In his first meditation, Descartes provides readers with the Evil Demon Hypothesis, which justifies him to doubt the existence of everything he believed in. According to Descartes, there is an existence of a malicious demon of great power and deceit, and whose main purpose is deceiving him. In addition, Descartes set out to develop his own foundation of knowledge. To discover knowledge, he uses the Method of Doubt in which rejects whatever was subject to the slightest scrutiny or element of doubt. Nevertheless, it is likely that the Evil Demon may actually be a fictional character despite Descartes’s best efforts to argue that the Evil Demon indeed exists.
Descartes searches for only what he can be certain to represent the truth. Consequently, he uses Evil Demon as a deception factor. The role of the Evil Demon is to deceive Descartes and distort his view of the world. For example, Descartes develop a warped perception of the concepts such as body, shapes, motion, and extension. By using the Method of Doubt, Descartes arrives at one critical truth: the cogito. Under the principle of the cogito, he arrives at two major conclusions. First, he acknowledges his own existence by proclaiming, “I think therefore I am”. Second, he realizes that doubting is proof of the existence of a thinking process, which further means that he exists. Using these two principle beliefs, Descartes is able to reject the notion that Evil Demon can influence him.
Consequently, Descartes perceives God as the non-deceiving being who is an antithesis to the Evil Demon. It is evident that Descartes is aiming to instill in the readers’ minds that there is always a corrective force in every situation. One can argue that the existence of God acts as a fallback position in individuals’ pursuit of knowledge. In this case, individuals have the freedom to pursue knowledge knowing that God is the undisputed being whose powers are absolute. In the modern world, there are numerous discoveries that have led to significant doubt with regards to human knowledge. As a result of these discoveries, humans have become increasingly doubtful on whether they actually know what they think they know.
A recent discovery that has led to doubts about human knowledge is the relegation of Pluto from the planet status. For many years, scientists have maintained that Pluto and Ceres were planets in the solar system. However, scientists reviewed this long-held notion by declaring that the Pluto and Ceres were indeed too small to have planet status. In line with Descartes’s arguments, scientists were convinced of the presence of a truth with regards to the planetary order. In fact, learners all over the world have long regarded the ten-planet solar system as an undisputed fact.
The seemingly simple question with regards to how many planets in the solar system has no forthcoming answer. For example, everyone knows that Earth, Mars, and Jupiter are planets within the solar system, at least for the time being. Similarly, scientists once regarded Pluto and Ceres as planes until a scientific debate arose with regards to how beat to describe them. In
2006, the International Astronomical Union reviewed what constitutes a planet.
The scientific reevaluation of planetary system parallels Descartes’s idea of certainty and knowledge. According to Descartes, knowledge must be certain, and that this certainty is a factor of infallibility. However, knowledge is a difficult concept since evidence always brings about the possibility of error. Therefore, knowledge cannot be infallible as Descartes argue. Consequently, evidence result in infallibility, which ultimately opens the door for skepticism. Unlike Descartes who starts by understanding knowledge in terms of certainty, contemporary scientists have no such considerations. Consequently, they established that Pluto and Ceres were planets, before abandoning this belief upon emergence of new opposing evidence. It means that no body of modern knowledge if infallible, or indeed free from doubt. According to Descartes, humans should have to start from the very foundations of knowledge before attempting to present any scientific findings as the absolute truth or facts. In any case, as recent review of the solar system indicated, humans cannot have knowledge.
Descartes’ view of knowledge has various weaknesses that are subject to criticism. Numerous philosophers have argued that Descartes has established very high standards for knowledge. From his literature, Descartes appears to imply that knowledge must be beyond doubt. Thus, it means that knowledge is infallible which, according to Hume, is reasonable unrealistic. Nevertheless, Descartes’s views appear to be true at the beginning of the meditations. In his subsequent Meditations literature, Descartes argues that he is able to tell what is clear and distinct. However, such posturing is not infallible because humans are prone to make mistakes from time to time. A more credible approach would be to include an element of care to the claims that one can know what is clear and distinct.
Additionally, philosophers such as Hume and Plato have further criticized Descartes’s notion of certainty. His belief of being certainty is somewhat psychological in nature. In reality, everyone can make mistakes by believing that something is certain, yet it is not. For example, for over 100 years, scientists have made people believe that there are nine planets in the solar system, a fact that they reviewed recently when they discovered opposing facts. However, Descartes responds by alluding to the Method of doubt and claims that prudency is a significant factor when it comes to distinguishing what is genuine from what is not. However, one can argue that even with prudency, some situations require humans to have a deeper sense doubt. However, as Plato understands it, the act of distinguishing what is certain and what is not entails a degree of rational insight. Similarly, Hume appears to challenge Descartes’s position by arguing that humans can only establish the notion of ‘clear and distinct’ by what is apparent to their minds.
Descartes also states that “things which I see clearly cannot be other than I conceive them”. This implies that certainty is subject to reason, and things cannot be the other way. In other words, Descartes is of the view that certainty will result in establishment of the truth since what cannot be otherwise must be the certainty. Yet, philosophers such as Hume suggest alternative paths to determining truth and certainty. For example, Hume notes that in every art or profession, a spirit of accuracy results in a greater perfection and also renders the activity more serviceable. However, Hume also argues that it is immaterial how humans acquire such accuracy, as long as it results in achieving the interests of the wider society.
Descartes goes on to argue in favor of the general principle that a thought which is clear and distinct must be believable. In other words, he cannot doubt what is clear and distinct because to be clear, an idea must be. Further, he argues that not only must an idea be clear, but it must also be precise and separated from other ideas. Moreover, Descartes extend the certainty of the cogito by arguing that he cannot doubt what he is thinking about the body because he is certainly part of it. To the contrary, Hume counters Descartes claims of certainty by contending that the mind can only discern what is certain and clear through vigorous nourishing and severe exercises. In addition, humans must be ready to test multiple hypotheses before they can determine with certainty what constitutes clarity. With regards to Descartes’s claims of trusting the body, Hume is of the view that obscurity can sometimes be “painful to the mind as well as to the eye”, meaning that one need to rely on much more than the body to ascertain the truth and certainty.
It is also important to note that Descartes only argues that humans can know a clear and distinct idea to be true only at the time they hold such it in their minds. However, it is impossible that humans can keep thinking about that one thing repeatedly in order to perceive it clearly. In reality, people keep being distracted by environmental factors, thus it is not conceivable that they can retain certainty. According to Hume, the effectiveness of a human’s brain is dependent on environmental factor. Therefore, it is not plausible to expect a human to process and store information indefinitely.
In conclusion, Descartes thinks that there is an existence of an Evil Demon whose main purpose is to deceive humans. To overcome the forces of the Evil Demon, Descartes argues that humans must embrace knowledge. By knowledge, he means only that information that is not subject to infallibility. However, recent developments in the world of science indicate that people may not actually know what they think they know. For example, the recent review of the number of planets in the solar system is evidence that no knowledge if foolproof. Consequently, scholars such as David Hume have provided criticism on Descartes’s idea of certainty. Hume claim that the notion of clarity and certainty is subjective in nature, and does not depend on the human intellectual capability alone.