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The Idea of Skepticism in Descartes’ Philosophy

  • Category: Life
  • Subcategory: Emotion
  • Topic: Skepticism
  • Pages: 3
  • Words: 1450
  • Published: 09 Jun 2021
  • Downloads: 26
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René Descartes was a famous philosopher from France from the 17th century, he is even considered to be the father of modern philosophy. Aside from becoming a philosopher, he was a mathematician, a scientist, an even a metaphysician. Descartes was born on March 31, 1596, in the town of Descartes in France. Descartes was born to a well-educated and higher class family. Being a part of a wealthy family, Descartes had the ability to use money how he wanted and to live comfortably. Descartes never got married, but he did have a daughter with one of his servants. She was named Francine, and she and her mother did live with Descartes, but Descartes always introduced Francine as his niece to other people who met her. During his early years, Descartes attended school and was supposed to follow in the footsteps of his father in order to become a lawyer, but he also served in the Dutch States Army. After choosing to get away from becoming a lawyer and serving more time in the army, Descartes decided to pursue ways to make new discoveries in mathematics, fulfilling his new pursuit of becoming a mathematician. Aside from mathematics, Descartes created new innovative ideas that changed how scientists now work, he was inspired by a series of his own dreams that led him to adopt new ideas about the scientific method, analytical geometry, and of course, philosophy. Descartes also published his significant thoughts and ideas in several different books such as Discours de la mèthode, La Géométrie, Les Météores, and La Dioptrique. In these books, they contained ideas about methods, geometry, meteorology, and optics. Aside from having scientific ideas and views, Descartes also had to face some battles which included the Church. If the Church disagreed or opposed his views, there was a chance that he would get into big trouble. He could have possibly been executed by being burned at the stake, so he had to make sure that his work aligned with the views of the Church as well. The reason why he had to make sure that his work aligned with the Church was because he was a follower of Galileo’s work. Galileo was sentenced to life in prison by the Church because they believed his work went against the ideals of the Church, so Descartes had to make sure that his work was accepted by the Church. Descartes’ main focus of his philosophy was the idea of skepticism.

The first method of skepticism Descartes uses is simply adopting skepticism. Descartes utilized skepticism by simply questioning the existence of the world. “Descartes was also the source of the famous phrase “I think therefore I exist” that impacted the modern philosophy.” (Khannous, Morocco World News) What this means is that Descartes even believed and thought of something, prior before any action of existing, which seems self-explanatory in a sense. But, Descartes does refute skepticism as well. He refuses skepticism by not doubting just humans, but instead also doubting the universe and all of the things that exist in the universe. There is an analogy that represents how Descartes feels in regards to refuting skepticism, he uses the idea of “bulldozers,” which signify destruction. “Descartes’ methodical innovation is to employ demolition for constructive ends. Where a bulldozer’s force overpowers the ground, its effects are destructive. Where the ground’s firmness resists the bulldozer’s force, the bulldozer might be used constructively – using it to reveal the ground as firm. Descartes thus uses sceptical doubts to test the firmness of candidates put forward for the foundations of knowledge.” (Hatfield, Stanford) There is also the utilization of skepticism, specifically known as Cartesian skepticism. “Cartesian skepticism is the problem of explaining how knowledge of (or justified belief about) the external world is possible given the challenge that we cannot know (or justifiably believe) the denials of skeptical hypotheses.” With Cartesian skepticism, there are many doubts that seem to stay, meaning that they do not fade away because they will still exist in the universe. Descartes has also utilized the idea of empirical beliefs. In order to strengthen his arguments and beliefs, he uses the help of empirical research and beliefs for more support. “Descartes has consistently communicated the impression to his readers that he undervalues the significance of empirical evidence and science and that he is anxious to substitute ‘rational arguments’ in place of empirical research.” Due to this, many of Descartes’ readers actually become confused. When they are confused, Descartes’ response was that, “What I find most strange is the conclusion of the critique you sent me, namely that what will prevent my principles from being accepted in the schools is that they are not sufficiently confirmed by experience, and that I have not refuted the explanations of others. For I am surprised that, even though I have demonstrated, in particular, almost as many experiences as there are lines in my writings, and having explained in general my principles…” This is how Descartes uses skepticism with the forms of doubt.

Descartes also aims to doubt his beliefs by using the term known as certainty. The term that Descartes uses in order to describe this belief would be “certain foundation.” “These beliefs, which are re-established with absolute certainty, include the existence of a world of bodies external to the mind, the dualistic distinction of the immaterial mind from the body, and his mechanistic model of physics based on the clear and distinct ideas of geometry.” With certainty, Descartes is able to prove his abilities of what it is to doubt and how there are elements of certainty that support what he believes in his ideals and his writings. To explain his certainty, Descartes writes that, “Though my nature is such that while I am perceiving something very clearly and distinctly, I cannot but believe it is true, I am alsoof such a nature that I cannot always keep my mind fixed on the same thing so as to perceive it clearly. The memory of a judgement that I have previously made often comes back to me when I am no longer attending to the reasons on which I based the judgement, and other reasons can be brought to bear that would readily dislodge this opinion if I had no knowledge of God. I should never then have true and certain knowledge of anything, but only unstable and changeable opinions.” Having certainty allows Descartes and his readers to realize that the truth is unprejudiced. “Skepticism is thereby defeated, according to Descartes. No matter how many skeptical challenges are raised — indeed, even if things are much worse than the most extravagant skeptic ever claimed — there is at least one fragment of genuine human knowledge: my perfect certainty of my own existence. From this starting-point, Descartes supposed, it is possible to achieve indubitable knowledge of many other propositions as well.” What this means is that Descartes does not necessarily believe that there is a God that exists to his knowledge, which therefore foreshadows the notion that Descartes is an atheist. Skepticism is lost in his sense because there are many factors that come along with skepticism, such as the disbelief and other notions.

Last but not least, Descartes has the support of mediations in his skepticisms. What this means is that these mediations help support refutes in regards to skepticism. “In the first meditation entitled “What can be called into doubt”, Skepticism is given high importance by René Descartes. He starts by discussing that his life was built on a large number of falsehoods that he has believed all his life and accepted as true.” Within his mediations, Descartes uses a phrase that says, “Perfection can only come from perfection…” This comes from the utilization of Descartes’ ontological argument. An ontological argument is one of the main aspects of Descartes’ philosophy. What this phrase means is self explanatory, it describes itself in a sense. “In the same context, Descartes also characterizes the ontological argument as a proof from the “essence” or “nature” of God, arguing that necessary existence cannot be separated from the essence of a supremely perfect being without contradiction.” With this being said, Descartes also uses God as a term that he talks about much often, but as an atheist, he does not believe in God or any other specific religious being.

René Descartes is the father of modern philosophy and it shows. His readings and ideals still are well known and taught by everyone all over the world. The philosophy that Descartes has provided to the world has only been beneficial. Aside from philosophy, Descartes has also provided information and teachings about mathematics and metaphysics. His knowledge has definitely been useful in providing aid and knowledge for everyone. 

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