is a cornerstone of the history of western thought. One of the most important philosophical texts ever written, it is also a masterclass in the art of critical thinking – specifically when it comes to reasoning and interpretation.

Descartes sought to do nothing less than create a new foundation for the pursuit of knowledge – whether philosophical, scientific, or theological. To that end, he laid out a systematic programme that reinterpreted prior definitions of knowledge, and reasoned out a systematic means of obtaining, verifying, and building on existing human knowledge. To this end, Descartes created a definition of true knowledge as that which is based on things which cannot be called into doubt by radical scepticism. If, he suggests, we can find a belief that cannot be called into doubt, this will provide a solid foundation upon which we can build systematic reasoning. This ‘cartesian’ method, as it has come to be known, is a blueprint for reasoning that continues to shape the study of philosophy today: a careful weighing of possibilities, searching out solid ground and building on it step by step.

chapter |5 pages

Ways In to the Text

part 1|20 pages


chapter 1|5 pages

The Author and the Historical Context

chapter 2|5 pages

Academic Context

chapter 3|4 pages

The Problem

chapter 4|5 pages

The Author’s Contribution

part 2|20 pages


chapter 5|5 pages

Main Ideas

chapter 6|6 pages

Secondary Ideas

chapter 7|4 pages


chapter 8|4 pages

Place in the Author’s Work

part 3|21 pages


chapter 9|5 pages

The First Responses

chapter 10|5 pages

The Evolving Debate

chapter 11|5 pages

Impact and Influence Today

chapter 12|4 pages

Where Next?