The kind of certainty Descartes is searching for

In his quest for certain foundations for knowledge, Descartes tries to doubt everything that is not entirely certain. By “certain” he means something very strong — not a psychological guarantee but a logical one. Psychologically, I am totally convinced right now that I am typing a discussion question on my computer. Try as I might, I can’t really doubt it. But that’s not good enough for the kind of logical certainty Descartes wants. I might be dreaming, I might be hallucinating, I might be insane, I might be in the Matrix (for those who have seen that movie — which was inspired by Descartes’ philosophy). Say something about the kind of certainty Descartes is searching for and why he is searching for it.

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Hume argued that all we know about cause and effect is that one thing, the cause, is always followed by another thing, the effect, in our experience. So we develop a “habit of expecting” the effect whenever we experience the cause. However, if you think long and hard about it, Hume’s claim is unsettling and a little frightening. Our knowledge of cause and effect is not good enough to establish any real knowledge about a relationship between cause and effect. The philosopher, Bertrand Russell, illustrated Hume’s point with an example about a chicken. In a chicken’s experience, the approach of the farmer may be followed by the chicken being fed for 99 days in a row, and so the chicken comes to believe that the approach of the farmer means that it is about to get fed. But on the 100th day, the farmer may be coming not to feed the chicken but, instead, because he wants fried chicken for dinner tonight. We treat past experience of cause and effect as evidence about the future, but such evidence doesn’t really amount to chickensh^%t according to Hume. Discuss.

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Most believers and disbelievers in God agree that God is supposed to be an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good being who created, sustains, and continues to care about the world and everything in it, including us. Descartes argued that we can know through pure reason that God exists. He argued that our understanding of the concept of God could only have come from God, and without knowledge of God, no other knowledge would be possible for us. Hume argued that we can know through experience that God doesn’t exist. Through experience, we witness many things that are not consistent with the concept of God, such as genocides and children dying from cancer. An all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good being could and would prevent such senseless tragedies. Possibly God has reasons we don’t understand for permitting these tragedies to happen, but we don’t have any good evidence for that, and so we don’t have any justification for believing it. What do you think: can we have good evidence of some kind for or against the existence of God?