Descartes and Doubt - Of Term Paper

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Carrying it to the next logical step, he says that all opinions are false until proven otherwise, and perhaps it is not he himself who is responsible for his own deception, but rather it is "some deceitful demon" who is so clever and capable that he can blur the reality of "the sky, the air, the earth" into a dream or illusion.

Meantime, Williams writes that Descartes is the kind of intelligent being who really enjoys peace of mind and clarity; and hence, Williams asserts that Descartes is disturbed by "...his awareness of various problems and puzzles" (Williams 119). Because Descartes is always determined to seek the truth in all matters, his initial state "can quite properly be described as one of doubt or uncertainty."

And this writer agrees with Williams' concerns as he continues; "Doubt is the state in which we want to know the truth but cannot decide where it lies." And yet, rather than produce results that are fulfilling, Descartes' doubt produces "a lively sense that no disputes are ever resolvable," Williams explains, which is very believable and this writer believes that point is probably the main focus of the whole Meditation I. No disputes, no serious questions and doubts, can every be fully explained or resolved.

I think that is one of the most powerful themes of Meditation I; we in the 21st Century especially tend to believe so much of what is presented to us. We want to believe our political leaders, and then when we do we find out they aren't always telling the truth. If we had used the Descartes method of questions and doubting, we would have held off our faithful believing until it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt that we could trust that political leader.

The same with our other so-called leaders - in literature, in music, in sports - we too often find out that writers use plagiarism and musicians use lip-sync and sports heroes use steroids. This doesn't happen every time, but it does happen, and we get sucked into the deception because we didn't use the Cartesian approach of being doubtful and questioning.

Meanwhile, Williams (p. 119) wonders why Descartes' failure to bring his "inquiries to a definite conclusion" doesn't "intensify his disquiet." Williams then adds that the very process of acquiring his "distinctive skeptical capacities...eliminates the urge to really know how things are." Another point that Williams makes in his book (p. 120) - which is easy to agree with and adhere to - is that Descartes confronts his own skepticism in a context where "his fundamental motive... [is] the urge to know," not to just be a constant doubter. It isn't the doubts, but the search for what is true, that drives Descartes in Meditation I.

As to the demon that Descartes introduces towards the end of Meditation I, critic Robert Wachbrit (Journal of the History of Ideas) asserts that Descartes was not offering a "...skeptical argument when he invented his demon." The demon, Wachbrit continues, quoting Henri Gouhier, "...has no metaphysical significance; it is purely a methodological artifice which permits doubt to continue..."

Wachbrit believes that Descartes himself would likely have been "surprised" at some of the scholarly interpretations that have been made about his demon; the philosopher would probably have been "not at all sympathetic" to the use of the demon in scholarly works, when used to embrace the real meaning of skepticism.

But for this writer, the aspect of Meditation I that has the most appeal, as stated earlier in the paper, is that doubting is healthy. Not purely being skeptical for the sake of being a curmudgeon or a "stick in the mud"; but to question every statement by every teacher and leader first, and after careful analysis to then accept that statement, is an alert and wise way to proceed in this world of myriad deceptions in just about every aspect of our lives.

Works Cited

Descartes, Rene. The Meditations and Selections from The Principles of Rene Descartes.

Translated by John Veitch). United States: Paquin Printers, 1968.

Wachbrit, Robert. "Cartesian Skepticism from Bare Possibility." Journal of the History of Ideas 57.1 (1996): 109-129.

Williams, Michael. "Descartes and the Metaphysics of Doubt." Essays on Descartes'

Meditations. Ed.…[continue]

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