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clear and distinct

Subject Philosophy

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405106795.2004.x


E pistemology Descartes 's general criterion of the certainty of knowledge or truth. It is based on methodological doubt and attached to the intellectual perception of ideas . Clarity is in contrast to obscurity. A perception or idea is clear if it contains no implications that might subsequently cause us to doubt them. This requires the attentiveness of the mind. An idea is distinct if it is separated from everything else and contains absolutely nothing else but clear ideas. Distinctness is contrasted to confusion and is a stricter notion than clarity. An idea may be clear without being distinct, but a distinct idea is always clear. Descartes claimed that sorting out what is clear and distinct from what is obscure and confused is a laborious task. However, since this criterion relies on the intellect's power, it is usually criticized as failing to provide a genuine solution to the problem of the validation of human knowledge, for it simply declares that truth is self-manifesting to the human mind. “I call a perception ‘clear’ when it is present and accessible to the attentive mind … I call a perception ‘distinct’ if, as well as being clear, it is so sharply separated from all other perceptions that it contains within itself only what is clear.” Descartes, The Philosophical Writings ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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