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A Method Of Doubt And Descartes

4782 words - 19 pages

A Method of Doubt and Descartes

In his first meditation, Descartes sets out with amazing clarity and persistence to clear himself of every false idea that he has acquired previous to this, and determine what he truly knows. To rid him of these "rotten apples" he has developed a method of doubt with a goal to construct a set of beliefs on foundations which are indubitable. On these foundations, Descartes applies three levels of skepticism, which in turn, generate three levels at which our thoughts may be deceived by error. Descartes states quite explicitly in the synopsis, that we can doubt all things which are material as long as "we have no foundations for the sciences other than those which we have had up till now"(synopsis:12). This skepticism also implies that doubt can free us from prejudices, enabling the mind to escape the deception of the senses, and possibly discover a truth which is beyond doubt. The first and main deception in Descartes opinion has evolved from sense perception "What ever I have up till now accepted as most true I have acquired either from the senses or through the sense. But from time to time I have found that the senses deceive, and it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once"(1:18[13]). At the root of our beliefs, Descartes argues, lie the experiences we gain from our senses, because these are sometimes mistaken, as in the case of mirages or objects which appear small in the distance, and because of this he will now forfeit all of his most reliable information . More importantly it may be to follow in the steps of Plato and require knowledge that is certain and absolute ( Prado 1992 ). This argument consists of four main premises: 1. All that he has accepted as true up to this point, he has acquired by the senses or Cartesian Doubt 3 through the senses; 2. but on occasion these senses have been deceptive. 3. It is wise not to trust anything that has been deceiving in the past 4. Therefore, it is possible to be mistaken about everything. In premise one his beliefs are derived from the senses, such as he sees that he has a paper in his hand and concludes that it is a paper, and what is meant by through the senses, is that his beliefs may have been based on others sense experience. All Descartes requires for the second premise is the possibility that he may have been deceived, for if he cannot decide which is wrong, than he must not have any knowledge. This leads to the third premise where it seems at least reasonable to assume, that if one has been deceived previously, there is no absolute assurance that it is presently correct. Therefore, there is a chance of being deceived about everything. But many critics will argue that several of these false percepts can be corrected by means of alternative senses, such as he bent stick in water example. Although our sight may be tricked into thinking that the mirage exists, by using the sense of touch we can correct this falseness, and...

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