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Problems of Philosophy - Rene Descartes Meditations 1, 2 & 6.

With reference to the attached articles (Meditations 1, 2 & 6):

1. Is Descartes a skeptic, foundationalist, rationalist, empiricist, a real-world skeptic? An idealist? A realist?

2. What is Descartes reason in Meditation VI for saying that there is a material universe outside of his mind, and that science will eventually give a true account of its nature? How is God important to this argument?

3. What was Descartes trying to show with the wax in Meditation II?

4. Why does Descartes think that only our best scientific-mathematical view of the material universe will be guaranteed to be correct? And what, according to Descartes, gives us this guarantee?

5. What is Descartes' proof for the existence of God in Meditation III? What are formal reality and objective reality? And how do they figure in Descartes' proof?

6. In class, we used the analogy of proving that there must be red in the world on the basis of our knowing that we have the concept of red. What was that argument and how was it meant to explain the sort of argument Descartes was giving for God's existence in Meditation III?

7. What premise in Descartes' argument for God's existence is he not necessarily entitled to say is absolutely certain? How does Descartes try to prove that that premise really is absolutely certain? And how does this proof seems to make him argue in a circle?

8. Why is the Cartesian circle called the 'Cartesian' circle? Why isn't it call 'Descartes' circle'?

9. What philosopher as famous for point out this circular reasoning of Descartes'?

10. What are the three skeptical arguments that Descartes discusses in Meditation 1? And which of these arguments does Descartes think gives reasons to doubt not only our perceptual beliefs but even our simple mathematical beliefs?

11. What is the deception of the senses argument, and what was Descartes' response to this argument in Meditation I?

12. What is the dream argument? And what was Descartes' assessment of this argument?

13. What is the evil demon argument? And what was Descartes' assessment of this argument at the end of Meditation I? Did Descartes latter re-assess the strength of evil demon argument?

14. In Meditation II, what are the beliefs that Descartes discovers are absolutely certain?

15. What does Descartes take the wax example in Meditation II to show? How does this fit into Descartes' view that only through proper use of the intellect (reasoning and science) can we ever hope to get an objective and true representation of reality.

16. What were the two reasons why some think that knowledge requires certainty?

17. What is infallibilism with respect to propositional knowledge?

18. When infallibilist say that knowledge requires certainty, what do they mean by certainty? Do they mean feeling certain? Do they mean that there is no possibility of being wrong given your evidence?

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Please see attached for my responses.

Is Descartes a skeptic, foundationalist, rationalist, empiricist, a real-world skeptic? An idealist? A realist?

Descartes can best be called a foundationalist, rationalist, and in a sense, an idealist. All of these terms and their relation to Descartes are contested. His method of doubt is the epistemological version of the Lockean state of nature. Wipe away all previous knowledge and grasp the single indubitable proposition that can, given its nature, can serve as the basis of all that can be deduced from it.

In other words, given the fact that I know only phenomena, I do not know objects as such. If empiricism is to be true, it must be grounded. Empiricism and rationalism are not opposed, but empiricism, by itself, contains no necessary truths, including the existence of matter.
Descartes' argument is plagiarized from St. Augustine, and he too, had the same desire to find that which the ancient skeptics could not gainsay.

The above labels can be used in many contexts. When I see "realist" I think of Plato, not Popper. All of us are rationalists in that we have axiomatic ideas that condition the world. We are all realists because we think that things are out there. We are all foundationalists because in our daily life (regardless of what is written in journals) we do not doubt the value of money or the importance of tenure. We are all empiricists because we will not doubt something that happens over and over again, there must be a reason for this. We are all idealists for the same reason that we are all foundationalists. The most radical postmodernist must have a reason to dedicated his or her life to this school. What is it? Is that also contingent and socially created? Demystification never seems to be aimed at the demystifier.

What is Descartes reason in Meditation VI for saying that there is a material universe outside of his mind, and that science will eventually give a true account of its nature? How is God important to this argument?

This question is really about why Descartes and his followers insisted that knowledge, by definition, is only of formal and quantifiable things. This is what the rationalist meant by "science." God is important, but as Spinoza showed us, he (in the Christian sense) is not needed, certainly not as a personal force. Descartes writes:

But, since God is no deceiver, it is very manifest that He does not communicate to me these ideas immediately and by Himself, nor yet by the intervention of some creature in which their reality is not formally, but only eminently, contained. For since He has given me no faculty to recognize that this is the case, but, on the other hand, a very great inclination to believe [that they are sent to me or] that they are conveyed to me by corporeal objects, I do not see how He could be defended from the accusation of deceit if these ideas were produced by causes other than corporeal objects.

The problem is that Descartes refuses to deduce anything else from the fact that he exists. Numerous writers have remarked that much can be deduced: I exist, I did not create myself, I did not create the world, I can be affected by things, phenomena must have a cause, in fact, all things must have a cause (the cogito is based on it), meaning exists, or thinking would have no purpose, etc. If he argued this way, God would not be needed as a ground.

He would be assumed in the deduction. If I did not create myself or the truths that I know perfectly, then a perfect being, far more powerful than I, must have. The argument above is unnecessarily convoluted because the deductions from the cogito already assume it.

What was Descartes trying to show with the wax in Meditation II?

This is also controversial. The concept of an impress on a wax seal is an analogy that is very Aristotelian: form is impressed on a purely passive matter. Now, wax has value and meaning. But this is not sufficient. What he's trying to show is the nature of substance. This too is Aristotelian. The wax can take numerous forms: liquid, solid, and if heated enough, gaseous. Yet it does not cease being wax. Something survives the change. If this is true, then substance exists, either in the specific sense of Aristotle or in the holistic sense of Spinoza.

This also implies that substance is known by the mind, and not by the senses. This is a huge distinction between Locke and Descartes. Descartes is not satisfied with the march of random qualities in the mind. He requires reason to take qualities seriously, and only essence/substance can make this happen.

Why does Descartes think that only our best scientific-mathematical view of the material universe will be guaranteed to be correct? And what, according to Descartes, gives us this guarantee?

This is not entirely unrelated to the wax issue. Why is truth based on formal properties? It might be said that this is the cardinal principle of western modernity. Qualities are not clear and distinct because they are dependent. Substances are clear and distinct because they under-gird everything we sense, sense presupposes them, or else knowledge could not exist.

Descartes finally gets around to deducing some other aspects of the cogito. If I am affected by sense data (and I know that I am), then this must have a cause. Qualities cannot be a good source due to their dependence, that is, adhesion to something more permanent. This is known without doubt precisely because clarity and distinctiveness require formal properties that can be easily "fit" together to form a clear sense of cause and effect.

Saying that ...

Solution Summary

The expert determines if Descartes is a skeptic, foundationalist, rationalist, empiricist, a real-world skeptic. The best scientific-mathematical views of the material universe will be guaranteed to be correct is examined.

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