Doubt Everything

Wed, Mar 02

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 the distinction between "global" and "local" skepticism
  2. Understand Descartes' "method of doubt" and "cogito" argument
  3. Critically engage Descartes' dreaming argument for skepticism, and understand why he makes this argument.



Read This:


Interactive Essay: Doubt Everything (Descartes)

APPLICATION ARTICLES (Access on "Perusall" via Canvas):

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?
    • 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 information that would change your mind or theirs?

After you've finished today's reading, make sure you complete the reading quiz, which you can access through your section's Canvas page.

Watch This: