Within Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes undertakes a worthy goal: the discovery of the sources of doubt with the ultimate result being more truthful opinions, assertions, and arguments. Descartes was well ahead of his times, forging a pathway to more rigorous scholarship through the casting of doubt upon his “opinions”. Unfortunately, however, Descartes was either unable or unwilling to cast doubt upon his primary source of fallibility: his exaltation of all things cerebral and his concurrent disdain for the physical body. Because of this, he was either unable or unwilling to rigorously scrutinize his opinion/belief regarding the existence of God. Instead, he chose to focus his doubt-casting (skepticism) upon his senses, going so far as to suggest that since dreaming can mimic the “real world”, he cannot trust what his eyes see, or his hands uncover.
His focus upon the senses as the primary source of doubt is typical of Descartes, given that he asserted that it was his thoughts which were his essence, the very definition of who he was (who we all are). Yet, I argue that it was his inability to cast doubt upon his intellectual reasoning vis-à-vis the existence of supernatural entities (God) in any substantive way that led to his ultimately controversial approach to finding and resolving sources of doubt. Further, I argue that because Descartes insisted upon limiting his pool of useful knowledge to that which he, himself, uncovered (or thought about), he missed an obvious way to find and fix any possible errors stemming from faulty sensory perceptions; namely, the testing and validation (or elimination) of hypotheses by other researchers. If I perceive that a ball falls at the same rate as a block of wood as they both plummet from the roof of a tall building to the ground (as did Galileo), I do not have to trust what the senses tell me; I can ask several other people to conduct the same experiment and see what their senses (via their own instruments) tell them as well, thus confirming or denying my assertion and sensory perceptions.
This essay will support my arguments by first presenting Descartes' First Meditation and the dream hypothesis, including what the first meditation was meant to cast doubt upon, and next by showing that Descartes does not, in fact, cast doubt upon that which he intends. This essay will then conclude with the presentation of well-grounded arguments that refute my position, along with rebuttals that show the validity of my perspective.
Descartes' First Meditation, in his search for absolute certainty, is intended to discuss “what can be called into doubt”. Citing a long-standing opinion that to be completely rigorous and truthful in his work, he should demolish all existing opinions from his mind, he asserts that the best way to do this is to destroy the foundations of those opinions; namely, what he has learned “either from the senses or through the senses”. Such pieces of knowledge are,...