hoaxes of dreams


Popularly known as the father of modern philosophy, René Descartes won that title ostensibly by rejecting traditional modes of intellectual inquiry largely associated with commentary on prior texts, and replacing them with the first attempt at a kind of radical phenomenology. The drama of this attempt is conveyed autobiographically in the first of his six Meditations, in which he describes the strenuous process of sloughing off received ideas and subjecting everything he thinks he knows to doubt. He finds it tough going, and repeatedly realizes that he has fallen back on some “long standing opinions” that “take advantage of his credulity.” His last ditch effort to subject all possible knowledge to doubt comes in the form of a figure he calls an evil genius or demon, in Latin a genius malignus, “supremely powerful and clever, who has directed his entire effort at deceiving me. I will regard the heavens, the air, the earth, colors, shapes, sounds, and all external things as nothing but the bedeviling hoaxes of my dreams, with which he lays snares for my credulity.”

more from William Egginton at Berfrois here.