Explain what methodological doubt is and how Descartes employs it for his Meditations.

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Descartes argues that systematic doubt is the most reliable method for getting at the truth. In attempting to understand the world around us and everything in it, Descartes holds that we must clear away all our preconceptions and assumptions, none of which can give us the kind of indubitable knowledge...

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Descartes argues that systematic doubt is the most reliable method for getting at the truth. In attempting to understand the world around us and everything in it, Descartes holds that we must clear away all our preconceptions and assumptions, none of which can give us the kind of indubitable knowledge that we need.

Ironically, this itself is an assumption. It assumes that knowledge needs to be indubitable, which is by no means axiomatic. Successive generations of critics have argued, against Descartes, that knowledge doesn't have to be absolute, that we can get along just fine with a limited understanding based on what is probable, rather than what is certain.

In any case, Descartes argues that if we systematically doubt everything our senses tell us, we will be left with the certain knowledge that we exist. Everything else can be doubted, but not our existence—because, in order to doubt, there needs to be someone doing the doubting. So, according to Descartes, we can reasonably conclude that we exist.

He further strengthens his position by positing a thought experiment. Just imagine that an evil demon comes up to you and tries to trick you into believing that you don't exist. We know for sure that the demon is lying, argues Descartes, because in order to trick someone, that someone needs to exist. In other words, you cannot trick someone if that someone is non-existent. Systematic doubt, then, has a limit, and that limit is the self.

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