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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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