René Descartes was one of the most influential philosophers of the 17th century. His work on epistemology, or the study of knowledge, revolutionized the way we think about truth and certainty. In this article, we will discuss Descartes’ views on epistemology and how they have impacted philosophy.
What is Epistemology?
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with knowledge and belief. It seeks to answer questions such as: What is knowledge?
How is it acquired? What makes a belief true or false? These questions have puzzled philosophers for centuries, and Descartes was no exception.
Descartes’ Method of Doubt
Descartes believed that in order to arrive at certain knowledge, one must first doubt everything that can be doubted. He called this his method of doubt. By doubting everything that can be doubted, he believed that he would eventually arrive at a set of beliefs that were indubitable – that is, beyond doubt.
Descartes began his method of doubt by questioning his senses. He realized that our senses can deceive us – for example, objects may appear different depending on the lighting or perspective. Therefore, he concluded that our senses cannot provide us with certain knowledge.
He then went on to question other sources of knowledge – such as authority figures and tradition. He realized that these sources are fallible and can also lead us astray. Finally, he even questioned his own existence – wondering if everything he experienced was just an illusion created by an evil demon.
Cogito Ergo Sum
Despite all this doubt, Descartes realized there was one thing he could not doubt – his own existence. Even if everything else was an illusion, there had to be a thinking thing (himself) doing the doubting. This led him to famously declare, “Cogito ergo sum” – “I think, therefore I am.”
Descartes believed that certain ideas are innate – that is, they are present in the mind from birth. He argued that the idea of God, for example, must be innate because it is so clear and distinct. He believed that other innate ideas include the concepts of substance, causation, and infinity.
In conclusion, Descartes’ views on epistemology have had a profound impact on philosophy. His method of doubt has influenced many philosophers who followed him and his idea of innate ideas has been both criticized and praised. Overall, Descartes’ contribution to epistemology cannot be overstated – he paved the way for future generations to continue exploring the nature of knowledge and belief.