The Giants of Doubt: A Comparison between Epistemological Aspects of Descartes and Pascal

Open Journal of Philosophy 2 (3):183-188 (2012)
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The essay is a comparative look at Descartes' and Pascal's epistemology. For so vast a topic, I shall confine myself to comparing three crucial epistemological topics, through which I hope to evince Descartes' and Pascal's differences and points of contact. Firstly, I will concentrate on the philosophers' engagement with skepticism, which, for each, had different functions and motivations. Secondly, the thinkers' relation to Reason shall be examined, since it is the fulcrum of their thought—and the main aspect that separates them. Lastly, I will examine each philosopher's theist epistemology; this section, of course, will focus on how and by what means Descartes and Pascal set out to prove God's existence. The latter aspect shall take us back to each philosopher's relationship to Doubt: the title, " The Giants of Doubt ", in fact, implies a fundamental link between Descartes and Pascal through Doubt. In addition, and most importantly, the contrast between the two thinkers' epistemology inaugurates a decisive scission in modern thought of enormous repercussion: Descartes' sturdy rationalism initiated the great branch of modern scientific inquiry , while Pascal's appeal to the power of intuition and feelings would eventually be the precursor of the reaction to the enlightenment that invested Europe by the second half of the eighteenth century. This departure of thought, which in my view may be traced back to them, has not been the common conceit of the history of philosophy: the reaction to the enlightenment has customarily been regarded as stemming from its internal contradictions or at best from its more radical doctrines. The essay shall show that these strands of thought were both parallel and born out of the antithetical epistemologies of Descartes and Pascal.
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