How was Descartes refuted

Descartes' epistemology - investigation of the Cogito argument as a refutation of skepticism

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Descartes’s objective of knowledge and its methods
A representation of the epistemological concern of Descartes'
B The Cartesian strategy of doubt
C The Cogito argument

3. The Cogito argument and skepticism

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

6. Declaration

1 Introduction

The phrase “cogito, ergo sum” and the beginning of modern philosophy are associated with Rene Descartes. Descartes wanted to find out what the possibilities, conditions and limits of knowledge are. Descartes begins his reflections with the rejection of all knowledge and doubts. For Descartes, to doubt means: striving for certainty that withstands even the most extreme skepticism.

The question that now arises here is the following: did Descartes manage to find an impeccable, clear and unambiguous criterion to justify his system of knowledge?

I will present Descartes' cognitive process in the following. I will not only examine the “meditations on the first philosophy”, but also the “rules for aligning the power of knowledge”.

After following his path of doubt with the help of the meditations, I would like to examine his Cogito argument more closely. How does Descartes build this up, and how does he prove it?

Since Descartes wanted to refute skepticism with this knowledge system, I will examine at the end of my thesis whether Descartes succeeded in doing this. He saw skepticism as problematic and wanted to refute it with the help of his meditations. Here, too, the Cogito argument plays a decisive role, since it is precisely this that represents the first true and clear certainty for Descartes.

Using this approach, it should be shown whether a reliable reason-based knowledge is possible.

2. Descartes' goal of knowledge and his methods

Descartes gave his first meditation the subtitle: "What one can doubt". This title alone indicates his approach, Descartes wants "later establish something permanent and lasting in the sciences[1].

2.1 Presentation of Descartes' epistemological concern

Epistemology is looking for a way to find out which findings can be considered "true" with which evidence. With Descartes the cognitive process begins with doubt, because through this one gains indisputable elements of knowledge. Descartes says that any impression considered true comes through the senses. In order to bypass these perceptual apparatuses, which are prone to deception, Descartes tries to find a basis for his knowledge through his methodological doubts, by excluding everything that can be hypothetically questionable. Descartes' methodological doubt is based on four rules that he set up as a guide for obtaining reliable knowledge. These are evidence, division, order and enumeration. In the evidence, the truth must be clearly recognized, in the division the problem is broken down into individual parts, so that one progresses in order with the simplest things up to the knowledge of the complicated things, in order to then join the partial points again in the enumeration and thus close to get to the knowledge of the problems. In the following I shall explain how Descartes derived these rules.

Since Descartes wanted to create a method for finding the truth that can be applied to all scientific activities, this method must work from the theoretical to the practical. Thus Descartes has to show that reason can gain absolutely true knowledge and also put it into practice.

The prerequisite, however, is that the possibility of absolutely true, objectively valid judgments is available. Descartes judges here on the evidence, that is, through the subjective indubitability and direct insight into the assessed facts[2].

The starting point for Descartes is the rejection of all judgments that are doubtful, because there

Even if reason advises us to refrain from consenting just as carefully with not quite certain and unequivocal views as with those that are definitely wrong, it is sufficient for their rejection as a whole if I find some cause for doubt in each one[3].

Descartes formulates in his rules that one arrives at knowledge in two ways, through experience and deduction. However, since experience can be deceptive, but the deduction can never be done wrongly, according to Descartes, arithmetic and geometry are more reliable at the beginning, since these "namely to deal solely with an object so pure and simple that they do not even presuppose anything that will make the experience uncertain, but are entirely based on reasonable deductions from inferences[4]. Descartes goes on to say that only, "what we can see or reliably deduce in clear and evident intuition[5] leads to science. Here, however, Descartes prefers intuition, since it "simpler, and therefore more reliable, than even the deduction[6]. For Descartes, intuition is "an insight which is based solely on reasons of reason and which reason is considered to be beyond doubt[7]. Since intuition has no presuppositions, it creates both insight into what is to be regarded as fundamental and the knowledge why this insight is fundamental[8]. The intuitive grasping of simple truths plays a central role in Descartes' rules for the achievement of knowledge. Descartes says that one can come to true judgments with this method if one "involved facts [...] in a number of individual truths deduced from others directly[9]. Here Descartes introduces a distinction between absolute and respect, so he can start with the simplest and build on it. For Descartes everything that can be regarded as independent or as a cause is absolute, and "it is the simplest and easiest to use to solve problems[10]. These insights are recognized intuitively and are necessarily true axioms for Descartes. Respective knowledge, on the other hand, builds on the absolute knowledge in that the previously deduced facts are gradually recognized as true or false. Now that this subdivision has been made and each step has been checked individually, it must be "summarize in a sufficient and orderly list[11]. Since memory errors can occur with longer steps, Descartes emphasizes the importance of "to think through it repeatedly until I [...] have an intuition of the whole thing, almost without the involvement of the memory[12].

With these rules as a prerequisite, Descartes can now further substantiate his epistemological explanations in the “Meditation on the first philosophy”.

"According to the rule of evidence, it is sufficient to show the slightest possibility of error in a field of knowledge in order to exclude it from the foundation as a whole"[13]. However, in order not to have to test every single judgment for its truthfulness, Descartes only wants to refute those fundamental opinions on which his entire body of opinion is based. Here he also speaks of tearing down the foundations of his knowledge, "to attack the very principles on which everything was based,[14] what he used to believe to be true.

There are three levels of methodological doubt in the meditations. Those are the doubts about the cognitive foundation, the doubts about the cognitive state, and the doubts about the cognitive autonomy[15]. I will explain the individual doubts in more detail in point 2.2.


[1] Descartes, Rene: Meditationes de Prima Philosophia - Meditations on the First Philosophy Latin / German, Translated and edited by Gerhart Schmidt Stuttgart, Reclam 1986. (cited in the future: Meditations), I 1.

[2] Röd, Wolfgang: Descartes - The inner genesis of the Cartesian system 2nd edition; Munich, Beck 1982, (cited in the future: Röd: Descartes 1982), p.46.

[3] Meditations, I 2.

[4] Descartes, Rene: Rules for aligning the cognitive power L Atein / German

Translated by H. Springmeyer; L. Gabe; H. Zekl, Hamburg, Meiner 1973 (cited in the future: Reg.), II 5.

[5] Reg., III.

[6] Reg., III 5.

[7] Prechtl, Peter: Descartes for introduction, Hamburg, Junius 2000 (cited in the future: Prechtl: Descartes), p.39.

[8] compare Prechtl: Descartes, p. 40.

[9] Reg., VI.

[10] Reg., VI 3.

[11] Reg, VII.

[12] Reg., XI 4.

[13] Röd, Wolfgang: Descartes - The inner genesis of the Cartesian system, Munich, Ernst Reinhardt 1964 (cited in the future: Röd: Descartes 1964), p.62.

[14] Meditations, I 2.

[15] cf. Perler, Dominik: Rene Descartes Munich, C.H. Beck 1998. (cited in the future: Perler: Descartes), p. 74.

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