Friday, February 3, 2012

Descartes and Deception

   One primary benefit of a phenomenological or philosophical interpretation is that it tries to see the phenomena that an author is discussing (even implicitly) first hand. The advantage of this is that we can use this as a common starting point for interpretation even when such a starting point has not been provided, and such a starting point is universally available.  However, sometimes it can be quite difficult to catch a glimpse of what an author is encountering, and sometimes direct glimpses of particular concepts are impossible (for example, monads).  But where a glimpse is impossible, one can ultimately trace the concept or idea back into a relation with phenomena.
   Even when the method of a philosopher is apparently straightforward, as is the case in Descartes' Meditations, it is easy to not pay enough attention to the method and what it assumes to be effective. Descartes' manner of doubting presupposes the intelligibility of deception, as well as the importance of the sort of things we may be deceived by; this latter assumption is tentative on our part.  If we consider what the essence of deception is, we find that Descartes' own procedure of looking at the world and doubting is much more complicated than it initially seems. I mean to attempt an overview of some of the current difficulties in my current considerations of Descartes.  By putting it down as a starting point I can hopefully return to it in order to advance.
   Because Descartes is interested in something indubitable, he decides that if he can find any reason that he could doubt something then he will disregard it.  Here we must clarify this procedure on a number of points:  first, a guarding against the characterization of the method as hyperbolic or radical doubt; second, deception itself must be clarified, which will require that we understand the sort of thing that the indubitable is such that we cannot be deceived by it.
   Descartes does not desire to doubt everything, rather he desires the indubitably of some foundational starting point (or if we go by his letter to the faculty of Sorbonne, he means to prove the existence of God in a manner satisfactory to atheists).  To call his method hyperbolic doubt would be to characterize the method by part of its result after the fact.  I suggest that we try to characterize Descartes' inquiry as being cautious, though I will hold off on giving it some specific name.  It may be a better plan when reading and discussing Descartes to emphasize the care that Descartes means to have at the basis of his inquiry rather than the degree to which the results shake the foundations of his former outlook on life.  With this preliminary characterization I will advance to discussing deception in Descartes.
   Characterizing deception will help us to fully disclose the sort of care that Descartes takes in his work.  Put casually, deception supposes that the way things are given to us may not relate to how they are in some un-given form.  I have put this in a very unassuming manner to begin with intentionally as I want to make use of it to point out that there is something given and something not given that are required as either corresponding or not when there is a potential for deception. However, the casual manner of putting it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. I do not want to presume that this un-given thing is to be characterized as a substance, or thing-in-itself, or any other specific thing even though it may be any of these or something else in the case of Descartes.  Something else of note here is that we are not sure if deception is due to our own faculties or to the objects giving themselves in a false way, or through some other means, nor do we know the specific character of what is given.  I mention all of this so we can try to consider the wide area of possibilities available to us in understanding the sort of deception that Descartes is concerned with. It may be only one possible determination of these, or all possible determinations may fit; in each case we would have different ways of characterizing the given and un-given.  As expected, we will now need to try to get a sense of what the indubitable is for Descartes such that he can be deceived by anything else.
   We can perhaps characterize what is indubitable to Descartes with reference to what he finds to be indubitable: that he thinks, he is - the Cogito.  This is not all that Descartes finds to be indubitable, and not even what is most indubitable. (It is quite interesting to consider the option of degrees of indubitably. Why would this be more puzzling than degree of reality or perfection?)  Even though we have some of what Descartes finds to be indubitable, the proper understanding of the ego cogito is still only grasped through a recognition of what has been overcome, namely, deception.  Our interpretation here is in a place where we can co-determine deception and the indubitable.

Guides from Greek Thought:
   The Greek word for 'false' is pseudos (ψεῦδος) which involves dissembling.  Does this suggest that Greek thought also ran in parallel with Descartes' thinking on deception?  (I am considering this in relation to Heidegger's interpretation of Greek thought in his Parmenides.) This may or may not hold, but this comparison may be fruitful.

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