Published online at essays in philosophy 6 (2005) Murphy, page 1 of

The book has two parts. The first looks at the destructive use to which Descartes puts the method of doubt. But this is just half the story since, according to Broughton, Descartes also uses the method of doubt constructively. The second part of the book takes up the constructive use. Both uses fit into an overarching claim that is set out in the introduction. According to this claim, Descartes employs the method of doubt in order to establish fundamental metaphysical claims – or, as he says, claims of first philosophy (recall Descartes’s title: Meditations on First Philosophy). These include: God exists, we ought to assent only to what we clearly and distinctly perceive, the essential attribute of matter is extension, the essential attribute of the human mind is thought, and sense experience allows us to know the primary qualities of material objects. This metaphysical interpretation of the method’s aim is contrasted with others: that the aim is to secure some form of high-grade knowledge, to clear the way for Descartes’s mechanistic physics, to refute the skepticism of the day, and to free the mind from the senses so we can think better about supersensible entities. Broughton cites passages in support of each interpretation. As her survey shows, there is (at least) decent textual support for each interpretation. Perhaps then the method of doubt is multi-purposed. After all, there is no obvious incompatibility between any two or more of the aims – so why take the various interpretations as competing with one another? Unfortunately, Broughton doesn’t say.
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