- Why doesn’t Descartes simply determine what’s real by looking around him and using his sense experience? What is the reason he felt he needed to adopt radical skepticism, and do you feel he is successful? Be sure to use passages from the Meditations or his Discourse on Method to support your assertions.
In his Meditations, Descartes argues that sense experience is not a reliable source of knowledge about the external world, and that we must adopt a radical skeptical approach to determine what is truly real. Descartes does not trust sense experience because he believes that it can be easily deceived, and that the things we perceive through our senses may not correspond to reality. He writes, “I have often found that the senses deceive, and it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once” (Meditation I).
Descartes’ radical skepticism is based on the idea that we cannot be certain of anything unless we can prove it with absolute certainty. He believes that we must doubt everything we know and start from scratch in order to arrive at the truth. He writes, “I will not accept anything as true that is not known to me to be such” (Meditation II).
Descartes felt he needed to adopt radical skepticism in order to establish a firm foundation for knowledge. He believed that by doubting everything, he could arrive at a core of knowledge that was certain and indubitable. He writes, “I will apply myself earnestly and without reservation to the general demolition of my opinions” (Meditation II). By doubting everything, Descartes hoped to arrive at a point where he could be certain of at least one thing, which he could then use as a foundation for building a system of knowledge.
In my opinion, while Descartes’ method of doubt is certainly interesting and thought-provoking, it is not entirely successful. By doubting everything, Descartes seems to end up in a kind of solipsism, in which he is the only thing that he can be certain of. This seems like an overly extreme conclusion, and one that is not particularly useful for understanding the world around us. Furthermore, it is not clear that the evil demon hypothesis is a particularly convincing argument, as it seems to rely on a rather implausible scenario. Overall, while Descartes’ method of doubt is certainly worth considering, I do not think that it provides us with a particularly useful or practical way of approaching knowledge. – Warinthorn