March 4, 2004
Montaigne and Descartes
Montaigne and Descartes both made use of a philosophical method that focused on the use of doubt to make discoveries about themselves and the world around them. However, they doubted different things. Descartes doubted all his previous knowledge from his senses, while Montaigne doubted that there were any absolute certainties in knowledge. Although they both began their philosophical processes by doubting, Montaigne doubting a constant static self, and Descartes doubted that anything existed at all, Descartes was able to move past that doubt to find one indubitably certainty, "I think, therefore I am".
How often do we question what is real or true? Descartes believed that doubting everything that he knew to be truthful knowledge was the only way to find out what was actually true and real. He turned doubting into a key principle for his methods of philosophy. Descartes would ask what we really knew beyond the shadow of a doubt. To do this he resolves to search within himself (Descartes 9). First though, since he decided to doubt everything, he had to put aside all of the knowledge that he supposedly knew, to search out the truth (Descartes 13). He did this blindly, not knowing whether the truth is the knowledge that he already knew and was forcing himself to put aside, or that the truth is some knowledge he did not know that would replace his previous forms of knowledge. Descartes decided that he did not need to prove that all of his knowledge was false, but only that all of his knowledge was not certain. He did not, however, spend time examining every one of his bits of knowledge. Instead after setting all of his previous knowledge aside he tried to find one thing outside of his knowledge that was certain.
Not only did Descartes set aside all of his previous knowledge, but he also set aside all knowledge he had gained, and that he continued to gain from his five senses....