Opinions on Reality and Existence of Knowledge – Term Paper


Descartes and Hobbes are two major scholars who had contrasting opinions on reality and existence of knowledge. Whereas Descartes adopts an approach of dualism in viewing the existence of knowledge and its truth, Hobbes adopts a rather distinct concept of materialism that is based upon the appeal of the senses. This paper analyzes and compares the different views raised by Descartes and Hobbes and later draws a conclusion on the validity of both from the writers perceptive of knowledge and the truth.

Descartes believes in the probing of the truth of a matter before considering it as true. He asserted that to determine that which is true, one must be able to discard the beliefs which he believed were not true to come up with their true beliefs. This kind of view proposed by Descartes is a classic example of dualism. Dualism is based upon the existence of two components that are vital and make up the human being. These components include a physical matter and a rather non-physical part that is composed of the mind and the soul and is more important to the individual. According to Descartes, the extent to which an individual can doubt his possession of the body and the mind are limited to their thinking. He is certain to doubt the existence of his physical make but does not doubt the existence of his mind. Deservedly, he bases this argument on the fact that the two human entities are not the same.

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The validity of his argument can be proved through a similar reasoning that the mind being a thinking part of the body, then its existence cannot be put to doubt. In fact, probing the minds existence through doubting presents a better platform for determining its existence since it is the mind that reasons and becomes aware of the happenings within and outside an individual. The existence of the physical body, on the other hand, can be highly doubted since not all physical things that happen can be what they seem to be. Descartes argued out this using several examples like the distant concrete pavements that appear like water on hot afternoons to prove how deceptive the senses can be. The senses convince people to believe things that are not true. Descartes, therefore, urges against trusting the senses and any other thoughts and perceptions from the physical realm of the universe.

From Descartes perception, the opposing types of belief on the existence of the mind and the body make them dissimilar according to Leibnizs law of identity. The law disqualifies their similarity since they have distinct characteristics from any perception and moment. This further proves the notion of dualism and can be affirmed by the death of the brain, while the body is still alive and the ability to observe the physical body but not the mind. Also, thoughts about a particular thing are intentional whereas physicality does not represent anything by itself.

An opposing critic by Hobbes was developed to prove the validity of materialism. The critics of is rather based on a good philosophical objection against the one developed by Descartes. According to Hobbes, the society is better understood by analyzing and understanding what it is made of, which translates to understanding matter. He believes that if the mystic mind was the controlling and existing factor, then even the society is also mystic and unfathomable. To support the belief of materialism against dualism, he proposed arguments such as the one by Ockhams razor (“Descartes vs. Hobbes”). According to this perception, the less metaphysical aspect of these two perceptions is more likely to be true; all factors held constant. Therefore materialism is truer since it does not involve the duplication of things as dualism. The theory of evolution of life also further supports this kind of argument. The evolution of humans from simpler forms which have non-thinking parts and are non-dualistic makes the principle of dualism obsolete. Also in the development stages of a human being, the fusion of two reproductive cells is the beginning of the life of any individual. It is a mystery to Hobbes how an individual acquires a soul or mind during their development (Duncan, Stewart). Dualism also cannot explain how the mind is incorporated into the individual during the development stages of the individual.

If Descartes believed in the concept of dualism, then he truly believes in divinity and the existence of God. This is true since he believes in the existence of a non-physical manifestation of events as rather truer than the deceptive physical being. In his Principles of Philosophy, Descartes strives to prove and explain the existence of God as the direct factor of influence of clear and distinct human perceptions. He cites the perfection in God and rules out the possibility of any kind of challenge against tis by a deceiver. In his ontological description of God, he states that God is perfect; and it is more perfect to be an existing being than otherwise; and as a result of this argument God does exist. Another argument put forward by Descartes to affirm the existence of God is the one that is based upon two distinct types of reality; the formal and informal realities. He argues that, everyone has an idea of the existence of God as an infinite being.

Hobbes, on the other hand, does not support this claim of the existences of anything other than the observable being and senses. He borrows upon the Ockhams razor belief that justifies the existence of lesser metaphysical beings rather than the complex ones. At one point of his discussion, Hobbes ruled out the prospect of religion and theology having a place in matters of philosophy. He rather refers to God as incomprehensible and unestablished among the beliefs of most cultural and societal organizations. With reference to his publication called Leviathan most people have referred to Hobbes as an atheist. This is drawn from his referral to most of the things considered divine as delusional and awkward. In this account Hobbes sees God as part of the larger earth and associates religion as part of a highly superstitious movement that not even its followers have a proper understanding about it. Other views that affirm Hobbes non-belief in the existence of God include the refutation of martyrdom and the referral of Leviathan as the supreme authority (Sparknotes: Principles Of Philosophy: I.1327:God’s Existence”).

An analysis of the philosophical explanations by both Descartes and Hobbes gives an insight of the truth about knowledge and truth. Descartes arguments appear more sensible and appealing to the contemporary knowledge we have come to gain. There is always more to the physical senses and the observable and that is very essential to the existence of the human race. The dualism nature is an important aspect of the human life and contributes towards several mental, physical and spiritual manifestations in an individuals life.

From the above analysis, it eventually comes out that if materialism is false, then dualism is also false and vice versa. None of them are scientifically credible. The concept of dualism as advanced by Descartes is defiant of what is scientifically proven; that is the validity of observation. No evidence is given to support the concept of non-physicality of the human nature as stated by Descartes. It is mystic why one can trust their mind yet fail to trust their senses since they are subject to deception. Furthermore, it has been proven that even through the utmost level of mental reasoning people still make mistakes, unlike the infallibility nature of the mind explained by Descartes. Materialism, as advanced by Hobbes, is also prone fallibility since it cannot validate the non-existence of the soul and mind. Criticism of both of the beliefs cannot be taken in as truth. A better philosophy that leaves out the limitation of each argument and combines their strong points of reason is therefore recommended.

Cited Works

Sparknotes: Principles Of Philosophy: I.1327:God’s Existence”. Sparknotes.Com, 2016

Duncan, Stewart. “Thomas Hobbes”. Plato.Stanford.Edu, 2016

“Descartes Vs. Hobbes”. Donamajicshow, 2016