Doubts about indubitability

Philosophical Forum 41 (4):389-412 (2010)
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Abstract

Kirsten Besheer has recently considered Descartes’ doubting appropriately in the context of his physiological theories in the spirit of recent important re-appraisals of his natural philosophy. However, Besheer does not address the notorious indubitability and its source that Descartes claims to have discovered. David Cunning has remarked that Descartes’ insistence on the indubitability of his existence presents “an intractable problem of interpretation” in the light of passages that suggest his existence is “just as dubitable as anything else”. However, although the cogito argument is widely thought to be central to the force of Descartes’ indubitability, for his part, Cunning does not consider its relevance and force. Accordingly, this article is concerned with the cogito argument and the question central to Hintikka’s seminal contribution, described by Cottingham as “Perhaps the most debated question,” namely, whether or not the cogito can be construed as a logical inference. Clearly, an inferential account has the potential to explain the certainty of Descartes’ conclusion that he exists. Recently, Sarkar offers what he characterizes as “novel and fairly conclusive reasons why the cogito cannot be construed as an argument,” asserting “the discovery of the cogito can only be an intuition not a deduction.” Obviously, it would greatly support the opposing inferential construal if a remotely plausible logical argument could be proposed. Toward this end, I defend the virtues of my ‘Diagonal’ account of Descartes’ cogito Above all, I show how my analysis meets the requirement that any satisfactory solution to the problem of the cogito would reconcile Descartes’ claim that the cogito is a certain inference with his claim that it is an intuitive kind of knowledge. Through a critical discussion of analyses such as that of Gallois , I show that it is possible to provide a textually faithful analysis that permits seeing the cogito as both inference and intuition because it may be seen as an exercise in the mathematical method of Analysis. Above all, as Feldman requires, I show that the Diagonal account is not only textually elegant, but permits crediting Descartes with a worthy insight, thereby resolving the tension between what Howell has termed the Humean and Cartesian problems, namely, the elusiveness and the certainty of the self.

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Peter Slezak
University of New South Wales

Citations of this work

Did Descartes make a Diagonal Argument?Toby Meadows - 2022 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 51 (2):219-247.

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