[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: April 13th, 2023 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: Empiricism, Pragmatism, Rationalism]
Epistemological Compromise:

On the Unintuitive (yet Vital) Compatibility of Rationalism and Empiricism

 

Introduction:

David Hume Sketch by M.R.P. - infallible foreknowledge - free will - determinism

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.

This will be another post about two apparent philosophical opposites. And just like my considerations of moral realism and anti-realism; consequentialism and deontology; and free will and determinism, I will be arguing that there is to some degree a worthwhile common ground on which philosophers can safely tread. As you’ve probably noticed, the apparent opposition for this article is that between two topics in epistemology (the study of knowledge), which both confront the question of knowledge’s basis and origin: rationalism and empiricism.

Roughly speaking, rationalists hold that some or all of our knowledge is known independent of and prior to sense experience, whereas empiricists hold that some or all of our knowledge comes solely from sense experience. For a far-reaching and specific introduction to these topics in epistemology, see this encyclopedia entry; for my (hopefully somewhat pithier) thoughts on these topics, read on.

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[Topics: Empiricism, Pragmatism, Rationalism]
Epistemological Compromise:

On the Unintuitive (yet Vital) Compatibility of Rationalism and Empiricism

was last modified: December 5th, 2022 by Daniel Podgorski