8 Bit Philosophy: Can We Be Certain of Anything? (Descartes)

Shocking plot twist at the end there, I guess.

Thank goodness we have axioms we can trust, even if they're complete lies and deceit, it's just something generally accepted as true.

That we perceive is an immutable truth even if philosophers question the truth behind whether or not we are perceiving reality.

I think it's important to note that to distrust your senses is tantamount to insanity given the wealth of cause and effect our brain notes to coordinate our senses with our environment.

Lightknight:
That we perceive is an immutable truth even if philosophers question the truth behind whether or not we are perceiving reality.

I think it's important to note that to distrust your senses is tantamount to insanity given the wealth of cause and effect our brain notes to coordinate our senses with our environment.

Emphasis added.

Descartes does eventually get back to trusting his senses; he does this by invoking god (small g, god in philosophy). In Cartesian doubt, the perceptions fed to the brain (and the existence of the brain itself) are all examples of things we could be wrong about. How do you know you have a brain? Because sensory information has conveyed the idea to you. It certainly didn't come to you apropos of nothing! You've read about brains. Maybe you've seen a few here and there. (I have.) Maybe you've even seen an image you were told was of your brain, such as a person undergoing a CT or MRI does. (I have not seen my own brain in this manner.) You are thus not only gambling that your sensory input is right, but you're also arriving at a conclusion by induction - and inductive logic is suspect (see David Hume). Likewise, I have to use purely inductive reasoning to conclude that I have a brain.

But Descartes was all about methodological skepticism. He would treat his ideas like they were apples in a barrel and he had to be sure they were all good apples, so he would take them all out and if he could doubt any of them, they couldn't be put back in the "good" barrel until he was sure. He couldn't use induction. He had to rely purely on deduction. Descartes could doubt his senses, however improbable he considers it that they are wrong. He could not doubt that there was some *thing* doing thinking, however, because he couldn't doubt there was thinking going on. Whatever is doing the thinking has to exist. He could be entirely wrong about *what* he is. But he had to be something.

Enter god. Since god is all perfections, god is not a deceiver, and thus there is some sense to Descartes' perceptions even if imperfect Descartes himself is flawed. Now, you can certainly argue with Descartes' trademark and ontological proofs of god - an entirely separate matter - but he wasn't a madman because he doubted the fidelity of his senses. Descartes was a mathematical genius, one of the key figures in both philosophy and the early history of science, and one of the most important thinkers laying the groundwork of the Enlightenment.

 

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