[Topics: Epistemology, Philosophy of Religion, Skepticism]
Meditations on Descartes:

Examining Objections to the Main Argument of René Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy

 

René Descartes Sketch by M.R.P. - Meditations on First Philosophy, Cartesian Circle

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.

Introduction:

It is likely the case that no other work of philosophy has had an influence which is at the same time so massive and so different from the intended effect of its writer as Meditations on First Philosophy by René Descartes. In setting out to provide the thinking world with certainty about the accuracy of their perceptions, the reliability of their intuitions about the soul, and the existence of God—Descartes instead accidentally cast a spell of doubt over the ensuing centuries of epistemology and metaphysics.

This occurred because, perhaps regrettably, Descartes did a far better job of demonstrating the all-consuming challenge posed by following skepticism to its logical conclusions, than he ever did of overcoming that challenge. As it happens, I agree with the assessment of most philosophers that Descartes succeeds brilliantly in tearing the world down, then fails miserably in building the world back up. But I have found that my reasons for believing that usually differ from theirs . . . and I have also found that this difference sometimes stems from them not having a solid grasp on the logical structure of Descartes’ Meditations. For instance, the most popular objection to his argument is that it is an example of circular reasoning, and hence blatantly fallacious; that objection is a great example of a misguided response that misunderstands the case being made.

So, I decided to write this article, in order to both provide a clear presentation of Descartes’ argument against skepticism, and to also survey and evaluate an array of objections one might make against it. Now, let us explore together how René Descartes unintentionally left us all so mired in doubt:

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[Topics: Epistemology, Philosophy of Religion, Skepticism]
Meditations on Descartes:

Examining Objections to the Main Argument of René Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy

was last modified: December 15th, 2022 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Assumption, Evidence, Skepticism, Belief]
The Least Assumptions:

Cartesian Skepticism, and Reducing Guesses and Assertions in a Belief Network to the Minimum

 

Portrait of René Descartes after Frans Hals - beliefs, minimizing assumptions

Portrait of René Descartes (based on the painting by Frans Hals)

Introduction:

I closed the examination of pragmatic ethics in the previous article by saying that this time I would talk about “the one and only sense in which it is reasonable to maintain skepticism of the external world.” So I’m going to do just that. But before reaching that explanation, I need to make a few remarks about why it is important to minimize assumptions when forming beliefs. After all, prior to saying that universal skepticism is not generally as useful or compelling as it seems, I’d like to first make it clear that skepticism in general is a vital and healthy part of one’s intellectual life.

As René Descartes famously observed, it is always striking how very much of what any given person claims to know (and so believe) rests upon a network of baseless or near-baseless assumptions, assertions, and heuristics so densely matted together that the person fails to realize that there is no actual solidity to its foundation whatsoever. An important feature of this nebulous nest of guesses and half-considered notions is the redundant and overlapping (if occasionally contradicting) nature of its constituent elements. It is just such a nest to which I aim to provide a superior alternative.

But where do we draw the line? There are folks online (like Eliezer Yudkowsky) who have built a serious following out of espousing fervent adherence to certain forms of skepticism and rationality. So, am I in support of such efforts, or against them? That, too, I will answer in the course of this article.

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[Topics: Assumption, Evidence, Skepticism, Belief]
The Least Assumptions:

Cartesian Skepticism, and Reducing Guesses and Assertions in a Belief Network to the Minimum

was last modified: November 29th, 2022 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Epistemology, Moorean Shift, Skepticism]
Intuition All Alone:

On G.E. Moore’s Tempting but Insufficient Answer to Radical Skepticism

 

G.E. Moore Sketch by M.R.P. - criticism - radical skepticism, common sense, Moorean shift, Moorean facts

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.

Introduction:

Although there are several voices that shine the brightest as philosophers of philosophical skepticism, it is a topic which has captured the attention of a huge number of philosophers throughout time. The so-called challenge of radical skepticism has been raised and allegedly met time and time again. One of the aforementioned notable voices in the past century was G.E. Moore, who advocated what he and others have termed a ‘common sense’ response to radical skepticism (where radical skepticism refers to the position that knowledge—or certainly knowledge of the external world—is impossible).

Formally, Moore’s response proceeds from what is now in certain contexts called a Moorean shift—changing a modus ponens argument’s second premise to create a modus tollens argument which has an opposing conclusion—to support what is now in certain contexts called a Moorean fact. Those argument types will be explained below. And that naming scheme (i.e. Moorean shift, Moorean fact) ought to tell you how influential these ideas have been. G.E. Moore was a capable and perceptive philosopher, and his work on skepticism was inspirational for Ludwig Wittgenstein (who later tried to create a rigorous account of Moore’s approach in notes which were assembled into a book after Wittgenstein’s death). Now I will point out why G.E. Moore’s confident argument is insufficient for meeting the challenge of radical skepticism.

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[Topics: Epistemology, Moorean Shift, Skepticism]
Intuition All Alone:

On G.E. Moore’s Tempting but Insufficient Answer to Radical Skepticism

was last modified: November 12th, 2022 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Epistemology, Philosophy of Language, Skepticism]
Superknowledge and Casual-knowledge:

Discussing the Fallacies Involved in One Minor Argument Against Radical Skepticism

 

Introduction:

Bertrand Russell Sketch by M.R.P. - radical skepticism - superknowledge

Sketch by M.R.P.

Many of your Friday Phil articles thus far have provided overviews and general clarifications. In contrast to that style, this week I will be briefly taking up and criticizing a very specific argument, as I have enjoyed doing on just one or two previous occasions. For today’s article, the argument under study is one that is intended to support the extant refutations of radical skepticism (where radical skepticism refers to the position that knowledge—or certainly knowledge of the external world—is impossible).

The argument in question, which is only meant to lend support to more rigorous arguments against such skepticism, could be called something like ‘the argument from common practice’ or ‘the superknowledge argument.’ Its aim is to show that certainty is not required for knowledge by showing that multiple related but distinct concepts are all being called ‘knowledge.’ I intend to showcase where this argument goes wrong in two ways, first through its propensity for special pleading and then through its rhetorical strategy.

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[Topics: Epistemology, Philosophy of Language, Skepticism]
Superknowledge and Casual-knowledge:

Discussing the Fallacies Involved in One Minor Argument Against Radical Skepticism

was last modified: October 10th, 2022 by Daniel Podgorski