Doubt and the Meditations

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Within Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes undertakes a worthy goal: the discovery of the sources of doubt with the ultimate result being more truthful opinions, assertions, and arguments. Descartes was well ahead of his times, forging a pathway to more rigorous scholarship through the casting of doubt upon his “opinions”. Unfortunately, however, Descartes was either unable or unwilling to cast doubt upon his primary source of fallibility: his exaltation of all things cerebral and his concurrent disdain for the physical body. Because of this, he was either unable or unwilling to rigorously scrutinize his opinion/belief regarding the existence of God. Instead, he chose to focus his doubt-casting (skepticism) upon his senses, going so far as to suggest that since dreaming can mimic the “real world”, he cannot trust what his eyes see, or his hands uncover. His focus upon the senses as the primary source of doubt is typical of Descartes, given that he asserted that it was his thoughts which were his essence, the very definition of who he was (who we all are). Yet, I argue that it was his inability to cast doubt upon his intellectual reasoning vis-à-vis the existence of supernatural entities (God) in any substantive way that led to his ultimately controversial approach to finding and resolving sources of doubt. Further, I argue that because Descartes insisted upon limiting his pool of useful knowledge to that which he, himself, uncovered (or thought about), he missed an obvious way to find and fix any possible errors stemming from faulty sensory perceptions; namely, the testing and validation (or elimination) of hypotheses by other researchers. If I perceive that a ball falls at the same rate as a block of wood as the... ... middle of paper ... ... the reader, in turn, that even if Descartes' god does not exist, his demon does. Because both of these deities fall into the category of the utterly unprovable, their very presence in the argument as anything remotely resembling factual entities weakens the whole thing. It is difficult to take seriously the admonition that we doubt everything when possibly the most debatable “thing” of all is taken pretty much at face value. In the end, Descartes' Meditations led to, among other things, the scientific method, and there can be little argument that this was a desirable outcome. Unfortunately, however, his First Meditation misses the mark in some crucial ways in formulating a solid argument that such a method should be utilized in scholarly pursuits. That doubt should be cast is not the issue; how one justifies this assertion, however, is very much the issue.
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