Descartes and Skepticism

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Raman Sachdev


In this paper, I present an interpretation of Descartes that deemphasizes his skepticism. I analyze a selection of remarks from Descartes’ correspondence in which he makes judgments about the skeptics. I argue that such remarks display Descartes’ attitude of contempt for skeptical philosophy. Since Descartes associates the skeptics with the activity of constant and total doubting and yet presents scenarios that seemingly arise from extreme doubt—like the malicious demon hypothesis—I look at what Descartes says in the correspondence about his own use of doubt in his published works. Descartes distances himself from the skeptics because he claims that whereas they doubt everything and, in so doing, act heretically, he uses doubt for a noble purpose. I suggest that although Descartes is influenced by skeptical ideas and considers skeptical argumentation to be useful, his strategic use of such argumentation should not lead us to believe that he condones skepticism. Quite the contrary, most of his remarks on the subject show that Descartes is highly critical or dismissive of skeptical ideas. Therefore, I argue that it is more accurate to characterize Descartes as a philosopher generally opposed to skepticism.

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Sachdev, R. (2019). Descartes and Skepticism. Humanities Bulletin, 2(1), 71–84. Retrieved from