What Is Descartes Theory of Epistemology?


Diego Sanchez

Descartes’ Theory of Epistemology

René Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist who lived in the 17th century. He is considered as the father of modern philosophy due to his groundbreaking ideas that challenged the traditional ways of thinking. One of his most significant contributions to philosophy is his theory of epistemology, which deals with the nature and scope of knowledge.

The Foundations of Descartes’ Theory

Descartes’ theory of epistemology is based on two foundational ideas:

  • Skepticism: Descartes believed that knowledge gained through senses can be doubted because our senses can deceive us. Therefore, we must question everything we know and only accept what we can prove with certainty.
  • Rationalism: Descartes believed that reason and logic are the only reliable sources of knowledge. According to him, we can arrive at certain truths by using our innate reasoning abilities without relying on sensory experience.

The Method of Doubt

To overcome skepticism and arrive at certain knowledge, Descartes developed a method of doubt, where he systematically questioned everything he knew. He doubted his senses, beliefs, and even mathematical truths until he arrived at something that could not be doubted.

This led him to a famous conclusion, “Cogito ergo sum,” which translates to “I think, therefore I am.” According to Descartes, even if everything else can be doubted or proven false, the fact that he is thinking proves his existence as a conscious being.

Innate Ideas

Descartes believed that certain ideas are innate or built-in within us from birth. These ideas do not come from sensory experience but are present in our minds naturally. These innate ideas are necessary for understanding other concepts and arriving at certain knowledge.

For example, the idea of God is innate within us, according to Descartes. We do not need to experience God through our senses to understand the concept of God because it is already present within us.

The Role of God

Descartes believed that God plays a crucial role in his theory of epistemology. According to him, God is the source of all truth and knowledge. Since we are fallible beings and can be deceived by our senses, we need an infallible source of knowledge to arrive at certain truths.

Therefore, Descartes argued that God must exist because the idea of an infinite and perfect being cannot be created by finite and imperfect beings like ourselves. The existence of God serves as a guarantee that our innate ideas are true and reliable.


In conclusion, Descartes’ theory of epistemology is based on skepticism and rationalism. He believed that only reason and logic can provide certain truths, while sensory experience can be deceptive.

His method of doubt helped him arrive at certain knowledge, and he also argued that some ideas are innate within us. Finally, he believed that God is the source of all truth and knowledge and plays a crucial role in his theory.