Descartes 2


How does Descartes try to extricate himself from the sceptical
doubts that he has raised? Does he succeed?
by Tom Nuttall
[All page references and quotations from the Meditations are
taken from the 1995 Everyman edition]

In the Meditations, Descartes embarks upon what Bernard Williams
has called the project of 'Pure Enquiry' to discover certain,
indubitable foundations for knowledge. By subjecting everything
to doubt Descartes hoped to discover whatever was immune to it.
In order to best understand how and why Descartes builds his
epistemological system up from his foundations in the way that he
does, it is helpful to gain an understanding of the intellectual
...

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later. The
second was the scepticism that had made a sudden impact on the
intellectual world, mainly as a reaction to the scholastic
outlook. This scepticism was strongly influenced by the work of
the Pyrrhonians as handed down from antiquity by Sextus
Empiricus, which claimed that, as there is never a reason to
believe p that is better than a reason not to believe p, we
should forget about trying to discover the nature of reality and
live by appearance alone. This attitude was best exemplified in
the work of Michel de Montaigne, who mockingly dismissed the
attempts of theologians and scientists to understand the nature
of God and the universe respectively. Descartes felt the force of
sceptical arguments and, while not being sceptically disposed
himself, came to believe that scepticism towards knowledge was
the best way to discover what is certain: by applying sceptical
doubt to all our beliefs, we can discover which of them are
indubitable, and ...

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his beliefs
to the strongest and most hyberbolic of doubts. He invokes the
nightmarish notion of an all-powerful, malign demon who could be
deceiving him in the realm of sensory experience, in his very
understanding of matter and even in the simplest cases of
mathematical or logical truths. The doubts may be obscure, but
this is the strength of the method - the weakness of criteria for
what makes a doubt reasonable means that almost anything can
count as a doubt, and therefore whatever withstands doubt must be
something epistemologically formidable.

In Meditation Two, Descartes hits upon the indubitable principle
he has been seeking. He exists, at least when he ...

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Added: 6/23/2006 03:41:25 PM
Category: Biographies
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