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Posted: September 4th, 2023

Descartes’ Epistemology

Descartes’ Epistemology

René Descartes is often credited with the title “the father of modern philosophy.” As a man of many trades, Descartes made significant contributions in various areas, including mathematics and physics. He also made philosophical contributions to the theory of the origin of knowledge. Descartes’ approach to the theory of knowledge has had a significant effect in early and modern philosophy. His approach has continued to play a vital role in how problems in modern epistemology are viewed and conceived.

Meditations on First Philosophy is one of Descartes’ classic works that he uses to lay some of his philosophical ideas and arguments. Some of the issues it addresses include questions philosophical questions about knowledge, self and mind in relation to body, perception, the existence of God, among others. Descartes opposed scholastic’s method arguing that the technique was prone to doubt resulting from its reliance on sensation as the major source of knowledge. He also considered the causal model of scientific explanation flawed and sought to address it with a more modern and mechanical approach.

The method of doubt

Descartes’ theory of doubt sought to address the reliance of sensation as the knowledge by the scholastic’s method. In his approach, Descartes begins by describing perfect source knowledge in terms of doubt. According to him, any theory or conviction that leads us to even the slightest doubt should be considered false. Perfect knowledge is based on perfect certainty without any room for any doubt.

Descartes also establishes that his beliefs cannot be doubted and are therefore certain and true. Anytime we think that we are correctly conceiving something, then we are spontaneously convinced that that thing is true. And if the conviction is strong enough, then we never have to doubt what we are convinced of. Therefore, “I am, and I exist,” according to Descartes, is true each time he pronounces it as long as he conceives it. This remains true even when dreaming or when deceived by an evil demon or even God.  Where there are thoughts, those thoughts truthfully exist together with the thinker irrespective of whether the thoughts are within a deception.

Descartes laid a lot of emphasis on the concept of doubt as to the direct contrast of certainty. Therefore, as the doubt increases, certainty increases, and vice versa. His primary requirement is that knowledge should only be based on the absolute absence of doubt. Descartes’ methodic approach focusing on doubt rather than certainty set the pace for epistemological innovation.


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