Descartes Principal In The Meditations Philosophy
Descartess approach is that there is a distinction between belief and truth. For example, if I had made a pot of tea ten minutes ago, I might believe that it is full and ready to pour. But in truth, someone else may already have drunk the tea and emptied the pot while I was out of the kitchen waiting for it to brew. Although I think this not likely to happen, I continue to believe the pot is full of tea, but I cannot be sure of it. Therefore, it is possible that I may believe something, but I find that it is not true. This situation is not inconsistent. The Method of Doubt involves the task of removing all uncertain beliefs, ensuring that only beliefs that are true beliefs remain in one's philosophy. Descartes states "I had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions for true, and that consequently what I afterwards based on such principles was highly doubtful; I was convinced of the necessity of undertaking to rid myself of all the opinions I had adopted" (Meditation 1).
Descartes saw that the Method of Doubt could be applied to a whole class of beliefs. Therefore, he would not have to check each and every one of his beliefs separately. Instead, he could deal with them in groups by doubting common characteristics they may share (Williams 101). Descartes states, "Nor for this purpose will it be necessary even to deal with each belief individually, which would be truly an endless labour; but, as the removal from below of the foundation necessarily involves the downfall of the whole edifice, I will at once approach the criticism of the principles on which all my former beliefs rest" (Meditations 1). With this approach, Descartes has an opportunity to bring doubt to the whole class of beliefs that are based on perception. Descartes demonstrates this argument using his malicious demon experiment.
Descartes imagines that there is a powerful malicious demon that is controlling his perceptions and it is making him hallucinate or dream he is in the world. As Descartes states, "I will suppose that the sky, the air, the earth, colours, figures, sounds, and all external things are nothing better than the illusions of dreams, by means of which this being has laid snares for my credulity" (Meditations 1). However, he states that this is not always the case. Descartes is suggesting that from his first-person perspective, he has no proof that it is not. Therefore, he cannot be certain that his beliefs about the external world, full of sky, trees, houses, etc are true. There is a possibility that all these things are illusions made by the malicious demon.
The conclusion that Descartes addresses from the malicious demon is that all beliefs based on perception are doubtful because we can never be sure that they are not illusions or hallucinations. We cannot accept any beliefs that are true beliefs within our philosophy. For example, if I had made a teapot, I can no longer accept that the teapot is full. Moreover, I cannot accept that the teapot exists at all or the kitchen that the teapot is in. I can neither believe in the dorm room that I am in and the fact I can see all around me. Therefore, I cannot accept any beliefs about the world I live in. As a result, all of these beliefs are based on perceptual observation and they are doubtful which relates back to Descartes's theory of the malicious demon.
According to Descartes, malicious demon is a completely unbelievable and unlikely possibility. Our belief in the world of external objects is sound because it remains the most likely circumstance (Russell 76). The difficulty with this however, is that there is no evidence to verify this claim. For example, I know that it is very possible that I will be able to catch a train to work tomorrow at exactly 9:00 because that is what it says in the timetable. I know there is always a train running at exactly that time except if there was a breakdown. Without this evidence, I could not convincingly claim that the train should arrive at that time. In the case of the malicious demon, there is no evidence to state that it is less likely than the existence of external objects since the evidence is the same in both cases. Moreover, if I said that the malicious demon was unlikely, this would not help because its unlikelihood still allows for its possibility. Therefore, there would still be doubt on the existence of external objects.
In conclusion, Descartes believes that the external world is a world that exists independently of his mind and his thoughts about that world. Although Descartes says that his malicious demon implies that he must be doubtful of the existence of external things, it does not mean that at all. What it implies is that we must be doubtful about the nature of external reality in terms of God. Descartes strongly believes in god, therefore he knows god is not deceiving because god is good. He believes there is another force deceiving him called the malicious demon. This malicious demon is evoked to keep the perfection of god because according to Descartes, perfection is all good and if one is good you cannot deceive. Therefore, Descartes is suggesting an external reality, even if it does turn out to be the malicious demon.Work Cited
Monty, R. (2006) Meditations on First Philosophy
Russell, B. (2007) A History of Western Philosophy
Williams, B. (2006) Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry
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