View Full Version : Descartesí Dream Argument (Can you prove right now that you are not dreaming?)

10-03-2019, 07:15 PM
1. Dreaming in Epistemology

a. Descartesí Dream Argument

Descartes strove for certainty in the beliefs we hold. In his Meditations on First Philosophy he wanted to find out what we can believe with certainty and thereby claim as knowledge. He begins by stating that he is certain of being seated by the fire in front of him. He then dismisses the idea that this belief could be certain because he has been deceived before in dreams where he has similarly been convinced that he was seated by a fire, only to wake and discover that he was only dreaming that he was seated by a fire. How can I know that I am not now dreaming? is the resulting famous question Descartes asked himself. Though Descartes was not the first to ask himself this question (see Zhuangziís eponymous work, Platoís Theaetetus and Aristotleís Metaphysics) he was the first philosopher to doggedly pursue and try to answer the question. In answering the question, due to the sensory deception of dreams, Descartes believes that we cannot trust our senses in waking life (without invoking a benevolent God who would surely not deceive us).

The phenomenon of dreaming is used as key evidence for the sceptical hypothesis that everything we currently believe to be true could be false and generated by a dream. Descartes holds the common-sense view that dreams, which regularly occur in all people, are a sequence of experiences often similar to those we have in waking life (this has come to be labelled as the ďreceived viewĒ of dreaming). A dream makes it feel as though the dreamer is carrying out actions in waking life, for during a dream we do not realize that it is a dream we are experiencing. Descartes claims that the experience of a dream could in principle be indistinguishable from waking life Ė whatever apparent subjective differences there are between waking life and dreaming, they are insufficient differences to gain certainty that I am not now dreaming. Descartes is left unsure that the objects in front of him are real Ė whether he is dreaming of their existence or whether they really are there. Dreaming was the first source for motivating Descartesí method of doubt which came to threaten perceptual and introspective knowledge. In this method, he would use any means to subject a statement or allegedly true belief to the most critical scrutiny.

Descartesí dream argument began with the claim that dreams and waking life can have the same content. There is, Descartes alleges, a sufficient similarity between the two experiences for dreamers to be routinely deceived into believing that they are having waking experiences while we are actually asleep and dreaming. The dream argument has similarities to his later evil demon argument. According to this later argument, I cannot be sure anything I believe for I may just be being deceived by a malevolent demon. Both arguments have the same structure: nothing can rule out my being duped into believing I am having experience X, when I am really in state Y, hence I cannot have knowledge Z, about my current state. Even if the individuals happen to be right in their belief that they are not being deceived by an evil demon and even if individuals really are having a waking life experience, they are left unable to distinguish reality from their dream experiences in order to gain certainty in their belief that they are not now dreaming.

10-03-2019, 09:49 PM
Seems like a paradox to me. Specifically create a scenario that cannot be proven and try to prove something based on the un-provability. Similar to having god create a rock so large he can't lift it or wondering when a mathematical limit that is approaching 1 will reach 2. It seems like an intellectual dead-end that can just keep you spinning for a long time.

10-04-2019, 12:15 AM
Thatís easy. I can never can do more than very basic math while Iím dreaming and get the right answer

I remember this one dream where I was using a calculator and it would never work right.

10-04-2019, 03:23 AM
A dream makes it feel as though the dreamer is carrying out actions in waking life, for during a dream we do not realize that it is a dream we are experiencing.

In my experience, this statement isnít true. Iíve had dreams where I knew I was dreaming, while I was having the dream. Iíve also had dreams where I knew I was dreaming and even tried to fashion the dream, so that it would go in the direction I wanted it to go. With mixed success.

Beyond that, Iíll leave Descartes to his dreams.