Descartes' Epistemology

Topics: A priori and a posteriori, René Descartes, Immanuel Kant Pages: 5 (1710 words) Published: May 13, 2013
Carefully explain Descartes’ cogito and his attempt to build his knowledge structure from the ground up. (Be as succinct as possible.) Does Descartes succeed or fail in that attempt? Justify your answer in full. Descartes’ Epistemology

This essay attempts to explain Descartes’ epistemology of his knowledge, his “Cogito, Ergo Sum” concept (found in the Meditations), and why he used it [the cogito concept] as a foundation when building his structure of knowledge. After explaining the concept I give a brief evaluation of his success in introducing and using this cogito as a foundation. Finally, I provide reasons why I think Descartes succeeded in his epistemology. The First Meditation began with Descartes deciding to employ radical scepticism in his quest of acquiring true knowledge and this lead him to conclude that he could not be sure of anything except that he knew nothing (Descartes, 1984:12-15). Meaning that Descartes discarded all his knowledge whether it was knowing that he had fingers, knowing that the physical world existed, knowledge of his studies etc. he began by acknowledging how everything that constituted his preconceived knowledge could be doubt worthy. This climax of doubt was rooted in one fact: Descartes felt that there was good reason to believe that a higher power could have deceived him into believing that his empirical and a priori knowledge was plausible. Since God is a higher power that Descartes believed to be all good and never deceptive, he named his deceiver the “Evil Demon” a complete opposite to his wholesome observation of God (Blackburn, 2001:19). Descartes established that the “Evil Demon” argument could wipe away any assurance of his prior knowledge except for one: his existence (Descartes, 1984:17). This was a good argument because it presented a well thought out reason to question his knowledge. Descartes argued that if an “Evil Demon” truly existed and is only focused on deceiving him then this proves that he [Descartes] exists… “If he is deceiving me; and let him deceive me as much as he can, he will never bring about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am something… I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is…conceived in my mind” (Blackburn, 2001:20). It is possible to refute this definition of existence in the form of: Do we suppose that a thinking thing exists because it has experienced thoughts? According to the Second Meditation Descartes’ response would be that ‘I am, I exist’ stands only for a thing that is doing the thinking now and if it were to cease thinking it would cease to exist altogether (Descartes, 1984:18). In addition it is not the thinking that lead to existence, but the existence lead to the thinking.

Descartes was willing to be questioned about his knowledge of the world and to prove that he truly sought the correct answer to any objection that may be raised; he overlooked everything he knew and started to build an argument from scratch to assert the knowledge he would later accept as accurate. Thus, Descartes chose the cogito concept as a foundation that he could begin to enlarge his territory of understanding on. From observation it is clear that Descartes only began his Meditations to build a foundation of understanding and since he had discarded all his prior knowledge he needed a solid base to begin reconstructing on, hence the cogito concept emanates. “Cogito, Ergo Sum” is Latin for “I think, therefore I am”. The cogito argument is as follows: 1. An evil demon might be deceiving me into believing that I don’t exist. 2. If I believe that I don’t exist, then I exist.

3. I exist.
This argument states that, “if I convinced myself of something then I certainly existed” (Descartes, 1984:17). This simply means that anyone doubting his or her own existence or presence indeed exists because in order for doubt to take place there has to be someone to do it. A proper...
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