Rene Descartes: The Epistemological Issue Of Knowledge

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Epistemology is the philosophical genre that seeks to establish a ubiquitous concept of knowledge. Within epistemology, the task of defining knowledge arouses controversial queries: what constitutes knowledge, how does one separate belief from knowledge and how does one justify what one knows? An epistemological issue of knowledge is presented by French philosopher, René Descartes. According to Descartes, “it is impossible for us to know whether we are in a waking state or a dreaming state”. Essentially, Descartes purposes that one cannot delineate the difference between having a dream and being awake. Descartes justifies his belief through the example of “an omnipotent demon built to deceive you”. Furthermore, Descartes contends that if it …show more content…
In his argument, Descartes gives the example of “an omnipotent demon built to deceive you”. Though peculiar, Descartes example acknowledges the fallibility of human perception and the possibility of being deceived. Since humankind cannot determine the root of empirical knowledge and justify the accuracy of human perception, knowledge through the senses cannot be sound. Additionally, if human perception is controlled by an omnipotent being, it is possible for humans to be deceived. Descartes example alludes to monotheistic religions that believe in an omnipotent being (God) who created humanity. From here, Descartes makes the claim that if there is a possibility that we are being deceived, then we should assume that we are deceived. Yet, Descartes’ reasoning presents a slippery slope; it implies a direct correlation between likelihood and absolute truth. The possibility of deception does not equal the reality. Moreover, when one accepts the rash assumption of Descartes, one must accept the alternative to Descartes’ belief: under the possibility of not being deceived, we must assume that we are not being deceived. However, both of these claims—though presenting the same logic—are incompatible. In consequence, since the possibility cannot equal the absolute, then one cannot accept the assertion that we are …show more content…
In order to consider the epistemological dilemma presented by Descartes, one must examine the epistemological thought from which he extrapolates: empiricism. In empiricism, empiricist claim that everything encountered through the senses is knowledge. Yet, this claim is problematic for empiricist, as there is no clear justification of basic empirical knowledge. Correspondingly, Descartes furthers the issue of empirical knowledge; he denies humankind’s ability to decipher awakened-ness from dreaming. Descartes’ concern with determining dream perception versus reality perception is vexing, but appropriate. If there is no way to accurately justify what one perceives, then it is impossible to determine where one perceives—in a dream or in reality. For example, someone travels to a city to visit a friend and happen to get lost. Frantic, the individual decides to call the friend for directions. When the individual calls the friend, the friend asks, “Where are you?”, but the individual does not know. Next, the friend follows-up with asking for a description of the area: What does it look like? Describe the scenery? However, the individual is uncertain whether what she perceives is actually how it appears. Subsequently, the individual cannot describe her surroundings. As a result, her friend is unable to help her and thus, she remains lost. Furthermore, there is no use in attempting to determine her location, if she cannot

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