Contemporary Epistemology and the Cartesian Circle

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Descartes wants to show that clear and distinct ideas are trustworthy. However, his argument seems circular. For his premise that God is trustworthy depends on clear and distinct insight. Descartes’ reaction to the circularity reproach can be interpreted in two ways. The first is a psychological one. Clear and distinct insights are coercing. Thus they cannot be doubted as long as one attends to them. The argument is only meant to extend this instantaneous coercion to the whole range of psychological states. This reaction does not fit Descartes’ aim of more reliable beliefs. The second interpretation integrates this aim of reliability into the demands of clarity and distinctness. Clear and distinct insights are to bridge the gap between internal accessibility and external reliability. Yet in this interpretation the invocation of God’s trustworthiness seems superfluous. Departing from contemporary epistemological ideas two possibilities to nevertheless make sense of this invocation are discussed. The first is that the argument of God’s trustworthiness provides a gain in reflective coherence. However, this reasoning conflicts with the situation of methodic doubt which involves suspending one’s whole system of belief. The second, more promising possibility is that it is an epistemic aim to provide an account of origin and purpose of our cognitive faculties
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Archival date: 2017-05-31
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