Can We Be Certain of Anything?
Descartes & Cartesian Doubt

Press Start for “Can We Be Certain of Anything?“ by 8-Bit Philosophy, where classic video games introduce famous thinkers, problems, and concepts with quotes, teachings, and more.

Episode 4: Can We Be Certain of Anything? | (Descartes & Cartesian Doubt)

Written & Directed by: Jared Bauer
Narrator: Nathan Lowe
Animation Producer: MB X. McClain
Original Music & Sound by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Academic Consultant: Mia Wood
Producer & Additional Artwork by: Jacob S. Salamon

Can We Be Certain of Anything?

Known as the Father of modern philosophy, Rene Descartes was revolutionary in his method of doubting his way to the Truth. In order to achieve unshakable certainty, all falsehoods must be eliminated. And in order to filter out faulty knowledge, one must doubt anything that can be doubted.

In his first two “Meditations,” Descartes suggests that all information we receive from our senses should be called in to question.

For example, if I put a stick in water, it will LOOK as if it bends. But it will FEEL straight. Therefore, one of my senses must be deceiving me- or maybe both. So if our senses are not to be trusted, how can we be sure of anything? You may think you’re slaying Medusa heads in Dracula’s castle, but how do you know you’re not dreaming the whole thing? For as Descartes said “There are never any sure signs by means of which being awake can be distinguished from being asleep” (Med. 1, AT 7:19)

Even when we are asleep certain truisms remain. 2+2 still equals 4. But to Descartes, even that can be doubted. How?

Imagine, if you will, that an invisible Evil Genius is filling our minds with false beliefs in order to keep us from perceiving the truth. Silly perhaps. But can you prove it isn’t true?

However, there is one thing Descartes discovered that he could not doubt. If there was, indeed, an Evil genius hypnotizing me with false ideas about reality, then I would have to exist in order for him to fool me! If I am doubting my own existence, I must exist in order to doubt it.

Thus his famous assertion: Cogito Ergo Sum. Or “I think therefore I am.” The Evil Genius is defeated!

Or is he? Did Descartes overlook something? Could his logical conclusion not also be a product of the Evil Genius? Truth is, we may never be certain of anything.

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