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Cartesian Scepticism

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Richard Hamilton

on 6 September 2012

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Transcript of Cartesian Scepticism

Cartesian Scepticism
Doubt as Method Unlike the Pyrrhonian Sceptics doubt for Descartes
was methodical
But why? Methodical Doubt? Descartes was first and foremost a natural philosopher

He was interested in creating a complete mathematical physics Nullius in Verba Descartes was about to complete his treatise on Physics
The World, when he heard of the church's condemnation of Galileo

Scholars are divided on his motives
But all agree that this event forced him to re-consider the foundations of his scientific system. The Condemnation of Galileo Descartes' theory is classically foundationalist.
That means that merely accumulating results is insufficient.
It is necessary to have a theoretical account.
Contrast this with Newton's famous slogan:
'hypotheses non fingo' ( I don't make hypotheses).
This in part ties in with his passion for mathematics. Foundationalism In keeping with the spirit of the scientific revolution
Descartes' method is profoundly democratic.
He believes that anyone can acquire knowledge by following this method.
Contrast this with the 'esoteric' knowledge' claimed by gurus.
He is also one of the earliest writers to write treatises in both Latin and French.
Above all, it is in keeping with the slogan 'nullius in verba'. Method SEVERAL years have now elapsed since I first became aware that I had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions for true, and that consequently what I afterward based on such principles was highly doubtful; and from that time I was convinced of the necessity of undertaking once in my life to rid myself of all the opinions I had adopted, and of commencing anew the work of building from the foundation, if I desired to establish a firm and abiding superstructure in the sciences. The Method of doubt It is an irony of intellectual history that one of the great
moments of philosophical insight may have been caused by carbon
monoxide poisoning.
Descartes speaks of falling asleep in a 'stove heated room' and when awaking is struck by the illusory nature of appearances. The stove heated room . "But I cannot forget that, at other times I have been deceived in sleep by similar illusions; and, attentively considering those cases, I perceive so clearly that there exist no certain marks by which the state of waking can ever be distinguished from sleep, that I feel greatly astonished; and in amazement I almost persuade myself that I am now dreaming".

Much of the force of this argument rests upon an
appeal to the phenomenology of dreaming.
(I personally don't have vivid visual dreams, so I don't find
it particularly compelling). The Argument from Dreaming Descartes suggest that we can't rely even upon the assumption of a benevolent deity.

It is logically possible that an evil demon is controlling our thoughts and presenting us with a series of illusions.

The best we can do therefore is suspend judgment in the face of all beliefs which are uncertain. Descartes' Evil Demon So What Then Can We Not Doubt? Doubtless, then, I exist, since I am deceived; and, let him deceive me as he may, he can never bring it about that I am nothing, so long as I shall be conscious that I am something. So that it must, in fine, be maintained, all things being maturely and carefully considered, that this proposition (pronunciatum ) I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time it is expressed by me, or conceived in my mind. But what, then, am I ? A thinking thing, it has been said. But what is a thinking thing? It is a thing that doubts, understands, [conceives], affirms, denies, wills, refuses; that imagines also, and perceives. Sum Res Cogitans What Descartes ultimately bequeaths us, for better or worse, is
a radically individualist theory of knowledge
It rejects traditional authority in all its forms.
It makes individual certainty the criterion for knowledge.
It allows little scope for the social context of knowledge
other than as bias. A Radically Individualist Foundation
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