Ryerson University October 11,
Department of Philosophy
The doubts Descartes raises in Meditation I originate in the recognition that a seemingly self-
evident and deeply held conviction concerning the world we experience in everyday life might
be false. The key point here is that this conviction is not based on a rational analysis involving
clear and exact ideas but on an instinct of nature. A clear understanding of what this instinct
entails is important to one’s analysis of the historically significant problem of the external world.
Descartes, Hume, and Russell are all examples of philosophers who focus on the natural
instinct when addressing the problem of the external world.
Assignment: Write an essay in which you compare and contrast the views of Descartes, Hume,
and Russell regarding the origin our everyday belief in the existence of an external reality. Use
the appearance/reality and direct (naive)/indirect realism distinctions to help clarify each
philosopher’s position. In the course of essay, you should address the following questions:
1. Why does Descartes believe that God would be a deceiver unless a certain kind of external
2. What argument does Russell offer in support of the belief in an external, physical reality?
Does Russell's argument enable him to overcome the doubts Descartes raised in Meditation I?
3. What does Hume mean when he writes, “If the belief [in external objects] is based on natural
instinct it is contrary to reason; and if it is attributed to reason it is contrary to natural instinct?”
4. Which philosopher do you think has presented the strongest analysis of the instinctive belief
which underlies our commonsense belief in the external world?
Readings: Descartes’ Meditations (focus on the relevant parts of Meditation III and VI), Bertrand
Russell, David Hume Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section 12 Part 1 (see
Be sure you read the information below.
Length: 1200-1600 words. You must stay within these limits. Essays that exceed or fall short of
this limit are subject to penalty (2 marks per 100 words). Indicate on the cover of your essay the
word length of your essay.
Aword to the wise, do not try to write your essay at the last minute. Start thinking and reading
about your topic early. Most people need to write in drafts, and you should not assume too
hastily that you are an exception. When writing your first draft, do not be too concerned about
going over the word limit. Most likely in your final draft you will find ways to "trim the fat," and
thereby render your discussion more concise without sacrificing valuable content. Formatting Requirements: Essays must be double-spaced and must be printed using font size
12. You must keep an electronic copy of your essay.
Due Date: Nov. 7 , no later than 4 pm. In addition to submitting electronically