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Cartesian Doubt, Socratic Ignorance and Sartre Existentialism


Descartes, Socrates and Sartre are philosophers whose contributions in philosophy have a great influence on the current society. The three are associated with Cartesian doubt, Socratic ignorance and Sartre’s existentialism respectively. This philosophy paper discusses the similarities and differences between Cartesian doubt and Socratic ignorance. It also describes themes in Sartre’s existentialism including freedom, absurdity, responsibility, and facticity.

Key words: doubt, existentialism, ignorance

Differences and Similarities between Cartesian Doubt and Socratic Ignorance

Cartesian doubt has been associated with the works of Descartes. In this philosophical method, Descartes ignores everything which can be doubted. This is similar to Socrates’ view of ignorance. Socrates started by acknowledging that he is ignorant and does not know anything. He accepted that others knew better than him. He thus began from ignorance position to enable him find the real truth. The two therefore have a number of similarities. First, just like Socrates who accepts that he is ignorant and knows nothing, Descartes started by doubting any kind of truth that he could find in all he had believed in.

He only left out what he could be certain about its truthfulness. Secondly, just like in the case of Socrates, the reason why Descartes began by refusing to agree with any doubtable belief was to enable him separate false believes from those which contain the unquestionable truth. Thirdly, both of the two methodologies, however, present no guarantee that what will be obtained is completely undoubtable or unquestionable truth. Finally, either of the two approaches can also be used as a way of justifying some premises (Palmer, 2013).

Though the two concepts, Socratic ignorance and Cartesian doubt, are similar in a number of ways, they also have various differences. As Socrates doubts the knowledge possessed by individuals while remaining firm in the way in which he rejects anyone pretending to have full knowledge, Cartesian doubt casts doubt on all things and it only ends up possessing absolute knowledge. For example, Descartes realizes that having a universal doubt can make him even doubt that God is true, something he agrees is absurd.

Therefore, unlike Socrates who assumes a complete ignorant position, Cartesian doubt acknowledges the need to distinguish through reasoning, the premises which cannot be doubted, those which originate from God. Cartesian doubt can thus be seen as a mere maieutic kind of instrument meant to help in establishing an acceptable criteria for obtaining the truth (Palmer, 2013).

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Sartre’s Existentialism

According to Soccio (2013), existentialism is a term used to refer to any philosophy that clearly states that most important matters are those that comprise fundamental questions of meaning as well as choice since they have effect in actual existing individual. Sartre’s existentialism has important themes which include freedom, responsibility, absurdity, and facticity. Responsibility is the concept that asserts that each and every individual bears the consequences of his/her own choices. That is, anyone should suffer for the wrong and rejoice for the right decision. Individuals are responsible for determining what they ought to be (Frankl, 2006). Therefore, a man is nothing else other than what he makes himself to be. Since we are responsible for our existence, we are often subjective to choose what we want to be.

Absurdity is used to refer to the fact that life and existence are in actual sense devoid of meaning. The universe would remain meaningless and purposeless if no conscious and rational human beings existed in it. In order to draw meaning and purpose, one must be responsible for expressing the ability to choose goals, set clear objectives, and even formulate ideas among others. On the other hand, freedom of an individual in existentialistic view arises from the fact that an individual is an isolated island of subjectivity in a world that is considered to be subjective. Therefore, individuals have the free will to choose what goes on in the internal nature. Although freedom grants us the opportunity to make our own choices, we must take responsibility for the consequences that arise from our choices (Soccio, 2013).

Finally, facticity refers to all the properties that can be established by a third person about an individual through observation. These may entail natural properties including skin color, weight, height, and social factors such as nationality, physiological properties, and character traits. The freedom of any individual is limited by these facts as they largely define what an individual is (Soccio, 2013).

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