Descartes Dream Argument

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Descartes wishes to dismiss anything that can be doubted because he wishes to find a true foundation in which to build beliefs on. Using skepticism Descartes can find something beyond doubt to build true beliefs on. By doing so he hoped that his rationale would be accepted by the popular school of thought at the time known as “Scepticism” as well as those who, for Descartes, falsely believed in Aristotelian physics. From there Descartes can use their logic to appeal to the skeptics and ultimately persuade them away from their own mistaken beliefs at the same time. To go about doing this Descartes uses the Meditations in which a fictional meditator can illustrate the process of meditation to come to a rationalization of truth about reality. This meditator is used as a narrative illustration so that people can resonate by with the meditator by following his logical thought process and thereby use the Meditations to come to the same realizations. In doing so Descartes attempts to illustrate the most extensive logical conclusion if using skepticism properly to its most explicit nature. Particularly, that knowledge gained from sensory experience can be doubted and ultimately even thought can be nothing more than a deception. In this case, in Meditations 1, Descartes uses the dreaming argument to break down the very foundations of any and all beliefs gained via sensory experience.  The First Meditation is used to begin in a position the Aristotelian philosophers would agree with by claiming that the meditators most certain beliefs come from the senses. From there he used the Meditations to subtly break down the foundations for beliefs gained by sensory experience. In doing so Descartes’ meditator is able to fend off all challengers to his skeptical argument and thus seduce people away from Aristotelian beliefs by showing that they often mislead us and can thus be doubted.

In Meditations 1 the meditator looks at the foundations of his beliefs. For, if the foundation of one’s beliefs can be doubted then all those beliefs build upon that foundation cannot be true. Aristotelian physics is founded on sensory perception, if Descartes meditator can show that the senses may be doubted then he can seduce people to changing their beliefs. The meditator reasons that all beliefs that he has found most true have come from sensory experience such as sight, touch, smell, etc. In doing so he realized that his senses have deceived him before when it comes to things not so clearly perceived. For example when in the desert people often perceive water off in the distance, when in fact it is a mirage caused by the heat waves. Yet, as he dives deeper Descartes’ meditator asks if even the things he perceives so clearly such as the warmth of a fire next to him can be doubted. Then he asks himself how many times he has dreamed such dreams of himself being clothed next to the warm fire of his home when he is indeed undressed, sleeping in his bed. The meditator thus realizes that he has dreamed vivid and distinct dreams or at least that such dreams are possible. After coming to this realization he sees “that there are no definitive signs by which to distinguish being awake from asleep.” Therefore it is possible to be asleep with all of our perceptions at this time being false.

1. It is true that sometimes we mistakenly take objects to exist in reality when they really exist only in our dreams.

2. If this premise is true, then there is essentially no difference between illusory dream experiences and veridical waking experiences.

3. If there is no essential difference between illusory dream experiences and veridical waking experiences, then it is plausible for us to be dreaming all the time.

4. If we are potentially dreaming all the time, then none of our beliefs based on sensory experience are indubitable.

5. Therefore, we can conclude that no belief based on sensory experience is indubitable.

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