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"Explain And Evaluate Descartes' Use Of The Method Of Doubt In The First Meditation

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"Explain and evaluate Descartes' use of the method of doubt in the First Meditation"

Throughout Meditations on First Philosophy the method of doubt is employed in order for the meditator to reach their ultimate conclusion in the final mediation of an indubitable basis for philosophy. Descartes was not a sceptic, however, (A sceptic would maintain that knowledge is difficult to acquire whereas Descartes is more concerned with how we arrive at the truth), as would be expected with employing such a doubting method, but was merely interested in Methodology, as demonstrated in his previous works such as Discourse on the Method and Rules for the Direction of the Mind which also use the method in its process. The first Ð''rule' of four in the former work is adopted in Descartes' Meditations as the said method of doubt. This Ð''rule', as it is referred to, is utilised in the beginning of most meditations in order to erase previous Ð''false' doubts and essentially clear the mind, but it is only the First Meditation that the use of this shall be explored in depth for the purpose of this essay. This shall be accomplished by systematically analysing the arguments put forward in the First Meditation, including the method of doubt in relation to the senses, the dream argument and the God as a deceiver hypothesis and analytical propositions in order to appraise and evaluate Descartes' utilisation of this tool in the initial meditation. This paper shall endeavour to explain what the method is and ultimately what the use of it achieves through the exploration of the First Meditation.

In order to see the conclusion and achievement reached at the end of the Meditations the method of doubt must be fully explained. This shall be accomplished by closely looking at the first paragraph in the First Meditation. The method is an analytic one that essentially doubts all that can be challenged and in the process of doing so disregards what has been doubted. It does not, however, seek to prove anything doubted as false but merely Ð''brackets' what has been called into question in order for the meditator to move on in their search for a concrete basis of their new Mechanical philosophy. The subtitle of the First Meditation must be taken into account "What can be called into doubt" as it states the intentions of the meditator who will carry out this method as what can be described as a Ð''project of demolition'. The meditator begins by recognising that "some years ago I was struck by the large number of falsehoods that I had accepted as true" and realising that Ð''Semel in Vita' he must undertake the task of overhauling his beliefs and opinions in order to find what cannot be doubted. Descartes compares this task to emptying out a basket of apples, some of which may be potentially spoiled, in the Objections and Replies. The whole basket is emptied in order for the apples to be separated to prevent the rot from spreading just as false beliefs based on sensory perception may similarly taint true ones. The apples are not individually analysed though, as once the basket is emptied, and correspondingly our thoughts are cleared, then the foundations of our incorrect beliefs will also be undermined and the opinions built on them will also follow in the process "Once the foundations of a building are undermined, anything built on them collapses of its own accord" . The method of doubt is employed at the beginning of the first four meditations in order for the meditator to again clear their mind of previous opinions, as in the later meditations the meditator relies on God in order to withhold assent. In the First Meditation, however, we see the position of the meditator, who has no direction in beginning their task, as highly confused and the structure of the Meditations as a whole, as well as the initial one, reflects this as it is similar to an organised stream of consciousness where ideas are conceived, considered and subjected to the method of doubt. Broughton views the method of doubt as seeking to emphasise the beliefs that we are left with after the process of doubting. She argues in Raising Doubt that Descartes employs the method because he adopts a rule that instructs him to withhold assent from all opinions that can be doubted. Broughton makes two objections to the method and acknowledges flaws that may prevent us from fully understanding the series of arguments in the Meditations. The first of these proposes that from the First Meditation alone, we cannot make sense of why the meditator withholds assent about what he has found dubitable, especially when the meditator claims that much of what he has found dubitable seems probable despite its uncertain status. According to Broughton, we can only make sense of the move to suspend judgment once we have identified that material objects have secondary qualities as seen in the Sixth Meditation. The second objection says that it is only reasonable to adopt the method of doubt if we know ahead of time that a conclusion will emerge with the status of being firm and indubitable in the sciences. But in the First Meditation we have no reason to think that anything like this will surface because of the development of ideas that are similar to an internal thought process and cannot know the final conclusion before going through the method of doubt even though the Meditations must have been written in retrospect due to the ordered structure. Despite this, Broughten's challenges are not strong nor damaging due to the fact that the lack of motivation to doubt the senses and seemingly reasonable, yet dubitable, opinions does not prevent the coherence of the Meditator's arguments.

The method of doubt mainly arises due to the dubitabilty of the senses. Descartes argues against the use of the senses because to their fallibility "from time to time I have found that the senses deceive, and it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once" and supports reasoning through the Intellect in contrast to the Natural philosophy of Aristotle commonly accepted at the time which maintained that nothing in the intellect is without first being perceived by the senses. However, some erroneous occurrences may prove to be so only accidentally and may be rare errors, but according to the method of doubt this means that the senses should be bracketed due to their occasionally incorrect nature. Hatfield supports this criticism and argues that "perhaps we know friends who have misrepresented their judgement of our culinary skill [Ð'...] but who would not deceive us in matters of life and death" . It seems reasonable from this example that if something may be right in the majority of cases then the minority should



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