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Descartes Meditation On First Philosophy

1257 words - 6 pages

How Descartes Use Methodological Skepticism to Articulate a Foundationalist Conception of Knowledge

Descartes is the first modern philosopher who rejects Aristotelianism and starts foundationalism, which is of great controversy but extreme importance in modern philosophy. In Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes utilizes methodological skepticism to present the foundationalist conception of knowledge, in which a belief can only be considered knowledge when it is based on basic principles, or principles that are justified without appealing to any external ideas or facts. Under the methodological skepticism, a person can test a belief by asking the question “Could it be false?” If the ...view middle of the document...

These dreams are like paintings; they are made of real things that are taken from reality, therefore, they can deceive people to think that they are real, and should not be trusted. In contrast to senses and dreams, the cogito “I think, I exist” is self-evident because as long as it is perceived clearly and distinctly, people cannot help but agree that this cogito is true. Moreover, beliefs that are based on basic principles that are true, infallible and formed beyond doubt, like arithmetic or geometry, are “certain and indubitable” and therefore should also be trusted and be the foundation of knowledge. Therefore, basic principles are more stable, more valuable and more trust-worthy than non-basic ones.
Methodological skepticism is the perfect tool for presenting foundationalist conception of knowledge. By using methodological skepticism, a person can test belief to see if they are basic principles or not by asking him or herself: “Is the belief possibly false?” If the answer for the question is “Yes,” the beliefs are not necessarily true; therefore, it is not basic principles. If the answer for the question is “No,” the beliefs are then indubitable and infallible, and are basic principles. Only beliefs based on these basic principles are self-evident and should be the foundations of knowledge. There are three applications of the methodological skepticism. First, the ordinary or normal doubt about senses can be recognized: senses can deceive people in perceiving distant or small objects. Second, the dream doubt can also be distinguished: except for shapes and number, images in dreams do not correspond to the external world; if they do, they are not from our perception but through our judgments. For example, we can recognize a piece of wax that is hard, cold, easy to touch with a honey flavor when its scent is vanished, its color is changed, is liquid and hot. Evidently, our sense about the piece of wax is different, but we can still recognize it through our judgments. These are the two direct doubts results from sense perceptions. Finally comes the omnipotent being doubt, or the indirect doubt, in which people can be deceived even about basic principles as there can be an omnipotent God deceiving people, making people’s mind lose certainty about the basic Mathematics.
A proof a God’s existence and He is not a deceiver is presented by Descartes to reject all doubts about simple Mathematics in the third application of methodological skepticism. Ideas, which are thoughts that represent things, are analyzed in order to clarify the origin of the idea of God. There are three types of ideas based on their origin: innate ideas that originate from within, or prior, fictitious ideas that come with people’s will and are made by...

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