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Beliefs Beyond Doubt, What All Other Respond To: Rene Descartes' "Meditations on First Philosophy"

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Rene Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy is considered to be one of the most important works in modern philosophy. John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and countless other philosophers wrote largely in response to Descartes. Yet there are serious doubts related to the treatise's major argument. In the Objections and Replies, a collection of objections to the work along with Descartes personal and often very detailed replies to said objections, the philosopher Antoine Arnauld raises the question of whether or not Descartes was guilty of circular reasoning. In this essay, I will examine the arguments that Descartes used to reach the work's major conclusion, the objection made by Arnauld, and the validity of the treatise in light of Descartes' response.
In meditation one of Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes presents the framework for his philosophy. Recalling unjustified views that he held as a child, Descartes presents his goal as the search for beliefs that are beyond doubt. If we can find what these beliefs are, Descartes posits, we have found a stable foundation with which to build off of in the pursuit of all further knowledge. In pursuit of this goal, Descartes outlines his methods: he will assume nothing, and only accept as true that which cannot be doubted for any reason, ridiculous or otherwise. Two arguments are presented to provide a seed of doubt into as many of our beliefs as possible. The first argument is often refereed to as the Dream Argument. When we dream while asleep, the things that the we perceive are often not in accordance with reality; suppose we dream that we are flying though in reality we are merely lying down in bed for example. Descartes argues that, despite whatever distinctions we thi...


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...ail to reach it's end in a manner acceptable against Descartes' initial standards for justified true knowledge. In short, we can never know beyond any doubt that there exists a supremely good God, and consequently we can never know beyond any doubt whether or not we are somehow deceived about anything beyond the most simple intuitions.
To conclude, it should be noted that Descartes' failure does not necessarily warrant any negative attention, nor does it detract from any of his other accomplishments. Future philosophers, such as John Locke and David Hume, took the essentials of what Descartes tried to prove in Meditations on First Philosophy as given premises. In that Descartes had set out to form an impenetrable foundation for the formation of human knowledge, it seems that he has failed; this, however, merely acts as a reaffirmation of the difficulty of the task.


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