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Descartes’ Epistemological Philosophical Approaches Essay

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Updated: Jan 25th, 2021


Historical perspectives of philosophy entail, not only coming up with personal answers on fundamental interrogatives but also trying amicably to come into terms with the manner in which some people in the past attempted to provide responses to general questions. Therefore, when addressing any philosophical issue, the scholarly works of philosophical inquirers such as Plato, and Rene Descartes amongst others, come in handy alongside epistemological, ethical, metaphysical, and logical concerns of philosophical approaches.

What is the skeptical argument for the conclusion that there is no intellectual justification?

One can justify his or her beliefs using two approaches: pragmatic and intellectual justifications. Pragmatic justifications are depended on proof that the thing in question has an overall good, and that is why one believes in it. Intellectual justification, on the other hand, depends on giving evidence supporting the belief. Descartes is of the opinion that “the concept of intellectual justification and its role in the concept of knowledge is problematic” (Cummins 1).

For substantive final conclusive justification of an argument, a final reason beyond, which there is no other reason, must come out clearly in an argument. The substantive reason refers to the unique information that a person possesses which can back up a conclusion. However, according to Descartes’s regression argument, arriving at a justification requires a chain of reasons, which, in fact, cannot proceed forever.

With regard to this argument, “a finite chain of reasons must end at an arbitrary point, i.e., with a reason for which one has no further reasons” (Descartes “Background” 1). Unfortunately, the entire sphere of beliefs, justified by the known reason, ends up resting squarely on some unknown beliefs. Therefore, since nothing seems known, the conclusion is that there exists no intellectual justification.

What is the “method of doubt”, and what role does it play in Descartes’ strategy? What is the outcome? I.e., what does Descartes think he has discovered?

Descartes proposes a methodology of doubt, which according to him, can help in unveiling all the truth surrounding a particular philosophical argument. He proceeds by separating those things that he has some doubts about from those things he believes (Cummins 3: Haldane 19). One can only arrive at substantial knowledge by learning to doubt everything. This exposition tells why Descartes could even doubt his own existence. The main concern here is that appearance is deceiving. According to Descartes, perpetual deception lies on the foundation that the way things seem to a person, appears to him or her in a unique way (Haldane 21).

It is, therefore, crucial for one to know how things seem to him or her. Consequently, learning to doubt, therefore, can aid in sorting out what is “apparent and discrete” since it’s only such things that are immune to doubt. Reasoning from simplistic identities, as well as following the methodology of doubt in an attempt to arrive at conclusive decisions about the realities of the material world is problematic since naive realism is wrong (Descartes “Background” 11). This, therefore, paves the way to Descartes’s discovery: that the actual reality of everything defies its appearance. Hence, everything is subject to doubt!

Briefly explain the account of error Descartes offers in Meditation 4

Can one wholly avoid an error? What makes people subjected to errors? Rene Descartes postulates that an idea by itself is not false. Only when one uses it as “a representation of something else can it be erroneous, and only then we need not be naive realists in our judgments” (Haldane 41). Error is not avoidable. Therefore, if one were to avoid it, God, who is omniscient and omnipotent, could have provided mechanisms to make people free of errors.

Descartes argues, in meditation four, that limitations, such as the limitation of the processing time, may contribute to the fact that declares errors inevitable in human nature. If it were necessary, then God should have considered slowing the environmental process or perhaps increasing the processing speeds of people (Descartes “The Problem of Evil” Document 9). Considering the nature of God, it cannot be His intention to make man prone to errors. However, committing an error, according to Descartes is an indication of not possessing some vital knowledge (Shouler 22), since possessing such knowledge would render an acutely thinking being: one guided by reason, to borrow impeccably from such knowledge thus avoiding committing the errors.

In Med. 3, Descartes writes that he cannot be certain of anything until he knows God exists and is not a deceiver. Explain why this is thought to be inconsistent with Med. 2, and why it appears to involve Descartes inevitably in a circular argument

In meditation three, Descartes writes that he cannot be certain that anything exists until he is certain that God exists and that he is not a deceiver. He presents an argument that he undoubtedly believes would provide substantive grounds to prove all perfection originates from the super deity: God. Despite the fact that he views himself as imperfect, he upholds the idea that the super deity is perfect. This argument is chiefly dependent on the scholastic opinion, which claims, “there must be as much reality in the cause in as in the effect” (Haldane 28). He, however, seems to involve himself, in a circular argument inevitably.

In meditation 2, he argues in the lines of how the ‘distinctive and clear’ is immune from doubt (Descartes “Background” 11). He must give reasons for holding this position, which is something that according to meditation two would end into a series of reasons without an end. However, he concludes that God exists, even in the light of being not possessing an absolute final reason that is independent of any other reason to warrant such a claim.

Descartes argued that the external world exists

The cause of his ideas about the external world

Rene Descartes makes the claim that he does not need to force himself to catch the attention of sensory perceptions. According to him, they come to him without giving consent. The sensory perceptions are thus external from an individual sense. According to him, this gives subtle evidence that something exists outside his mind. He calls this “something” the external world. He argues that all the constituents of the external world are material and that, God; the supernatural deity is free from deception, as he cannot turn around to deceive him on the information transmitted in this external world (Haldane 17).

He moves on to claim that, the super deity, the one he terms as God, has conferred to him “propensity” that makes him believe that any idea outside his senses is brought about by the material things occupying this external world.

Reconciliation of science

From one dimension, one might perhaps see Descartes as a fellow attempting to reconcile the concerns of science and religious beliefs. The mediations provide metaphysical foundations in which he pegs his attempts to justify the rationales of science alongside the human endeavor. This is similar to segregating human beings from animals by the fact that reasoning guides all human beings. Since the interaction of the external environment is predominantly non-intentional, and the super deity guides those non-intentions, scientific endeavors amount to more of doing the work of God. The subject of the existence of the external world amounts to an interrogative that may not have a subtle philosophical answer.

Why should it be like that? Considering, for example, the existence of light, taking it as to mean ‘a natural power’ (scientific explanation of what light is), does not amount to the bottom-line of the endeavors that put it with the brackets of the constituents of the external environment. Consequently, the main factor, which should matter, is looking at the question of the existence of the external world from the most simplistic foundations. The external world, if at all it exists, cannot disunite from the perceptions of the world of unreal things. Therefore, attempting to address the subject of the external world in an attempt to prove its existence, as well as the conceptualization of its form, is necessary from an intellectual dimension, as opposed to perceptual perspectives.

The ideas of material objects

The external world consists of matter and anything that can undergo a change of position, shape, and that people attribute some certain secondary traits to it. Descartes presents an illustration of this claim using wax to represent matter in general. According to him, “this lamp of wax as discernible, but shifting, bounded extension and, which perceived as currently having the secondary qualities of wax” (Haldane 10).

Coming into the cognition of the external world will demand that one ardently have “patent and discrete” perception. Perhaps, one cannot see the reasons as to why such a world responsible for bringing about the perception of its existence, already possessed by an individual, exists. Therefore, is God a deceiver?

If it were the case, then, would he deceive people by causing such perceptions that they have, about the external world and its existence? Descartes manages to prove the existence of an external world composed of matter of corporeal nature (Haldane 27), which even though may not represent the complete perceptions of such matter in people’s minds; approximate such perceptions. This follows the proof that God, who is not deceitful exists, and that he cannot deceit people by causing them to possess such perceptions.

Works Cited

Cummins, Robert. Notes on Descartes Meditations. Oxford: Oxford publishers, 1996.

Descartes, Rene. The problem of evil. New York: Word Press, 1988.

Descartes, Rene. 1641. Descartes: Background. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1978.

Haldane, Elizabeth. The philosophical works of Descartes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Shouler, Kenneth. Descartes’ Two Arguments for Existence of God, 2008. Web.

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