By Frankfurt Harry G.
The writer formulates a notable interpretation of the pioneering epistemological firm Descartes undertakes within the meditations
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Additional resources for Demons, Dreamers, and Madmen: The Defense of Reason in Descartes's Meditations
Indeed, throughout the relevant portions of the First Meditation, he seeks to defend the senses against objections that he suggests may be raised against them. He attempts to show how conﬁdence in sensory beliefs may reasonably be maintained in the face of these objections by invoking distinctions that deﬂect their thrust. What does Descartes have in mind when he speaks of the “principles on which everything I once believed depended”? And what principle is it that he undertakes to examine when he says that all his truest beliefs have come to him from or through the senses?
The process of examining and evaluating the mind’s former contents, on the other hand, plainly requires meticulous discrimination and careful argument. This makes it far more plausible to suppose that Descartes’s skeptical arguments have to do with the task of deciding which of his former opinions are worthy of being reinstated than to suppose that they are designed to bring about the general overthrow of his beliefs. These arguments are in the service of 11 HR II, 282; AT VII, 481, ll. 4–10. 28 Chapter 2 his criterion of doubt, by which he proposes to evaluate his opinions, and it would be incongruous for him to adopt this criterion in order to execute his intention to divest himself of all his beliefs.
2–12. The General Overthrow of Belief 23 not propose to make himself into a tabula rasa, and the skepticism to which he commits himself is innocuously thin and undisruptive. Indeed it is inappropriate to describe it as skepticism at all. Consider the example of a mathematician who is, let us say, attempting to construct a system of arithmetic. If he has so far failed or neglected to establish that “2 + 2 = 4” is a theorem of his system, he will quite properly refuse to assume in his inquiry that the equation is true.