Method of Doubt
Rene Descartes (1596-1650), a French philosopher and mathematician, is best known for his Meditations of Philosophy. This form of philosophy is a body of work in which he attempts to wipe away all his presumptions, rebuilding his knowledge from the ground up, and accepting as true only those claims which are absolutely certain. It was essential that the foundations to his beliefs were solid; if any one of them were at all in doubt, he would lose credibility for his entire structure of knowledge. Thus, Descartes created a method in which he would eliminate those beliefs which he could not be entirely certain of. He called this method – the Method of Doubt. By using the Method of Doubt, Descartes questioned everything that had any possibility of uncertainty, until he was able to prove that it was certain or until he became certain that there was no certainty (Descartes 1641, 1-4). He compared it to “that of a man who takes all the apples out of a barrel one by one, inspects them, and then puts the sound ones back” (Williams 1978, 59). Descartes believed that all knowledge is related and therefore decided he would rebuild the edifice of knowledge based upon the core truths that remain after the usage of the Method of Doubt (Descartes 1641, 1). In-order for Descartes to be able to eliminate those beliefs which he could not be entirely certain of, he would have to start from scratch by discarding all that he had previously known. He started by questioning existence -Do I exist? Does God exist? He proved his existence by stating that in order to have these doubts, he must exist. The fact that he is able to contemplate his own existence is proof that he exists. This is where he brings in the phrase, “I think, therefore I am”. This is the logical argument for knowing we exist (Descartes 1641, 4-6). He proves that there is a God by using the cosmological argument- “something lesser cannot cause something greater.” Greater/lesser is referring to...
References: Descartes, Rene. 1641. Meditations on First Philosophy. Translated by Jonathan Bennett. 2007.
Williams, Bernard. (1978) Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry. New York: Penguin.
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