Al-Ghazālī and Descartes on Defeating Skepticism

Journal of Philosophical Research 45:133-148 (2020)
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Commentators have noticed the striking similarities between the skep­tical arguments of al-Ghazālī’s Deliverance from Error and Descartes’ Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy. However, commentators agree that their solutions to skepticism are radically different. Al-Ghazālī does not use rational proofs to defeat skepticism; rather, he relies on a supernatural light [nūr] sent by God to rescue him from skepticism. Descartes, on the other hand, relies on the natural light of reason [lumen naturale] to prove the existence of God, mind, and body. In this paper, I argue that Descartes’ solution is closer to al-Ghazālī’s than commentators have allowed. A close reading of the cosmological argument of the Third Meditation reveals that there is also a type of divine intervention em­ployed in the Meditations, which helps Descartes defeat skepticism. This reading may buttress the case made by some that al-Ghazālī influenced Descartes; but more importantly, it requires us to rethink key features of Descartes’ epistemology.

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Saja Parvizian
University of Illinois, Chicago (PhD)


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