Cartesian skepticism refers to the method of reasoned skepticism employed by the 17th Century Philosopher
René Descartes. Frequently referred to as Methodological Skepticism or Methodological Doubt, this concept forms an important component of Descartes' epistemological work.
Descartes' skepticism is designed to break down all things which it is possible to doubt, leaving Descartes with only those pieces of knowledge of which he can be certain. From this fundamental component of knowledge about which it is impossible to hold doubt, Descartes then goes on to derive further knowledge from the certain knowledge he is left with. Its an archetypal and significant example that epitomizes the Continental Rational schools of philosophy.
In his Meditations, Descartes employs by way of example a situation in which a Malicious Demon is deceiving his senses into experiencing a world around him which does not, in fact, exist, so that he must therefore doubt his surroundings, fellow men, and even God himself:
"I will suppose... some malicious demon of the utmost power and cunning has employed all his energies in order to deceive me. I shall think that the sky, the air, the earth, colours, shapes, sounds and all external things are merely the delusions of dreams which he has devised to ensnare my judgement." "René Descartes - Meditations on First Philosophy: First Meditation"
This supposition leads Descartes to doubt the existence of the world he perceives. From the very existence of this doubt does Descartes deduce that his own conscious self must exist - for in order to be doubting (and therefore thinking), he must exist necessarily.
Descartes' phrasing of this fact has become one of the most famous (and misunderstood) philosophical propositions, and is formulated in Latin in his earlier Discourse as 'Cogito Ergo Sum' - "I think therefore I am". This proposition is frequently referred to as the Cogito, although the phrase itself is not actually used in the meditations (as Descartes felt that it mis-represented his intended message).
Cartesian skepticism advocates the doubting of all things which cannot be justified through logic. Some have claimed that the corresponding philosophical proposition fails the criterion of
falsifiabilitythat is required of any empiricaltheory.Fact|date=February 2007.
In the "Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind", Cartesian skepticism is defined as "Any of a class of skeptical views against empirical knowledge based on the claim that claims to empirical knowledge are defeated by the possibility that we might be deceived insofar as we might be, for example, dreaming, hallucinating, deceived by demons, or brains in vats."
* [http://philosophy.uwaterloo.ca/MindDict/cartesianskepticism.html Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind]
* [http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2843/is_1_28/ai_111897987 Cartesian Skepticism]
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