Freshman (College 1st year) ・Philosophy ・Harvard ・4 Sources

Awareness, according to Rene Descartes, is the foundation of science. Descartes adopted scepticism, in which he aimed to doubt rather than deny his views, for nothing he understood could be dismissed as false. The first step is to comprehend intelligence in terms of certainty. Descartes gained certainty by putting his views to the test. As a result, doubt can be described as the polar opposite of certainty, and if a belief can be questioned, it is neither certain nor knowledge. The work that follows will help to define Descartes' method of doubt and whether it can be applied to dealing with skeptics.

Method of Doubt

The set standards of knowledge by Descartes are too high, and it has led to criticism by many philosophers. Descartes believes that knowledge is supposed to be indubitable and it cannot be doubted and if it were true, it means that belief is infallible. This can be seen as true only at the beginning of the meditations since Meditation III states that what is clear and distinct can be determined. It is not indubitable or infallible since people commit mistakes, but when careful, things which are clear and distinct are certain. The idea of certainty as presented by Descartes is also criticized since it appears to be psychological where Descartes is after beliefs which he is certain of (Broughton and Carriero, 2008). However, it is not the same thing where belief is certain. People can make mistakes and think of it as being certain even when it is not. The response provided by Descartes in the case indicates the method of doubt. Since human beings have the habit of jumping to conclusions, only those who are careful can be able to understand the things which are genuinely certain from those which are not.
Certainty, as used by Descartes, is not a feeling but a rational insight. The things which are “clear and distinct” are the only ones which can be determined as certain and it can be confirmed from what is on the mind at that moment. Descartes states in Meditation III that “things which I see clearly cannot be other than as I conceive them.” therefore, certainty can only be tested by reasoning and used in establishing the truth. When something is shown to be certain, then it is a way of proving that it is true. According to the philosophers who provide critics, Descartes does not provide enough arguments for the ideas he presents and the method used in doubting everything results in skepticism, instead of finding the foundations of knowledge.
Descartes provides doubt for his beliefs so that he can determine what is certain. Since doubt is the opposite of certainty, establishing what he can doubt and what he cannot will help determine certainty. The uncertainty as explained by Descartes is very methodical since he indicates that each of his beliefs should be considered in turns and that can take forever. He provides the basic principles for his beliefs such as “believe what you perceive” thus proving doubt which is universal. All the views are attacked at once through attacking their foundation, which is hyperbolic and can be described as ridiculous. One cannot, however, just doubt anything and thus the importance of giving arguments to support the reasons they prefer to question something (Hill, 2012).
The argument can be from perception, considering the past deception which resulted from senses and one ended up looking at things the way they were not supposed. Illusions are created when things are looked from afar, and this is an uncertain something since ones close to the actual object, it will appear large. A stronger feeling of skepticism can result from the thought of perception since it can be used in informing the way the world seems to people. It is important to create a distinction between reality and appearance. The way something appears might be very far from its reality.
To further explain the doubt concept, Descartes used dreaming where an individual experiences something when they are asleep. It is, however, hard to establish the difference when one understands something when they are either asleep or awake. After a dream, doubt is created concerning the dream since one is not aware of what exactly they were dreaming about. There are some philosophers who felt that there are indicators which can be used in differentiating between perceptions from dreaming, for instance, greater coherence of perception. Descartes contends by stating that an individual could be dreaming of a perfect replica of reality.
To accept his skepticism, Descartes states that God does not exist and the experiences that people have are due to an evil demon that is out to deceive people. Thus, beliefs such as on external world become doubtful due to the control of the evil one. The evil one is therefore responsible for total deception which human beings experience (Lennon, 2008). Descartes contradicts himself by stating that there is God, who is not a deceiver. Descartes ends up creating confusion on whether he believed in the existence of God or a demon that created doubt in the minds of people.

Argument for Descartes

I agree with Descartes that knowledge is used in establishing the things which are firm and constant. Nothing should be rejected as false before a clear understanding is established. However, there are the basis of doubt in every knowledge which is provided which helps to ascertain the truth of something. Mistakes are bound to be made, where an individual may perceive something as a right, but in a real sense, it is not. It can be influenced by several things, dreams for instance, where, when an individual is asleep, they are not conscious to be aware of the exact thing which they were dreaming about. Confusion may arise in such a case, and doubt is created. Illusions can be created, which can be depended on certain factors like the health status of an individual.
The previous perceptions can be a source of doubt in the lives of people. One may perceive something as right as directed by their senses only to find it wrong after gaining knowledge concerning the matter. The inner feeling does not lead people to correct things since there are more determining factors other than the inner feeling. When presenting the presence of an evil and superior being, Descartes provides a clear explanation of the reasons people end up doubting the existence of God. It is believed that superior being ensures the welfare of human beings and the evil one confuses them so that they can suffer. When human beings experience pain and suffering, doubt is created on who is responsible for it. The evil one would want people to go against God and thus introduces evilness to make people sin, while God punishes those who go against his will by introducing suffering. It makes hard to be certain on whether to believe in evilness or the existence of God (Lennon, 2008).
The argument of doubt can be used to solve the problem of skepticism which states that certain knowledge is impossible. Despite using science, which is known to provide answers to almost everything on earth, it cannot be used to explain everything. The existence of God or the demon, for instance, cannot be explained through science. It is a belief which people hold, depending on the perception they have on a greater being that is responsible for all the happening (Descartes and Moriarty, 2008). There are some people who believe that the demon is responsible for creating doubt in the minds of people such as causing an illusion to avoid seeing things is a clear way which will explain certainty.


Knowledge is the basis of certainty and truth. It can, however, be doubted depending on the knowledge that one has concerning the topic. Doubt helps dig more on something to have a clear and distinct understanding of the issue. Since human beings have the habit of jumping to conclusions, only those who are careful can be able to understand the things which are genuinely certain from those which are not. Before concluding any matter, it is necessary to first consider all sources of doubt such as illusion, dreams, and perception and find knowledge to be certain.


BROUGHTON, J., & CARRIERO, J. P. (2008). A companion to Descartes. Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell.
DESCARTES, R., & MORIARTY, M. (2008). Meditations on first philosophy: with selections from the Objections and replies. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
HILL, J. (2012). Descartes and the doubting mind. London, Continuum.
LENNON, T. M. (2008). The Plain Truth: Descartes, Huet, and Skepticism. Leiden, BRILL.

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