Doubt Everything

Wed, Sep 30

We've been considering trust (in traditions, in religions, in communities, in friends, in yourself) as a virtue.  Today we'll consider whether it is also a vice.  We'll look at a defense of skeptical philosophical inquiry, one introduced by Enlightenment philosopher Rene Descartes.  Descartes thought that a scientific approach to life requires rooting out all of one's potential biases.  But how far can this go?  Are we biased toward believing we are awake and not dreaming?  Biased toward believing 2+2=4?  What's the role of doubt in the good life?

By the end of class, you will:

  1. Appreciate some reasons for being globally skeptical and some reasons for being locally skeptical.
  2. Understand Descartes "method of belief" and Cogito argument.
  3. Be able to analyze the premises and logical features of Descartes' dreaming argument for skepticism.
  4. Reflect on whether the method of doubt supports or undermines the possibility of rational religious/moral/philosophical belief.



Read This:


Interactive Essay: Doubt Everything (Descartes)


Climate Of Complete Certainty (NYTimes)


Do This:

Complete these steps before you come to class

  • Consider the following prompts (you may want to write responses to these in your journal or talk about them with a friend):
    • Do you know you are not dreaming right now?  If so, how?  If you don't know whether this is a dream, what else don't you know?
    • Write down three things you are very confident of, even if there is some controversy. Now pick a friend/relative who has some different beliefs. What is something they think they know for certain but you think is false? Is there any new info that would change your mind or theirs? 
  • Optional: test yourself by taking a practice comprehension check.

Watch This: