The Role Of Doubt In Descartes's Meditation

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In the Meditation I, doubting plays a huge role in the project, the whole project is based on skeptical doubts and those doubts lead him to the conclusion that he exists. He wants to be completely sure of what is real, so the best way to prove it is to test everything he believes and learnt that is real with doubt. In this essay, I would highlight the significant role of doubt in Descartes’ project by examining his dream and evil demon argument.

As I stated earlier on, doubting plays a very important role in Descartes’ project, he uses this doubting method as a way of gaining new and accurate information. He has this mentality that in order to gain new knowledge you must first question everything you’ve learnt to determine if they are all real or not, so he does a sort of spring cleaning to everything he knows and believes by performing this doubting test. He hopes that his method of doubt would rid him of false beliefs, make him arrive at true beliefs and discover a good foundation on which he can build his knowledge on. His doubting leads him to the theory “Cogito, ergo sum”, which means I think therefore I am. His doubts lead him to the conclusion that he exists since he thinks. He goes through three waves of doubt before concluding his meditation, he doubts our senses, then he questions if we truly are awake and lastly, he has the demon argument.

Notably, he continues his meditation with the dream argument Even though our dreams may seem realistic enough to our senses, it might just be an illusion. In the dream argument, the main question is how certain are we that everything we believe is real or that we have experienced is not a dream. In his dream argument, he believes that there is no actual way to distinguish being awake from being in a state of dreaming, we could all be dreaming right now, and if so, our senses are deceiving us. If they are deceiving us, then our senses can be doubted, therefore our senses are not a certain foundation of knowledge. Descartes proposes the dream argument to show that the most relied on source of knowledge, the senses, can not be relied on. He uses this dream argument to show that some things we easily think are true may not actually be true as it might have been a dream as there is no way to tell if we are wake or not and we are being deceived by our senses into thinking they are true.

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Sometimes are senses could prevent us from learn new things as a result of prejudice from some of our former knowledge. In addition, he believes that although the senses might deceive us, they are some things that cannot be doubted because we know for a fact that they are real. “But it may be said, perhaps that, although the senses occasionally mislead us respecting minute objects, and such as are so far removed from us as to be beyond the reach of close observations…” (113). Here he states that the senses may deceive us into thinking some objects being are small and distant but there are some things that the senses bring to us that are quite impossible for us to doubt. He uses an example of him doubting his body parts, he concludes that for him to doubt things like that he must be like those mad men that are convinced they are kings and that they are dressed in fancy clothes when in fact they are paupers and are naked or dressed in grass, proving that there are some undoubtable facts.

Another reason why the sense can not be trusted according to Descartes is that we could all be hallucinating or be experiencing an illusion thinking everything is real as once again our senses could be easily deceived. He would rather much believe reasoning over his senses as the senses can not be trusted whereas reasoning could be doubted and defended. He used the example of basic arithmetic where even in his sleep two plus three would still add up to five and a square would still have only four sides. He then goes unto the evil demon argument, but he firstly acknowledges the existence of an all-powerful God. He then proceeds to consider the fact that maybe he is being deceived by God into thinking that he is real, he could be in an illusion where he is on earth, but he disputes that thought by saying that God’s nature is inherently good and he would not do such a cruel thing to him. He goes on with the evil demon argument, he thinks what if he is being deceived about everything by an evil demon who is so bent on deceiving him. What if he is being deceived that two plus two equals to four or as he is counting the sides of the square he is being deceived into thinking it is four, or what if he does not actually have a body that everything he sees and thinks about is an illusion and is being fed to him by the evil demon. He says he may never know all these, but he knows that his senses can not be trust as they could be easily manipulated.

After his waves of doubts, he concludes with “Cogito ergo sum” which means “I think therefore I am”. He attempted to doubt his existence but instead he realized that in order for him to think about his existence or even think at all or in order to be deceived, he must exist. To Descartes, his method of doubt may have been successful in proving his existence.

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