Professor: Steven Wyre
Phil101 1002 Sum 18
21 September 2018
Skepticism refers to the attitude of doubting the truth. In philosophy, the word skepticism is used in reference to the theories ascertaining that specific occurrences are impossible. Descartes expresses doubt that particular incidents observed in humans do not truly exist. He is considered to be the first to imagine about the reality of the realm through his doubt in skepticism. In his philosophical explanations, he utilizes skepticism to try and understand the nature and essence of humans. Doubt is the primary tool used by Descartes in his refutes. In his work, he used the approach of doubting all the truth of his beliefs so that he could eventually establish which beliefs were absolute truths. To expound on his work, he used the methodological skepticism which seeks to sort out all information with the aim of sorting out the true claims from the false ones. This approach is different from philosophical skepticism which leaves a room of possibility of individual claims (Grene 556). The project of Skepticism initiated by Descartes was important to him because he wanted to defeat skepticism on its own ground by using skepticism to refute skepticism. This paper will discuss in details the process by which Descartes uses skepticism to refute skepticism, based on the central principle he uses in his work because it was very essential and why his project was important to accomplish.
The process of skepticism applied by Descartes involved beginning by doubting the truth of everything from aspects that shows a sense of substantial evidence, exorbitant cultural explanations as well as the process of reason used in explaining the existence of truth (De Pierris 103). If any specific target survives this process, then it should be taken as the truth and undisputable information which can be used to form a base of knowledge. The first step in the process employed by Descartes begins by doubting everything someone believes to be the truth. The universal attitude of doubting places everything that is not certain on hold. According to this perspective, Descartes knowledge was also doubtful because it could not be proved. Descartes consequently decided to demolish all knowledge that is questionable and doubtful. He does away with all previous doubtful beliefs he had to build new beliefs which have a certain foundation. He knew that it would be impossible to examine each idea individually as the process would be endless and thus took the route of rejecting all the ideals that were built on common principles and grounds (Cottingham). If a single part of the foundation of the ideas appears certain, then such aspect would lead to doubting all the other parts linked to such ideas. As a result, he believed that all his life was built on the ground of falsehood that he was made to believe was the truth (De Pierris 103). At one point, he even doubts his existence. He states that even beliefs which we think are true based on visible evident can be uncertain and that a touch of a probability of certainty does not eliminate falsehood.
Descartes indicated that the source of knowledge lies in the senses; however, even the senses can deceive us. He gave the example of a something observed from far but appears different once closer and further explained that senses can be overcome by reason and thus proposed that we should do away with senses (Grene 561). Therefore, senses can be deceptive and draw us from the truth. According to Descartes assumptions, the sense is not reliable as thought, and so humans should avoid sense and rely on the mind. We are not at any time sufficiently mindful of the subjectivity of our senses and notion. One main thing that we are straightly exposed to is the attributes of our concepts and how we do not factor into consideration of our value of certain ideas which may be extremely unlike from the impartial character of the outside world.Indeed, he encountered situations where denying some existence and perceptions was extremely difficult. He would ask different people questions, but he would get a similar response. While asking people what was in his hand, no one denied that he was holding a newspaper in his hand. There was no way to prove that the experience was a subject to errors due to the effects of privileged perceptual judgment which refers to judgment on what someone perceives at the moment based on senses (De Gardelle et al 13341).
To explain his assumption, Descartes used the example of dreams in humans to show that what seems real could be doubtful. He states that human beings are helpless and do not have control over what happens in their lives and incapable of differentiating while awake or in a dream. Thus, events happening in their lives could be part of dreams. In such cases, it would be difficult to prove such events as true occurrences (Stroll 179). However, in the end, Descartes states that we can work retrospectively to identify what is true or false (Grene 555). Descartes also focuses on religious beliefs and why humans could believe in untrue things. He stated that, although God could not deceive humans, there is an invisible demon that deceives the brain to believe in things that do not indeed exist (Grene 558).
In an attempt to accomplish the goals of his project on how to differentiate truth from false, he assessed whether he truly existed. He stated that it was possible for one thing to be true even under strong doubts imposed by the existence of internal doubts. In his assumption, he said that he truly existed when he stated that “I am, I exist.” The fact that it is an absolute truth that he existed does not depend on the external influence of the world or the accuracy of the senses but because he had to exist even when deceived. He stated that even the demons could not deceive him that he did not exist and the fact that he was prone to be deceived proves that at least he existed since he could not be deceived if he did not exist. He admits that skepticism is therefore defeated by the use of skepticism to refute it. No matter how much skepticism exists, there is one thing that is true based on human knowledge and doubting the same knowledge (Grene 558). By stating whether he existed and that he could be deceived that he did not exist and finally proving that he existed proved that there is an element of truth that can be doubted and later proved to be true.
In conclusion, Descartes uses the dream concepts to doubt the existence of the world and subsequently uses the argument of senses and demons even to doubt his own existence. There are things that humans believe they are true whereas they cannot be proved. In essence, he means that there are things that influence human judgments in determining what is true and what is false. In the end, he proves that skepticism can be used to refute skepticism by starting by assuming all human knowledge is skeptical. From his conclusion, it is clear that there are many things in the world that human can prove are skeptical. Based on his work and how he proved that he existed, other human knowledge can be evaluated through the same intervention.
Cottingham, John. “Rene Descartes: Meditations, Objections, and Replies.” YouTube uploaded by The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, 9, February 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btWHUoZErQ8
This work involves a presentation given by Professor John Cottingham on Descartes assumptions and subsequently gave objections. He highlighted Meditations including Descartes Meditations I that talks about the aspects of doubt.
De Gardelle, Vincent, and Christopher Summerfield. “Robust Averaging during Perceptual Judgment.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 108, no.32, 2011, pp.13341–13346.
This article presents useful information on how to assess truth based on facts. The hallmark of the paper lies in the process of making appropriate judgment based o the truth of the facts. The author states that strength and reliability of evidence are important in making a judgment.
De Pierris, Graciela. “Hume and Descartes on skepticism with regard to demonstrative reasoning.” Philosophical Analysis, Vol.25, no.2, 2005, 101-119.
In this paper, the authors compare Hume’s arguments with those of Descartes on skepticism and reasoning. The Authors concludes the Descartes arguments appear stronger than those presented by Hume.
Grene, Marjorie. “Descartes and skepticism: The Review of Metaphysics.” Philosophy Education Society, Vol.52, no.3, 1999, pp. 553-571.
The article discusses Descartes skepticism in details and the connection to the reality of reasoning. The paper looks at various meditations that touch on the explanation of truth and reasoning and how doubt can be used in the discovery of truth.
Stroll, Avrum. “Wittgenstein and the Dream Hypothesis” Philosophia, Vol. 37, 2009, pp.681–690.
This paper focus on the aspects of dreams and how dreams occur with a question on whether dreams are a reality. The paper touches on the reasoning given by Descartes on his explanation of dreams and reality.