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Descartes Philosophy

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Descartes begins his argument in his first meditation when he starts to doubt everything he knows, sees or feels. Descartes argues that sense perception is untrustworthy and not reliable enough to determine what is true and real. He gives us a number of arguments and examples to show how easy it is to deceive our senses. They are not a reliable authority to distinguish between right or wrong thus we need to use our mind to understand abstract things. Only our intellect can reassure the real truth. Therefore sense perception can be seen as a function of our mind

Though Descartes makes a powerful case, I believe that his argument do not actually support skepticism to the degree that he claims. His skeptical arguments will be considered and replied to in turn. First, while Descartes is correct in his claim that the senses deceive us in some cases, his general skepticism about the senses is not warranted. That this is so is shown by the following argument. In order to make his case, Descartes presents a variety of examples in which he has found that his senses deceived him. To be justified in claiming that the senses deceive, a person would need to be able to recognize when an error has taken place. In other words, the person would need to be able to distinguish between being mistaken and being correct. For example, to know that the ‘heat mirages’ that occur on paved roads are ‘deceptions’, one would need to know that they are optical illusions and hence what is seen is not what is actually there. But, in knowing this, one is able to see through the deception and thus avoid being deceived. Ironically, it must be concluded that in presenting examples of how the senses deceive, one is also presenting examples of how we are able to ‘see through’ deceptions-thus undercutting the very claim that is being argued for. Ironically, in arguing that he has been deceived by his senses, Descartes also argues that we can see through such deceptions. Of course, I do not claim that we are never deceived-just that we can penetrate such deceptions. Given this fact, we can trust our senses as long as we are suitably cautious. To use an analogy: trusting the senses is like relying on a safety rope while climbing. They do fail occasionally, but as long as we are suitably careful we can be reasonably safe. To doubt our senses because they occasionally fail us would be like refusing to use safety ropes while climbing because they sometimes fail.  Thus, Descartes’ argument does not justify the degree of skepticism alleged.



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