If you want to blame someone for problems in evangelicalism, Descartes is a good guy to look to.

I’ve aired some of my own suspicions about his philosophical program around here, which has brought some chastisement from my friend and fellow writer Gary Hartenburg.

While I am skeptical of Descartes, I’m also wary about his critics.  I wonder just how many of us have actually read the guy.   Most people, I think, haven’t.  They’ve read about him, or read others who have read him.  And that’s something that we want remedy.

But since reading books is no fun without talking about them, we decided to talk about Descartes.  We are inviting Mere-O readers to a discussion on Descartes’ Meditations that will happen in two stages.  Here are the details:

  • Dates:  Saturday, February 27th and Saturday, March 6th
  • Time:  12:00 a.m. CST
  • Length:  2 Hours Each
  • Means:  We’re going to use something called telephones. Details will be sent later.
  • Cost:  zip, nada, nothing.
  • Who:  you.  But only 10 of you.
  • How:  graciously, candidly, honestly, directly.
  • Requirements:  read the whole book before the first class.  Don’t worry, it’s short.
  • Which book?  This is the preferred edition.  But we’ll let you sneak in if you don’t have it.

If you’re interested in participating, put your name in the comments.  First preference will be given to those who have subscribed to Mere-O by RSS or email, so if you have, let me know that in the comments to.  And if you haven’t, now is a good chance to do that.  And if you have a blog and really want to increase your chances, link back to this post and let your readers know.

While we’re trying this with 10 people to start, if the interest is high we’ll continue doing it with other books.

Of course, this is going to be a discussion.  Which means we’ve gotta have a leader.  And for that, I’ve asked Gary Hartenburg to do the honors.

Besides being a contributor here at Mere-O, Gary Hartenburg is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the California State University, Fullerton, and a regular visiting faculty member for the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He is currently earning his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of California, Irvine.

On a personal note, Gary happens to be one of the most judicious and careful thinkers I know and a brilliant discussion leader.  Which makes him a perfect guy to do this sort of experiment with.  Plus, for those of us no longer in a university setting, this is an opportunity to spend two hours chatting with other like-minded folks about a text that we all need help to understand.

I’m excited about this.  While other blogs have read books together, very few have taken those readings into a real-time conversation.  And almost none of them have done so with a Ph.D. candidate leading the way.

So join us for our little experiment.  It could flop, but it could be the most interesting 4 hours you spend in 2010.  And for that, it’s worth trying.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. I would be interested in this. I’ve been a subscriber to your RSS feed for a while now. Read Descartes a bit in college, and this interaction seems fascinating. speric@gmail.com


  2. Mr. Anderson. I don’t subscribe with RSS, but I do subscribe “in spirit” if not in truth. This sounds like a good idea and I think I share your position re: Descartes. Like “post-modernism” and “the Greeks” he is frequently blamed for everything from declining church attendance to scientific naturalism and I just find it hard to believe that he’s as bad as his critics make him out to be. Nevertheless, like post-modernity, I find I actually do find reasons to oppose the consequences of his tear-down project, if not his project directly.


  3. This is a great idea, Matt.


  4. Christof,

    You should subscribe in RSS. You’ll hurt my feelings otherwise.

    And I’m going to reserve further comment on the guy until after the discussion. : )

    Thanks, Cate.



  5. Relive the best part of your college education: a rare opportunity to read what others only talk about: http://bit.ly/bJ5Yq0 #fb

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter


  6. I’m interested in attending the March session. I’m definitely a fan of Descartes, though it’s been awhile since I read him.


  7. Eric,

    We’re definitely on to do this. Attending both sessions is preferable, but understandable if you can only get to one. Just let me know.



  8. […] by Matthew Lee Anderson @ 2:58 am | Categories: Uncategorized | 0 Comments` A few weeks ago, we announced that we were going to read Descartes with a small group of Mere-O readers.  And we still […]


  9. I’d like to participate. I’m signed up for the RSS feed and just found out about your website via biola.edu. Look forward to it. Can I participate via a cell phone? I’ve read some philosophy as an undergrad but not Descartes. Thanks.


  10. Hi Matt, hope you got my Email. Even though I know nothing about this Descartes I will give it a try.

    Robert Ludlam will have to move aside for awhile

    Sincerely Jeff Allen


    1. Both of you are definitely in, and added to my list. I’ll send out an email with more information (i.e. the number to call, etc.) the week before we do the first one.


  11. Reading an author’s work directly is fine, but if I recall correctly from JP’s “Love Your God with All Your Mind”, you’re far better off reading reviews first before approaching many old texts.

    Descartes’ Meditations is one of the best examples possible of why this is so. What is the purpose of the work? Is the best way to find out to read it yourself first? No. Margaret D. Wilson (among others) has convincingly argued that many important understandings of Descartes have simply never made it across the pond to the English speaking philosophical world, so that if you want to understand him you need to consult those who travel in the French-speaking circles.

    He was a self-avowed enemy of the Aristotelian/Scholastic view. Therefore knowing a fair amount about that view is a requirement to knowing what Descartes was up to in the Meditations. Analytical philosophers don’t get why the Thomists display almost a personal dislike for Descartes, but it is well to remember that Descartes had a quite personal hatred for the ideas of the Schoolmen, and Thomists well know it -historical buffs that they are. We have in Descartes’ own words on the purpose of Meditations and this also tends to be ignored by analytical philosophers. We also know Descartes was fearful of church disaproval of his work and abandoned plans for a previous book after Galileo was condemned. This is from a letter Descartes wrote to Mersenne (an associate) in the same year the Meditations were published:

    “I may tell you, between ourselves, that these six Meditations contain all the foundations of my physics. But please do not tell people, for that might make it harder for supporters of Aristotle to approve them. I hope that readers will gradually get used to my principles, and recognize their truth, before they notice that they destroy the principles of Aristotle.”

    Analytical philosophers are an ahistorical bunch, and they often act like texts fell from the sky and analyze them in isolation, and if you ask me sometimes they skirt dangerously close to the “what does this passage mean to me” approach we see in biblical interpretation.

    Here are a few good books that come to mind that I’d suggest *before* reading the Meditations to give critical background. Good books in any case.

    History of the Mind-Body Problem – Tim Crane (editor)
    Descartes – Margaret D. Wilson
    Gilson’s – Unity of Philosophical Experience

    I hope this is beneficial to someone. Cheers.


  12. Mark,

    The only way all those scholars you quoted learned anything about Descartes was by reading the original source.

    So if that’s what JP said, I graciously register my disagreement.

    But really, I don’t understand the screed against analytic philosophers and how they read texts. Where did you pick up the impression that what we were doing had anything to do with analytic philosophy?




  13. Of course they read them -in the original for many and probably all, and please don’t tell me I’m advocating that because I didn’t. It wasn’t a screed against analytic philosophers. Geez lighten up.


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