The Move From Doubt To Certainty A

СОДЕРЖАНИЕ: The Move From Doubt To Certainty; A Look Essay, Research Paper The Move from Doubt to Certainty; A Look at the Theories of Descartes and Locke Descartes is interested in the certainty of his

The Move From Doubt To Certainty; A Look Essay, Research Paper

The Move from Doubt to Certainty; A Look

at the Theories of Descartes and Locke

Descartes is interested in the certainty of his

existence and the existence of other people and things.

Descartes’ beliefs vary from those of Socrates. Descartes

argues that knowledge is acquired through awareness and

experience. Using this approach, Descartes moves through

doubt to certainty of his existence. He asks himself

various questions about the certainty of his existence and

solves them through clear thought and logic. Using this

method Descartes establishes doubts to be truths and by the

end of the book, he has established that he does indeed

exist. In this paper, I will show how Descartes moves

through doubt to certainty. I will explain how Descartes

uses the cogito, proves the existence of God and what that

means to his existence. I will also discuss the general

rules of truth that Descartes establishes.

In the First Meditation Descartes begins to examine

what is certain and what is doubtful. Descartes wants to

establish that his knowledge is certain and not doubtful.

He states,

…I had accepted many false opinions as being

true, and that what I had based on such insecure

principles could only be most doubtful and

uncertain; so that I had to undertake seriously

once in my life to rid myself of all opinions I

had adopted up to then, and to begin, and to begin

afresh from the foundations, if I wished to

establish something firm and constant in the

sciences.(Descartes 95)

By this Descartes means that he wishes to establish a

foundation for his knowledge based on certainty instead of

doubt. Descartes first looks at the senses. This is

important because the senses are the first thing to cause

doubt. He focuses on the perception of things. He says that

things far from him, in the distance, give him reason to

doubt their certainty, while things that are close to him

are indubitable and he is clear about their certainty.

However, Descartes realizes that dreams pose an

obstacle to his beliefs. Even up close, dreams can be

indubitable. Descartes believes that if a person has had a

dream that was so intense that the person could not

determine it form reality, then they have reason to doubt

objects that are close to us and appear to be indubitable.

In order to resolve this problem, Descartes suggests that

one must examine whether they are dreaming or not.

Descartes realizes that he can not rely on his senses

anymore to give him dubitable truths. He turns to find

something that is indubitable. Descartes tries to use

science as a foundation for truth. He discards physics,

astronomy, and medicine because all three of them rely upon

the senses. “…we shall not be wrong in concluding that

physics, astronomy, and medicine, and all the other sciences

that depend on the consideration of composite things, are

most doubtful and uncertain…”(Descartes 98). However,

Descartes finds that such things as geometry and arithmetic

can be trusted because their are no senses involved. They

are based upon logic.

“…whether I am awake or asleep, two and three

added together always makes five, and a square

always has four sides; and it does not seem

possible that truths so apparent can be suspected

of any falsity or uncertainty”(98).

However, Descartes finds reason to even doubt this.

The only thing that could makes these truths dubitable is

through the intervention by an Evil Deceiver (God).

Descartes cannot prove that God is good and has to

acknowledge that God has the power to deceive. Therefore,

Descartes must doubt all things until he can prove their

certainty. Descartes comes to call this doubt Universal


In the Second Meditation, Descartes examine the

existence of himself. He concludes that if he cannot prove

something exists then how does he know with certainty that

he exists. It is his doubt of his existence that Descartes

uses to prove his existence. Descartes realizes that if he

is able to doubt then he does indeed exists. He take the

approach that, “I think therefore I am” to establish a

certainty that he exists. This idea also known as the

cogito becomes the central point that Descartes will use for

the remaining of his meditations. Descartes affirms his

existence every time he thinks, doubts, or is

persuaded(Descartes 103). Descartes affirms that if there is

an Evil Deceiver then Descartes must exist because in order

for God to deceive, Descartes he must first exist.

Although, Descartes has proved his existence he can

only prove it in the mental capacity. He does not know for

certain that he exists in the physical form. The only way,

at this time, that Descartes can prove the existence of his

body is through his senses. He has already established that

his senses are dubitable and therefore cannot tell him with

certainty that his body exists.

In order to get a better understanding of his

relationship between his body and mind, Descartes melts a

piece of wax. He observes the wax in two different states,

the first in a solid form and the second in a melted form.

He questions how his senses can show him two entirely

different forms of the same substance; yet he knows that the

substance, in both states, although completely different, is

wax. The mind was able to understand the essence of the

wax. Although the senses were not entirely capable of

making the connection between the two forms of wax, the

senses assisted the mind in determining what the substance

was. This experiment proves to be important to Descartes

because he is able to make a link between the senses and the


Using his experiment, Descartes enters his Third

Meditation using his general rule of truth that “…all

things we conceive very clearly and distinctly are

true”(Descartes 113). However, there is one flaw to his

thoughts. If God is an evil deceiver than this cannot be

true. Descartes proceeds to establish that God is good and

does not deceive.

Descartes uses three points to establish the existence

God. These points are ideas. The first one is adventitious

ideas; those ideas that come from outside experiences. The

second is invented ideas; those that are derived from the

imagination such as sirens and chimera. The final is innate

ideas; those that are within one when they are born.

Descartes uses two more points to further establish that God


He uses the ideas of “infinite” and “perfect”. These

two ideas, Descartes cannot account for. The only way for

such things to come about would be from an infinite and

perfect being such as God. These ideas have a direct

relationship with God. In order for a finite beings such as

Descartes to have a concept of infinite it must have been

planted there by an infinite being such as God. Descartes

concludes this idea to be true because one cannot derive the

idea of infinite by negating the finite(Descartes 125). An

example of this would be the use of a number line. The

number line will never be able to illustrate infinity. One

could negate every number on a number line and still not

arrive at infinity.

Therefore, Descartes concludes that God does exist and

therefore is not an evil deceiver. Because God has supplied

us with the innate ideas of perfection and infinity, God,

therefore, must be infinite and perfect. Descartes states

that, “Whence it is clear enough that he cannot be a

deceiver, for the natural light teaches us that deceit stems

necessarily from some defect”(Descartes 131). Since God is

perfect he is not an evil deceiver.

It is important to realize that by the time Descartes

has reached his Fourth Meditation he has proved three

important things. The first is that doubt is not universal.

The second is that there is a general rule of truth. The

third is that God exists and cannot be an evil deceiver.

However, Descartes raises a question: If God exists and

cannot be an evil deceiver then why are humans imperfect and

perpetually making errors? Descartes explains this through

the explanation of free will.

Descartes states that God has given all humans free

will. This is the cause of human error. Because we have

free will, humans are able to make choices and decisions

free from the influence of God. Sometimes free will

interferes with God’s ability to help humans and therefore

humans sometimes make poor decisions. If God did not give

humans free will than God would play a direct role in every

decision made by humans. It is because God gives humans

free will that allows for human error.

Descartes Fifth and Sixth Meditations begins with the

establishment of his remaining doubts and the application of

what he has discovered. The first question deals with the

essence of color, mathematical, and geometrical truths. The

second is the existence of people and things. The third is

determining the difference between dreams and reality.

Descartes reiterates that God is not an evil deceiver and

therefore he can clearly conceive something to be true. He

reiterates that if he conceives God correctly then God is

perfect. Imperfection is not compatible with God’s

omnipotence. A non-existent thing cannot be perfect. Even

a non-existent perfect thing is imperfect and all perfect

things are perfect. Descartes also restates that a perfect

thing cannot deceive. With this knowledge, Descartes

proceeds to solve his second problem.

The existence of corporeal(physical things) exist with

certainty. Since God is not an evil deceiver, the idea of

physical things is accurate. Although some perceptions will

still be blurry and may confuse Descartes objects do indeed

exist. He concludes that he just has to be more judgmental

of those perceptions.

But as concerns other things, which are either

only particular, as,, for example, that the sun is

of such a size and shape, etc., or are perceived

less clearly and distinctly, as in the case of

light, sound and pain and so on, although they are

very doubtful and uncertain, nevertheless, from

the fact alone that God is not a deceiver, and has

consequently permitted no falsity in my

opinions…(Descartes 158)

Descartes now knows for certain that he has a body.

Descartes realizes that, “…I have a body, which is ill

disposed when I feel pain, which needs to eat and drink when

I have feelings of hunger or thirst etc.”(Descartes 159).

Because of these feeling that Descartes has and because God

is not an evil deceiver than Descartes is indeed lodged in a

body and is an entire entity with it.

Descartes finally analyzes his third doubt. He now has

the ability to distinguish between being awake and dreaming.

When we are awake, Descartes states, are mind flows in an

uninterrupted, continuous sequence. When we are dreaming,

our mind does not flow in a consistent, and undisturbed

sequence. When a person has a break in the consistency of

events, they are dreaming.

…when I perceive things which I clearly know

both the place they come from and that in which

they are, and the time at which they appear to me,

and when, without any interruption, I can link the

perception I have of them with the whole of the

rest of my life, I am fully assured that it is not

in sleep that I am perceiving them but while I am

awake(Descartes 168)

After establishing certainty to his doubts, Descartes

states, “And I must reject all the doubts of the last few

days as hyperbolic and ridiculous, particularly the general

uncertainty about sleep, which I could not distinguish for a

wakeful state…”(Descartes 168). With that Descartes

concludes his meditations and uncertainties.

Although Descartes makes a sound argument there were

some people that disagreed with his theories. One of those

people was John Locke. The beliefs of Locke, who was an

empiricists, were similar to those of the Sophist during the

time of Socrates. He argued that when a person was born

their mind was empty. A person obtained knowledge through

experiences. He also felt that if a person misinterpreted

an experience it could lead to doubt or skepticism. Locke

tries to prove Descartes wrong by saying that there are no

innate ideas. He states that by understanding our own mind

we can deter doubt.

Locke proposes three separate possibilities about

truth. The first is that there is no such thing as truth.

The second is that there is no way to obtain truth. The

third reason is that we can understand implied things but

not be absolutely certain about them. Locke believed that

we never deal with certainty and everyday we deal with


…and it will be unpardonable, as well as

childish peevishness, if we undervalue the

advantage of our knowledge and neglect to improve

it to ends for which it has given us, because

there are some things that are set out of the

reach of it.(Locke 57).

Locke states that not all innate ideas come from

“natural ability”. He says that a universal consent does

not prove innate ideas. They could arise from experience.

Locke supports this theory by saying that innate ideas are

neither in children nor idiots. If these ideas were innate

then everyone would have them. He further states that

mathematical truths are learned from experience and are not

innate ideas.

Descartes and Locke were two men with completely

different views. They each set out to prove their own

existence in a different fashion. Although they do not

agree with each other, each one of them presents a clear and

intelligent argument. It is these arguments that have

encouraged the human race to consider the possibility of

existence long after the death of Descartes and Locke.

People will continue to debate their viewpoints for years to

come and maybe, one day we will know the meaning of


Descartes, Rene. Discourse on Method and the Meditations.

Trans. F.E. Sutcliffe. New York: Penguin, 1996.

Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. ed.

Roger Woolhouse. New York: Penguin, 1997.


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