Descartes, the Cartesian Circle, and Epistemology Without God

This paper defends an interpretation of Descartes according to which he sees us as having normative (and not merely psychological) certainty of all clear and distinct ideas during the period in which they are apprehended clearly and distinctly. However, on this view, a retrospective doubt about clear and distinct ideas is possible. This interpretation allows Descartes to avoid the Cartesian Circle in an effective way and also shows that Descartes is surprisingly, in some respects, an epistemological externalist. The paper goes on to defend this interpretation against some powerful philosophical objections by Margaret WiIson and others by showing how Descartes’ doctrine of the creation of the eternal truths can be brought in to support his epistemology. This doctrine and other analogous positions in Descartes can also reveal that Descartes, again surprisingly, takes important steps toward doing epistemology without direct appeal to God and God’s veracity
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