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Descartes' Philosophy

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Descartes' "evil genius scenario" provides the possibility for the existence of an evil genius that is in control of our world in place on an omnipotent god. By in control, I mean that he would in some magical way compose our lives by his own will, thus making any certain knowledge about material objects impossible. This scenario presents some real questions with Descartes' argument because it basically completely rules out the possibility of any god.

We are imagining that Dr. Spiritus has invaded a small rural hospital and has stolen the brains of several babies. He places the brains in a large vat, provides them with the essential nutrients as well as hooking them up to electrodes that feed the false images into their minds. These impulses that the doctor would distribute at his own will would make the babies brains think that they are actually in their bodies living their lives as normal people. The doctor would provide all the necessary experiences such as childhood, school, first love and etc. However since Dr. Spiritus is an evil genius, he feels it necessary to feed these minds the stimuli of pain, suffering, and disaster.

The first question that arises is if it is possible to determine if one is not among Dr. Spiritus' victims. According to Descartes, the answer is yes. Descartes states that God is an infinite, omnipotent, omniscient substance. He also says that humans are not capable of causing this thought, because human's minds are finite. Therefore, the mere existence of the thought of god proves that the thought must have an origin and this would be of course godÐ'--the only being capable of conceiving himself. Once we accept this, the possibility of an evil genius would be destroyed.

Should it prove impossible to determine that one is not among the victims, epistemological problems would then arise. The first and foremost problem is that we could no longer have any certain knowledge. This is so because if there was an evil genius, no empirical knowledge could be certain. This is obvious because if we were a victim of Dr. Spiritus, everything we know would be nothing be a dream conjured by the evil genius. If we could not prove that we weren't a victim of Dr. Spiritus' evil plot, the only thing we could be sure of is that we have a mind and our mind has thoughts.

Is there some empirical or non-empirical procedure that one might use to determine whether one is a brain in a vat rather than in a real person? The answer to this is simply no. When a human has a dream, they think that the events in the dream are actually taking place and have no idea that they are



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