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Descartes

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Descartes

Perhaps one of the greatest western philosophers in the past few centuries, Rene Descartes was not only a philosopher, but also a mathematician, physiologist, and physicist. Looked at by many as the "father of modern science", he created a new way of thinking about science and philosophy. His ideas were far different from the Aristotelian and Scholastic traditions that the rest of the world was so accustomed to believing, as he created a new relationship between philosophy and theology. Descartes new ideas, and more specifically his argument for universal doubt, challenged all other philosophical theories.

In his first two books of Meditations on First Philosophy, Rene Descartes expresses the radical doubt that he possesses and the disbelief he has of the philosophical ideas of Aristotle and the Church. The Cartesian Method of Doubt is the system he created in which he examines those things that he thinks to be true and set aside all those beliefs of which there might be some doubt. As a philosopher, he brings up the question, what is certain and what is not? And if something were certain, who would make it certain? Descartes elaborates on this topic a great deal in his first Meditation.

Unsatisfied with the methods of philosophy at the time, Rene Descartes masterminded a new method in which mathematical processes were applied to all aspects of life in order to achieve perfect certainty in human knowledge. According to Descartes himself, "I will, nevertheless, make an effort, and try anew the same path on which I had entered yesterday, that is, proceed by casting aside all that admits of the slightest doubt, not less than if I had discovered it to be absolutely false; and I will continue always in this track until I shall find something that is certain, or at least, if I can do nothing more, until I shall know with certainty that there is nothing certain" (Rene Descartes, Meditation II). In the first book of the Meditation, Descartes bestows several arguments in which he attempts to find something he cannot doubt, and that he knows for certain. His goal is to destroy all of his prior beliefs by finding reasons to doubt them, and therefore not believe in them anymore.

The first argument he illustrates is that of the senses. "All that I have, up to this moment, accepted as possessed of the highest truth and certainty, I received either from or through the senses. I observed, however, that these sometimes misled us; and it is the part of prudence not to place absolute confidence in that by which we have even once been deceived", is Descartes first basis for doubting the certainness of the senses, and that they are not to be trusted. If all of the scientific knowledge that a person possesses came to them through the senses, then they could never be sure that anything outside of them existed.

In a excerpt from the first Meditation, Descartes discusses that the senses are deceiving. "But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors as to cause them pertinaciously to assert that they are monarchs when they are in the greatest poverty (Rene Descartes, Meditation I)." In other words, he is explaining that even though he may use his senses to identify something, what is to prove that it is not an illusion? This establishes Descartes belief that in order to properly grasp the nature of an object, you cannot use the senses, you must use you mind. "Thus what I thought I had seen with my eyes, I actually grasped solely with the faculty of judgment, which is in my mind", shows the truth of Descartes not trusting the senses because they have proved to be unreliable in the past.

Descartes also provides substantial reasoning for his dream argument. It is very possible for a dream to seen like an ordinary life experience. One may have a dream about attending a class in college, in which all of the normal qualities of a class are present. You can dream that you are in the class and learning, just as easily as you could be attending the class and truly learning. As stated by Descartes, "At the present moment, however, I certainly look upon this paper with eyes wide awake; the head which I now move is not asleep; I extend this hand consciously and with express purpose, and I perceive it; the occurrences in sleep are not so distinct as all this. But I cannot forget that, at other times I have been deceived in sleep by similar illusions; and, attentively considering those cases, I perceive so clearly that there exist no certain marks by which the state of waking can ever be distinguished from sleep (Rene Descartes, Meditation I)." In other words, he is saying that there is no clear evidence that can discriminate consciousness from dreaming, and therefore all of our perceptions are false. Although he proves a valid point, he states this argument as pure fact and does not give any basis for his assertion.

It is still true however because based on distinctness, there really is no way for one to tell the difference between consciousness and dreaming. At times while Descartes is dreaming, he mistakenly believes himself for being awake because any course of experiences you can have while awake can also be dreamt. Therefore it would be possible for you to be dreaming and having all the experiences you're now having. Everything would seem the same, whether it be a dream or waking reality. Even if you are awake, you are not in a position to say that you are not dreaming, because it is possible that all of your experiences may be dreams, and that you never have any waking experiences. This argument directly relates to the sensory argument and proves that the senses are misleading. To know anything about the external world on the basis of your senses, you have to be completely sure that your are not dreaming, and according the Descartes, you can never really know when you are not dreaming.

Being the final argument in Meditation I, Decartes discusses the existence

of an "Evil Genius". He first begins by stating, "Nevertheless, the belief that there is a God who is all

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