Descartes Dream Argument Essay Template

Descartes' Dream Argument Essay

Descartes' Dream Argument

Question everything. Descartes would like his audience to do exactly this when beginning his Meditations on First Philosophy. Urging the reader to do this, Descartes introduces an argument in "Meditation One: Concerning Those Things That Can Be Called into Doubt" regarding dreams vs. reality. Descartes argument concerning dreams in "Meditation One" seems to be correct. In this paper, I will first explain why Descartes presents the dream argument and the reasoning for placing it at the beginning of his Meditations, next I will explain the dream argument itself, and lastly, I will illustrate why Descartes' argument is true.

A question Descartes is determined to answer in his Meditations on First Philosophy is how one can know which beliefs he or she may hold are actually true. In an attempt to begin to answer this inquiry, Descartes ventures to get rid of all of his beliefs and start over with only certain beliefs. To do this, Descartes will perform what he calls "methodical doubt" which is an organized and planned way of finding reasons to question one's beliefs. Descartes does this by attempting to attack the foundational beliefs that all of his beliefs rely on: his senses.

Descartes calls sensory perceptions into question so that his audience will be free from sensory influence. Once his audience is in the right mind-state, Descartes believes they will be able to understand what he has to say more easily. In an effort to make his reader question his or her senses, Descartes brings up dreams. He reflects upon dreams because of this: it is possible for one to figure out that he or she is dreaming, but some dreams are so realistic that the dreamer actually believes it is reality. So, if these "overly realistic dreams" exist and one can truly believe that he or she is feeling, tasting, smelling, seeing, or hearing something when they are actually at rest and sleeping, how can one ever really know if they are awake? How can one know the difference between reality and a dream? Descartes argues that one can not know this difference.

In "Meditation One", Descartes presents his infamous dream argument. Descartes begins his argument by stating that dreams are often mistaken as an actual experience of sensory perception (M1-19). The subsequent conclusion Descartes draws from this is that there are no clear...

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 Here, he considers the possibility that mathematics (or some similar domain of knowledge) could be left untouched by his dreaming argument.

Suppose then that I am dreaming—it isn’t true that I, with my eyes open, am moving my head and stretching out my hands. Suppose, indeed that I don’t even have hands or anybody at all. Still, it has to be admitted that the visions that come in sleep are like paintings: they must have been made as copies of real things; so at least these general kinds of things— eyes, head, hands and the body as a whole—must be real and not imaginary.


For even when painters try to depict sirens and satyrs with the most extraordinary bodies, they simply jumble up the limbs of different kinds of real animals, rather than inventing natures that are entirely new. If they do succeed in thinking up something completely fictitious and unreal—not remotely like anything ever seen before—at least the colors used in the picture must be real. Similarly, although these general kinds of things— eyes, head, hands and so on—could be imaginary, there is no denying that certain even simpler and more universal kinds of things are real. These are the elements out of which we make all our mental images of things—the true and also the false ones. These simpler and more universal kinds include body, and extension; the shape of extended things; their quantity, size and number; the places things can be in, the time through which they can last, and so on.


So it seems reasonable to conclude that physics, astronomy, medicine, and all other sciences dealing with things that have complex structures are doubtful; while arithmetic, geometry and other studies of the simplest and most general things—whether they really exist in nature or not—contain something certain and indubitable. For whether I am awake or asleep, two plus three makes five, and a square has only four sides. It seems impossible to suspect that such obvious truths might be false.

God, Belief, and Evil Demons

Descartes focused on the question: under what circumstances are our beliefs justified or rational? Nowadays, there is a whole branch of philosophy devoted to this question called "epistemology." One of his great contributions to this field was to model a philosophical method -- radical skeptical doubt -- that many have thought is the ultimate test you could subject your beliefs to. If you'd like to read the rest of the Meditations, to see whether and how Descartes thinks we can ultimately move beyond skepticism in order to provide our beliefs with a certain rational foundation, you can find a copy of it here.

Created by Paul Blaschko and Meghan Sullivan, 2016

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