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Descartes’ Dreaming Argument and Evil Demon Argument

Essay by   •  June 15, 2019  •  Research Paper  •  1,579 Words (7 Pages)  •  575 Views

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Outline and critically discuss Descartes’ dreaming argument and evil demon argument.

Within this essay I am going to outline and discuss Rene Descartes dreaming and evil demon argument. I will explain his method of doubt also, the reasons why Descartes sets out to doubt all of his former beliefs. I will also consider Descartes Evil demon theory moreover, how Descartes, comes to his conclusion that there may be an evil demon or the possibility that an all-powerful God could be the deceiver.

Rene Descartes dreaming argument in the first meditation produces the theory of what can be called into doubt. Descartes believed that whatever knowledge he had accepted to be true was a result of his senses. Descartes terms of knowledge are based on certainty, if there is doubt, it cannot be certain, therefore, it is not knowledge.

Descartes believes, there are things that are undoubtable and certain. However, he believed that the foundations of his beliefs were built upon his senses. Therefore, in order to doubt these foundations, he had to cast aside, all things he had accepted to be true, moreover, reject all of his former opinions thus, creating a blank canvas as his foundation to start again.  He goes on to explain, he would not be able to prove all of his opinions are wrong, but rather question the reasons he takes them to be true.

In the first meditation Descartes puts forward his dreaming argument, he suggests, that when dreaming it can resemble waking life so vividly, that it could be hard to distinguish from them both.

Descartes suggests that “composite things” such as, astronomy or physics could be doubtful, because they are derived from the external world through the senses, for example, we can imagine eyes, head, colour etc. However, geometry and mathematics etc., are undoubtable, because wither he is sleeping or awake “two and three still equals five”. In-addition, the idea of roundness exists (Feinberg & Shafer-Landau, 2015). Thus, cannot be false.

What Descartes is questioning here, is the material worlds existence. He believes that things from afar in our perception can often be misinterpreted. However, there is good enough reasoning for It, for example, the lighting or distance of an object effecting one’s perception.

Descartes then questions things that are right in front of him, he uses the example, “he is sitting at the fire in his dressing gown holding a piece of paper”. (Feinberg & Shafer-Landau, 2015). However, he recalls having similar visual experiences. He suggests, that although this could seem impossible to doubt, his senses are telling him he is “sitting by the fire in his dressing gown holding the piece of paper” (Feinberg & Shafer-Landau, 2015). Therefore, Descartes concludes, if his senses can deceive him even once, then there is reason for doubt.

This brings Descartes to think about God, he goes on to question whether it is that “omnipotent God” (Feinberg & Shafer-Landau, 2015) whom Descartes believes is his creator whom theoretically is “supremely good” (Feinberg & Shafer-Landau, 2015) could be deceiving him to believe that there is no reality, for example, the world and how we see it does not actually exist, thus, God tricks us to believe that the sky is blue, the earth is round, that five plus one equals six, in other words, Descartes is questioning if God could be responsible for deceiving him about the existence of all external things as he perceives them. Moreover, sometimes people are wrong about what they believe to be true with certainty, therefore, how do we know if a triangle has four side or if five and one equals six. However, Descartes goes on to say.

“perhaps God would not have allowed me to be deceived in this way, since he is said to be supremely good” (Feinberg & Shafer-Landau, 2015). Descartes is being sceptical here suggesting that the images we perceive from our perception and senses, for example, the sky, trees, a body etc, does not exist, but rather, God put them in our minds to trick us. In-addition, Descartes knows some things to be false that others seem completely certain of. If so could he be wrong when doing a simple math like, five plus one equals six.

Descartes doubts this reasoning, by thinking.

“but if it were inconsistent with Gods goodness to have created me such that I am deceived all the time, it would be equally foreign to his goodness to allow me to be deceived even occasionally” (Feinberg & Shafer-Landau, 2015). In other words, God is supremely virtuous. Therefore, he would not trick me to think there is no material existence, nor allow it to be wrong that five plus one does not equal six.

He goes on to say that there are some whom would choose to deny there is a God who is all powerful than to “believe that everything is uncertain” (Feinberg & Shafer-Landau, 2015). If this be the case, then Descartes contemplates that his present state is a consequence of “fate or chance” (Feinberg & Shafer-Landau, 2015). Moreover, his imperfections are the cause of deception. Descartes concludes, that “I have no answer to these arguments” (Feinberg & Shafer-Landau, 2015) although Descartes thought hard about this he admitted that his former beliefs are doubtable.

What I think Descartes is saying here is that, If God could be deceiving him, he could be wrong all of the time. However, believing God is the deceiver, would in this case mean he would be uncertain of anything. Moreover, if he chooses to deny the existence of God, then he would never fear being deceived again. However, if Gods creations are perfect, then to be created by anything other than God, would be imperfect. Thus, given more reason to be deceived again. In other words, there is the possibility that everything Descartes has taken to be true could be false.

Descartes puts forward the idea of the ‘evil demon’. He is not saying that the evil demon does actually exist but rather, is looking to rule out the possibility that an evil demon could be deceiving him.

This is one of the most important aspects of the evil demon argument. Descartes admits that he is struggling to believe certain ideas of what he believes can be doubted. However, He proceeds to assume it false until he can prove beyond doubt that it is true. Therefore, he proceeds to think of all external things such as the earth, sky, shape etc, are “delusions of dreams” (Feinberg & Shafer-Landau, 2015) created to deceive him.  

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