Descartes’ Existence in a World of Doubt

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All that up to the present time I have accepted as most true and certain I have learned either from the senses or through the senses… (Descartes’, 2006) Descartes’ begins his Meditations by recognizing that he cannot establish anything as certain and true without first acknowledging their foundations. To begin this, you have to acknowledge beliefs in terms of certainty, which is what Descartes’ does. If we can doubt something certain, then it is not certain at all. Descartes’ method of doubt is a general methodical thesis that gives rise to several stages or types of doubt. He is concerned with establishing a proposition that is necessarily true and beyond doubt in order to prove knowledge and existence despite several types of doubt working to disprove certain knowledge and true existence. The stages of the method of doubt include simple perception doubt, dream doubt and evil genius/demon doubt that all lead to what Descartes’ states as the Cogito. I believe that Descartes’ method of doubt is a good way to get to the Cogito and bring about new foundations of Philosophy.
These methods are used to find something indubitable and in turn, build up our knowledge of the subject again. If I can doubt that God exists, then God may not exist at all. It is the purpose of the method of doubt to break this statement down and find a way to prove God’s existence without doubt. Doubt is the opposite of certainty so if we doubt something then it cannot be certain. Descartes’ attacks not his knowledge itself, but his foundation of knowledge. Descartes’ realizes that attacking knowledge alone is difficult; he instead must prove that the foundation itself is what can be doubted. He does this by questioning the certainty of the knowledge. He uses doubt to question the certainty. It will not be requisite that I should examine each [former opinion] in particular…for owing to the fact that the destruction of the foundations of necessity brings with it the downfall of the rest of the edifice, I shall only in the first place attack those principles upon which all my former opinions rested (Descartes’, 2006). Descartes’ understands that certainty is not a feeling but a rational insight and things that are certain must be clear and distinctive.

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Method of doubt is a method of coming to a more certain knowledge. Much like a bulldozer destroys ground on land, the method of doubt destroys the ground of knowledge. It then forces the individual to rebuild their foundation with stronger points. Descartes’ believes that the universal and hyperbolic characters of the method of doubt help to make it successful. The method of doubt is universal because it attacks beliefs at one time by destroying their foundation. It is hyperbolic because it is almost to the point of ridiculous and exaggerated.

Descartes’ states that the mind itself can often be deceived through senses such as sight and smell. This statement leads into one of the types of doubt known as simple perception. Simple perception is perceiving something is there that is actually not. Things are not always what they seem (or hear) to be. it is prudent never wholly to trust in the truth of what we perceive (Kemerling, 2011). An example of simple perception is driving on a hot summer day and seeing water glistening where the road and sky meet. This is not actually there, but merely a mirage created by your senses. In day-to-day life, we are able to correct mistaken perceptions by hearing or seeing correct ones. However, since it is not apparent at first which perception is correct and which is not, it is possible to doubt all sensory knowledge. Simple perception brings into play a stronger skepticism. Since simple perception is how we as individuals see the world, what does the world really’ look like? I suppose, then, that all the things I see are false.. (Descartes’, 2006). Descartes’ uses this further his argument on perception through dreaming.

I am but a man and consequently in the habit of sleeping (Descartes’, 2006). Descartes’ states that during a dream, a person is able to dream up the most normal, mundane things whilst at the same time having the ability to dream the most crazy, abnormal things. Yet during these dreams, there are no conclusive signs by means of which one can distinguish clearly between being awake and being asleep (Descartes’, 2006). Descartes states that the experience of a dream could in principle be indistinguishable from waking life whatever apparent subjective differences there are between waking life and dreaming, they are insufficient differences to gain certainty that I am not now dreaming(Springett, Philosophy of Dreaming).

Dream doubt does not just attack one form of perception but all sense-perception. It makes you think, is what you’re seeing actually there or are you dreaming that it’s there? Through personal experience, I, as I’m sure have others, dreamed up dreams that felt so real it was almost scary. It is possible to have a dream so vivid that you actually dream that you are waking up from another dream. This goes to show that this type of doubt, as introduced by Descartes’ can be probable. Some skeptics of dream doubt have come back to say that there are certain indications that distinguish between a dream and reality. In which Descartes’ comes back with saying that one could be dreaming of a perfect reality. Descartes’ then goes to prove his skepticism further by bringing into play that not only can his perceptions be subject to doubt, but also his thoughts.

I shall then suppose, not that God who is supremely good and the fountain of truth, but some evil genius not less powerful than deceitful, has employed his whole energies in deceiving me it is not in my power to arrive at the knowledge of any truth( Descartes’, 2006). Evil genius doubt is that in which an evil genius or demon is placing doubt on ones thoughts, beginning with the idea that God exists. The evil genius stands as the opposite of God, there may not be a divine creature that created us all. Descartes’ goes on to tell that every aspect of one’s life could be a deceit caused by an evil genius.

The evil genius first works to make a person doubt the existence of God and then works to make them doubt every thought or idea that comes into their head. In dream doubt simple mathematical equations such as 2+2=4 are always going to be correct or that a polygon with 3 sides is always a triangle. However, when the evil genius is brought into the situation, mathematics as well as every other idea and topic can be doubted. Does 2+2=4 or is there some greater being causing me to think that? Unlike the dream doubt, evil genius doubt calls into question the material world itself.

The evil genius can make a person doubt what they believe to be certain and true. What is essential to the doubt is not a specific story about how I got my cognitive wiring; it’s instead the realization regardless the story that, for all I Know, my cognitive wiring is flawed (Newman, 1997). The point of the evil genius doubt is to out-do the skeptics at their own game. It brings about a creature or idea that can cause even the skeptics to doubt themselves. Descartes’ believes that the only thing that is able to survive the evil genius doubt is the Cogito.

After understanding the types of doubt, Descartes’ comes to a point of total deception. If he has no mental agency, no control over his mind at all, over what he experiences or what he thinks, then the very idea of knowing anything seems to be undermined(Routledge). Descartes’ believes that because he is able to doubt even his own existence proves that he exists. By introducing the evil genius doubt into any situation, one might think they would be able to doubt even their own existence, especially because the evil genius can doubt one’s own world. This, however, is false. If one is able to think that they may not exist, the evil genius may be deceiving them but in order for the evil genius to do that, one must exist in some kind of way. It is not possible for one to think and not think or exist and not exist at the same time. If one is able to think about things, they have some sort of existence in some type of way. For even an omnipotent god could not cause it to be true, at one and the same time, both that I am deceived and that I do not exist. If I am deceived, then at least I am (Kemerling, 2011). By establishing the Cogito, skepticism is entirely defeated. No matter the skeptical situation raised, there is always one piece of true human knowledge that pulls through, and that is the absolute certainty of one’s own existence.
Cogito ergo sum. In Latin, this translates to I think therefore I am.

This statement comes from Descartes’ Cogito. He was able to successfully demonstrate his existence in a world of doubt. Many use this saying today as a motivational statement to will something into existence, much like Descartes’ did. Descartes’ method of doubt successfully shows that any subject or idea that could possibly be doubted is not certain or true knowledge and must therefore be broken down by the method of doubt and reexamined in order to build up knowledge again. Knowledge is based on certainty; if you can doubt a thought or a subject then it is not certain. An example of a knowledgeable subject would be science. There is no room for doubt, everything in science is proved and backed by facts and therefore is certain. Descartes’ proves his method of doubt leads to the Cogito by thoroughly establishing the evil genius doubt. The one thing that can evade the evil genius doubt is the Cogito, or self-existence. Even with the existence of an evil genius, one cannot exist to be doubted and not exist at all, at the same time. I am then able to conclude that if you are able to think your own thoughts, you must exist.

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Descartes' existence in a world of doubt. (2019, Dec 18). Retrieved August 13, 2022 , from
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