Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

Volume 57, Issue 4, December 1997

José Luis Bermúdez
Pages 743-772

Scepticism and Science in Descartes

Recent Descartes scholarship has revised the traditional view of the Cartesian project as one of strictly deductive rationalism. This revision has particularly stressed the role of science in Descartes’ thought. The revisionist conception of Descartes also downplays the significance of the sceptical arguments offered in the First Meditation, seeing them as tools for ‘turning the mind away from the senses’ in the interest of Cartesian science, rather than as reflecting genuinely epistemological concerns. This paper takes issue with this aspect of the revisionist reading of Descartes. It argues that seeing scepticism as critically important for Descartes is independent of interpreting him as a canonical rationalist. In fact, it is precisely Descartes’ scientific thought and practice which make scepticism such a problem for him.