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Descartes Knowledge Essay

1036 words - 4 pages


Descartes Knowledge

The question of
our existence in reality is a question which philosophers have tackled throughout time. This essay will look at the
phrase, cogito ergo sum or I think therefore I am, a phrase brought about by Rene Descartes. This phrase is the
backbone of Descartes whole philosophy of our existence in reality. As long as we are thinking things, we exist.
When we look at this approach to our existence we must first deny that any sensory data that we receive is
believable or it is conceivable that it is false. This means that we can’t really know that anything we perceive
through our senses is actually an accurate interpretation of reality. After we’ve established that our senses aren’t
totally reliable we then have to look at what we know of without our senses. Descartes says that the only thing
that we can be sure of is that we are thinking things. Even in denying that we are thinking things we are affirming
the actual point that we look to deny. The thought that we are not thinking things is still a thought and therefore
proof that we are thinking things. For it is not conceivable for one to think of a point at which we are not thinking.
We can try to persuade ourselves that there are times when we are not thinking but in doing so we see that we do
exist. For it is impossible to persuade nothing of something, so our existence is solely dependent on the fact that
we are things, thinking things that can be persuaded. Even though the fact that we are thinking things doesn’t
necessarily prove that we are human beings, it does prove that we are beings. At this point Descartes would say
that we don’t know what we are just that we are. A thinking thing really has a very vague description and cannot
really be applied to us as beings which we perceive. So what is the connection between what we believe to be us
and what is us? Descartes would say we have experiences of what we think we are. For example, even though
our senses aren’t reliable, when we see things we still have the experience of seeing that thing. Even if in a dream,
an apple is still experienced as our definition of an apple. An apple in a dream will still look and smell the same as
an apple to us in wakefulness because the experience is the same. Because we really don’t definitely know if we
are awake or asleep at any time we can only say that the experience of the apple is certain in our minds. So we
are thinking things which are constantly having experiences of what we think is reality or the world without. These
experiences are what define the outside world, if in fact there is an outside world to us. Descartes says that all of
these things aren’t learnt but that we know them a priori or without experience. Descartes gives the example of a
ball of wax. When this ball of wax is heated it becomes soft and changes shape. When it is heated more it
becomes a liquid...

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