In the first meditation by Descartes, he argues that everything he perceives as reality might as well be the work of an all-powerful evil demon whose only objective is to deceive him. As such, anything he perceives as being real, and therefore able to know exist, could be an illusion created by the evil demon.
From that point of view, knowledge is quite fallible as everything could be an illusion. An example of this could also be the “A Brain in a Vat”-scenario, (Philosophy Gym, p.25). This argues that one’s entire perception of the world could be false as the brain might as well be in a vat on an alien ship, being fed with stimulants in order for the consciousness to perceive things, while being unaware of its actual situation. The conclusion to draw from this is that we can’t know anything for certain. Or at least prove that anything we perceive is real. Therefore we can’t know anything for a fact.
In Descartes second meditation however, he argues that the fact that he’s able to speculate about his reality being made up by this demon is an actual proof of him existing. As he is in fact thinking, he must be something. A thinking “thing”. By proving his own existence, he also proves that some kind of knowledge is obtainable. The knowledge of one’s own existence.
While Descartes is considered one...
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... Having said that, Empiricism has its shortcomings as well. Another example could be in crime statistics. The first time I saw a black man, he was committing a crime. Therefore, all black men must be criminal. Applying some skepticism to this example would perhaps help to nuance ones perception, e.g. The first time I saw a black man, he was committing a crime, but just because I have experienced it once before, doesn’t mean that all black men are criminals.
Both perspectives in their extremes don’t seem to be working very well, one way or another.
Therefore, one could argue that in order to obtain or use knowledge in both a practical and sensible way, is to combine the two. True, sensible knowledge though, can only be found by strong Skepticism, cf. Descartes first two meditations.
Think, Simon Blackburn, 1999
The Philosophy Gym, Stephen Law, 2003
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