Descartes: true belief and knowledge

Essay by kethol_862College, UndergraduateA+, April 2007

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Descartes overall objective in the Meditations was to develop a system of true belief and knowledge. He starts with the assumption that the senses were false and anything interpreted by them was also false. This one statement disbands all the knowledge that we have ever learned. He traverses a process to set up a system by which knowledge could be gained, and this knowledge would be correct. The senses lie to us, reality could be our dreams, and material objects don't exist. . He rejects his senses, and replaces God with an Evil Genius. Once everything has been broken down, Descartes realizes he exists: "I think, therefore I am" (Descartes 66). With this affirmation comes the knowledge that God exists as a non-deceiver, the senses are not lying, and our world is not a dreamscape. With the senses true, material objects also now exist, and true belief with justification from the mind becomes knowledge.

Descartes first examined those beliefs that required the senses. He established that we must first "attack those principles which supported everything I once believed"(Descartes 60). He questioned whether the senses were true indicators of what was perceived. One night Descartes had a dream that he was sitting near a fire and could feel its warmth wash over him. When he awoke he realized that the fire had not really existed, and therefore there was no warmth. Yet his senses had felt the warmth, and his eyes had seen the flames. Thus he concluded that the senses could be deceived and could in fact be transmitting false knowledge. He went further to insinuate that the world that we are in may not be real; it could in fact be a figment of our dreams. We therefore could be truly sure whether we are in a dream state...