The Cartesian Circle Essay

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Descartes’ Cartesian Circle

Descartes’ “Cartesian Circle” has come under fire from countless philosophers because it supposedly commits a logical fallacy with its circular reasoning. In his second Meditation, Descartes attempts to prove the existence of God. He states that clear and distinct perception leads to knowledge, and that God’s existence is apparent and obvious because of things we have come to perceive as knowledge. Furthermore, he asserts that we cannot turn these perceptions into knowledge without the assurance that God exists. Essentially, Descartes claims that God is a necessary condition for knowledge, which in turn requires the existence of God. This circular logic presents a problematic scenario similar to the “chicken
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In one publication James Van Cleve writes about a philosopher named Willis Doney who advocates a “solution” to the Cartesian Circle called the Memory Gambit. Doney’s analysis reveals that “Descartes says that if I remember clearly and distinctly perceiving something that I do not now clearly and distinctly perceive, I can be certain of it if and only if I know that God exists” (Cleve, 56). Doney proposes that an atheist can learn and ascertain knowledge about subjects such as math if he clearly perceives them at the time. Whether or not he retains that knowledge or is able to erase doubt regarding that knowledge is entirely dependent on his comprehension of God’s existence. Doney’s interpretation therefore is that the function of God is only to guarantee the accuracy of one’s memory, rather than regulate the transition from a perception to a piece of knowledge. In other words, without a certainty that God exists, one is merely “trapped in a moment,” and can only be certain of things perceived at any one given time. By denying one of the premises that form the Cartesian Circle, it is possible to circumvent the logical fallacy originally committed. Following in the steps of the first defense is one that seeks to disprove Descartes’ second premise: in order to know that God exists, one must first have a certainty that what they perceive is truly knowledge. Van Cleve sheds some light on this by
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