In René Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes creates a whole new method of doubt and skepticism for building a foundation for knowledge. This essay will primarily focus on Meditations I and II.
In Meditation I, Descartes describes his method as comprised of three levels of doubt in which each level is more extreme than the one before it. His doubt is aimed at tearing down any presuppositions he once previously had accepted and starting over.
His first level of doubt is aimed at his senses. Since the senses have deceived him in the past, he states that it is wise to deny the truth of them and to doubt that they provide him any truth to anything outside of him. He says “All that up to the present time I have accepted most true and certain I have learned either from the senses or through the senses; but it is sometimes proved to me that these senses are deceptive, and it is wiser not to trust entirely to any thing by which we have once been deceived” (Kolak 43).
The second level is to doubt whether he is awake or dreaming. Dreams, he says, can be so powerful that one can believe that the dream world is the real world. So therefore he says that it is possible that one can be living in a dream and not know it. Descartes says that this level is still not radical enough to get to where he wants with his doubt. Even in dreams, he says, three and two make five and a square can never have more than four sides (Kolak 44).
The final level of doubt is the most radical of them all. Descartes states that it could be possible that there is a sort of evil genius which is deceiving his thoughts into believing that three and two make five. He says this deceiver cannot be God, for God is supremely good and is the fountain of truth but that this being must be something highly powerful. He states: “…I shall consider myself as having no hands, no eyes, no flesh, no blood, nor any senses, yet falsely believing myself to posses all these things…” (Kolak 45).
Now under this new doubt, Descartes tries to prove what exactly is knowingly true in his Meditation II. He comes to the conclusion that he can only prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he exists. Because he thinks therefore he exists.
“But how can I know there is not something different from those things that I have just considered, of which one cannot have the slightest doubt? Is there not some God, or some other being by whatever name we call it, who puts these reflections in my mind? That is not necessary, for is it not possible that I am capable of producing them myself? I myself, am I not at least something? But I have already denied that I had senses and body. Yet I hesitate, for what follows from that? Am I so dependent on body and sense that I cannot exist without these? But I was persuaded that there was nothing in all the world, that there was no heaven, no earth, that there were no minds nor any bodies: was I not then likewise persuaded that I did not exist? Not at all; of a surety I myself did exist since I persuaded myself of something [or merely because I thought of something]. But there is some deceiver or other, very powerful and very cunning, who ever employs his ingenuity in deceiving me. Then without a doubt I exist if he deceives me, and let him deceive me as much as he will, he can never cause me to be nothing so long as I think that I am something. So that after having reflected well and carefully examined all things, we must come to the definite conclusion that this proposition: I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time I pronounce it, or that I mentally conceive it” (Kolak 46).
Descartes says the only thing anyone can really fully know is that he exists and everything else must be believed by some level of faith or a presupposition. The cogito is a Latin verb which means “to think.” Our real selves are comprised of our thoughts according to Descartes. He summed this up by saying “Cogito ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am.”
While Descartes method of doubt is absurd to actually believe, it is quite interesting to ponder and realize that we have and employ faith on a daily basis for the most simple of things. We trust that our senses give us accurate information and that past experiences of things still happen exactly the same in the present.
Kolak, Daniel, and Garrett Thomson. The Longman Standard History of Modern Philosophy. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Longman, 2006. Print.
Descartes' Method of Doubt Essay
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Descartes' Method of Doubt
In this essay I will assess Descartes's employment of his Method of Doubt, as presented in his Meditations on the First Philosophy [Descartes 1641]. I will argue that by implicitly accepting a causal model of perception, Descartes did not apply the Method of Doubt as fully as he could have.
The Method of Doubt
Descartes's principal task in the Meditations was to devise a system that would bring him to the truth. He wanted to build a foundational philosophy; a basic edifice from which all further intellectual enquiry could be built. It was essential that his foundational beliefs were sound. If any one of them were at all in doubt, then it put the credibility of the whole structure of knowledge in…show more content…
The underlying principle behind Descartes's sceptical approach is that there is a distinction between belief and truth. For example, having made a pot of tea five minutes ago, I may well believe that it is now full and ready to pour. But in truth, perhaps, someone else may already have drunk the tea and emptied the pot while I was out of the kitchen waiting for it to brew. Although I think this is unlikely, and I continue to believe the pot is full of tea, I cannot be sure of it. Thus it is possible that I may believe something, but to my surprise find that it is not true. This situation is not inconsistent. The Method of Doubt ultimately involves the task of removing all uncertain beliefs, ensuring that only beliefs that are certainly true beliefs remain in one's philosophy. Descartes states in the first paragraph of Meditation 1 that 'I had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions for true, and that consequently what I afterwards based on such principles was highly doubtful; and ... I was convinced of the necessity of undertaking ... to rid myself of all the opinions I had adopted'.
Descartes saw that the Method of Doubt could be applied, generally, to a whole class of beliefs. Thus he would not have to indulge in the laborious endeavour of checking each and every one of his beliefs, separately. Instead, he could deal with them in groups by doubting any common characteristic that they may share. 'Nor for this purpose will it be necessary