Rene Descartes’ Concept of Knowledge

“Knowledge is conviction based on a reason so strong that it can never be shaken by any stronger reason” (Descartes, 2004, 1640 letter, vol. 3, pp. 64 – 65).

Discussing the conception of knowledge, established by Rene Descartes, in the terms of metaphysics and epistemology, it can be stated that this conception might be regarded a key one in philosophy. More over, it should be pointed out that the conception of knowledge, actually, comes under the heading of one of the philosophy’s divisions – epistemology.

Significantly, Descartes gives definition to knowledge using the index of doubt. In his works, Descartes analyses and relates such terns as knowledge, called ‘scientia’, and conviction, called ‘persuasion’. In order to answer the question, if Rene Descartes succeeded in his quest for firmer knowledge, and give a critical response to the experiment, it is necessary to refer to his debates in Meditations, for example, those ones that discuss the issues of: the source of intellectual error, the Ontological Argument for the existence of God, the reconstitution of Descartes’ knowledge of the ‘outside’, material world.

Descartes perceives doubt as the opposite issue to certainty. As one’s certainty rises, one’s doubt diminishes. And, analogously, as ones doubt rises, one’s certainty diminishes. The usage of doubt in the knowledge conception differ Descartes form his predecessors, thus, such conception can be regarded as an epistemological innovation in the medieval period philosophy.

Descartes regards the phenomenon of the certainty, also called ‘indubitability’, as an inconceivable feeling that has certainly epistemic character, and a sort of rational and intelligent insight. While one is experiencing the certainty, one’s sensation is leaded by “a great light in the intellect” (Descartes, 2004, Med. 4, vol. 7, p. 59).

Following this raises the question, if the truth is a requirement of the knowledge concept established by Descartes in the search of perfect certainty. This philosopher is really concerned about the truth, describing a “rule for establishing the truth” (Descartes, 2004, Med. 5, vol. 7, p. 70, passim). Thus, it might be stated that Descartes undertakes knowledge as the form of an advancing truth.

Descartes argues that some things that might be viewed by someone a truth may appear to God and angels as a false. This assumption might be proved by Descartes’ reflections: “Why should this alleged absolute falsity disturb us, since we neither believe in it nor have even the smallest suspicion of it?” (Descartes, 2004, Replies 2, vol. 7, pp. 144 – 145)

While speaking about Descartes’ definition knowledge in terms of undisputable conviction, it is important to note that he seeks a solution in order not to be in error. The philosopher suggests that the knowledge analysis is not the meter of truth, but it is the meter of absolute truth, where this term is used as certain coherence element.

Proving the existence of the external material world and evaluating its significance, Descartes states that from “the very fact that God is not a deceiver” there is an obvious “consequent impossibility of there being any falsity in my opinions which cannot be corrected by some other faculty supplied by God” (Med. 6, AT 7:80). Here might be drawn a line between the problem of the external material world and people’s dreaming.

As a conclusion, it might be said that the Descartes’ knowledge conception is recognized and accepted among young scholars as well as it had been accepted in previous centuries. Descartes did not succeed in his quest for firmer knowledge as such knowledge can not exist in the human world because it demands, at least, undisputable and strong direct conviction.


Tannery A., Tenney Ch., Tenney P. M. (eds.). ( 2004).The Oeuvre of Rene Descartes. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

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