Descartes Meditations by the Time French Philosopher Essay

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By the time French philosopher and mathematician Descartes (1596-1650), the originator of "Cartesian doubt" - a form of philosophical skepticism - came on the scene, no significant alternative had been offered to the idealist (Platonic-Augustinian) and realist (Aristotelian-Thomist) schools. Descartes was dissatisfied by the imprecise nature of philosophical theories. The question to him was whether there was something wrong with these two systems that hindered other philosophers from making progress in philosophy. Descartes believed both traditions suffered from a common flaw. The impasse was created by the lack of "any completely certain truth" that could serve as an indisputable starting point for constructing a genuine system of knowledge (i.e., a science) (Palmquist 2). His idea was that the only way to overcome personal prejudices and preconceived notions would be to doubt everything one believes and start over by developing a method that would guarantee absolute certainty (Carroll 25). He was of the opinion that philosophy should pursue the kind of certainty, clarity and self-evidence one could find in elementary mathematics and geometry. Philosophy was in need of serious reform, if nothing, with respect to its methodology. This insight raised a new question in Descartes' mind: How could such absolute certainty be established? Neither Plato's method of dialogue nor Aristotle's teleological method on their own had been able to produce a solid foundation for a truly rigorous science. Descartes came up with the notion of a new philosophical method that would enable us to establish certainty once and for all. By replacing dialogue with solitary meditation he hoped that in systematically doubting everything we know he would come across something that would be impossible to doubt. This could then serve as an absolutely certain starting point for building a positive philosophical system (Palmquist 3f.). Descartes' Meditations on Fist Philosophy is an attempt to delineate what it is that we know and how it is that we know what we do. (Philosophy 22 Lecture Notes: Descartes 3). Thus, Descartes utilized a method of systematic doubt to weed out those beliefs of which he could not be entirely certain. This approach is called "The Method of Doubt," and Descartes likened it to "that of a man who takes all the apples out of a barrel one by one, inspects them, and then puts the sound ones back" (Bellotti 1). Though Descartes makes a powerful case, I believe that his arguments do not actually support skepticism to the degree that he claims. I think that Descartes "Method of Doubt" hindered his objectives. I will show this at the example of the first of his six meditations. Descartes' Meditation I "What can be called into doubt" opens with the Meditator reflecting on the number of falsehoods he has believed in during his life. It reveals the ground for global skepticism and the new project: The realization of the falsity of past opinions and those other opinions that he built upon them (21 Sep, Wednesday: Meditation I 1). Descartes brings to our attention the idea that our senses are deceptive. He claims that even were our senses to deceive us just once, they would be completely untrustworthy. He argues that our ordinary experience of the world cannot provide the kind of guaranteed foundation on which all other knowledge can be based. We are often disappointed to learn that what we have been taught are merely prejudices, or that what our senses tell us is incorrect. That should make us wonder about whether all the other things that we think might likewise be mistaken. In order to test what we think we know is truly correct, Descartes suggests that we adopt a method that will avoid error by tracing what we know back to a firm foundation of indubitable beliefs (Descartes' Method of Doubt 1). I think that Descartes is correct in his claim that the senses deceive us in some cases. Nevertheless, I find that his general skepticism is not warranted. This can be shown by the following argument. I n order to make his case, Descartes presents a variety of examples in which he has found that his senses deceived him. To be justified in claiming that the senses deceive, a person would need to be able to recognize when an error has taken place. In other words, the person would need to be able to distinguish between being mistaken and being correct. For example, to know that the 'heat mirages' that occur on paved roads are 'deceptions', one would need to know that they are optical illusions and hence what is seen is not what is actually there. But, in knowing this, one is able to see through the deception and thus avoid being deceived (La Bossiere 1). "Cartesian skepticism" advocates the doubting of all things which cannot be justified through logic. The establishment of a secure foundation for the sciences is the end (Yates 1). In my opinion, Descartes 'corresponding philosophical proposition fails the criterion of "falsifiability" required of any empirical theory. He does not even take into consideration that there might be something that is between "certain" and "uncertain." Furthermore, I think that just because some of our sense experiences are mistaken, does not necessarily imply that this is reason enough to suspect (even hypothetically) all of them. And besides, we know that some of our experiences are wrong only because we have the ability to know that some of them are correct, and that result we have to really on other sense experiences (see The Method of Doubt 2). If we have to doubt everything as suggested by Descartes, we also must doubt whether we are truly doubting (The Method of Doubt 2). I would also argue that Descartes' claim that we should limit knowledge only to that about which we are absolutely certain of is far too limited. People do have this strong habit of relying n our past convictions. Even if they are occasionally misleading, they are [nevertheless] very probable (21 September, Wednesday: Meditation I 2). Limiting human knowledge only to those issues about which we are certain would bring scientific research virtually to a standstill. Sciences, such as physics, astronomy and medicine all depend on the consideration of things that are doubtful (21 September, Wednesday: Meditation I 2). With this approach Descartes has an opportunity to bring doubt to bare on the [overwhelming] whole class of beliefs that are based on sensory perceptions (Bellotti 1). Descartes' notion would also discourage people from learning new things and exploring new ways broadening their minds. In my opinion, it is not a contradiction to say that we know things without having to guarantee that what we know is based on an indubitable foundation (see The Method of Doubt 2). In Meditation I, Descartes -- among other hypotheses - uses the so called "Dream Argument" to open all our knowledge to doubt. In the passage where Descartes presents the dream argument he examines how being awake and asleep are undistinguishable. His argument is as follows: First he notes that he sleeps and that there are occasions when he thinks he is awake and in the presence of real objects but is in fact asleep and dreaming. Then he says that that does not appear to be the case now, for what happens in sleep does not appear "so clear and so distinct" as his present experiences. Descartes seeks to sustain his skepticism with respect to the senses. He asks: Even if senses deceive us sometimes, would it be reasonable to distrust the immediate (close) experiences such as "I am sitting next to a fire; I am wearing a gown; I have hands etc." There is one main argument to doubt this. We know that in dreams we feel like we are actually having those immediate experiences. I would question whether there are no ultimately reliable marks to distinguish dream-state from awake-state. Can we really not tell dreams from our awake experiences? Or, if the dream argument is accepted, then our skepticism regarding senses could be easily generalized to all sense-experience (see 21 September, Wednesday: Meditation I 1). I think Descartes is mistaken by that notion. La Bossiere (2) rightfully makes the point that based on his own experience, the state he calls "dreaming" differs from the state he regards as being awake in many ways. One main difference is that the "dream" world lacks the continuity of the "waking" world. In the "waking" world things remain mostly the same from day-to-day. If he would go to "sleep" and would wake up, the next day his truck will still be a basic Tacoma pickup. But, he might have a 'dream' in which he has a Porsche. Yet, unlike his trusty Tacoma, the Porsche will not be readily available for him drive to work the next morning. The other valid argument Bossiere presents to exemplify the discernable difference between the "dream" world and the "waking" world is that both worlds have completely different rules or laws. In the "dream" world, people can… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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