Descartes' Method of Doubt Essay

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Descartes' Method of Doubt

In this essay I will assess Descartes's employment of his Method of Doubt, as presented in his Meditations on the First Philosophy [Descartes 1641]. I will argue that by implicitly accepting a causal model of perception, Descartes did not apply the Method of Doubt as fully as he could have.

The Method of Doubt

Descartes's principal task in the Meditations was to devise a system that would bring him to the truth. He wanted to build a foundational philosophy; a basic edifice from which all further intellectual enquiry could be built. It was essential that his foundational beliefs were sound. If any one of them were at all in doubt, then it put the credibility of the whole structure of knowledge in
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The underlying principle behind Descartes's sceptical approach is that there is a distinction between belief and truth. For example, having made a pot of tea five minutes ago, I may well believe that it is now full and ready to pour. But in truth, perhaps, someone else may already have drunk the tea and emptied the pot while I was out of the kitchen waiting for it to brew. Although I think this is unlikely, and I continue to believe the pot is full of tea, I cannot be sure of it. Thus it is possible that I may believe something, but to my surprise find that it is not true. This situation is not inconsistent. The Method of Doubt ultimately involves the task of removing all uncertain beliefs, ensuring that only beliefs that are certainly true beliefs remain in one's philosophy. Descartes states in the first paragraph of Meditation 1 that 'I had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions for true, and that consequently what I afterwards based on such principles was highly doubtful; and ... I was convinced of the necessity of undertaking ... to rid myself of all the opinions I had adopted'.

Descartes saw that the Method of Doubt could be applied, generally, to a whole class of beliefs. Thus he would not have to indulge in the laborious endeavour of checking each and every one of his beliefs, separately. Instead, he could deal with them in groups by doubting any common characteristic that they may share. 'Nor for this purpose will it be necessary
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