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Rene Descartes

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Carleton University
PHIL 1610
Iva Apostolova

Father of the Modern Philosophy. Meditations on First Philosophy, Meditations 1,2, 3. Descartes' Method: hyperbolic/ systematic doubt. Descartes purposes to systematically follow a process of doubt. The doubt is not simply a common-sense one, instead, his doubt process is a philosophical one: the issue is whether a class of knowledge can be in any way doubted. The goal: to arrive at knowledge which is beyond any possible doubt, that is, absolutely certain knowledge. Descartes does not intend to doubt the truth of every specific judgment - an impossible task - but to underline, wherever possible, the foundations of one's view. Descartes can do this by discussing broad classes of supposed knowledge, such as sensory knowledge or mathematical knowledge. The main/ first class of knowledge he brings under suspicion is sensory knowledge. Descartes, unlike Plato, finds sensory knowledge important, as it makes the biggest chunk of knowledge we have. Meditation 1: examination of sensory knowledge: 3 arguments represent 3 stages of doubt. 1. The dream argument: my senses deceive me, as they bring to me a representation of what I think is real and undistorted, when it turns out that it may or may not be real, and might be seriously distorted. So, the first stage of doubt confirms that sensory knowledge is unreliable. But there are 2 positive results: 1). sensory knowledge is not completely unreliable because it is a representation of something real (ex. unicorn = horse + horn) so the facility of imagination connote conjure up images, unless they were once perceived. 2). even in my dreams, " 2 + 2 = 4 "is still true! descartes is suggesting that there is another type of knowledge, knowledge that comes from geometry and arithmetic which is unchangeable, regardless of the state of mind. This knowledge seems more reliable than sensory knowledge. 2. God the Deceiver argument: I have discovered that my senses deceive me, but I know with certainty that 2 + 2 = 4. But what if God, the created of everything, including me, deceives me, So, this is what lies at the very bottom of all knowledge: nobody, not even an evil genius can deceive me that I exist, because I think. Criticisms: the cogito argument doesn’t follow, because there is missing premise. Descartes response: the ‘cogito’ is not deduced but t is recognized by the mind as a clear and distinct immediate act of the mental institution. In other words, the ‘cogito’ is self-evident, a distinct and clear idea. At this point, Descartes is done with the sweeping and he will start building up the edifice of his theory of knowledge. ‘Cogito’ is the foundation of knowledge upon which all certain knowledge rests. 2 things Descartes has established: 1. There is absolutely certain knowledge 2. Clarity and distinctness are criteria for truth and certainty. The next step is to establish what kind of a thing he is? The answer is: a thinking thing. A thinking thing is a thing which is being deceived, which doubts, imagines, feels, desires, hesitates, etc. Are there any other things in the world, except for the thinking thing? Yes, there are extended things (bodies) Descartes only hints here what will later become known as the infamous Cartesian dualism. According to Cartesian dualism there are 2 substances, body and mind, which are only distinct but also fully independent substances of each other. Positive account of knowledge: First thing is to establish is an account of what we know. It seems that what we know better are physical things and not our own minds. However, this is wrong, as we actually know best our minds The wax example: shows us that when we try to describe what we know, ex. when you say you know physical things, we get confused. The wax changes its shape and consistency so much, after being heated, that it’s unrecognizable This shows that we don’t know the physical world better than our minds. Secondary qualities: taste, smell, color, etc., are generally unreliable b
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