Associate Professor of Philosophy Russell Marcus recently presented an invited talk titled “Embracing the Cartesian Circle” at Hofstra University.
Marcus said that beginning with Antoine Arnauld in the Fourth Set of Objections to Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy, philosophers have accused Descartes of arguing in a vicious circle.
He said they accuse Descartes of relying on “his criterion of clear and distinct perception to secure his causal argument for the existence of God in the Third Meditation against the strongest skeptical hypotheses,” but then “securing the criterion of clear and distinct perception by relying on the existence of a perfectly benevolent deity.”
In his talk, Marcus argued that philosophers tend to misread Meditations on First Philosophy as an argument using skeptical hypotheses as premises. He said a more appropriate and textually based reading of the Meditations shows that Descartes uses the doubts mainly as a device for sorting beliefs, grounding his central claim that pure reason is more secure than sense experience.
Marcus said that Descartes’ project is not intended as an argument against skepticism and the doubts are not skeptical hypotheses, but rather that the circle identified by Arnauld is virtuous, not vicious.