9 - Rene Descartes: Historical Framework and Meditation I...

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Rene Descartes: Historical Framework and Meditation I I. Crisis of Knowledge The medieval worldview was undermined in various ways during the Renaissance, Reformation, and Counter Reformation movements of the 16 th century. The science or wisdom of the Middle Ages was based on three sources: Aristotle, Reason, and Theology. The reliability of each of these comes under attack in various ways in the 16 th century. Since each of these represented a kind of foundation on a pyramid structure of human knowledge, these attacks created cracks in the foundations of the Western intellectual tradition. They were responsible for a crisis of knowledge, what we can call an epistemological crisis. (Epistemology is the study of knowledge; epistemological, having to do with knowledge). A. The authority of Aristotle was put into question with the rise of a new science, specifically the new physics and scientific methodology of scientists such as Copernicus and Galileo. The critique of geocentric cosmology is an important example of the sort of challenges put to the old science rooted in the Greek tradition. B. The authority of reason was put into question with the rise of various forms of skepticism during the Renaissance. Various skeptical arguments had existed in Greek philosophy subsequent to Aristotle. Since the Renaissance involved a revival of classical culture, it also brought into circulation various writings by Greek skeptics (e.g., Sextus Empiricus). One of the Descartes' contemporaries, Montaigne, was an important defender of skeptical arguments. One of Montaigne's central claims was that all we could "know" are appearances, not the real nature of things. C. The authority of theology was put into question with the rise of the Reformation and its challenge against the Roman Catholic ecclesiastic authority. Also, the Reformation itself quickly became a very diverse and pluralistic movement, further raising doubts about whether theological ideas based on the Bible could serve as an authority since there were so many different interpretations of the Biblical text. A + B + C = an epistemological crisis for the Western world. It is this crisis that Descartes aims to resolve. II. Certainty and Indubitability Descartes' project was to find a secure foundation for the sciences or knowledge. His project was not simply to fix the foundations, but to actually establish a new foundation. He wants to examine his beliefs to see which, if any, are certain or indubitable. A. Beliefs and Propositions In philosophy the word "belief" typically refers to the cognitive act of thinking that "something" is true. It is belief that such-and-such is (or is not) the case. The "such-and- such" is something we can express by declarative sentences. For instance, I believe that I teach at Saint Michael's College . In other words, I take it to be true that I teach at Saint Michael's College. The declarative sentence "I teach at Saint Michael's College" expresses a meaning. What I believe when I believe that I teach at Saint Michael's
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This note was uploaded on 11/04/2011 for the course PHIL 101 taught by Professor Delevati during the Fall '08 term at S.F. State.

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9 - Rene Descartes: Historical Framework and Meditation I...

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