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Descartes And Berkeley On Skepticism About The Senses Essay, Research Paper
Descartes and Berkeley on Skepticism About the Senses
The philosophers Geroge Berkeley and Renee Descartes both had
strong opinions on skepticism about the senses. In this paper, I
will explain their philosophies and why they are different and
then evaluate them.
In his Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes suggests
that the senses are like a friend who has lied to you once and
whom you therefore cannot trust, at least not until you?ve
proven that he or she is not an evil genius. The possibility of
an evil genius making everything a dream keeps Descartes awake
all night. He thinks he can?t trust his senses because of this.
He also considers a piece of wax. He claims that in the case of
the wax, the senses can only see changes. The senses cannot see
things that stay the same. So if he had not melted the wax, he?d
never know it was there. It is not the senses, or the mind, but
the imagination that does this. He therefore grasps what the wax
is in itself after he?s melted it. Since his senses could not
have melted the wax, it follows that the senses do not allow us
to know anything about what things essentially are in
themselves. Descartes doesn?t think we can trust our senses, but
he is not a skeptic. Descartes defines skepticism as the belief
that the evil genius makes us believe everything falsely. But
Descartes thinks that the evil genius can?t make us believe
everything falsely, because some people believe that God exists
and some people don?t believe that God exists, and they can?t
both be wrong. In his own case, Descartes thinks he can prove
that God exists because God?s essence is in his existence. To be
perfect, something must be God, and to be God, the essence of
something has to be existing.
In the book Three Dialogues Between Philonous and Hylas,
Berkeley, who?s name used to be spelled Barkley, claims that
?scepticism? is the last refuge of atheists and philosophers. He
is not a sceptic, because only someone with a strange
philosophical belief in material substance could be a sceptic.
But scepticism is different then skepticism, and Berkeley is a
skeptic, because he does not believe in matter. Sceptics believe
in matter, skeptics do not. In the book, Berkeley wears a
mouthpiece named Philonous. Philonous has a friend Hylas, and
Hylas tries to convince Philonous (Berkeley) that scepticism is
true. To do this, he says that matter must exist, because if
matter didn?t exist then we could not trust our senses. But
Philonous responds by saying that the only things we can be
deceived about are sensible things. Therefore, since scepticism
is not true, matter does not exist. Philonous also gives his
?Master Argument? against matter by saying that Hylas cannot
conceive of anything that exists except for his own mind, and
therefore since Hylas doesn?t believe in his own mind, Hylas
must be wrong. Of course, Philonous thinks Hylas is wrong about
everything. Especially about scepticism and skepticism. Berkeley
goes on to argue that everything I perceive is just an idea in
my head. Therefore, nothing is real, and skepticism is true. But
Berkeley doesn?t believe in an evil genius, because he thinks
that Descartes is the evil genius, and he doesn?t believe in
anything Descartes says.
So skepticism and doubt are a major theme in the philosophy
of Descartes and Berkeley. Descartes proves that skepticism is
wrong by refuting the evil genius. Berkeley proves that
scepticism is wrong by proving that Hylas cannot know anything,
and therefore that skepticism is true instead. Who do I believe?
I think that both dead philosophers are dead wrong. Descartes
tries to prove that the wax is not perceived by the senses,
because the wax needs to melt to be perceived, and his senses
cannot melt the wax. But superman, with his heat vision, could
melt wax with his sight. Of course, Descartes is not superman,
but this could be a deception of the evil genius. Maybe
Descartes has all sorts of powers he does not know about.
Berkeley, however, is even easier to refute. According to
Berkeley, everything I perceive is just an idea in my mind, and
therefore, I can get rid of them whenever I want. But Berkeley?s
book and all the arguments in them are just ideas in my mind,
and therefore if I don?t think about them, they don?t exist. But
if an argument is a sound argument, it has to be true all the
time. Therefore, none of his arguments could be sound. As for
myself, I think I can trust my senses. Neither scepticism nor
skepticism is true.
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