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Is Descartes Right About Doubting Our Senses?

Humans in their nature hypothesize and at the same time are skeptical of everything they believe. Every human belief has the predisposition of being doubted at some point in time. Even God, in all His wisdom has been doubted. Humans are a marvelous creation, but have many imperfections. If God is so powerful, why are we flawed? Is God flawed as well? This is one of the skeptical arguments against the existence of God.

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Rene Descartes pushes skepticism to its fullest extent in order to assert his own beliefs. This is achieved through doubting anything which is true in our external world. External perceptions are brought into play here. In widening the spectrum of doubt, Descartes is able to create his own argument for overcoming his own skeptical challenge. This is a process in which Descartes discovers the ideas which he is unable to doubt.

The skeptical challenge refers to the unreliability of the external world for true perception. We know that the mind can misinterpret the external world from time to time. Therefore, one must wonder how often he or she misinterprets sensory input. If perceptions are sometimes false, where can one draw the line? Descartes skeptical arguments include “Dream hypothesis” and the “Evil Demon Hypothesis,” (Descartes, 4-5) The dream argument shows that our perceptions of the external world can not be differentiated from the dream world. Are we always dreaming? The mind interprets dream information as the truth. Hence we are unable to distinguish between the two types of perceptions.

Humans are born with the knowledge Of God, with out this knowledge; we would not question his existence because the mere thought alone would never have come to be. “Among my ideas, some appear to me to be innate, some adventitious, and others to be formed by myself: for, as I have the power of understanding what is called a thing, or a truth, or a thought, it appears to me that I hold this power from no other source than my own nature,” (Descartes, 10).

Descartes doubting these assertions goes on to say that other ideas and beliefs are caused by the influences of man and nature. From childhood, all humans are born with the knowledge of a superior being. This idea of God can not be contradicted or even doubted. The goal of the ontological argument was to set up a Priori response. This is a response, which is found without the senses. This allowed for Descartes to declare God’s existence without the use of the senses.

Descartes goes on to say, “For although the idea of substance is within me owing to the fact that I am substance, nevertheless I should not have the idea of an infinite substance – since I am finite – if it had not proceeded from some substance which was veritable infinite,” (Descartes, 11). In this statement, several things are said which cannot be doubted. Humans are substance; therefore they should not have the idea of infinite substance without their innate knowledge.

The infinity proof theory tells that we would not even have the ability to understand the concept of infinity. Hence, how did we ever imagine such a concept? One can not doubt the infinity of God or the finite substance of human life therefore they cannot doubt these assertions.

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Descartes is seen as a reaction against scholastic philosophy in seventeenth century. The reason for this thought is that Descartes strongly criticized the methods of scholastic philosophy in his some writings. Scholastic philosophy was based on constant dogmas that could not be changed or criticized while Descartes claims that everything, even God, should be criticized to achieve the truth. If you look at Descartes’ philosophy in your own perspective you can easily say that he is inconsistent with himself; however, if you can catch his idea or view in which he see the world, God, and everything you will see that he built his philosophy on unshakable bases. Actually, the given two propositions are seen inconsistent without Descartes’ glasses.

Descartes follows four basic ways when he philosophizes. First of all is that you should accept nothing unless its truth is obvious. The second is that subjects that will be examined should be brought into pieces as much as possible. The third is that you should follow an order way while you are thinking. And the fourth is that you should control everything not to skip any detail. By using these ways, Descartes formed his philosophy. Descartes, as other philosophers, tries to reach absolute truth.

To do this he doubts everything that contains any small piece of friction or that he sees a sign of friction. He says that because our senses do not provide us the reality and can deceive us we have to doubt everything. He uses his first basic way of his method that accepts nothing unless its truth is obvious. He tells us that because of our senses’ imperfection we perceive one thing differently and adds that we cannot be sure that something exists as we perceive. This is something remarkable and significant.

If we further evaluate the same facts, it transpires that at the end, he concludes that he could doubt everything except the fact that he is doubting. In Reader, he says that it is not logical to say that one who is thinking and has some thoughts does not exist. By this way, he reaches his first principle, ego cogito; I am thinking therefore I exist. As we saw, he proves his own existence by doubting everything in external world which we perceive through our senses.

After this point he seems to think above the existence of God while he is doubting everything because he does not accept something unless he sees or understands it is obviously true. He threw away his every thought that perceived by his senses. He knows that because he can even doubt himself he is imperfect so does not have ability to produce such a nation. After that he says that this imperfection in my mind should come from something which is perfect, infinite and cause of everything: God. By this way he proves the existence of God.

As conclusion, we can say that first he proves his existence through doubting everything with his first principle, and secondly he accepted the existence of the God and proves again his own existence as the creature of the God. So these two statements are not compatible but overlapped each other.

Works Cited

Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy, I, II III in The Philosophical Works of Descartes, vol. 1, trans. Elizabeth S. Haldane and G.R.T. Ross (updated by D.C. Abel) Cambridge University Press, 1911. 1-19.

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Steven M. Cahn ed. Descartes, Rene’ “Meditations on First Philosophy,” in Classics of Western Philosophy, (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002), 460.

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