Am I Descartes or are you?
Mon 17 Jan 2011 03:43 AM
One thing that commentators on Descartes fret about is who the "I" is who narrates the meditations. One natural interpretation is that it is a rhetorical device to draw the reader into the project of doubting everything. When I read the Meditations, I am supposed to recognize that I myself - at that instant - might be dreaming. In reading, the "I" is not Descartes but rather me the reader.
Reading the Meditations again, I began to wonder how different it would be if it had been written as a dialogue instead. The place of the reader would then sometimes be given in the second person:
Surely [says Socrates, Philonous, or whoever is the dialogue's voice of wisdom] you must admit that there is no sign by which you can tell you are not dreaming this whole conversation.
Struth! [replies the dialogue's rube] Indeed it is so. The fact that I am speaking as if in stage play suggests that it may truly be a dream.
I am not sure if any philosophical substance would be lost in this alternate-universe version of the Meditations. The text would be somewhat longer, however, because the dialogue would include pleasantries among its characters at the start of each Meditation:
I have done as you suggested and imagined a demon hell-bent on deceiving me. Quite frankly, it made for rather a grim breakfast. Perhaps today you can convince me of the existence of bacon.
You are too hasty. The probable existence of bacon is still days away.