Descartes' Method of Doubt

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

CHAPTER
1

Who Is Doubting?

THE First Meditation is short but devastating. After some preliminaries, Descartes raises a series of increasinglydisturbing reasons for doubting increasinglylarge collections of our beliefs, until, it seems, there is “not one of [our] former beliefs about which a doubt maynot properlybe raised” (2:14–15; AT 7:21). He ends the meditation bydescribing the way in which he will discipline himself into suspending judgment about everything for which he has found a reason for doubt.

His presentation of reasons for doubt begins with the beliefs he has acquired byusing his senses: bylooking at things, smelling them, tasting them, listening to them, and touching them. At the start he alludes to problems of ordinarysense-deception, but he quicklyzeroes in upon the beliefs for which no such problems arise: “for example, that I am here, sitting by the fire, wearing a winter dressing-gown, holding this piece of paper in myhands” (2:13; AT 7:18). He raises two reasons for doubting such beliefs: first, that he is like madmen, who “saytheyare dressed in purple when theyare naked,” and second, that he can find “no sure signs bymeans of which being awake can be distinguished from being asleep” and dreaming (2:13; AT 7:19). Further reflection suggests that these considerations also count as reasons for doubting manyquite general beliefs, for example, the belief that eyes, heads, and hands exist (2:13–14; AT 7:20).

Still untouched, however, are “the simplest and most general things” that are dealt with by“arithmetic, geometryand other subjects of this kind” (2:14; AT 7:20). But Descartes finds reasons for doubting these beliefs too. How, he wonders, does he know that his omnipotent Creator has not made him so that he is deceived in these beliefs—even in his belief that two plus three equals five—as well as in all of his sense-based beliefs? Or if God does not exist, how does he know that his original cause—“fate or chance or a continuous chain of events”—has not botched his creation so that he is “deceived all the time” (2:14; AT 7:21)?

-21-

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
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
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
Settings

Settings

Typeface
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

Style
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?