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Cartesian circle

Subject Philosophy

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405106795.2004.x


E pistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of religion A challenge to Descartes 's program to establish a scientific system on a purely metaphysical basis. Descartes tried to prove that whatever we perceive clearly and distinctly must be true and can serve as the foundation of a science. His argument goes like this: We have a clear and distinct idea that an omnipotent and benevolent God exists; the existence of such a deity entails that we cannot be subject to deception; therefore, our clear and distinct ideas must be reliable. This argument involves a circle. On the one hand, the existence of a perfect and non-deceiving God is the sole guarantee of the truth of what we perceive clearly and distinctly. On the other hand, Descartes claims that our intellect's power of clear and distinct perception is the sole guarantee of the truth of God's existence. Hence, what is to be proved has been taken for granted during the proof. The circle was noticed by his contemporary critics Arnauld and Gassendi . Descartes's answer to this challenge is to say that God only warrants the veracity of our memory, while clear and distinct perception is a self-sufficient guarantee of our immediate ideas. But his answer is generally considered to be unsatisfactory. “Since it is only by relying on the validity of clear and distinct ideas that he proves the existence of God, to rely on God for the validation ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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