Re: Descartes and the Mind

From: Harrison, Richard (
Date: Fri Oct 20 1995 - 13:03:53 BST

Foundations - Seminar 1

> Can I be certain that the "laws" of science are true?..... Could we be
> certain they were true? Descartes noticed that one could not, because
> it is always possible that in the next case they will fail. Scientific
> laws are only PROBABLE; they are not certain. All the evidence seems to
> support them, but evidence cannot PROVE them. It is not
> self-contradictory that future evidence should fail to support them.

This doesn't negate the value of science as although laws such as the
law of gravity are not necessarily going to apply tomorrow (or
whenever) we can be reasonably confident enough to make it worth
studying. The same is true of 'other minds'. However, I realise this
is not the point of this debate which suggests there is something
irredeemably different about 'mindstuff' as opposed to matter.

> Descartes could not doubt that he was doubting, so he could be certain
> that "doubting" was going on (whatever "doubting" might actually be).

OK, but the Cogito doesn't seem to imply that doubting (or
experience) is different to all the doubtable phenomenon, merely that
we cannot be sure it isn't. Is it not a little self-centred of humans
to consider themselves to be different from everything else in the

> You have a toothache. Part of that experience is that you seem
> to have a tooth, one that hurts. But you could be wrong.

Yes, our experience of the hurting tooth could be the same if we were
a 'brain in a vat' with sensory input being controlled by some
outside means. All we have to go on is our past experience,
which we have already discarded as open to doubt. There doesn't appear
to be a way of bringing everything else back without introducing
doubt. Maybe the only way to continue (from our position in the
17th century...) is to accept the probable as our area of study and
leave the doubting and metaphysics to the philosophers. Richard

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