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  • 1. Why is mathematics important to Descartes and Plato? What is it about mathematics they find so appealing? How do they view reality in relation to mathematics?
  • 2. How does Descartes attempt to dissolve the conflict between science and religion? To what extent does he succeed? Can we trust that he is not compromising his philosophical thinking to please the church?
  • 3. How does Descartes view the senses? Under what circumstances can we trust them? Does his standpoint differ essentially from Plato’s? Why, or why not?
  • 4. How does Descartes’s thinking thing compare with Plato’s soul? How do Descartes and Plato view the mind? Do they have significantly different views on what the essence of the mind is, or are their views similar?
  • 5. Why does Descartes think there are two different types of substance? Is he right? Why could there not be only one type of substance or many? Is there a way of thinking about reality that does not involve substances?
  • 6. Is it possible to prove that the external world exists? Is this an important question? What would you say to someone who was concerned about this question? Suppose the person asked you to prove to him or her that the external world existed. How would you respond?
  • 7. What is the root of the mind-body problem? Is there something about Descartes’s assumptions that creates the mind-body problem? What would that be? What would you say to a dualist who claimed that Descartes was right? What would be the best way to argue against him or her? What would be the best argument that the dualist could use?
  • 8. Is Descartes’s dream argument convincing? Edgar Allan Poe seemed to have read Descartes’s dream argument when he famously wrote that “life is nothing but a dream within a dream.” Could you prove that you are not dreaming or that life is not a dream within a dream?
  • 9. A variant of Descartes’s evil demon setup has been explored in the Matrix movies. How do you know you are not living in the Matrix with your sensory experiences fabricated? How would you convince someone who claims we are living in the Matrix that he or she is wrong? How would you convince someone that he or she is, in fact, living in the Matrix? Can we learn something from the radical skepticism involved in Descartes’s evil demon setup? What would that be?
  • 10. Do animals have minds and consciousness? How does Descartes reason that they don’t? Are all animals conscious? If not, how do we know which ones are conscious and which ones are not?
  • 11. What is solipsism? Why is solipsism a problem for Descartes? Do you think solipsism is a real problem? Why, or why not? Could you prove to a solipsist that he or she is not alone in the universe? If so, how would you do that? Would it make sense for anyone to claim that he or she is a solipsist?
  • 12. Do we have free will? Is it possible to prove we are free? Is it possible to prove we are not free? Would it matter to a person how he or she behaved if that person believed he or she was free, or not? Would someone who thought he or she was free act differently from someone who thought he or she was not free?


Barnes, J. (1995). The Cambridge companion to Aristotle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Damasio, A. R. (1994). Descartes’ error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain. New York: Putnam.

Descartes, R., & Moriarty, M. (2008). Meditations on first philosophy: With selections from the objections and replies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Galileo, G. (1960). The assayer. In G. Galilei, H. Grassi, M. Guiducci, & J. Kepler (Eds.), The controversy on the comets of 1618 (S. Drake & C. D. O’Malley, Trans.). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. (Original work published 1623).

Matthews, G. B. (1980). Philosophy and the young child. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Plato. (2004). Republic (C. D. C. Reeve, Trans.). Indianapolis: Hackett.

Whitehead, A. N. (1979). Process and reality: An essay in cosmology. New York: Free Press.

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