Descartes’ Meditations: is there any wiggle room? Ft. his ‘cogito’ (II, I think therefore I am) and his ontology (III, god is real because I conceive it so)
Descartes impacted skepticism (with reference to metaphysics) with the subtle grace of the meteorite that (admittedly allegedly) knocked down the dinosaurs’ door.
Skepticism: “the philosophical position that one should refrain from making truth claims, and avoid the postulation of final truths.” (thanks, philosophybasics.com!)
If the breadth of human knowledge and reasoning is a forest, Descartes was enthralled by the idea that he must find which trees cannot be cut down, before he ascends up the branches to look for ultimate truth. To check each tree is a monumental undertaking, so Descartes chose a simpler way: burn the forest down. The trees left standing after the cleansing would be the only pillars for his quest.
Through three arguments, Descartes (as we learned in recent class discussions) threw out all knowledge.
His first, the sense argument, creates doubt in our empirical observations by proving that our senses deceive us.
His second, the dream argument, shakes even the most concrete assumptions we make of reality – if this life is a waking dream then perhaps the world doesn’t exist at all.
His third, the evil demon argument, attacks the final bastion of human knowledge remaining, our reasoning. Even seemingly cohesive systems of logic such as mathematics could actually be false ideas planted inside of our heads by a deceiver.
Eventually, Descartes ends up arriving at ‘cogito ergo sum,‘ which we know to translate to ‘I think, therefore I am.’ His one, unalienable truth is that as long as a thing ponders its own existence, then it exists.
Pourchista, in class, mentioned that Descartes is comforting – personally, I am still grappling with the stark void that Descartes presents. Indeed, that struggle is going to be the basis of my metaphysical inquiry. Over the next two weeks, I will be attacking Descartes’ arguments individually, looking for gaps. Then, I’ll be attacking his ‘cogito’, and lastly his ontological argument, which I will hint at the very bottom of this post.
It is incredibly improbable I will find any gaps or holes that I can exploit in the logic of Rene Descartes. He has been forged from the relentless pressure of countless human scholars, historians, thinkers and critics for hundreds of years. However, I am confident that the exploration of his work will yield a greater understanding of his thought, and perhaps bring me a little closer to Pourchista’s level.
Thanks for reading this far, since you made it Descartes has an infuriatingly simple conundrum for you to smash your head against: God exists!
- I have an idea of supremely perfect being, i.e. a being having all perfections.
- Necessary existence is a perfection.
- Therefore, a supremely perfect being exists.
This is rooted in Descartes philosophical viewpoint that a thing must spring forth from something else that contains the totality of it. Ideas are included in that statement. Therefore, the very fact that one can perceive and conceptualize an all-powerful, perfect God, means that it must exist. Where else would the idea spring from if not from its own existence?
I love hating Descartes. See you next time.