Descartes' Method of Doubt

By Janet Broughton | Go to book overview
Save to active project


THIS IS A BOOK about Descartes's method of doubt, about his rationale for using it and the way he thought it worked. Radical doubts surface in the Discourse on the Method and the Principles of Philosophy, and the method of doubt guides the fragment of the Search for Truth that has come down to us. But Descartes shows us the method of doubt most clearly in the Meditations on First Philosophy, and that is the book that will concern me in the chapters ahead.

In the first of his six meditations, Descartes offered the dream argument, which calls into doubt the existence of the things we see and touch, and the deceiving God argument, which in addition calls into doubt the truth of claims like “Two plus three equals five,” claims that we grasp “clearly and distinctly.” Descartes resolved to carry his meditations forward by affirming only what can withstand these radical skeptical arguments. He affirmed first that he himself exists and has various states of consciousness, or ideas. He argued that his own existence as someone with an idea of God requires that God exist, and then he appealed to God's benevolence for the validation of his clear and distinct ideas. From various of these clear and distinct ideas, he drew out the distinction between mind and body and the existence of a physical world describable in austerely mathematical terms.

When we reflect upon the trajectory of these meditations, we may find ourselves with some disturbing reactions: we may find it difficult to resist the radical skeptical arguments with which Descartes began, and yet impossible to accept his argument that God must exist if we have the idea of God. Then we seem to be left in need of something we cannot have: certainty that all of our most evident judgments are true. For the radical skeptical arguments seem to show that we cannot claim knowledge of anything beyond our own ideas unless we have something like a divine guarantee that our ideas correctly reflect the mind-independent world outside of our thought. The scope of our knowledge, then, appears to be tiny: each of us knows only his own existence and can attribute to himself only his states of consciousness. Those states we know through and through; that is our consolation prize. But everything outside this


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Descartes' Method of Doubt


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 217

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?