Sept. 10, 2013
General Intro: Descartes’ Epistemology
How do we determine knowledge? (reliability, can be taken seriously)
1. Descartes’ epistemological project moves to the center of philosophy
1.1 – Plato’s Meno (p. 32)
Having a correct opinion about knowledge makes a good guide
Socrates: Right opinion is no less useful than knowledge?
Meno: A man of knowledge will always be successful, whereas a man of
opinion, only sometimes.
The beliefs don’t run away, they’re tied down.
Someone with knowledge is able to give an account for the beliefs that they
In posing questions about beliefs, one can determine whether these beliefs
are substantiated, or whether they “run away.”
2. Why does Descartes insist on indubitability as a condition for knowledge?
2.1 – The influence of mathematics
Descartes will not accept the formal logic of mathematics as indubitable
There must be some premise we hold to be true off of which we can build
Establish knowledge claims which are stable, lasting, and off of which to build
Requires a high standard of truth
The evolution of scientific knowledge scientific beliefs being overturned
ex: Einstein theory of relativity overturned Newton’s theory
ex: Quantum physics overturned assumptions made in the classical
Are the sciences really indubitable?
What makes a scientific theory credible – the scientific method (experiment
or phenomena can be reproduced under similar conditions with similar
Descartes will insist on indubitability as a requirement for knowledge 2.2 – The search for truth
What makes a true belief knowledge?
What conditions are required to determine true belief?
2.3 – Possible further conditions:
2.3.1 – Higher order (Kap KaKap)
2.3.2 – Nozickean subjectivism: Knowledge ‘tracks’ truth.
If I know that I know that p
If I know that I know that Bap
Were it the case that p [ ] A would believe p
Were it the case that not p [ ] A would not believe p
Descartes wants to track his beliefs, indubitability will ensure that it
tracks in truth.
2.4 – Found vs. Coherence, Fallibility of belief combined with foundational premise
threaten all knowledge.
The relationship between beliefs
How our beliefs hang together
Foundationalism: the belief that we have some basic beliefs that have
some special epistemic status in our belief system, and from them, we