Template:Merge Methodic doubt ("Hyperbolic doubt") is a systematic process of being skeptical about (or doubting) the truth of one's beliefs, which has become a characteristic method in philosophy. This method of doubt was largely popularized in the field of philosophy by René Descartes (1596-1650), who sought to doubt the truth of all his beliefs in order to determine which beliefs he could be certain were true. It has been suggestsed that Descartes' method may show the influence of the work of Al-Ghazali (Algazel), whose method of doubting shares many similarities with Descartes' method.[1][2]

Cartesian originEdit

Descartes' method (broken into four "scientific" steps including a. accepting only information you know to be true b. breaking down these truths into smaller units c. solving the simple problems first d. making complete lists of further problems) is also known as hyperbolic doubt or having the tendency to doubt, since it is an extreme or exaggerated form of doubt.[3] (Knowledge in the Cartesian sense means to know something beyond not merely all reasonable, but all possible, doubt.) In his Meditations on First Philosophy (1641), Descartes resolved to systematically doubt that any of his beliefs were true, in order to build, from the ground up, a belief system consisting of only certainly true beliefs. Consider Descartes' opening lines of the Meditations:

Several years have now elapsed since I first became aware that I had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions for true, and that consequently what I afterward based on such principles was highly doubtful; and from that time I was convinced of the necessity of undertaking once in my life to rid myself of all the opinions I had adopted, and of commencing anew the work of building from the foundation...

René Descartes , Meditation I, 1641

In Meditation I, Descartes stated that if one were mad, even briefly, the insanity might have driven man into believing that what we thought was true could be merely our minds deceiving us. He also stated that there could be a 'some malicious, powerful, cunning demon' that had conceived us, preventing us from judging correctly.

Descartes argued that all his senses were lying and since your senses can easily fool you, his idea of an infinitely powerful being must be true as that idea could have only been put there by an infinitely powerful being which would have no reason to be deceitful to him.

However, while methodic doubt has a nature, one need not hold that knowledge is impossible in order to apply the method of doubt. Indeed, Descartes' attempt to apply the method of doubt to the existence of himself spawned the proof of his famous saying, "Cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am). That is, Descartes tried to doubt his own existence, but found that even his doubting showed that he existed, since he could not doubt if he did not exist.


  1. Najm, Sami M. (July-October 1966), "The Place and Function of Doubt in the Philosophies of Descartes and Al-Ghazali", Philosophy East and West 16 (3-4): 133–41 
  2. George Henry Lewes, The Biographical History of Philosophy from Its Origin in Greece Down to the Present Day Part Two, New York: D. Appleton and Company, p. 863
  3. Burnham & Fieser (2006), §2c.

References and further readingEdit

See alsoEdit


de:Methodischer Zweifel es:Duda metódica he:ספקנות מתודולוגית

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