Descartes thought that we could achieve absolute certainty by starting with radical doubt. He adopts this strategy in the "Meditations on First Philosophy," where he raises sweeping doubts with the famous dream argument and the hypothesis of an evil demon. But why did Descartes think we should take these exaggerated doubts seriously? And if we do take them seriously, how did he think any of our beliefs could ever escape them? Janet Broughton undertakes a close study of Descartes's first three meditations to answer these questions and to present a fresh way of understanding precisely what Descartes was up to.
Broughton first contrasts Descartes's doubts with those of the ancient skeptics, arguing that Cartesian doubt has a novel structure and a distinctive relation to the commonsense outlook of everyday life. She then argues that Descartes pursues absolute certainty by uncovering the conditions that make his radical doubt possible. She gives a unified account of how Descartes uses this strategy, first to find certainty about his own existence and then to argue that God exists. Drawing on this analysis, Broughton provides a new way to understand Descartes's insistence that he hasn't argued in a circle, and she measures his ambitions against those of contemporary philosophers who use transcendental arguments in their efforts to defeat skepticism. The book is a powerful contribution both to the history of philosophy and to current debates in epistemology.
"This is a brilliant book, written in a flowing and elegant prose that belies the extraordinary erudition, and philosophical rigor and subtlety which it contains."--Jorge Secada, Philosophical Quarterly "In this clearly written and engaging book, Broughton argues that the method of doubt is in fact constructive, a strategy for uncovering the first principles of philosophy by showing that the truth of certain beliefs is a condition for the method of doubt."--Deborah Boyle, Philosophy in Review "Simply put, this is a superb book. It provides a deep, learned, and philosophically engaging reading of the method of doubt as laid out in the first three meditations... Exemplary in its capacity to seamlessly combine scholarly debate, history of ideas and original philosophising in a clear and lively prose style. The book will be an essential reference in future discussions of Descartes and his method of doubt."--David Macarthur, Philosophical Books "Descartes's Method of Doubt offers a compelling new reading of what the method of doubt involves, and of the work that it does in the Meditations... Broughton's book must count as a significant contribution to Cartesian studies and early modern philosophy, and it is surely one that will be accorded close attention by scholars in the field... [I]t is clearly and elegantly written... incisive, insightful and illuminating."--Cecilia Wee, British Journal for the History of Philosophy
Preface ixAbbreviations xvIntroduction 1The Method of Doubt and Other Cartesian Methods 2The Method of Doubt and Descartes 's Conception of Knowledge 7Descartes 's Reasons for Deploying the Method of Doubt 10PART ONE: Raising DoubtCHAPTER 1: Who Is Doubting? 21The Meditator as Anyone 22The Meditator as Scholastic Philosopher or Person of Common Sense 26The Meditator's Problematic Persona 28CHAPTER 2: Ancient Skepticism 33Academic Skepticism as a Criticism of Stoic Epistemology 34Pyrrhonian Reflection 37CHAPTER 3: Reasons for Suspending Judgment 42The Maxim for Assent 43High Strategy 49Withholding Assent and Bracketing Beliefs 54CHAPTER 4: Reasons for Doubt 62Skeptical Scenarios as Explanations for False Beliefs 64Radical Grounds and the Method of Doubt 67CHAPTER 5: Common Sense and Skeptical Reflection 72Michael Williams's Reading 74Contrasts between Ancient Skeptics and Descartes's Meditator 78Contrasts between Contemporary Philosophers and Descartes 82PART TWO: Using DoubtCHAPTER 6: Using Doubt 97Conditions of Using Doubt 98Suggestive Texts 101Three Types of Dependence Argument 104CHAPTER 7: Inner Conditions 108The Cogito First Reading 109My Existence as a Condition of My Doubt 114"I think" 120Careful Self-Attributions as Conditions of Doubt 131CHAPTER 8: Outer Conditions 144The Idea of God 146Causal Principles 153The Physical World 170CHAPTER 9: Reflections 175The Cartesian Circle 175Transcendental Arguments 186The Fate of Common Sense 196References 203Index 211