Rene Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy
Rene Descartes’s “Discourse on the Method”
Rene Descartes’s “Discourse on the Method” highlights several strong beliefs–including that the human mind is a malleable, thinking machine, and that our distinctive thoughts are the foundation for the functioning of our immortal souls, although there are certain concrete laws of nature (Descartes, 29). As such, he would agree with Rumsfeld’s belief that “known knowns” exist that form our basic understanding of the world, such as proven mathematical and scientific principles. He would also at least partially agree with the idea of difficult “unknown unknowns”, albeit with the addition that a partial acquisition of these unknown ideas into our perception of knowledge is a natural process for the constantly developing mind (Rumsfeld, Tuma seminar 09/21).
Descartes often enjoys reveling in a discussion of doubt and even argues that his “second maxim was to be as firm and decisive. . . and to follow even the most doubtful opinions, once [he] had adopted them, with no less constancy than if they had been quite certain” (32). In this instance, he highlights that the “unknown unknowns”–ideas he thought he had about particular areas of knowledge– ought to be given at least an attempt of interpretation (Rumsfeld). Although a method of exploring the dark without guide may not necessarily be expected, he suggests it is nevertheless a very positive experience that allows a person to grow (Descartes, 32).
As such, acquiring knowledge from these “doubtful opinions” or “unknown unknowns” may or may not be difficult, but is regardless a naturally-occurring step towards growth (Descartes, 32, Rumsfeld, Tuma, 09/21). Thus, Descartes’s claims suggest that the “unknown unknowns” are subtle, subconscious forces affecting our malleable minds with a remarkable amount of influence–despite their increased acquisitional difficulty–as “known knowns”, and would thus likely side with the major premise of Rumsfeld’s argument (Rumsfeld).
The Biased Method of Doubt
To prove whether God exists or not, has always been a topic of debate. There have been many arguments to prove the existence of God but not many of them have stood the test of time and have been criticized. Descartes’s explanations can also be seen as lacking logical evidence and his conclusions revolve around the method of doubt, which is proceeded by his own beliefs.
In ‘Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes talks about certain facts and truths which since his younger days he had taken to be true but now these do not seem authentic. He is contemplating as to whether he should demolish what he had built his ideas upon and start afresh but this task seems to him as enormous and uphill as it really is arduous to go about undermining everything that he has so far imbibed in his mind. Descartes uses the method of doubt in everything that he sees, feels or hears through his senses which again he maintains as having to quality of deception sometimes. He goes on further to say that even God may be deceiving him and is an evil genius, putting all his efforts in deceiving Descartes. In ‘Meditation Two’, again he follows the path of doubt unless he is certain about the truth. Quoting Archimedes who had said that he could move the entire earth if he could get that long a pole (lever) applying the force at a certain point, Descartes also helps to find that unshaken truth. His supposition that body, shapes, movement etc. are all false, which he bases upon his theory of doubt and then he asks “What then will be true?”. He states that nothing is certain and then he brings the notion of somebody being over and above all; be it some superpower or God.
The theory of doubt leads him to believe that there are certain things like thinking, understanding, reason which give his existence a truth which he had ignored earlier to come to this conclusion. He calls himself a ‘thinking thing’. He again tries to prove the theory by using the example of honeycomb wax, which when heated may change shape, colour and stop giving out sound but still remains the same wax, which is the truth of its existence. This theory is criticized by Arnold Berleant. He criticises Descartes by subjecting his theory of doubt to detailed analysis. According to Berleant, Descartes puts every opinion to the test of doubt. Things conceived clearly are accepted by Descartes as true and others are rejected. Although Berleant finds Descartes assumptions quite intellectual and convincing but as usual these assumptions are not absolutely convincing. The irony is, that Descartes uses the method of doubt by doubting every single belief yet he does not doubt his method of doubt. This must have meant that his method of doubt can also be subjected to doubt like all other things and cannot be considered flawless. As per Berleant, “Descartes could not doubt his resolve to doubt”.
Descartes doubted his senses, even himself but, he did not doubt the method of doubt. If Descartes doubts everything in this entire universe to prove the existence of God, then why did he put all his efforts to prove his existence by using the method of doubt which also comes under his theory of doubting everything. Descartes is not able to prove the existence of God, rather he kept on putting everything to doubt with his presumptions about that thing and came to the same conclusion as he had precludedDescartes can be thought of being biased in using his method of doubt. He made presumptions of whether the thing exists or not, then according to his belief in mind, he tried to prove the existence of things. His beliefs made him to jump to presumed conclusions.
Although Descartes was doubting everything and putting all existing things to doubt, he already knew the results. A doubter does not have the surety of the outcome of his experiments and thus the method of doubt has to have a doubter who has to work through his doubt to come to a certain result of which he is not already aware. Berleant further explains this by using an analogy here he gives the example of a person who decides to shovel the snow, the person finally reaches the conclusion that there is a shovler, which inference comes not from the situation where shovelling is taking place but from having already decided to perform the task of shovelling. Just because shovel is there, there is a shovler is not enough to prove the presence of god. Even though he used this example metaphorically, which means that if there is life then there has to be someone who has created and that is God. When we try to compare both the existence of God and this example of shovelling, it can be concluded that if someone is shovelling, he uses his hands, he can touch feel and see the shovel and people around that person can also see him shovelling but, this is not true in God’s case, we cannot see, feel or touch God. This example does not seem to prove the existence of God. He already assumes that there is God and then starts applying the method of doubt to prove his existence. He must have first found logical explanations to prove the existence of God, rather than presuming that he is already there and then find explanations to prove it. For example, if someone feels a thing is right, he/she will look for evidence to prove that it is right, and ignore the explanations that do not support this judgement of his/her.
The same happened with Descartes, he assumed that there was God and looked for evidence which supported this assumption, making his method biased. These preconceived notions lead him to move in a circular path coming to the same result as he had thought of in the beginning. Descartes doubted everything which came in his path and coming back to the same conclusion because of the inferences made about the things he doubted. He does not consider any other ideas and his method of doubt lies in the centre of the circle and his conclusions revolve around that idea making his method of doubt circular. He must have considered something different apart from the method of doubt, which could make him open to different perspectives and angles of proving the existence of something, then his idea would not have been considered circular. In this whole experiment on existence of God through experiments of meditation by the thinker Descartes; he has tried to prove that he as a thinking being exists, this conclusion came from not using the method of doubt but, adopting it. But, just by saying that the God exists who is a creator of everything, is no proof of God’s existence. So, the application of the method of doubt by the writer is actually the adoption of doubt and not actually fully explored as the inferences were already there and very real. Descartes was just denying or ignoring the existence of all the things including himself. He could touch, see, hear and feel and judge the things and knew that they were there, so there was no such thing as having a very different and unusual outcome as surety of results was there. Descartes did not use his method of doubt the way it should have been. He based his beliefs and perceived things on the basis of his beliefs. The certainty of his belief made him perceive things as clear and distinct and because of his adoption of the method of doubt, he was assured of the conclusion. Descartes has not been able to prove his point scientifically as the method that he has used does not prove beyond doubt that God exists. He has only explained the things which can be distinguished by different senses of human body and the thinking mind that he has explored is another factor for doubt. As this mind can imagine things sometimes even foreign and unknown things.
So, the concept of God could be the imagination of this thinking mind. Mind is a very powerful object which can conceive any idea or imagine something which may or may not have a scientific base. For example, we may imagine something which doesn’t have an existence in this universe. We can take our imagination to any extend. Movie makers who make movies on aliens, may never have seen an alien and still made a movie about them. This is the power of imagination which gave them the ability to imagine something which they had never seen or are not even sure if it exists.
The existence of God might be the result of the imagination of Descartes. Descartes method was circular in nature as his conclusions revolved around the method of doubt. He could not provide any scientific proof for the existence of God and tried proving it on the basis of his own beliefs. Descartes’s method was biased and can not be considered as an authenticated explanation to prove the existence of God.
The Objections of Dualism
Many associate dualism with the religious themes seen amongst the works of dualist philosophers, such as Rene Descartes, often discrediting it amongst “most scientifically minded people.” (Gertler, 303) Many of which support the contrasting belief of physicalism, the belief that everything exists in a physical world. However, in the beginning of her argument, Brie Gertler states that contemporary dualists, like herself, similarly possess a scientific and secular approach. Using this approach, Gertler argues against physicalism and “the identity thesis.” In this paper, I will reconstruct this argument, stating her conclusion and identifying the premises used to arrive to it. Then, I will discuss objections to dualism, specifically those of Gilbert Ryle. Finally, I will discuss the soundness of Gertler’s argument expressing my own opinions in support of dualism.
Gertler uses the concept of pain to support her theory that the mind and body are distinct. She does this because the opposing concept of physicalism accepts “the identity thesis,” which states that pain is equivalent to C-fiber simulation. For things to be considered equal in philosophy, both things must need each other to exist. She argues this physicalist statement by offering the concept of phantom limbs. More specifically, she uses the sample of a double amputee being able to experience “the stubbed toe sensation.” (Gertler, 304) Despite “the sensation itself not being spatially located in the toe,” according to Gertler, the amputee is able to receive this sensation where a limb does not exist because “The sensation itself, rather then its cause, is a mental state” (Gertler, 304); where there is no tissue, there is no c-fiber stimulation. From her perspective, pain is not equivalent to c-fiber stimulation, but rather, pain causes c-fiber simulation and vice versa.
She continues disproving “the identity thesis” through the disembodiment argument. According to Gertler, “the argument centers on the possibility that pain is present in the absence of any physical state.” (Gertler, 306) To explain this, she uses a thought experiment in which she asks you to pinch yourself. While doing this, the reader is told to consider the following premise:
- Even though I firmly believe that I have physical features, I can conceive of experiencing this very pain while possessing no physical features. In other words, I can conceive of experiencing this very pain while disembodied.
- If I can conceive of a particular scenario occurring, then that scenario is possible.
- It is possible that this very pain occurs in a disembodied being.
- If this very pain is not identical to any physical state.
- This very pain is not identical to any physical state.
So, (Conclusion) The identity thesis, which says that every mental state is identical to some physical state, is false.” Gertler acknowledges that there is much criticism about her argument, many claiming it is a product of “intellectual hubris (Gertler, 306),” and that she is out of touch with reality because of its reliance on a “concept.” However, she refutes this claim explaining that all academia lies in “concept.” (Gertler, 306) In order to address these objections, Gertler adjusts her first and second premise respectively to say “1.) Using concepts that are sufficiently comprehensive, I can conceive of experiencing this very pain while disembodied,” and “ If, using concepts that are sufficiently comprehensive, I can conceive of a particular scenario occurring, then that scenario is possible.” (Gertler, 307).
Although Gertler acknowledges this branch of criticism, critiques like that of Gilbert Ryle’s are not what she apparently anticipates. Ryle’s argument against dualism lies in the idea that dualism is guilty of a category mistake. He argues that dualists have mistakenly clumped mental and physical concepts into the same category. Unlike dualists, Ryle doesn’t see the mind as an independent mechanism. He believes the mind is not distinct from the body, and is, instead, a way to explain the body’s actions. Ryle’s argument is one that would undermine that of Gertler’s because of its undermining of dualism as a whole. Gertler speaks of dualism as the belief that the mind and body are distinct as seen through her premises.
However, Ryle would argue against them, specifically premise 1, “Even though I firmly believe that I have physical features, I can conceive of experiencing this very pain while possessing no physical features. In other words, I can conceive of experiencing this very pain while disembodied.” (Gertler, 306) Ryle would especially find issues within this premise because it expresses that an individual’s ”physical features” are disembodied from “this very pain” experienced. He would identify this as a category mistake. Instead of viewing this experience as a distinction between the mind and body, Ryle would explain that this pain conceived is a response stemmed from something experienced through the body. It is not disembodied in the sense that Gertler believes.
I believe that Gertler’s argument is sound, possessing both validity and relevance. Through the thought experiment provided and the argument provided, I am able to confirm that I can conceive of pain despite not physically experiencing it. Through her argument, Gerler is able to disprove that mental states are not equivalent to physical states. Both states consist of different properties. Mental events are subjective. The way a person perceives, hears, and feels something is individual.
Therefore, they cannot be equivalent to a particular physical state, as seen in the argument that pain is equivalent to c-fiber stimulation the same way that water is equivalent to H2O. If mental states were equivalent to physical states, things such as electric stimulation would hold the ability to cause people to think certain things, and brain waves would allow scientists to read what an individual’s thought. Mental states cannot be reduced to purely physical terms; therefore proving that physicalism is flawed. If physicalism were true, the body would be proven to exist simply because the mind exists. However, based on the ideas explored above, the mind and body are not equivalent. In reality, the body may be an illusion, but the mind cannot be because of the very thought process taking place within the mind to question its own existence. The act of thinking occuring disproves that the mind and body.
Though we are still unable to exactly define the mind, we know what it is. This may lead to criticism towards its existence, but there are many concept besides the mind that are accepted to exist despite their lack of a strict definition, such as beauty and love. Just because these things are not precise, we do not conclude that they are nonexistent. This same way of thought applies to the mind. It is clear that the human mind exists. It is the thing that allows us to want, believe, question, reasons, experience, etc. Because we have no issue understanding each of those things as concepts, then we should have no issue in understanding the mind as a concept. Though it is not easily pictured or imagined, the mind exists, and we know this simply by thinking it. By thinking, we are experiencing a function of the mind.
Therefore, we are proving its existence. Though often perceived to be an outdated philosophy driven by religion, Gertler’s argument for dualism shows that it has transformed into a secular and scientifically driven concept. Alongside this, Gertler disproves physicalism and the identity thesis. Through the reconstruction of Gertler’s argument, the starting of her conclusion and identifying of the premises she used to arrive it, I was able to understand contemporary dualism and recognize the issues present within physicalism and the identity thesis. Using her argument, I was able to conclude that though I cannot doubt my mind exists, I can conceive myself separate from my body making the mind and body distinct from each other. By discussing and analyzing objections to Gertler’s argument and dualism as a whole, specifically those of Gilbert Ryle, I was able to formulate an opinion in an unbiased fashioned.
Man as More Complex than a Machine as Depicted in Chapter Five of Rene Descartes Discourse on the Method
Descartes feels that man is far from just a complex machine or animal. In Part Five of his Discourse on Method, he establishes two means by which to identify if a machine is really a rational human being or not. The two means are separate criteria that both strongly portray Descartes’ belief in mind-body dualism. Mind-body dualism is the belief that the mind and the body are two separate and distinct substances. Descartes feels that the mind of man is what sets him apart from being a complex machine or animal. This idea forms the foundation of his two criteria.
The first criterion established is that a machine could not actually use words or other signs in conjunction with each other to declare its thoughts to others. A machine may be programmed to respond to a number of different stimuli such as certain words or physical interactions, but that same machine will never be able to react to any and all possible stimuli. Descartes believes that even the simplest of men can respond to any stimuli while using at least some type of understanding or reason to form a complete statement as a response. A machine, on the other hand, cannot possibly be built to respond to all possible situations with a complete response such as this.
Descartes uses this criterion to distinguish man from other complex animals as well. He states that while even the dullest of men can formulate complete sentences or assertions from words to display their thoughts, the brightest of animals cannot do such a thing. There are a number of animals who have the organs necessary to speak the language of man, but they still lack the mind to understand how to speak with the words man uses. Even in the case of the few animals that actually can physically speak using these necessary organs, such as parrots, they still do not know or understand what they are saying and are simply using mimicry to copy the noises they hear. Descartes points out that even men who are born lacking the necessary organs to speak, whether they are blind or deaf, can still create their own languages to convey their thoughts with reason and understanding such as men without these handicaps can while using spoken language.
Descartes makes the point that the natural movements animals use or unique sounds they make to portray their emotions should not be confused with the complex language system used by man. He believes that these actions do not show true understanding or thought. Instead, Descartes relates the actions of animals to the reactions of a machine to a stimulus, as the animal is just acting through its parts as a machine would. Another misconception Descartes believes some people make is thinking that animals may speak to one another but through a language that cannot be understood by men. He argues that this cannot be true due to the fact that animals have the same organs as man and could just as easily make their language understood by man as it is understood by their fellow animals.
The second criterion to distinguish between man and machine is that no machine can do all of the tasks that humans are able to do. Although a machine may be better than man at performing a specific task, that same machine will still fail in other tasks. The task a machine performs is only possible through the disposition of its organs/parts and not from its own knowledge or mind. If a machine were to be created that could perform all the tasks that man could, it would need a new, separate part for each individual task that man could possibly perform. Descartes believes that man can perform literally any task through his mind, and, therefore, for a machine to be able to perform all the tasks that man can, it would also need to have an infinite amount of parts.
This argument of Descartes’ may also be used to differentiate between man and animal. It is obvious that many animals have much more skill in some of their actions than man has in these same actions, but these same animals also completely lack the ability to do other skills that are deemed simple by man. To Descartes, the fact that certain animals can do certain activities better than man can does not prove that they have any intelligence. It is similar to the clock’s ability to count time better than a human could. This is in spite of the fact that the clock has no intelligence and could in no way do anything a man could do, other than keep time. An animal may be able to run faster than man can, such as the clock can keep time better than man can, but neither has the capability to do something man considers simple such as count the number of hands they have.
Descartes’ philosophic view of mind-body dualism is prevalent throughout his two criteria. He believes that because the body and organs of man are near identical to those of the animals around him, it would be reasonable to believe that man would also act similar to these animals, as in without his deep thought or reason. To Descartes, the fact that the human mind is separate from their physical bodies is what makes them different from these animals. He believes that the mind of man could not just be a physical thing because it could then be recreated such that a machine could be recreated. As noted earlier when discussing the second criterion, no machine could possibly match the human mind due to the impossibility of creating a machine with an infinite amount of parts/organs. A comparison between the organs of man and animals is also a strong example of support for the argument of mind-body dualism. If the mind were simply the combination of the organs in the human body working together, there would be no reason for animals not to possess this same mind, which Descartes has already argued (through his two criteria) could not possibly be true.
I disagree with Descartes’ reasons for thinking why man should not himself as a machine or animal. I find basic flaws in the fundamental ideas behind his two criteria. His first criterion is based on the lack of a formal system of language for animals. He uses this fact to claim that animals, therefore, cannot have reason. In the time since Descartes put together his ideas in the Discourse on Method many scientific gains have been made in this area, and many of the findings from these experiments have come to completely disprove Descartes’ ideas. Animals have shown large capacities to learn, from gorillas knowing over two-thousand symbols in sign language to dogs differentiating between photos of other dogs and photos of different animals. Both of these examples show the animal ability to not only learn, but also to reason. An argument could possibly be made to say that these two signs of intelligence are mere instances of animals using mimicry, such as parrots speaking, but an argument based around this is nothing but speculation. Activities such as these display a more vast knowledge and mental capacity than Descartes previously thought possible.
His second argument was based solely on the fact that while some animals can be better at one thing than man, they cannot possibly do all that man can do. I find this argument faulty in that someone could also compare one man to another. While one man can do some things the other can’t, it does not justify one as having a mind and the other not. I believe that no living thing, neither man nor animal, should be compared to a machine, as opposed to Descartes’ argument that just man should not be able to be compared. This is because I believe that both animals and man both have the ability to reason and react to all stimuli while machines cannot possibly be given the ability to do either of these based on Descartes’ “infinite parts” argument.
Meditation 1 and the Lying Senses in Rene Descartes’ Book
Descartes and Dreams
In Meditation I, René Descartes attempted to break down the information he had learned throughout the entirety of his life in an effort to rebuild his knowledge starting from a clean slate, free of falsehoods that he realizes much of his past learning had been built on. Descartes reasoned that any opinion containing within it any sort of doubt, whether it is “not completely certain and indubitable” or it is “patently false”, every faulty opinion would be rejected equally (Descartes, p.59). This would leave no room for error in his method of removal, accepting nothing but perfection in each and every opinion that would remain. Following this criteria, his plan was to remove “the foundations” rather than seek to find fault in every opinion individually, which would cause “whatever has been built upon [these foundations] to crumble of its own accord”. Descartes realized that anything he had come to believe up until this point had been “from the senses or through the sense,” and he knows that the senses themselves are sometimes deceptive (Descartes, p.60). He noted that although the senses can be deceiving, they are only deceptive in menial things. Initially, he considered it madness to deny all he had learned through his senses just because this information contained a small amount of deceit, but his trust of the senses soon fell through when he opened his mind to even more possibilities of deception behind his senses.
This thought of doubting the senses is what lead Descartes to consider the possibility that the entirety of life is a dream. He equated dreams to the delusions of the insane. The connection he placed between the two is based on the fact that dreams can convince one that something that isn’t true actually is true by just tricking the senses alone, similar to what happens to the minds of the insane. The argument he then made for why reality is not but a dream is based on the idea that even imaginary things must be made of true and real components. The example he used is a painter working on an art piece. The painter can create whatever he pleases in his work, but his creations, even if imaginary, would only be “produced in the likeness of true things”. Even if an artist can create an image unlike any other, “something utterly fictitious and false,” they still must be made of other things that are simple and universally true, such as colors. The colors from which the imaginary thing is made up of must still be true. A painter cannot change the components from which life is made up of, and the same goes for a dreamer, in that a dream must be constituted from real components such as color. Descartes then applied this established idea to the sciences. He believed sciences based on composite things- such as physics, astronomy, and medicine- could in fact be doubted due to their reliance on the senses, while sciences based on the simplest and most general truths- such as arithmetic and geometry- would still exist. The obvious truths such as the facts that “two plus three [makes] five” and that “a square has does not have more than four sides” are true whether one is “awake or asleep” (Descartes, p.61). Descartes then took into account that basic truths such as these can even be called into doubt with the consideration that an omnipotent God could be giving us a false view on mathematics. He believed that if one then went on to doubt that the existence of God, this would even further lead us into the greater possibility of deceitful thoughts because we were no longer created as perfect beings by a perfect God.
This lead Descartes to the point that he had to assume that God may not actually be a “supremely good God,” and that he must consider the possibility that God is “an evil genius, supremely powerful and clever, who has directed his entire effort at deceiving [him]”. The conclusion he reached was that he must consider the above possibility, viewing “all external things as nothing but the bedeviling hoaxes of my dreams” sent at him by the deceiving God to truly reach his original goal of beginning his knowledge anew (Descartes, p.62). Descartes knew that he must do all he could to maintain his doubts of the falsehoods despite not having the power to innately know what is true.
To a certain extent, I agree with the methods Descartes had chosen to use during his attempt at establishing a wholly truthful set of knowledge. I believe that if one is to truly pursue a goal of reaching knowledge based only on most fundamental of truths, the consideration that one is dreaming throughout life is definitely one to focus on. He established a key point in that there are certain truths in the sciences and in regards to components that cannot be denied whether dreaming or not, but later denied them, claiming that there could still be doubt behind such ideas based around the possible deception of our minds through God. This is where my view and his branch apart into separate directions. I believe there must be a truth behind everything imagined or dreamed in life due to the realness of the components which these things are composed of. I don’t agree with his final conclusion due to the fact that I disagree with his doubting of these mathematical truths. I instead would have proceeded with the pursuit of true knowledge with the principles of mathematics still intact in my mind. I think it is wrong to doubt the entirety of our world due to the fact we could be being deceived at the most fundamental level of our knowledge. I believe if whether there is a possibility of falsities at this level or not, those types of falsities cannot be considered when looking at the truths of the reality we are in due to these falsities being outside of this reality. I believe he took his deceit to the point where I feel he could make no progress because of his overpowering denial at the very core of knowledge and reality itself.
The Importance of Freedom in Rene Descartes’ Book Meditations on First Philosophy
The Reason for Freedom
In order to be an individual you first need to desire individuality. Once the realization that total individuality is impossible is factored in, all that remains is the desire to desire. With this insatiable quest comes no reason or responsibility. Yet social construct dictates that in order to obtain what is desired the individual must use reason. However too much reason leaves a rigid husk that will one day, due to humanities destructive nature, allow desire to exceed reason. When desire exceeds understanding negative consequence is imminent. Furthermore, when reason and desire are in balance truth is obtained and desire is fulfilled.
Descartes made clear his intention to reawaken the use of reason as a means of making truth attainable. He first explains how life can be made easier through obtaining knowledge. Also that power comes with knowledge and with this power comes a mastery of the secrets of the universe. “Knowing the power and actions of fire, water, air, the stars, the heavens, and all the other bodies in our environment as clearly as we know the various crafts of our artisans, we could like artisans put these bodies to use in all the appropriate ways, and thus make ourselves the masters and owners of nature,” (Descartes, Discourse 6,24.) Men left solely to desire will never attain truth as they will be prevented by their own bias.
It seems that our will and desire stops us from obtaining knowledge. Descartes discusses in his Meditations how our free will is a tool to obtain more knowledge; it hinders us when we allow our motives to get in the way of objectivity. “My errors depend on a combination of two causes, to wit, on the faculty of knowledge that rests in me and on the power of choice or of free will that is to say, of the understanding and at the same time of the will,” (Descartes, Meditations 4,23.) The extent of understanding is finite and desire tends to extend beyond our understanding causing intuitively leaps with no proof. “Errors come from the sole fact that since the will is much wider in its range and compass than the understanding, I do not restrain it within the same bounds but extend it also to things which I do not understand; and as the will is of itself indifferent to these, it easily falls into error and sin and chooses the evil for the good, or the false for the true,” (Descartes, Meditations 4, 23.) He makes it clear that the misuse of freedom and freewill cause sin and error. In order to be successful and without error then freewill must be used in conjunction with reason and never get ahead of understanding. “If I abstain from giving my judgment on anything when I do not perceive it with sufficient clearness and distinction, it is plain that I act rightly and am not deceived. But if I determine to deny or affirm, I no longer make use as I should of my free will, and if I affirm what is not true, it is evident that I deceive myself…I do not escape the blame of using misusing my freedom; for the light of nature teaches us that knowledge of the understanding should always precede the determination of will,” (Descartes, Meditations 4, 24.) Judgment error is a part of infrastructure but this same part is what we must overcome in order to achieve our goals.
God is perfect and has given man extensive talents and abilities, He has therefore, not made man to “suffer” in his error but for man to use his freewill to obtain more knowledge. As the pursuit of knowledge is the sum of its harvest. “And it is true that when I think only of God I discover no cause of error…when recurring to myself, experience shows me that I am nevertheless subject to an infinitude of errors,” (Descartes, Meditations 4, 22.)Because it is in our nature to error we overcome it and become masters and possessors of nature by fighting against this error. “For trying to overcome all the difficulties and errors that prevent our arriving at knowledge of the truth is a matter of fighting battles; when we accept some false opinion on an important question of some significance, that is a defeat, and we need much more skill to recover from it than we do to make good progress when we already have principles that are well founded,” (Descartes, Discourse 6, 26-27.) Although, our failure to unlock truth lies still lies in our error that is drawn from our finite understandings. “I fall into error from the fact that the power given me by God for the purpose of distinguishing truth from error is not infinite,” (Descartes, Meditations 4, 22.) The desire for knowledge has to be drawn of our freewill. No one can teach us how to want to possess knowledge. “I am convinced that if in my youth I had been taught all the truths I have since tried to demonstrate…I would have never acquired…a practiced ability to find new truths whenever I set myself to look for them,” (Descartes, Discourse 6, 28) If we can overcome our lack of understanding through fulfillment in knowledge obtained out of our desire for knowledge we can achieve all greatness.
In Notes from the Underground freedom is humanity’s last line of defense against over rationalizing. Life could be quantified. Science could one day predict the career path, deviations, and entire life of an individual. Yet to be merely a chart or graph is not truly living. “Who wants to want according to a table? Moreover; he will immediately turn from a man into a sprig in an organ or something of the sort; because what is a man without desires, without will, and without wantings, if not a sprig in an organ barrel,” (Dostoevsky 26.) Desire and the capacity to seek thrill and lack consistency is the very definition of individuality and as men are individuals then our free will is our true capital. “His chief-est defect is a lack of good behavior and consequently a lack of good sense; for it has long been known that a lack of good sense comes from nothing else but the lack of good behavior,” (Dostoevsky 29.) In our destructive natures we find the proof that man cannot be boxed by reason alone. Like the child that begins, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, to play gently with his pet cat yet he eventually turns to amusement through torture of the cat, thus is the destructive curiosity of mankind. “Because it really is impossible while perceiving reason, to want senselessness and thus knowingly go against reason and wish self-harm,” (Dostoevsky 26 .) Free will is uplifted by its mystery and insatiable characteristics that could be ultimately charted out, yet men should not accept life by this chart. Man should value freedom solely because he is free to value it. “You shout at me that no one is taking my will from me here; that all they’re doing here is busily arranging it somehow so that my will, of its own will coincides with my normal interests, with the laws of nature, and with arithmetic. Eh, gentlemen, what sort of will of one’s own can there be if it comes to tables and arithmetic, and the only thing going is two times two is four? Two times two will be four even without my will. As if there were any will of one’s own,” (Dostoevsky 31.) Freedom opens doors that reason can only contemplate about. It is not bound by error as there is no good or bad behavior, only what is profitable, only what is most desired.
Dostoevsky’s argument accounts for retort by listing possible counterarguments. It stands that, because of reason and science he has discovered that freedom is best. Without knowledge and reason, trial and error, or experimentation, Dostoevsky would not have come to this knowledge of freedom. It seems then that his knowledge of freedom and his understanding of the values of freedom have been brought to him through reason thereby making reason the largest contributor to his ideas about freedom. Descartes argument is thoroughly strengthened by his constant reaccreditation method. He consecutively attempts to establish objectivity within his works stating that these ideas are gifts from God and that readers may not find his works applicable to daily life as they are incomplete. “As for the benefit that others might get from learning about my thoughts, this couldn’t amount to much because they’re still not very developed; much more has to be done before they are ready for practical application,” (Descartes, Discourse 6, 27.) He even ends the Discourse with a strong personal statement about how he plans to carry himself, not as a man after fame or fortune, a man driven by greed, or a misuse of freewill, but as a good man doing honest work. “And I shall always hold myself more obliged to those whose favor enables me to enjoy uninterrupted leisure than to any who might offer me the most honorable employments of the world,”(Descartes, Discourse 6, 31.) However, Dostoevsky states that men like this, good men, well behaved, are merely stalling the moment that their destructive behaviors take over. “They’re constantly appear in life people of such good behavior and good sense, such sages and lovers of mankind, as precisely make it their goal to spend their entire lives in the best-behaved most sensible way possible, to become, so to speak, a light for their neighbors, essentially in order to prove them that one can indeed live in the world as a person of good behavior and good sense,” (Dostoyevsky 30.) This same man will later, without reason, perform some destructive behavior. Freewill without reason however is not something that either of them argues against. Dostoevsky has been oppressed in this “underground”; most of his suffering is self-inflicted but there is no reason, no truth to be found, no grand mystery in the underground. “You see, reason, gentlemen, is a fine thing, that is unquestionable, but reason is only reason and satisfies only man’s reasoning capacity, while wanting is a manifestation of the whole of life-that is, the whole of human life, including reason and various little itches… While human nature acts as an entire whole, with everything that is in it, consciously and unconsciously, and though it lies, still it lives,” (Dostoyevsky 28.) Both arguments are reinforced by their author’s melding opposing ideas in to emphasize their approach as most prominent. Both arguments deteriorate as they acknowledge the opposition. Descartes preaches the importance of freewill as if it is a poison that siphons the success out of truth. Dostoevsky calls upon reason repeatedly to create his argument and to orchestrate the similarities between freewill and reason. In essence they both prove themselves by stating that reason and desire are both necessary. Man must have a balance of these qualities to achieve his goals and fulfill his desires.
Dostoevsky’s language and proximity would at first glance make it seem that he more accurately captures humanity. He works to create vey poignant examples that demonstrate distinctly his use of words and his meanings. His work speaks to the average man that is tired of being the tail of society, driven into the underground for shelter from the lifeless ritualistic behaviors of everyday life. He shuns reason because men are free. “While human nature acts as an entire whole, with everything that is in it, consciously and unconsciously, and though it lies, still it lives,” (Dostoevsky 28.)Not even our own intellect can remove our desires. A chart could measure the desire of man, but it is the fact that man desires that is more important that the measurement. Descartes’ argument is more scientific. He describes practical tools like scientific peer-review, public scientific research publishing, and truth seeking as a means of explaining the universe. “At the beginning it is better to avail oneself only to ones that just happen around us… better than, that is, to resorting to more contrived experiments…when we don’t yet know the causes of the more ordinary ones, and the factors they depend on are nearly always so special and so minute that it is very hard to spot them,” (Descartes, Discourse 6, 25.) This distances the average man from Descartes’s ideas. Dostoevsky completes his connection to everyday struggles by forcing inquiries. He even concludes chapter 8 stating, “As if there were any will of one’s own!” This puts into question the very integrity of freewill and our ability to desire, as if it could be predetermined. This pulls into the realms of the abstract and places the two arguments on equal footing. Without reason freedom is but choices and never choosing but simply rejoicing in the fact that one can choose. Truth is only as useful as it can be applied. When the application of truth is beyond understanding the result is a detriment. Both authors’ provide skewed views of humanity but together their views show the importance of both freewill and reason.
Analyzing Rene Descartes’ Philosophy
Descartes has six meditations listed in his book. He vividly discards the need for believing in things that are not necessarily certain. In his books, he tries to state the relevant things that people he claims people should know for sure. According to the way the meditations are outlined in the book, it seems he had experienced the meditations in six consecutive days because the following meditation refers to the previous one as yesterday. It is believed that he started to work on his meditations in 1639 and till to date; his context is one of the best philosophical texts to be written. It has influenced many philosophers greatly around the world.
Descartes’ proof of the existence of God is both fascinating and at the same time barely understood. Descartes argue that the existence of God emanates from the simple but complex premises he created. He clearly states that the existence of the perfect human being and other animals is enough proof of the existence of a supernatural God (Witham, 2011). However, Descartes tendency of expressing his philosophies confuses many people which account for the confusion that revolves around his arguments.
Descartes’ first meditation is all about expressing the doubtable aspects about god. He introduces the readers to the several falsehoods that he had believed in. Descartes’ resolved on trashing everything that he believed in and started to build a new foundation of knowledge and belief based on credible aspects (Witham, 2011). He believed that he only needed one reason to doubt his existence so that he could create a foundation based on that doubt.
In his reflections, he states that some of the simple things can also be subjected to doubt. He says that the belief in an Omnipotent God could be false. He states that this is because people believe that god is extremely good and that he would not lead them into bad things. He further states that people the belief on omnipotent god means that the people would reason that god would never deceive them by all means. The irony is that he also states that when people believe that there is no God there is a higher tendency of being deceived because of his believe that the human imperfect sense was not created by a perfect being. By avoiding being skeptical, he says that an evil being is responsible for human imperfection because God created us in his likeness (Witham, 2011).
The first meditation is evidently full of skeptical doubts while skepticism is a hot philosophical debate on its own. Descartes mysteriously raises the question of how humans claim to understand the world around them with certainty without wanting to know who may be responsible for their existence. It is at that point that he started to raise doubt so that he can understand the world in a better way. His idea is not meant to argue the existence of God but at the same time, they cannot be ruled out since they have created a foundation of knowledge to understand the world. Descartes uses philosophical methods that enabled him to believe in the truth that was indubitable. He was able to divide his question and doubts into manageable parts where he started with simple aspects and dealt with the complexities afterward. These methods helped him to support the existence of God by comparing humans with animals and other objects that did not have a soul and finally came to the conclusion that the existence of humans is the main proof for the existence of God.
Nagel and Descartes on Consciousness in Defense to Dualism
Have you ever wondered if it was possible to actually know another person’s or even another animal’s conscious state? This question has sparked numerous discussions and debates which basically summarizes the idea of consciousness. What is consciousness? By checking Oxford Dictionary of English and to directly quote the definition, the literal meaning of consciousness is “the state of being aware of and responsive to one’s surrounding”. Basically, it is a person’s awareness and how they see the world. It is sort of the first person perspective of a human being. Due to this, each and every one of us has a conscious state because we see, understand and interpret our surroundings, or in general, the world in our own ways. To comprehend and grasp the idea of consciousness is such a complicated process because the topic is open to countless different discussions and interpretations. In particular, there are two philosophers in this term paper that were introduced to help support my ideas and opinions regarding consciousness and its relationship to dualism. These philosophers are the following: Thomas Nagel and René Descartes. These philosophers are compared to one another that helped me formulate an opinion regarding the topic. Another important key concept that is vital in expounding consciousness is dualism. Based on Scott Calef’s interpretation, he stated that it focuses on mind and matter and their differences. Through this, in my own understanding, dualism is basically an idea that helps philosophers to understand and compare the mental and physical world.
To begin, the first philosopher that will be thoroughly discussed is Thomas Nagel. One of his famous works entitled “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” in my opinion explains the ideas of consciousness in an in depth manner. All living organisms have a conscious mental state or experience, therefore, there is something is it like to that organism. By reading his work, I was able to understand and formulate an understanding or conclusion on what it means to have consciousness. Just like his book title, I will relate my understanding to the life of a bat. Basically, all scientists and science teachers would explain that bats lived in caves, would sleep upside down and could fly. Through this, we then know that this is how these living organism slived in their everyday lives, but we never actually know how it feels like to live in a cave, sleep upside down and to fly. To further expound my idea, I believe that us human beings can only perceive and interpret one another in third person perspective, but we may not actually know and exactly know the first person perspective. In my opinion, it is impossible to know someone’s conscious state completely and precisely. To add, in relation to Nagel’s ideas, I strongly believe that if any living organism has consciousness or is aware of their surroundings, then there is a feeling on how it is like to be that living organism, but it may never be shared nor one hundred percent be known of their perspective unless you are that living organism.
The second and last philosopher that will be discussed and talked about is René Descartes. Through all the class discussions, I can safely explain and expound a brief background of his beliefs which is he doubted every single thing. He believed that by doing so and by doubting everything is to think. Another idea that will be introduced is the mind-body problem. This concept first originated from his ideas. Based on my own understanding, to summarize his mind-body problem idea, he said that the mind and body are distinct and very different from one another. Furthermore, based on the ideas of The Information Philosopher, the mind is a spiritual thing while on the other hand the body is physical. Additionally, I believe that the way René Descartes perceived this idea is that he saw that the mind is where people’s thoughts are located, this is something that people can keep to themselves without the fear of it being uncontrollably exposed to the outside world. This is because people are in control of their thoughts or basically everything that is going on inside their heads. Because of this idea, Descartes believed that these thoughts can help influence the physical world. For him, the physical world is something that cannot be controlled or in other words uncontrollable, and therefore cannot be controlled by people. There are consequences and events that people unknowingly experience out of the blue because the fate of the physical world is untouchable. Although, he believed that the mind is a powerful thing because it is free from the physical world. Therefore, I concluded that our thoughts can influence our actions that can help change the outcomes that externally happen in the physical world.
An Ontological Oversight: Descartes’ First Argument for the Existence of God
Over the course of his Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes suspends belief in all material and metaphysical substance before rebuilding from the foundational element of the thinker’s existence, eventually concluding that God exists alongside material things and that the soul and body are distinct. However, the advancement from the thinker’s existence to the existence of authentic material beings necessitates a supremely powerful God who is no deceiver. Descartes claims in Meditation I that “since deception and error seem to be imperfections, the less powerful they make my original cause, the more likely it is that I am so imperfect as to be deceived all the time.”  To establish any confidence in the external world, it is imperative that Descartes proves God’s existence, and he attempts this feat at three distinct points in his famed Meditations on First Philosophy. In Meditation III, Descartes argues that the thought of an idea necessitates a cause, which must have a formal reality greater than the objective reality of the idea – this is deemed Descartes’ First Argument for the Existence of God in this paper. Descartes’ First Argument for the Existence of God relies on an enigmatic conception of an ‘idea’ and of how the thinker can comprehend incomprehensible ideas. However, if we are to accept Descartes’ questionable assertion that the thinker can ‘understand’ God’s infinite qualities, then it would be possible for the thinker to reconstruct an artificial notion of God. Ultimately, Descartes’ First Argument for the Existence of God will be disproven, forcing readers to rely on his two subsequent arguments to demonstrate God’s existence.
Descartes’ First Argument for the Existence of God is reconstructed below, preceded by two crucial axioms and two definitions that support the premises of his argument. Descartes’ First Argument for the Existence of God Axiom 1: Something cannot arise from nothing (40).
Axiom 2: There is at least as much reality in the efficient and total cause as in the effect of that cause (40).
Definition 1: The objective mode of being belongs to ideas by their nature; the formal mode of being belongs to the causes of ideas (42).
Definition 2: God is a substance that is infinite,
Premise A – From Axiom 2 and Definition 1: In order for a given idea to contain such and such objective reality, it must surely derive it from some cause that contains at least as much formal reality as there is objective reality in the idea (41).
Premise B – From Axiom 1: If the objective reality of an idea cannot come from me, it must come from something else (41).
Premise C – From Definition 2: The ideas of the attributes of God are such that they could not have come from me (45).
Premise D – They must have come from God; therefore, God exists (45).
Descartes is careful to defend against accusations of “thinking something into existence,” as he seems to do in his Ontological Argument in Meditation V. Descartes writes that “the nature of an idea is such that, of itself, it requires no formal reality except what it derives from my thought (41). Descartes posits that thinking about an idea does not immediately afford that idea formal reality. However, as reconstructed in the argument above, the thought of an idea necessitates a cause, which must have more reality than the idea (from Axiom 2) and must be a formal reality (from Definition 1). Descartes also does not think about God, but conceives the objective ideas that are God’s attributes– infiniteness, eternality, immutability, omniscience, omnipotence etc.– which could not possibly come from him or other corporeal bodies around him, because nothing on earth possesses these attributes. Therefore, Descartes concludes that God must necessarily exist. Especially in comparison to Descartes’ two subsequent arguments, his First Argument for the Existence of God is ostensibly incontrovertible. Still, while Descartes’ First Argument for the Existence of God is inductively valid, it is not sound. Descartes’ notion of an idea, as well as how one conceives of such an idea, will be challenged in reference to Premise C. Then, Premise C will be challenged on the basis of our ability to artificially construct ideas of supreme perfection to arrive at an image of God.
Despite Descartes’ more operable approach – conceiving God’s attributes rather than God Himself – it still seems impossible that anyone could have even an objective idea of these immeasurable attributes of God, which may invalidate Premise C. Infiniteness, eternality, omniscience and omnipotence are impossible to conceive, even in an objective mode of thought, because they do not exist on Earth. Given that Descartes has already suspended belief of the external world by Meditation III, he could not expect to find such qualities around him and instead must rely on knowledge of his own existence. Descartes himself claims to be manifestly imperfect, so these notions of perfection could not possibly be apprehended. It appears that Descartes professed complete cognition of God’s infinite, immutable and omnipotent nature when all he truly possessed was a lesser apperception that extended little further than a simple knowledge of the words ‘infinite,’ ‘immutable’ and ‘omnipotent.’ Descartes responds to this objection with one of the most contentious and enigmatic claims of his entire Meditations on First Philosophy: It does not matter that I do not grasp the infinite, or that there are additional attributes of God which I cannot in any way grasp, and perhaps cannot even reach in my thought; for it is in the nature of the infinite not to be grasped by a finite being like myself. It is enough that I understand the infinite, and that I judge all the attributes that I clearly perceive and know to imply some perfection (46). Descartes does, in fact, admit that he only possesses a most rudimentary understanding of God’s attributes, which does not allow him to ‘grasp’ the ideas completely. According to John Cottingham, Descartes believes that “one can know or understand something without fully grasping it: ‘In the same way that we can touch a mountain with our hands but we cannot put our arms around it… to know something is to touch it with one’s thought’” (Footnote 46). Readers may accept such an argument as sufficient explanation as to how Descartes can ‘understand’ the ideas of infinity, immutability, omniscience and omnipotence – all of which are impossible to encapsulate in one’s thought – without fully ‘grasping’ them. Thus, Descartes provides an plausible defense against the objection that one could not possibly possess an idea of God’s infinite attributes.
However, Descartes’ definition of an ‘idea’ complicates this claim. Descartes admits, “some of my thoughts are as it were the images of things, and it is only in these cases that the term ‘idea’ is strictly appropriate – for example, when I think of a man, a chimera, or the sky, or an angel, or God” (37). In reconsidering the possibility of Descartes understanding the idea, or image, of God or His attributes, it is troublesome to suggest that he could understand God’s image without fully grasping it. Visualization of an image in the mind typically entails a complete grasp of the object visualized and it is unlikely that the infinite attributes of God – much less God Himself – could be visualized in this manner. Yet a comprehensive deliberation regarding the capacity to ‘make contact with’ an image/idea without grasping it is beyond the scope of this paper. Nonetheless, Descartes’ dichotomy between understanding and grasping an idea, alongside his problematic visually oriented definition of ideas, is alarming to even the most casual meditator.
Descartes’ counterargument rests on the claim that “it is enough that I understand the infinite, and that I judge all the attributes that I clearly perceive and know to imply some perfection” (46). Based on this claim, it may be possible for one to construct an idea of God based on attributes that they understand – in the limited sense of the word for which Descartes intends – to arrive at an artificially designed image. Following Descartes’ First Argument for the Existence of God, he asserts that the infinite attributes of God that he conceives imply God’s perfection. Yet Descartes professes that because he is a thinking thing, he also possesses some perfection, albeit to a lesser degree than God. If, as Descartes asserts, he can understand the idea of infinity, then he can extend his understanding of a limited degree of perfection an infinite number of times, arriving at a conception of infinite perfection, which supposedly only belongs to God. Therefore, an infinitely perfect idea (God) would result from Descartes’ own concept of his intellectual imperfection. Descartes rejects this potentiality in Meditation III: if the thinker adds more and more degrees of perfection, “it will never reach the point where it is not capable of a further increase; God, on the other hand, I take to be actually infinite, so that nothing can be added to his perfection” (47). Thus, Descartes rejects the possibility of reconstructing an idea of God’s infinite attributes based on his definition of God’s attributes (Definition 2), which are inherently unreachable by man. Yet given that Descartes posits it is sufficient to understand an idea and simply ‘touch it with one’s thought,’ rather than fully grasping it, one could still conceive of God’s infinite attributes through the method outlined above. Therefore, Descartes’ contentious assertion that it is acceptable to merely understand an idea without fully grasping contradicts his objection that a synthetically reconstructed idea of God’s infinite perfection could not be achieved through thought. As a result, Premise C is fallacious and thus Descartes’ First Argument for the Existence of God is unsound.
Premise C was immediately questionable given that God’s attributes, which include infiniteness, eternality and immutability, could not possibly be conceived by the thinker’s intellect. However, if we are to accept Descartes’ assertion that the thinker mustn’t fully grasp the idea of God’s attributes, but rather simply ‘understand’ them in the sense that he ‘touches them with his thought,’ then another problem arises. The thinker can reconstruct an artificial idea of infinity, eternality, immutability and so on, which would be God (by Definition 2), because all these attributes imply some perfection. Descartes claims that his own ability to think indicates some degree of perfection within himself and so he may replicate this idea of perfection in his mind to arrive at an artificially constructed notion of God. Therefore, Descartes’ inductive First Argument for the Existence of God is wholly unsound. Had Descartes’ First Argument provided sufficient demonstration of God’s existence, the two subsequent, supplementary arguments for God’s existence would be superfluous. Yet Descartes nonetheless provides these two additional demonstrations of God’s existence to readers in his Meditations on First Philosophy. Descartes’ decision to include these appended arguments is quite perplexing and is worthy of further examination.
 Descartes, René. Meditations on First Philosophy: With Selections from the Objections and Replies. Ed. John Cottingham. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. Print. (21).
Allegory of the Cave, Descartes’ Meditations, and The Truman Show
In his Allegory of the Cave, Plato asks us to consider that the world we are living is the equivalent of a cave; in order for us to enter into this “sensible realm” of truth and knowledge we must actively pursue these values. In his First Meditation, Rene Descartes asks us to abandon all preexisting assumptions of the universe, as there is the possibility that we are being deceived. It is difficult to imagine there being any legitimacy to either of these scenarios that the philosophers set up, as we are so wrapped up in the intricacies of our own lives that it rarely crosses our minds whether there is any authenticity to what we are experiencing. However, the 1998 film The Truman Show brings a very plausible reality to these propositions. The Truman Show brings to life the notions of skepticism – the belief that they way you think things do not match up with reality – brought up by Plato and Descartes. Recalling the Allegory of the Cave, The Truman Show presents a world where man lives in a false reality. It correlates with the idea of man’s ignorance, and his escape from it, that Plato writes about. Likewise, The Truman Show bears resemblances to First Meditations in respect to its exploration of one man’s transition from trust to doubt in the world presented to him.
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave describes a set of circumstances in which humans have been trapped in a cave their entire life, with their only connection to the real world being the shadows cast on the wall they face by a burning fire behind them. Because they have been stuck in this position for all their lives, this is how they perceive their world to be. Truman Burbank, the title character of The Truman Show, lives very similarly to the people in the cave. The enormous television show set he lives on that he lives on echoes the pseudo-reality that the cave provided to the prisoners in Plato’s allegory. The actors hired to interact with Truman are like the fire that gave off shadows for the people in the cave, as both of these gave the illusion of a true reality. However, also like the prisoners, Truman goes through most of his life never suspecting anything was wrong with the world he was presented with. Truman believes “that the truth is nothing other than the shadows” (Republic VII p.1133). At this point in time, Truman is not a skeptic, as he takes his fake world at face value and believes it to be reality.
The key aspect of The Allegory of the Cave is that the prisoner ultimately is freed from his shackles and allowed to finally perceive the sensible realm. Truman’s quest to seek out the truth in his existence represent his own breaking free of the shackles put on him by Christof and all others involved in the production of the TV show about Truman’s life. Plato writes of how once reality can often times be hard to come to terms with for someone who has lived in a state of ignorance his entire life. He relates it to coming out of a dim cave, and having to adjust your eyes once you step out into the sunlight. The light is intimidating, but it is worth following, as once we immerse ourselves in it we cannot possibly imagine returning to the dark state we were once it. This is applicable to Truman, who overcomes his fear of water to fight his way to reaching a reality he has up till then only seen remnants of. It was a risk, but in the end we see that it was nonetheless a risk worth taking. Once Truman hits the wall – the boundary between the cave and the sensible realm – Christof tries to coax him out of leaving. However, it is too late. Truman knows too much, and he cannot possibly consider returning to his dark cave.
Truman would have never come to terms with reality had he never expressed doubt in his artificial world. Rene Descartes emphasizes the significance of having doubt in your surroundings through his First Meditation. Descartes argues that our surroundings cannot be trusted, and so if one ever wants to truly reach a full understanding of their world they must doubt everything. The Truman Show explores this concept of doubt, as Truman leads the majority of his life without a single doubt in his mind that the world is as he thinks it is; he never doubts that his wife is really his wife, he never doubts that he has genuine friends, and he never doubts that his dad died long ago. By never doubting these things, he remained a slave to Christof for so many years.
Once Truman started to be skeptical of his world, he became closer to discovering the truth of his own existence. As strange things occur to him more frequently, Truman abandons the state of denial he had been living in for his whole life. He picks up on odd, unexplainable events that are taking place, such as the stage light falling from the sky or the radio’s crossed signals picking up conversations from the crewmembers that are filming Truman. Truman’s peers tried to dissuade him from having distrust in the world that they designed for him, however Truman does not cease to follow the gut feeling that Descartes encourages. Ultimately, Truman comes to the same realization that Descartes had; his world is being controlled by some kind of evil mastermind, and what he is seeing does not correlate with the world’s absolute truth. This is what pushed him to seek out this actual reality. If Truman had not abandoned faith in the things he observed that seemed so obvious, the film would have ended much differently and much more disappointingly.