Volume 45, 2020
Al-Ghazālī and Descartes on Defeating Skepticism
Commentators have noticed the striking similarities between the skeptical arguments of al-Ghazālī’s Deliverance from Error and Descartes’ Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy. However, commentators agree that their solutions to skepticism are radically different. Al-Ghazālī does not use rational proofs to defeat skepticism; rather, he relies on a supernatural light [nūr] sent by God to rescue him from skepticism. Descartes, on the other hand, relies on the natural light of reason [lumen naturale] to prove the existence of God, mind, and body. In this paper, I argue that Descartes’ solution is closer to al-Ghazālī’s than commentators have allowed. A close reading of the cosmological argument of the Third Meditation reveals that there is also a type of divine intervention employed in the Meditations, which helps Descartes defeat skepticism. This reading may buttress the case made by some that al-Ghazālī influenced Descartes; but more importantly, it requires us to rethink key features of Descartes’ epistemology.