Critical Responses by O.K. Bouwsma and Norman Malcolm to Descartes' Skeptical Argument

Essay by Anonymous UserCollege, UndergraduateA-, December 1996

download word file, 9 pages 4.3

Downloaded 137 times

In this essay, I will examine Rene Descartes' skeptical argument and responses by

O.K. Bouwsma and Norman Malcolm. I intend to prove that while both Bouwsma and

Malcolm make points that refute specific parts of Descartes' argument in their

criticisms, neither is sufficient in itself to refute the whole.

In order to understand Descartes' argument and its sometimes radical ideas, one

must have at least a general idea of his motives in undertaking the argument. The

seventeenth century was a time of great scientific progress, and the blossoming

scientific community was concerned with setting up a consistent standard to define

what constituted science. Their science was based on conjunction and empirical

affirmation, ideally without any preconceived notions to taint the results. Descartes,

however, believed that the senses were unreliable and that science based solely on

information gained from the senses was uncertain. He was concerned with finding a

point of certainty on which to base scientific thought.

Eventually he settled on

mathematics as a basis for science, because he believed mathematics and geometry to

be based on some inherent truths. He believed that it was through mathematics that we

were able to make sense of our world, and that the ability to think mathematically was

an innate ability of all human beings. This theory becomes important in Descartes'

Meditations because he is forced to explain where the mathematical ideas that he

believed we were born with came from. Having discussed Descartes' background, I

will now explain the specifics of his argument.

The basis of Descartes' entire argument is that the senses can not be trusted, and his

objective is to reach a point of certainty, one undeniable truth that fixes our existence.

He said it best in his own words, 'I will . . . apply myself earnestly and...