Descartes' Evil Demon Argument
In the First Meditation, Descartes gives us the Evil Demon Hypothesis which serves to give him reason to doubt the existence of everything he perceives and believes. He describes a ‘malicious demon of the utmost power and cunning’ that has the sole purpose of deceiving Descartes (Descartes, 2010: 17). I will argue that his hypothesis has proven to be a strong one because only the cogito provides a way for us to frustrate or trick the evil demon.
The Evil Demon Hypothesis is an important component of the Method of Doubt. Descartes used the Method of Doubt to find what is true by withholding assent from all beliefs that are dubitable. However, if Descartes was to scrutinise everything he believed, he would be left with an …show more content…
However, in the Second Meditation, Descartes reconsiders that standpoint and argues that even if the Evil Demon does exist, there is one thing he can be sure of, the cogito (Lacewing, n.d.).
The cogito is derived from the Latin cogito ergo sum – I think, therefore I am. Descartes had found his one indubitable truth which is that he exists. In his Second Meditation he stated, ‘if I convinced myself of something then I certainly existed’ (Descartes, 18:2010). Descartes doesn’t mean that the ability to think proves one’s existence. Rather it should be interpreted as ‘in order to think, we must be’ (Flage, 1985: 164). Our existence is proved by the present thoughts we have. By thinking I am, I am. He concedes he exists because if he doubts, there must be a thinking mind to do the doubting (SparkNotes Editors, n.d.). He is a thing that thinks so although he cannot be sure of his body’s and external world’s existence, he can be sure of the existence of his mind. Late in the Second Meditation, Descartes addresses the effects the Evil Demon or God have on the cogito argument. He is able to frustrate the deceiver. The Demon cannot deceive something that does not exist. As long as he is he thinks he exists, the Demon cannot alter that belief (Descartes, 2010: 18). His proposition ‘I am’ is self-verifying if thought and incorrigible if asserted. He argues that it can try deceiving him as much as it wants but Descartes felt he could prevent the deceiver from imposing its will