Rene Descartes: The Search Of Knowledge Essay, Research Paper
As I sit and ponder how I am going to write this paper, it accurse to me that I may not be writing this paper at all. How, I ask myself, can this be possible? I can feel the keys under my fingers, hear their distinct clicks as I press them, and I can see my writing on the screen. Yet all of these things are sensory based, and I wonder if my senses can be trusted as certainty. Could they not easily be deceived? I could be sleeping right now and dreaming that I am writing this paper, or perhaps I am in some dark hellish pit working as a slave for an evil being who is leading me to believe I am in my dorm room with some sort of mind altering spell. Each of these notions may seem ridiculous, but they are both logically possible. This is very similar to the dilemma in which Rene Descartes faced in his Meditations. Descartes wrote his Meditations to try and figure out which of his beliefs could be considered knowledge, and which were open to doubt. He began by defining knowledge as a belief one knows to be true and is certain of its truth. He then questions his belief of his own existence. Is his existence a certainty, or is it open to doubt? As he considers this, he looks into the fire by which he is sitting. How does he know he is really there at all? For anything that would justify him being there is based on the senses, the heat of the fire, the smell of the burning wood, and the feel of the pen in his hand. Descartes considers any belief based on the senses open to doubt, therefore he must doubt his very existence as he knows it to be, because it is all sensory based. He then considers how his senses could be deceived. He theorizes that his senses are being manipulated by a deceitful demon, as if he were merely a puppet on strings in its hands. If this demon wants Descartes to think he is sitting in front of a fire, then Descartes will think this, when in fact he is somewhere else. How can he then find knowledge at all, for this Demon could deceive his senses in anyway it pleased? This leads Descartes to consider the skeptical argument; all beliefs are based on the senses, all beliefs based on the senses are open to doubt, all beliefs open to doubt cannot be knowledge, therefore there is no knowledge. He agrees that yes, all beliefs based on the senses are open to doubt, but he does not agree that all beliefs are based on the senses, therefore the skeptical conclusion must be false. But then what belief does Descartes have that is not based on senses? What belief could be safe from the demon s deception and could Descartes then be certain of and consider knowledge?
Descartes thinks about this until he finally realizes that he is thinking, and that cannot be doubted. He does not know this because he can see it, or feel it, or smell it, or know it by any other physical sense, he can only think it, and thinking is a true and certain thing. He knows he thinks he is sitting in front of the fire, even though he can doubt he is actually there, he knows he thinks that he is. He knows he thinks he is being deceived, though that he cannot be certain of it, he can be certain that he has that idea. Though this seems like a big step for Descartes in his search for knowledge, it actually acts as a wall, or dead end. This leads to the conclusion that things can only be thought of and can never really exist, or that this is the only knowledge. Descartes does not except this, and goes back to the demon. How can he disprove the existence of deceitful demons? Descartes decides there is only one conclusion: God. Descartes sees God as a link to all perfection and existence. Without him there would be no knowledge, and without knowledge there wouldn t be him. Furthermore God would not allow Descartes to think of him, if he did not exist, therefore God must exist. If God exists, and God is all loving, honest and true, then God would never let Descartes be deceived. Therefore, Descartes knows he is sitting in front of a fire, and can be certain of it, because he is certain of God and certain God would not deceive him, nor would God let a demon deceive him.