Ana Clara Martins
Modern World History (Period C)
12 February 2014
Was Descartes’ skepticism influenced by his faith?
“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things” (Descartes, goodreads). René Descartes, often described as the “Father of Modern Philosophy”, was born in a time where philosophy and science were advancing at an unbelievable rate. The revolutionizing philosopher was fascinated by how much skepticism influenced a rapid progress in society, and was eager to find an indubitable truth that could survive any and all skeptical challenges. In order to rid science of constant and disturbing skepticism, he planned to find an undeniable concept that would allow him to rebuild his system of doubt on an absolute certainty. After years of doubting utterly every presupposition and idea, Descartes found his absolute certainty in the concept of “I exist”. He was eventually stuck in solipsism, and was determined to abandon that state by proving the presence of God, thereby finding truth in something other than his own existence. Religion ultimately became a crucial aspect of Descartes’ skepticism, providing all epistemological foundations needed for him to develop upon his ideas regarding the truth. Descartes believed that Scholastic tradition proposed many opinions and conclusions that were formed on the basis of incomplete information, largely facilitating the forming of counter arguments. This resulted in an overwhelming confusion where truth was hidden behind weakly formed concepts. Primarily, he sought to avoid these issues through geometry, as he trusted the propositions that made up a geometrical theorem were not exposed to doubt. This ultimately meant that anything deriving from these propositions would also be unexposed to doubt and therefore absolute certainties. Yet this argument was completely torn apart by radical skepticism, leading him to write the First Meditation, where he attempts to show the possibility of knowledge even when it derives from the most skeptic ideas. The first idea introduced in his work is one that claims false all of our sensory knowledge. Descartes argues that most of his dreams have extremely realistic components and therefore sensory knowledge can come from real sensations as well as false ones that are found in dreams. Since there is no way of differentiating these sensations, every belief that is based on them can be doubted. However, this is not valid for mathematical beliefs, as “for whether [he is] awake or dreaming, it remains true that two and three make five, and that a square has but four sides” (Descartes, oregonstate). Eventually, Descartes starts to wonder whether God could deceive him by making him believe in false concepts, even if they come from the most certain propositions. From this point on, religion becomes vital to his succeeding ideas. When wondering about a universal deception perceived by God, Descartes realizes that this idea would go against “God’s supreme goodness”(iep). In fact, any deception at all would go against God’s goodness and yet people were still constantly making mistakes. In order to explain this contradictory issue, René introduces the idea that besides being his own deceiver he is also tortured by “some malignant demon, who is at once exceedingly potent and deceitful, has employed all his artifice to deceive [him]”(Descartes, oregonstate). This kept him from considering any idea that has the slightest possibility of being dubious, eventually leading him to a “whirlpool of false beliefs”(Descartes, The Philosophy Book). It is important to notice, however, that Descartes recognized the idea of the existence of a manipulator purely as “hyperbolic”. Although he did not believe that he was dreaming or being deceived, Descartes hoped that these concepts would enhance his method of doubting and essentially aid him in finding absolute truth. In...
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