Wednesday, May 16, 2012


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Philosophy 101 -- week VI outline

I. A note about ideas

Descartes thinks that some things can be thought only very abstractly -- like love, justice, God, truth, etc. These just happen to be the subject matter of philosophy.

Descartes also thinks that human beings hate thinking abstractly. Instead, they are inclined to think of things by means of picture-ideas. For example, to think of love, we might just think of a heart. Or, to think of God, we might just think of a powerful bearded guy on a cloud.

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PROBLEM. We may think that we are thinking of love when we think of a heart, but what are we really thinking? We are thinking of a heart. Same thing with God -- if all we are thinking of is a bearded guy on a cloud, then our idea is not of God, its of a bearded guy on a cloud.

One of Descartes aims in the Meditations is to prove some results about abstract philosophical matters -- esp. the soul and God. But, he thinks that we are inclined to think of these things by means of picture-ideas; that is, we are not thinking of the soul or God at all. Before Descartes offers his proofs about the soul and God, he has to fix up our ideas. If he doesnt, then when we consider his proofs, we will be thinking of what we take to be the soul and God; that is, we wont be thinking of the soul or God at all. To get us to see that God exists, etc., Descartes has to make sure that we have an idea that really is of God.

In the First Meditation, Descartes gets us to doubt our beliefs so that we can arrive at some beliefs that are indubitable. This is one of his aims. But he is also trying to get us to get into the habit of thinking abstractly. All of the First Meditation doubts lead us to this -- to thinking abstractly in the Second Meditation.

II. Beliefs sometimes rest on other beliefs.

Descartes notes early in the First Meditation that when he was a child he believed things that later turned out to be false. He also notes that any beliefs that he subsequently based on these beliefs would be on shaky ground. He concludes that it would be of value to check out the beliefs on which his other beliefs rest to make sure that these first beliefs are stable.

He doesnt want to rest his beliefs even on beliefs he trusts a lot, because these might be false as well. They might be things that he trusts but that are based on a source that was not reliable. To make sure that he rests his beliefs on things he can be completely sure of, he tries to isolate beliefs that are absolutely indubitable.

He will doubt his beliefs as much as possible. Any that remain standing are indubitable and are the ones from which hell build back up.

He wont doubt his beliefs individually -- he has too many of them, and this would take forever -- so hell lump them into classes.

first, beliefs based on the senses. if these beliefs prove to be doubtable, then we cant use them in our belief-foundation.

second, beliefs that are not based on the senses. if these beliefs are indubitable, then we can use them to build back up. if these beliefs are doubtable, then we have to look elsewhere for a belief that is indubitable, or else just admit that nothing can be known for certain.

III. The argument from sensory deception -- the senses sometimes deceive us.

IV. The dream argument

how is this an advance on the first argument?

what is it about the cause of a perception that makes us unable to be sure that it resembles the perception?

V. The Painter Analogy

what are the simples that survive the dream argument?

VI. Defective Nature Doubt

the grand-daddy of doubts -- if my mind is defective, how can I be sure about anything?

maybe God made me with a defective mind, or maybe I just evolved...

remembering all of this abstract argumentation is difficult -- thinking of the Evil Demon helps us.

Defective Nature Doubt is indirect.

take anything that our mind is sure is true -- like that there are simples that give rise to our perceptions, or that +=5, etc. -- and we still might be wrong about it. if our mind tells us its true, we cannot doubt it while thinking about it, but we can doubt it indirectly by thinking instead about our mind -- thinking that maybe our mind is wrong even about things that are evident to it.

VII. The structure of the First Meditation

Descartes thinks we should examine our beliefs and make sure that they rest on a foundation about which we can be certain. He offers a number of skeptical arguments to get us to admit that none of the beliefs that we thought were indubitable really are indubitable. The only belief that is is I think, I am.

Descartes wants to get us to see that the only belief that is absolutely indubitable is I think, I am. He start in the First Meditation. To get us to see that all of the rest of our beliefs are doubtable, he offers arguments to get us to question these beliefs. First, he offers the argument re sensory deception. When this isnt strong enough to get us to doubt our beliefs about what is right in front of us, he offers the dream argument. When the dream argument isnt strong enough to get us to doubt the rest of our beliefs -- our belief that there must be some physical reality out there making us have perceptions, and also all beliefs that arent based on our senses -- Descartes offers defective nature doubt. With this he convinces us that the only thing that is truly indubitable is I think, I am (in the Second Meditation). Hell build back up from this, and try to prove from it that God exists.

But Descartes is doing something else also. He thinks that philosophy is about abstract things like justice, goodness, love, God, and truth. He also thinks that most people dislike thinking abstractly and are in the habit of thinking by means of picture-ideas. A problem is that if we only think by means of picture-ideas, we cannot think of abstract things like justice, love, God, etc. So, to get us to the point where we can even think about these things, Descartes has to get us to start thinking abstractly. All of the skeptical arguments of the First Meditation work to this end -- they make us isolate the abstract thought I think, I am. We will use this as a model for thinking about other abstract things in the First Meditation.

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