Rene Desecrates’ Three Kinds of Doubt
Rene Descartes goes through three stages of doubt in a quest to demolish preconceived opinions that otherwise detract the attainment of true knowledge. The first stage, sensory illusion, strives to express the notion that experience is representational and thus cannot serve as a basis of true knowledge. That is, information gained from the senses should not be taken as absolute and indubitable due to its unreliableness. The example of a stick’s bent appearance when inserted in a glass of water serves is a valid example of illusionary doubt described by Descartes. One cannot argue that since the stick appears to be bent, then with all certainty, the stick is bent.
The second stage of doubt elucidated by Descartes stems from his dream argument. Descartes formulates his dreaming doubts by asking himself how he can be certain if he is not dreaming in the current moment. The philosopher noted that there were instances when his mind was convinced he was seated next to the fire only to wake up and discover he had been in bed all this time. In that argument, Descartes demonstrates that one can never be sure whether they are dreaming or not, and thus, the dreaming doubt is a valid ground for undermining knowledge. The last category of doubt expressed by Descartes is the evil demon doubt. In describing this form of doubt, Descartes advances the idea that an evil demon with utmost power and shrewdness dedicates its energy to deceive a person. In that sense, the demon manages to create the illusion of the external world, meaning then a person cannot trust their perception or preconceived notions of the world.
Descartes’ Wax Example
Descartes uses the wax example to demonstrate why an individual’s perception of things can be problematic, especially if the thing being perceived undergoes alterations or changes. The philosopher asks whether a person can trust his perception of an object given the altered state. In the wax analogy, Descartes shows that when a person observes wax, they can list its properties allowing others to know what the person is describing as expressed by Jackson (127). When heat is applied to the wax, it loses its solidness, color, taste and scent, all the physical characteristics used to describe its nature yet people identify it as wax. Thus, Descartes asks how two things with different properties be the same. How can a person know the form of the wax being described? In the wax analogy, Descartes tries to demonstrate that knowledge about an object gained from the senses cannot be construed as complete knowledge. A similar example is seen in the perception of tomato. In its natural state, the characteristics of tomatoes are evident to everyone. However, even when the tomato loses these characteristics after being cooked, it is still identified as a tomato. Which form of tomato do people refer to when talking about the object? Is it the cooked state or the uncooked state?
Rene Descartes’ Cartesian Dualism is flawed on several fronts. However, the main objection to the axiom lies in Descartes’ argument that the mind extends beyond the brain (Ryle 326). At the same time, Descartes fails to prove how epiphenomenon like consciousness then fails to impact on the physical world. Moreover, Cartesian Dualism cannot account for events such as the placebo effect and other equally unexplainable events, which demonstrate that mental states are more than irreducible neurobiological states (Churchland, 378). It is imperative for the Cartesian Dualism axiom to recognize that the immaterial has tangible impact on the real external world and the external world has equal influence on immaterial objects. Without the realization, it becomes considerably difficult to pursue true knowledge.
Ryle’s Category Mistake in Descartes’ Philosophy
Ryle argues that Descartes’ Cartesian Dualism is founded on a category mistake as the axiom mistakenly treated the mind as an object composed of immaterial substance as the preconceived notion of substance are not sufficient proof of a position on a matter (Ryle 325). Ryle’s argument is valid as it shows that it is inherently wrong to make assumptions about the composition of an object and then rely on that presumption to formulate knowledge of the object. In a sense, Ryle corrects Descartes’ Cartesian Dualism using the foundations laid out by the later. By identifying the category mistake inherent in Descartes’ axiom, Ryle is able to show that doubt can be leveraged as a way of uncovering knowledge. The author clarifies Descartes’ assertion that the truth can only be uncovered following demonstrable evidence of a lack of doubt. Ryle helps mitigate the inherent flaw Descartes introduced after ignoring the implications of immaterial substances and their ability to impact on the real world. Therefore, Ryle’s formulation can be taken as the proper representation of how knowledge can be ascertained, even in a world where immateriality is prevalent. Without Ryle’s opposition to Cartesian Dualism, the biased application of the axiom would prevail perpetrating insufficient quests for knowledge.
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Frank Jackson. “Epiphenomenal Qualia.” Pages 365-376.
Gilbert Ryle. “Descartes’ Myth.” Pages 325-333
Patricia Smith Churchland. “Are Mental States Irreducible to Neurobiological States?” Pages 376-384.