Descartes Answers: Main ideas

This page gives suggested answers to the reading exercise on Descartes.

Descartes – Paragraph Main Ideas:

1. Descartes notes that he has acquired some false beliefs throughout his life, and that anything that might be based on these would also be doubtful. Thus, he undertakes to disown all beliefs and opinions, and rebuild his body of knowledge from the beginning.

2. It would be impossible, and unnecessary to examine each belief individually. Descartes argues he need only to reject those upon which all other beliefs are based, since any doubt in these will affect all others.

3. The senses are a primary source of beliefs. But the senses sometimes deceive us, so we should not trust any belief based on sensory evidence.

4. Is it not insane to seriously maintain that we can doubt sensory evidence such as that we have a body?

5. But in dreams we can have experiences that seem indistinguishable from reality; moreover, there is no clear criterion by which to tell whether one is awake or dreaming.

6. Even if he is dreaming, Descartes’ supposes that the content of dreams must at least be derived from elements that are real. The source of representations is always based on reality.

7. The elements, he decides, that must be real are, at least: bodies, spacial extension, shape, quantity, size, number, place and time

8. Consequently, subject that deal with composites may be regarded with suspicion, but elementary subjects such as arithmetic and geometry may be regarded as certain.

9. Could God be deceiving Descartes about everything? That seems inconsistent with the idea of a ‘supremely good’ being, but then it is true that God ‘allows’ [sic] Descartes to sometimes be deceived, and that seems equally inconsistent.

10. Even if a deceiving God does not exist, this does not mean things are certain; if the cause of D’s existence (accident, fate etc) is less powerful than a supremely good being, it only increases the fallibility of the created effect

11. D. says he must not just idly speculate about doubt, but must try to enforce it by constant repetition.

12. D resolves to assume he is being constantly deceived by a malignant demon, and that he can assume that everything is false until he can either prove otherwise or at least withold assent to anything that is not certain.

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