Descartes\' Meditation One


Being a foundationalist, Descartes needs to destroy the foundations of
his beliefs so that in his Meditations he will be able to build upon new
foundations of undeniable and self evident truths. In order to do this Descartes
must first find a valid argument that will allow him to doubt his foundation
beliefs and in turn doubt what is considered to be reality. He begins by first
noting that one can not trust their own senses, because we can be deceived by
our sciences. An example of such would be if one looks at an optical illusion,
they are seeing something that is not really there, and therefore are being
deceived by their sense of sight. But this is not enough to justify doubting all
things, so Descartes offers a different approach, the Dream Argument.
The Dream Argument is essential in because it allows one to logically
question not only the senses but their surroundings and actions as well.
Although one can doubt that what they see or hear is not really as is perceived;
a person can not deny that they are for instance, standing, thinking about how
their senses are deceiving them, with their feet planted on the ground, in their
bedroom, feeling a little tired and so on. Only if one was, as Descartes writes,
“..insane, whose brains are impaired by such an unrelenting vapor of black
bile..” that they believe they are something other than what they are, would one
doubt reality, without an argument. The argument is as follows: If the
experience of a dream is indistinguishable between that dream and reality; and
there is no test to differentiate between dreaming and awakens, then one must
doubt the world outside their minds. This is so because even if one believes
they are awake and perceiving their surroundings soundly, they have no way of
knowing for certain that they are not, at that moment, dreaming. Still this
argument is not sufficient in Descartes\' quest to doubt “everything”. This is so
because even when we are dreaming we still know certain undeniable truths or a
priori knowledge, these are facts such as a5 + b5 = c5 (in a right triangle) or
that triangles have three sides.
Descartes then begins to entertain the idea of a God who created all
things, could be deceiving us so that we were wrong in our thinking when we
believe a priori beliefs. But Descartes believes God to be all good, and being
so, God would not deceive us or even allow us to be so deceived. Descartes cuts
short this argument, and explains that he believes in God, as he writes “...not
out of frivolity or lack of forethought, but for valid and considered reasons.” .
Descartes therefore abandons the thought of God as he is thought of by most
people (for the time being) and instead offers a different “deity”. In order to
be able to doubt even a priori knowledge Descartes comes up with what is known
as the Evil Genius Hypothesis. The Evil Genius Hypothesis is this : instead of a
“supremely good God, the source of truth” there exists an Evil Genius who
deceives completely so that all that is perceived is not actually what exists in
the “real” world. Because the Evil Genius can mislead a person into thinking for
instance, that a triangle has four sides or some other false belief, there is
no realm of perception that is not touched by the argument. The Evil Genius
argument allows Descartes to logically distrust and doubt a priori and a
posterior knowledge. This argument completes Descartes\' mission for a logical
argument that will allow him to doubt everything, and start from the bottom of
the hierarchy of his beliefs.

Category: Philosophy