The Biased Method of Doubt

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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.

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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.

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