Advertisement

On the Origins of Modern Skepticism: Descartes, Doubt and Certainty

  • Philip Walsh
Part of the Renewing Philosophy book series (REP)

Abstract

The fundamental difference in orientation between ancient and modern skepticism, drawn by Hegel in terms of the superiority of the former, is not restricted to modern empiricism, but includes its antipode, rationalism. Indeed, modern empiricist skepticism, while it is opposed to the conclusions and approach typical of rationalism, nevertheless is concerned with the same framework of problems, of which the constitution of the external world provides the central pillar for the modern philosophical problems of freedom, rationality and God. That framework has its origins in Cartesian doubt. But doubt does not give rise to modern ‘solutions’ to the problems raised by ancient skepticism; rather, it is concerned with quite different questions, which are, to a great degree, incommensurable with the framework within which ancient skepticism arose.

Keywords

External World Natural Light Critical Theory Declarative Sentence Pure Activity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 4.
    For an account of the neo-Kantian origins of both Lukàcs’s and Heidegger’s perspectives, see Gillian Rose, Hegel Contra Sociology (London: Athlone Press, 1981), pp. 24–31.Google Scholar
  2. For a more detailed account of the convergences between Lukács and Heidegger, see Lucien Goldmann, Lukács and Heidegger: Towards a New Philosophy, trans. by W.Q. Boelhower (London: Routledge, 1977).Google Scholar
  3. For Adorno’s own account of the influence and importance of Lukács, see Adorno , “Reconciliation under Duress,” in Aesthetics and Politics, trans. by R. Taylor (New York: Verso, 1990), pp. 151–76.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics (London: Merlin Press, 1968), p. 112.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    René Descartes, Discourse on Method, in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes Volume I, ed. by J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff and D. Murdoch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 89.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Cf. Bernard Williams, Descartes: The Project of Pure Inquiry (London: Penguin, 1990), p. 34. Williams draws attention to the subjective and rather hesitant aspect of Descartes’ initial resolve, suggesting its unusual and non-universalizable character. One of most trenchant of Descartes’ contemporary critics, Pierre Bourdin, raises similar concerns regarding the privileging of the individual’s doubts (excerpted in the “Seventh Objection and Replies” in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, Volume II, pp. 361–76), but Descartes’ dismissal of such objections is quite perfunctory.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Harry Frankfurt, Demons, Dreamers and Madmen: The Defense of Reason in Descartes’ Meditations (Indianapolis and New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970), p. 15.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    J.M. Bernstein, The Philosophy of the Novel: Lukács, Marxism and the Dialectics of Form (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), p. 161. Bernstein takes the Discourse on Method as both logically prior and more central to Descartes’ project than the Meditations, and he associates that project with the establishment of the atomistic self, as a form compatible with the redefinition of nature as subject to the infinity of human desire. The self is co-originary with this redefinition. Bernstein’s argument bears comparison with Arendt’s conception of the modern self as occupying an Archimedean point (see later), in the sense that both associate the origins of the Western notion of the self with the emergence of an instrumental relationship to nature.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Cf. the analysis in Leszek Kolakowski, Husserl and the Search for Certitude (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1975), where he uses Husserl as a vehicle to come to terms with the interest in certainty in Western thought. While Kolakowski’s conclusions have some bearing on the contradictions inherent in the idea of a search for certainty, he takes the concept of certainty itself to be quite transparent.Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    See Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, (An English Translation of Les Mots et Les Choses) (London: Routledge, 1970), pp. 18–23.Google Scholar
  11. 22.
    Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1980), p. 330.Google Scholar
  12. 24.
    See Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), p. 253.Google Scholar
  13. 26.
    See Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism 3rd edn, trans. and ed. by Stephen Kalberg (Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury Press, 2003), pp. 53–101. Arendt uses Weber’s analysis as a kind of shorthand to describe the social changes that developed alongside the process of world alienation: the rise of industrial capitalism, accompanied by the displacement of the dominant social forms of family and property by nationality and labor-power, and the emergence of the modern atomized individual, capable of assuming an independent legal and economic identity. Arendt therefore follows Marx and Hegel in recognizing the importance of ‘legal status’ as a condition for the rise the modern individual — capable, for Hegel, of assuming the identity of citizenship and, for Marx, of selling his or her labor on the ‘free’ market.Google Scholar
  14. 28.
    See, for example, Bertrand Russell, Religion and Science (Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 45–8. Arendt draws primarily on Russell and Whitehead in drawing her conclusions regarding the philosophical significance of the scientific revolution.Google Scholar
  15. 34.
    This formulation of the Cartesian problem is presented by John McDowell, “Subjective Thought and the Extent of Inner Space,” in Subject, Thought and Context, ed. by Philip Pettit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 147–52.Google Scholar
  16. 36.
    This is Arendt’s formulation, but it could be noted that the notion of a common sense stands in for the idea of the Cartesian transcendental subject. For an interpretation of Arendt’s notion of a post-Cartesian sensus communis, see Michael Gottsegen, The Political Thought of Hannah Arendt (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994), pp. 130, 207.Google Scholar
  17. 40.
    Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, I, p. 89. Cf. the interpretation of Rodolphe Gasche, The Tain of the Mirror (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), p. 67.Google Scholar
  18. 51.
    John Morris, “Descartes’ Natural Light,” in Rene Descartes: Critical Assessments, Vol 1, ed. by George J.D. Moyal (London: Routledge, 1991), pp. 413–29.Google Scholar
  19. 53.
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile or On Education, trans. by Allan Bloom (London: Penguin, 1979), p. 267.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Philip Walsh 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip Walsh

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations