Term Paper: Descartes and Doubt

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Descartes and Doubt - of the Things of Which We May Doubt

At every step along the way to metaphysical enlightenment, Rene Descartes responds intelligently and methodically to his own doubts and skepticism, and readers who are patient and keenly alert can learn a lot through Descartes' constant questioning and evaluating. And according to author Michael Williams (Essays on Descartes' Meditations), by doubting each and every step when first encountering it, Descartes clears his mind "of prejudices that would blind him to new truths" (Williams 117). And why should readers accept that his old truths were no longer viable once his new truths had been uncovered - or that our own past beliefs became absolute once we acquired new beliefs through our process of analyzing and probing? The alert reader should realize that any doubts about what Descartes has written will likely mirror the doubts that Descartes himself had during the presentation of his philosophies. And the thesis of this paper is that doubting is a good thing, a healthy thing; accepting too many truths at face value is not a healthy thing.

What is interesting initially about Descartes' Meditation I is how carefully he leads the reader into believing that now, on page 22, he is mature enough to take on the bigger questions. He knows that most of the opinions he once held were only a foundation for what he was about to discover, and now that his mind is clear and free at working at a leisurely pace, he will attack all that he previously believed. And what he previously believed - and was "misled" by - was based from or through his senses. His argument here (p. 22-23) is a very good one, a believable one.

Once deceived by senses, a person should learn never trust the senses again, Descartes asserts. But he warns on pages 23-24 that life is full of opportunities to be deceived, and that many times when dreaming he has believed he was actually awake, much as now, while writing this Meditation, he might well be dreaming he was doing it. His point in making this distinction is that whether dreaming or awake, the objects and images he sees are based on real things that his experiences have led him to store away in the conscious mind. So, there is the conscious world, where one can doubt as to whether or not one is awake or asleep, and there is the world of Astronomy, Medicine and Physics, which are also of "doubtful character." But Descartes makes a good argument on page 25 by pointing out that there can be no doubt at all when it comes to arithmetic and other sciences "of the same class." Two and two will always be four, whether one is dreaming or not, he points out. But believe in God takes him to a different level of credulity, and a whole new set of questions.

This part of Descartes' writing is both entertaining and enlightening, because who among us has not questioned the presence of a Deity? And in order to follow Descartes' logic in questioning the reality of his world, including God, one has to put his or her own mind to the test. Isn't this the real power behind the Meditation I? Isn't it altogether possible that the reason serious readers feel compelled to analyze this philosopher's work because it is in fact a challenge thrown into each reader's own court? Where am I in this system of questioning, doubting, challenging everything that most other people accept at face value?

If a Deity of some form put us here, or if fate put us here, it matters not in the context of questioning one's own skepticism; and whoever or whatever put us here, did so knowing were to be imperfect beings easily deceived, Descartes is saying on page 26-27.

He questions the Deity and questions whether if the Deity is so "supremely good," why does He allow Descartes to be so easily ("occasionally") deceived? Indeed, if there is a "God" then the question will first be, are humans being deceived as to the power of this God, and the second one will be, why does He allow us to be so easily manipulated by our senses? Is this all a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Descartes and Doubt.  (2006, December 10).  Retrieved December 6, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/descartes-doubt/1126982

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