Rocking the Foundations of Cartesian Knowledge: Critical Notice of Janet Broughton, Descartes's Method of Doubt

Philosophical Review 113 (1):101-125 (2004)
Janet Broughton’s Descartes’s Method of Doubt1 is a systematic study of the role of doubt in Descartes’s epistemology. The book has two parts. Part 1 focuses on the development of doubt in the First Meditation, exploring such topics as the motivation behind methodic doubt; the targeted audience; the method’s game-like character (on her view); its relations to ancient skepticism, its reasonableness; the method’s presuppositions relative to commonsense belief; Michael Williams’s recent criticisms of Descartes; and more. Part 2 focuses on how doubt figures in the constructive epistemology of the Meditations—on how Descartes employs doubt as a tool for founding knowledge. I’ll have much more to say about part 2. A careful treatment of the topics of this book has been long overdue. Broughton’s ideas are innovative, engaging, and clearly developed at every stage. The wide-ranging issues addressed remind the reader of why Descartes’s thought is of continuing philosophical interest. Throughout, her interpretation is sensitive to the exegetical concerns of scholars. This rich book deserves the attention of every serious student of Descartes. The present paper is a critical study of part 2—the more ambitious part of this highly ambitious book. I begin with an overview of Broughton’s account. Sections 2–4 contain my analysis.
Keywords Analytic Philosophy  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0031-8108  
DOI 10.1215/00318108-113-1-101
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