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Rene Descarte's Faulty Reliance - Essay Example

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Rene Descarte's Faulty Reliance

To rehearse his argument in short: Descartes believes that we cannot at first glance trust our senses, as it is possible that we are being deceived. Those elements of the world outside our own mind (the res extensa) are available for our thought and our perception (res cogitans) but we cannot trust that the reality of what we think we see is in fact what comprises the world around us. We should doubt, radically, such a belief, because for Descartes this gap between the world around us and our knowledge of the world helps to explain why there exists to many different beliefs about the fundamental nature of our existence. Instead, Descartes suggests, we should be satisfied with the knowledge only that we can think, that we can consider, that thing that we call knowledge, and that material we think of as the world. Hence the famous notion of the Cogito, which in somewhat condensed form, suggests that “I think, therefore I am.” The claim here is not that of a logical operation (thinking begets the awareness of existence) but rather that thinking constitutes the one demonstration of existence that our imperfect cognition makes allows. We are imperfect creatures, capable of being aware of our own imperfections. At the same time, though, we are aware of the possibility of perfection. We can think about the ideal, the infinite, the absolute. And yet we do not know these things, we do not experience these things, and we cannot point our fingers in the direction of some object out there in the physical world around us, in order to demonstrate any of these ideal qualities. Imagination, Descartes seems to suggest, simply isn't powerful to make an argument by way of extension, that would imagine perfection or completion from imperfect or incomplete elements. And so, Descartes suggests, our capacity to think – which is our only true capacity and essence – must have some root that explains the nature of perfection. Descartes introduces this argument by way of a rather awkward rhetorical question (93): “Now, it is manifest by the natural light that there must at least be as much reality in the efficient and total cause as in its effect; for whence can the effect draw its reality if not from its cause? And how could the cause communicate to it this reality unless it possessed it in itself? (93) How could it, indeed? Well, for Descartes, the answer to the question is contained within its premise: if we can understand perfection, there must exist the essence of perfection, and thus we know that God exists. From the act of thinking, then, we know that we exist, and from the act of thinking about the transcendent or the divine, then we know that God exists. These may seem like separate argument claims. Indeed, in the order they are presented, the Cogito appears to pave the way for the subsequent Ontological argument that proves the existence of God. But we need to understand that this is a trick of presentation, not a linear logical relationship. In fact it is the other way around, though this doesn't become apparent until Descartes concludes his project, when the debt the Cogito owes to the Ontological argument is revealed. The most telling paragraph is this: ...considering only that God is my creator, it is highly probably that he in some way fashioned me ...Show more


Rene Descarte's Faulty Reliance on God as a Ground for the Human Sciences Rene Descartes, laboring to explain the nature of epistemology – and hence provide a foundation for the sciences – ultimately grounds science in the belief that there exists some almighty, transcendent force, known to him (thanks to his Roman Catholic upbringing) as God…
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Rene Descartes Faulty Reliance essay example
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