Good Example Of Descartes On God, Body, And Mind — As A Philosophical Methodology Of Doubt Essay
Type of paper: Essay
Topic: Descartes, God, Ethics, Philosophy, Truth, Internet, Existence, Foundation
On the Method of Doubt
Descartes’ method of doubt is explained in the first part of the Meditations. In order to establish a firm foundation for truth, he argues, he has to raze the foundations and build from a firm foundation (13). In order to establish a firm foundation for truth, Descartes employs a method of doubt that dictates that anything that can be cast into suspicion must be discarded as the indubitable truth (16). For the truth to be indubitable, it must be unable to be doubted.
Descartes’ skepticism leads him to discover the truth. A skeptic argues that knowledge is not possible to attain or that doubts we have about the existence of the external world are spurious. Descartes is skeptical about the use of sensory perception, and he puts suspicion on empirical observation and he argues that senses are deceptive. As Hatfield points out, Descartes goes further and eschews any sensory perception as reliable; he thinks all knowledge can arrive from purely intellectual perception alone (2014). For example, he argues that a person in the distance appears small when in actuality they are the same size as the observer. He also wonders in a skeptical way whether or not I could be dreaming right now, or if an evil genius is controlling my thoughts. However, in general, Descartes’ philosophy affirms knowledge, the existence of the external world.
The significance of the Cogito argument is to establish a firm foundation for truth. Descartes introduces the Cogito in the second Meditation. He has come to a point in the argument where he says he has cast off everything he had thought to be the truth (through his method of doubt). What is left, he wonders, to advance the sciences if everything is an illusion? He then says that even when he is doubting he is at least still thinking. For to doubt is still an activity of the mind. The argument relates to the evil genius because Descartes says that even if an evil genius is deceiving him the one thing that remains is the sheer productivity of his thinking process. He can still think. It does not matter that an evil genius is controlling him. Or, even if he is dreaming, he is still thinking. So as long as the subject is a thinking thing, it has grounds to affirm that it is: “I think; I am” (19).
Descartes does not believe in God. God is an extension of his argument, and one could simply remove the content about God’s existence from the book, and the logic of what he is saying would still make sense. Descartes does present a proof for the existence of God, but it is merely an extension of his argument that since I can think I must exist. He says that since I can have an idea of perfection, and then there must be something that is more perfect than what I can consider to be perfect, and this notion of perfection leads me to the conclusion that there must exist outside of myself a supreme being (43). The argument is not convincing because the attribute for this God is not given much thought. The God that Descartes “proves” is one in which the qualifier “perfection” could easily be applied to a “perfect” drink as much as it can be applied to a perfect God. In this way, I am not convinced that Descartes is an ardent theist.
As Newman points out, one problem with Descartes’ argument is that the whole point of the Meditations is to establish a clear foundation for the sciences but what he has sought out to prove he has, as has been noted, by assuming the notion of clear and distinct ideas and the notion of an all-perfect God (2014). It is circular reasoning because he uses clear and distinct ideas to prove clear and distinct ideas so it is like saying that God exists because God is perfect, which comes from the idea of perfection itself. He is presupposing premise to be true without establishing its truth. God cannot be the guarantor of clear and distinct ideas if the whole point of the book is to demonstrate that clear and distinct ideas originate from the Cogito (which is why I think the book would be better off without the inclusion of God).
Descartes, René, and Donald A. Cress. Meditations on First Philosophy: In Which the Existence
of God and the Distinction of the Soul from the Body Are Demonstrated. Indianapolis:
Hackett Pub. Co, 1993. Internet Resource.
Hatfield, Gary, "René Descartes", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015
Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2015/entries/descartes/>. Internet resource.
Newman, Lex, "Descartes' Epistemology", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter
2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =