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Notes and Discussions DESCARTES, DREAMING, AND PROFESSOR WILSON In her recent book on Descartes,' Margaret Wilson proposes a new interpretation of the Dreaming Argument (DA), which in her opinion gives a more coherent account of Descartes's use of this argument and of his later refutation of it than do the more traditional interpretations she attributes to Moore-Malcolm-Frankfurt and to Walsh. In this discussion note I argue against her proposal and in favor of those traditional interpretations. The gist of Wilson's interpretation is that Descartes does not reach the intended conclusion of the DA (in her words, "that there is reason to doubt the world is anything like what the senses seem to reveal" [Descartes, p. 18]) via a subconclusion that I cannot be certain I am not dreaming now (Moore-Malcolm -Frankfurt) or that I cannot be certain I am not dreaming all the time (Walsh). Rather he reaches it directly, by pointing out that, since there are no certain marks to distinguish dreaming from waking, I cannot be certain that the present waking experience (or any waking experience) is more veridical than dreams are usually taken to be, that is, I cannot be certain that it is veridical at all. And this in particular means that the DA is not supposed to call into question the fact that I am now awake, and that Descartes should not be expected to refute the argument by providing a criterion to distinguish dreaming from waking and thus proving that the present experience is a waking one. As I understand her, Wilson gives basically four arguments for her interpretation and against the more traditional alternatives. Briefly, the arguments are as follows. I thank Professor Viorica Farkas for her comments on an earlier draft of this paper. ' Descartes(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978). Since my discussion is concerned with Wilson's interpretation of Descartes, and questions of accuracyof translation are especially important in it, I adopt the following policy. I quote an English translation of Descartes only if the translation is by Wilson herself; otherwise, I quote the original (Latin or French, as the case may be). Only in one case do I quote Haldane and Ross's translation (though I followcommon practice in giving references to it), and that is with the explicit purpose of comparing this translation with the original. Also, for the reader's convenience, I supply my own translations of the Latin passages in footnotes. [751 76 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 1. The Moore-Malcolm-Frankfurt interpretation "simply does not lead to the conclusion that... Descartes clearly desires" (Descartes, p. 18). For, as we have seen, Descartes wants to establish "that there is reason to doubt the world is anything like what the senses seem to reveal"; hence "the question... [he] wishes to raise is not whether I can know that this or that sense experience is veridical, but whether I can know with certainty that the senses ever afford us truth at all (apart from the reality of simples)" (ibid.). This objection , considered by Wilson to be the major one against the above interpretation , has no force against Walsh's interpretation, which shows, according to Wilson, that the latter "is a much better reading" than the former (ibid.). 2. Just before formulating the DA, Descartes appears to have no doubt that he is mentally sane, so why should he doubt later that he is awake? The asymmetry that would result if he did constitutes "a minor point of indirect support" for Wilson's reading (Descartes, p. 23). 3. A number of passages from the Meditations, the Discourse, and the Principles seem to indicate that "the question to be raised [by the DA] is not whether... [Descartes] is awake, but rather whether the objects experienced when awake are real" (Descartes, p. 24). The following passage is a fairly typical example: To those [considerations of sensory illusion] I have recently added two other grounds of doubt of the highest generality: the first is that I believed that I never experienced anything while awake that I could not think that I sometimes also experienced in sleep; and since I do not believe that those things which I seem...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 75-85
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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