Descartes’ arguments in the Third meditation

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In this essay I will be examining the logical impasse of not being able to attain certain knowledge without accepting the certainty of his sense of reason the meditator faces in meditations on first philosophy and discuss possible interpretations of the text that would explain the meditator’s use of circular argument. The meditator’s endeavor in Rene Descartes’ meditations on first philosophy is introduced through a biographical account, with which any reader can relate. Realizing how in the past he had “accepted many false claims as true” and “how everything [he] had later constructed on top of those falsehoods was doubtful”, he feels the need to “tear everything down completely and begin from the most basic foundations”. His objective is to establish a body of knowledge which is absolutely certain. To achieve this objective, the mediator takes two stages in meditations on first philosophy. The first is the demolition of what is uncertain and the second is the rebuilding of a new certain body of knowledge. The process of demolition is reduced to the single task by the principle that knowledge is doubtable if what the knowledge is contingent upon is uncertain. Following the belief contained in the Aristotelian dictum that ‘nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses’, proving the uncertainty of knowledge gained from the senses is all that is necessary to prove that all the knowledge the meditator has about the world is uncertain. Tentatively beginning with cases in which he believes that he is misguided, such as optical illusions, he next resorts to more drastic measures, which he calls ‘hyperbolic doubt’. He imagines scenarios that would result in him being sensorially deceived such as hypothesizing that he... ... middle of paper ... ...e a concept of God that clearly is of external influence. Although his proof only relies on his ability to conceive such a God, it is effective in illustrating the impossibility of an uncorrupted body of knowledge. It is, indeed, somewhat farfetched to assume Descartes’ intentions in the text, but given that expressing what would entail rejecting all established theological opinions, perhaps he, like many writers, decided to take a literary approach. For it seems that, while accomplishing the task of making readers realize uncertainty, the text convinced few who were not already faithful in the existence of God. And, seeing that the circular argument fallacy is quite obvious and unmistakable for anyone, it would be odd to think that Descartes’ himself was convinced by it, and more natural to think that he encountered the problem but continued out of some intention.

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