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Descartes: How to Achieve Knowledge

Descartes was the first philosopher to criticize the empiricists’ view of the process of achieving knowledge in the seventeenth century. According to Descartes, human senses cannot be trusted, as there are no reliable signs to distinguish whether a man is asleep or awake (158). There are, however, some undeniable truths, one of which is “I think, therefore I am” (Descartes 161). Descartes argues that it is not human senses but, rather, human intellect that perceives objects.

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People make mistakes because of the duality of their nature, as they have both understanding and will. As long as humans use their understanding correctly, they will never make mistakes. The confusion appears when the will extends over the understanding, and people jump to conclusions without careful consideration and skepticism. I agree with Descartes that knowledge may be acquired only after thorough analysis and discussion.

There is no doubt that our senses are not perfect and, as such, should not be treated as the ultimate source of knowledge. People can perceive the same object differently depending on how well their senses perform. Impaired vision, hearing problems, or color-blindness can limit the ability to acquire reliable information, and can even become a source of delusion. People can also be disorientated by feelings, which can lead to incorrect conclusions and rashly trusting initial appearances. Therefore, the only way to ensure reliable information is to apply rationalism. In short, analysis and careful consideration is a more reliable source of knowledge compared to the senses.

Descartes states that God, an infinite being, grants people the ability to perceive. According to Descartes, God is not a deceiver, and human senses are right in reporting the outside world (Descartes 176). In Meditation VI, Descartes rejects the extreme doubts he had considered in his first meditation and proclaims perception to be the basis for the scientific method (Descartes 179). As such, Descartes appears to contradict himself, as there appears to be no need for a thorough analysis, and people can trust their senses to achieve reliable knowledge. However, the Meditations on First Philosophy provide further explanation on this matter.

While senses can be trusted most of the time, there are sources of mistakes that make perception untrustworthy. Human beings are creatures with a dual nature; people have both will and understanding that should be distinguished. As God does not want to delude people, human understanding is perfect. However, will interfere with understanding and become the source of mistakes. People can be convinced only by what they can grasp clearly and distinctly (Descartes 173).

Therefore, humans must analyze and break down everything into constituent parts until there is no doubt about the findings. In brief, human senses can be trusted most of the time but people should also be aware of the sources of mistakes.

The Meditations on First Philosophy by Descartes introduces new grounds for scientific and philosophical knowledge using the method of doubt. While the writing belongs to the seventeenth century, researchers still consider the work to be the beginnings of the modern scientific approach. While Descartes’s logic can be criticized for occasional inconsistencies, his process of achieving knowledge is far more reliable than that described in the works of his predecessors. While human senses can be trusted most of the time, people should also employ doubt and be careful to judge whether they report the true nature of things correctly.

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Work Cited

Descartes, René. Meditations on First Philosophy. 2018. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, May 21). Descartes: How to Achieve Knowledge. https://studycorgi.com/descartes-how-to-achieve-knowledge/

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