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Descartes How does Descartes try to extricate himself from the sceptical doubts that he has raised Does he succeed by Tom Nuttall All page references and quotations from the Meditations are taken from the 1995 Everyman edition In the Meditations Descartes embarks upon what Bernard Williams has called the project of Pure Enquiry to discover certain indubitable foundations for knowledge By subjecting everything to doubt Descartes hoped to discover whatever was immune to it In order to best understand how and why Descartes builds his epistemological system up from his foundations in the way that he does it is helpful to gain an understanding of the intellectual background of the 17th century that provided the motivation for his work We can discern three distinct influences on Descartes three conflicting world-views that fought for prominence in his day The first was what remained of the mediaeval scholastic philosophy largely based on Aristotelian science and Christian theology Descartes had been taught according to this outlook during his time at the Jesuit college La Flech and it had an important influence on his work as we shall see later The second was the scepticism that had made a sudden impact on the intellectual world mainly as a reaction to the scholastic outlook This scepticism was strongly influenced by the work of the Pyrrhonians as handed down from antiquity by Sextus Empiricus which claimed that as there is never a reason to believe p that is better than a reason not to believe p we should forget about trying to discover the nature of reality and live by appearance alone This attitude was best exemplified in the work of Michel de Montaigne who mockingly dismissed the attempts of
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