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Friday, 13 April 2018


It is plain historical that man is naturally a rational being and a free being. He is capable of rumination to discover knowledge; even to the extent of going beyond himself. That is, he transcends the materialistic terrain in order to gasp and apprehend knowledge. Thus through the ages have continually yield into their positions regarding the acquisition of knowledge. They hold that, knowledge is possible. Little wonder, so many scholars such as  Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Kant Berkley have championed the course that, human beings have the natural desire the know.

However, we must note that, the issue of knowledge and the affair of the possibility of knowledge fail within the ground of epistemology. And so, epistemology is saddled with the high reasonability of asserting its identity amidst the criticism of the sceptics via justification of knowledge. Sceptics deny the possibility of knowledge. However, they believe that knowledge must not co-exist with scepticism and epistemology in the sense that, in their view knowledge must provide certitude. That is, must not co-exist with doubt. Consequently, epistemologists down the ages have indeed pioneered the course to ensure epistemology triumphs against the scepticism. Descartes came on board with in his position of foundational epistemology.
Therefore, with the discovery of the cogito, Descartes approaches the problem of epistemology with the view of resolving it. But, the pertinent questions are: does he make a sustainable impact towards resolving the problem of epistemology? If he does, how? And, to what extent? If not, what are the implications? At this juncture, we shall present this discussion as we expose:
the meaning of scepticism,
the nature of knowledge,
knowledge as justify true belief,
Descartes methodic doubt, the nature of cogito,
Descartes and his search for certitude,
Descartes cogito and the external world
and finally, evaluative conclusion will be made.

Scepticism is a philosophical doctrine that triggers the problem of justification which was an attempt to question the possibility of knowledge. Scepticism has been a current within the philosophical consciousness, particularly in the history of western philosophical thought which has cast doubt to the certainty of epistemic claim. The term is derived from the Greek word skeptikos which means ‘’inquires’’ scepticism as a philosophical attitude questions the existence of things including knowledge possibility. It seeks to challenge all our cognitive claims or establish true or reviewed opinions by providing argument or reasons why such claims should be doubted.
It indeed questions the possibility of knowledge by doubting man’s natural propensity, capacity and power to know anything for certain. As such, certainty becomes t he paradigm of knowledge which is accepted by both skepticism and epistemology. Consequently, if the paradigm is met, then possibility of knowledge can be validated and justification ascertained. But if the paradigm is not met, there will be a continuous quest for justification by epistemologists. The point here is that, for sceptics, the only way to satisfy the condition of knowledge is to know beyond doubt. That is, knowledge cannot co-exist with doubt. If there is an iota of doubt, knowledge is not possible. It is in this light that Okogbuo opines that, ‘’we should suspend judgement until we have indubitable reason for making them’’. This is because we may be extremely doubtful about the possibility of discovering anything that was really true due t o the fact that there is no indubitable reason or justification.
Consequently, one may ask: can we know anything without doubt? If no, then, we cannot vouch for the possibility of knowledge and thus, we cannot know anything for certain. This is the thrust of the sceptics’ argument and its conclusion is rooted in the use of the phenomenon of doubt to question the possibility of knowledge acquisition.

The concept of knowledge has been a controversial issue in the philosophical discussion. Many philosophers have talked a lot about knowledge but daily appear new. This has thus, elicited many notions of knowledge. It is an impossible and futile effort to progress in the issue of knowledge without understanding the systemisation and the operational nature of knowledge. This is because, the issue of knowledge is one of the sighted problematique discussed upon within the eras of  hilosophical rumination about reality which appear here in form of knowledge. This is because it became a general contention that human k knowledge attainable. But the pertinent questions are what does knowledge entails? Is knowledge different from mere belief or opinion? Can knowledge consist of only the conditions of true belief? At what point can we say we have the knowledge of something? Or is it the case that we cannot know anything for certain? Or can there be any of knowledge which also implicates possibility of knowledge acquisition; epistemology therefore attempts to provide such grounds to affirm the possibility of knowledge in the bid to respond to the demand of the justification of knowledge by scepticism.
Consequently, this problem of justification in a sense arose with the challenge of scepticism which says that, doubt cannot co-exist with knowledge. By this, the standard for knowledge was put forward which is both epistemology and scepticism agree upon. Thus, epistemology searches for truth that is certain in the bid to justify knowledge and the possibility of knowledge; to refute the ground of scepticism.

Knowledge in an elaborate of the problem of justification; and epistemic justification is not only to refute scepticism but most importantly, affirm the possibility of acquiring knowledge. Hence, in the bid to justify that knowledge is possible, epistemologists provided a definition of knowledge which entails knowledge as justified true belief. This as to do with the question of the conditions or elements of knowledge, As D.W. Hamlyn we say: one condition of being said to know something is that one claim to know must be the case; if it is an object tat one claims to know, this must exist, and if what one claims to know is formidable in a proposition, this must be true.
Derived from Plato’s thought, O. Oyeshile says that ‘’a man  cannot enquire about that which he knows, or about that which he does not know;  if he knows he has no need to enquire, and if not, he cannot, for he does not know that very subject about which he is to enquire’’. Can we from this question infer that justification of knowledge is possible? However, the popular definition of knowledge is the classical definition as justified true belief (JTB). This knowledge condition called belief is very important in acquiring knowledge but belief as the root point is not sufficient to secure knowledge and thus, we need another element called truth. And knowing the vitality of true condition in knowledge attainment, we must not only have belief but also truth. Pointing that, our belief must be true. But the question is, is belief and truth sufficient conditions or a necessary conditions for knowledge? And if they are not sufficient conditions, then, there must or should be an additional condition called justification, evidence or reason. This is because when we have a reason or justification for the truth of our belief or true belie, then, we can claim of having or possessing knowledge. It means that knowledge is not mere belief or true belief but justified true belief. Hence, justification is pictured as a root of upholding knowledge. This implies that if we possess belief, truth and we do not have justification, then there is no knowledge.

The problem of scepticism lingered on, and as we have seen previously, this spurred in Descartes the need to affirm most vitally the possibility of knowledge by proving evidence, building a system of knowledge which indirectly capsized the sceptical stance. This is to say, he embark on a reconstruction system issue. But to do this, he did not only appraise the logic of scepticism but also agreed with the certitude standard. He however, categorically disagreed with them regarding the impossibility of knowledge. On the contrary, he affirmed it. Hence, Descartes aims at a system in which the foundation holding its edifice or superstructure is solid. This for him is the cogito. But to discover the cogito with the view of the rehabilitation, he engages in his universal methodic doubt. Consequently, to achieve this demanded certainty, he does doubt all his beliefs. Hence, he was conceive that he can secure an absolutely certain basis for all knowledge. For he felt that such a foundation could be secure if one had first used his method in order to eliminate anything tat might possibly be false and doubtful. In this case Descartes says:
He was   conceived that there was nothing in the entire world, that there was no heaven, no earth, and that there were no minds or bodies. Was I not then also conceived that I did not exist€? Not in the least. It was certain that I myself existed since I conceived myself of something (or just because I thought of something). Because there is some kind of a deceiver, w ho is very powerful and cunning, and who always uses his ingenuity in order to deceive me. Then, for certain, I exist also if he is deceiving me, and let him deceive me as much as he wishes; he can never make me be nothing as long as I think that I am something (an existing self).
Hence, Descartes in his quest for an indubitable knowledge progresses from one level to another till he reaches the truth of the self. In considering the self, he discovers that the self is indeed beyond doubt. Thus, Descartes declared that the truth of the self is certain. But then, the Cogito is a provisional terminative victory for epistemology over scepticism, what then is it its operational dynamism? Can we ascertain the nature of the self? If yes, then, what is the nature of the self (cogito)?

The discovery of cogito indeed gladdens Descartes’ heart because it captured that impregnable rock, aiding the rebuilding of knowledge system. In fact, the manipulation of the evil genius gave him the platform in the discovery of the cogito. And this is vividly capture by F.E Sutcliff, when he says that some evil genius, no less powerful than deceitful, has employed the whole energies in deceiving me that all external things that we see are only illusions and deceptions which he uses to take me in. consequently, arriving at the cogito pictures the end of application of the universal methodic doubt. It also acts as response to the position of traditional sceptics who question authenticity of knowledge acquisition. He was convinced that this indubitable truth-cogito-is certainly capable of justifying the possibility of knowledge, of collapsing the stance of scepticism and of withstanding even his own worries about a deceptive deity. Thus, he says, even I am universally deceived, the act of being deceived is an act of thinking and it delivers up the existence of the one who thinks and is deceive. ‘’I think, therefore I am’’ because if doubted, then, something o someone must be doing the doubting. Hence, the very fact that he doubted proved his existence.
The implication is that, in doubting the existence of the self, presupposed a thinking o f the self; and a thinking of the self in turn presupposes the existence of the self. B. Magee posited that; ‘’that I existed is indubitable, and,; what is more I know wit absolute certitude that I am a being which as the very least, if nothing else, has conscious experience  I have.’’  I am thinking thing, that is, a being who doubts, affirms, denies, knows few object and it’s ignorant of many. I am nevertheless assured that those modes of consciousness which I will called perception and imagination, in as far only as their modes of consciousness, exists in me. And so, based on Descartes’ idea of his foundation, he is termed a foundational epistemologist. This foundational truth must be beyond doubt, such that, it must be self evidential truth and such is the truth of cogito,. This   why for Descartes the cogito is the foundational rock that justifies other beliefs.

Given that Descartes understands the intricacies involves, if epistemology should fail in its quest, he thus wills to vindicate epistemology by using the sceptical weapon of doubt as an instrument to achieve certitude in knowledge. And if in his search for certitude, e can show that we can transcend that doubt to certainty; he would have succeeded in refuting scepticism and thus, establish knowledge in a certitude ground. Hence, Descartes understands the requirement of knowledge. And with the above, we can say that Descartes is dealing with the justification of knowledge which implicates the knowledge of scepticism. He tries to study and understand the nature of doubt, the position of the sceptics and the claim of the sceptics which of course entails absolute certainty.
In fact, the central thought of scepticism from epistemology is the demand for absolute certainty. And this demand when analysed turns out to be the demand for justification. But the question which arises is: did Descartes agree with the sceptics regarding the criterion absolute certainty, consideration their negative position? For he recognises this demand and thus observed that, the sceptics are saying that doubt cannot co-exist with the knowledge. And if we must claim any knowledge, it must go beyond all doubt to achieve knowledge.
However, if that is the case, what they the sceptics are wrong? What will be their position? But if they are right, does Descartes endorse it? And if he does, what is the scope and limitation of such endorsement? Descartes’ own project is a search for certainty of knowledge. The purpose of his effort is to affirm knowledge on an impregnable stance and to prove that the sceptics were wrong in their claim of impossibility of knowledge. The sceptics insist that the standard for knowledge is absolutely certainty but also conclude that we cannot attain it. Descartes therefore accepted and endorsed the condition of absolute certainty but reject the denial of possibility of knowledge.

Consequently, the way in w which Descartes pursues his project; the search for certitude is the way of doubt. So, he uses the phenomenon of doubt to present his search for certainty. And such, anything that is not beyond doubt is not a knowledge claim. But the sceptics are saying that none of our knowledge claim can qualify as knowledge in as much as our beliefs are not beyond doubt. This is to say, all beliefs are doubtable. Hence, Descartes began by doubting all his beliefs thus: It is now several years since I first became aware how many false opinions I had from my child hood being admitting as true as how doubtful was everything I have subsequently based on them.  The implication is that, by doubting all his belief, he hopes to reconstruct edifice of knowledge that has been upset by scepticism. And this rehabilitation can only be secures if he finds by way of scepticism a belief that is resistance to doubt. Hence, he went further to question the received view which was offered to him by the senses.

Having found one truth that no sceptical doubt could shake, Descartes rapidly went on to build up new dogmatic edifice that will now whole realm of truth or knowledge about the cosmos. Hence, he says in his fourth meditation that, it seems to him that he now has before himself a road which will lead him from contemplation of the true God to knowledge of other things or objects of the universe.
Descartes indeed looks at the external realities in the world whether they actually exist apart from the cogito and God. For he says, to be a thinking thing does not of itself proof that body exists, for my thinking self is entirely distinct from my boy and can exist without it. Thus, to know that its body or corporeal realities exist, Descartes argues that, we have all clear and distinct experiences of changing our positions and nothing about activity that implies a body or he calls ‘’an extended substance’’ existing. We also receive sense impression of sight, sound; touch and so on, frequently even against our will and this lead us to believe that the corporeal or extended tings exist.
Consequently, establishing the knowledge of the self and of God before that of external realities; indeed entails on the contrary that, the attributes which is express by the self could not be exercised if there were no existence of some bodies. Hence, Descartes argues and believes his perception of the realness of corporeal; realities. For him, his experiences of them are real because they are integrated by his reason. And as such, he believes that he is neither dreaming nor deceived, for he subjects his experience of corporeal things to critical reasoning, for he says, ‘’and I need not doubt the reality of things at all (self, God, corporeal realities). In such things I am no wise deceived God is no deceiver’’ it points to the fact that, I am not deceived in this like the perceptions of the self, God and external realities
Finally, with this assessment thus far, Descartes fells that he has indeed affirmed and reconstructed our knowledge system. But is this actually true? Has he sufficiently done justice to the connectivity or relationship problem regarding the cogito, God and the external world?

We have expose Descartes’ cogtio as response to the challenge to scepticism. Descartes observes that skepticism is an ideological impetus that sees to the growth and development of knowledge (epistemology). He nevertheless, notifies us that scepticism is dangerous if left unchecked. Wit this, he sets out to surmount the trend once and for all by providing through his universal methodic doubt conclusive indubitable foundation. That is, the cogito through which he restores a pride of place to knowledge and epistemology.
However, Descartes effort to affirm knowledge possibility is an attempt to validate epistemology against the unwholesome challenge of skepticism. And as such, the methodic doubt as a theory of justification shows epistemological efforts to ground knowledge on a credible foundation which no sceptical tendencies can dismantle. As we have seen thus far, he establishes a firm foundation of knowledge, a truth that cannot be downplayed by any sceptical tendencies or even his own worries; and in bid to reconstructing the system of knowledge. For he indeed changes the emphasis and stand of philosophical inquiry from metaphysics to epistemology, ushering in a new philosophical era: the modern era where epistemology is regarded as first philosophy.

However, there is no doubt that, the discovery of the cogito is an important moment in Descartes effort to attend to the problem of skepticism as he answers the problem of justification. The cogito indeed demonstrated itself resistance to doubt. But this is not the end because, if Descartes’ project is aimed at affirming knowledge, its possibility and the rehabilitation of the system of knowledge, it means that he must show and justify sufficiently the relationship between the known and the knower, or the subjective self and the external realities or representation and the external world (external realities) connectivity against the backdrop of the assumption that the self is a pure thinking thing, being related to something that is different from it.
Notwithstanding, appraising Descartes contributions, he has added immensely to epistemological effort in affirming knowledge possibility. For his project is a reactionist one to the sceptics. He systematically deconstructs the edifice of knowledge in order to reconstruct it on a clear and distinct foundation. For Cartesian theory of knowledge reminds us that mankind always hunger for knowledge.

In conclusion however, having critically exposed the assertion of Descartes and others who have criticised him, him, I hereby submit that: Descartes contribution is of immensely benefit to epistemology because with his epistemic stance, he rescued epistemology from the assassination of skepticism , even though it is provisional. Hence, by this he confidently lays claim to our knowledge. Although, there are attacks and inadequacies in Descartes’ position but even in the midst of all attack and inadequacies, the position is still solid enough to be used as a solid foundation for epistemology.

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