Descartes’ Cartesian Circle
Descartes’ “Cartesian Circle” has come under fire from countless philosophers because it supposedly commits a logical fallacy with its circular reasoning. In his second Meditation, Descartes attempts to prove the existence of God. He states that clear and distinct perception leads to knowledge, and that God’s existence is apparent and obvious because of things we have come to perceive as knowledge. Furthermore, he asserts that we cannot turn these perceptions into knowledge without the assurance that God exists. Essentially, Descartes claims that God is a necessary condition for knowledge, which in turn requires the existence of God. This circular logic presents a problematic scenario similar to the “chicken or the egg?” debate and has left philosophers pondering its legitimacy for decades.
As is usually the case when someone makes a bold and illogical statement, many have challenged Descartes’ logic. Many have claimed that his argument follows a “vicious circle,” as both premises rely on each other’s truth and validity. His argument is basically dependent on certainty of God’s existence, despite an equal amount of uncertainty regarding that existence. Descartes states that no one is definite about the existence of God, nor can they know anything clearly and distinctly until they are certain about the existence of God. Assuming that these premises are accurate, we as humans know nothing because we cannot say with certainty that God exists. At first glance, it seems that Descartes has blatantly committed a logical fallacy, leaving his argument entirely defenseless. However, if it were be possible to disprove one of his two premises, any notions of circularity would be dissolved, legitimizing Descartes’ proof. The first defense takes a deeper look into Descartes’ writings in order to disprove his first premise, that God is an essential and necessary component for the formation of knowledge from a perception. Some emphasize that...
Bibliography: Foundationalism, Epistemic Principles, and the Cartesian Circle
James Van Cleve
The Philosophical Review, Vol. 88, No. 1. (Jan., 1979), pp. 55-91.
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