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Descartes Dream Argument

Rene Descartes is a universally known philosopher and the father of meditation. In his attempt to find the clear argument over what is true to believe he created nine meditations on first philosophy. There was a dream argument which he considered to be doubtful. This meditation regarding the dream argument received many objection, replies, and verification from philosophers of that time. To examine Descartes’ dream argument, this paper provides explanation and evaluation of the dream, personal criticism and the views of other philosophers. Furthermore, it pronounces an independent judgment based on the three premises and the evaluation of the dreams.

Summary, Evaluation, and Criticism of the Dream Argument

Descartes said that he had found himself in similar situations in a dream to the ones when he is awake. For instance, he claimed that he was seated by the fire and dressed in his gown and holding a paper in his hand. However, in reality, Descartes mentioned that he was lying on bed awake and undressed. Further, he shook his head and touched his other hand at least to be sure that he was not dreaming but awake. Furthermore, Descartes affirmed that he had been deceived many times while being asleep with similar experiences and so he agreed that he was asleep and not awake. From the experience of his dream Descartes concluded that there are no definite signs to distinguish the state of being asleep and awake (Lau, 2011). This conclusion forms the basis of the discussion.   

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Regarding the process of dreaming, Descartes mentioned two experiences. First, he was certain that he was seated in front of the fire and again he said that he had similar experience seated by the fire in a dream. From the two experiences, he created the following three premises which constituted key points clearly indicating his doubts and concluding that there were no sure signs to separate dream experience from wakefulness (William, 2013). In the premise, Descartes stated that he often experienced perceptions similar to those in his dreams. In the second premise, he claimed that there were no clear distinctions between real signs and delusional experiences. In the third premise, a philosopher might dream and have false perceptions at the same time.  

Regarding the Descartes 1st premise of the dream argument, he seemed to have similar perceptions to the ones he usually had in sensation while he was dreaming. This notion is correct since human sense can be deceptive. To justify his case Descartes presented examples of his own dreams that were deceptive. Touching his own hand deliberately (in a wake experience) he seemed to have the same sensation that he got in the dream experience, and so he claimed to be deceived by his senses many times (Tom, 2011). Further, he explained that one was able to see through deception if only we could be careful and aware that senses can be deceptive. The color of chromatic optical lenses can support the argument of sense deception in an independent personal perspective. The object our eyes see keeps on changing and so we cannot verify the designed color of the lenses without being skeptical of the outcome.

In the 2nd  premise of dream argument, Descartes began by saying that dream experiences were the same as ones people had in real life being awake. Hence, the ideal conditions of observation in waking life may not be distinguishable from the vivid dream experiences. To reply to this premise, we need to understand the phenomena of dreaming so that we talk about what distinguishes a dream from a real experience. Dreams have various dynamics which keep changing taking different forms (Windt & Noreika, 2011).  However, he noted that the dynamics in a dream were representations of what happened in our real life in terms of actions and daily routines of our real experiences. Therefore, whatever we experience in reality it can be simulated later in dreams. However, there are experiences that cannot be replicated in dreams. Then, we can say that when they occur we are awake and in touch with the external environment but not actually in a dream.  

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To object Descartes’ 2nd premise we can say that dreams don’t occur in a defined time and space as a real experience. One cannot tell about the duration of the dream contrary to the experience in reality. Descartes stated he was seated by the fire in front of him in a dream similarly to the situation when he was awake. However, he could not tell about the duration of the action in his dream.

To counter Descartes’ claim on the 2nd premise that there are no definite signs or marks that can distinguish dream experience from wake experience is the principle of coherence. According to Gerrans (2012), dreams have a lot of absurdity, thus, making them lack coherence.  This fact makes it more difficult for people to think critically or logically in a dream than in reality. Furthermore, dreams occur as images as opposed to a wake experience. In dreams, people are made to believe they experience some scenarios produced by our subconsciousness.

Gerrans (2012) states that dreams are primary imaginations, and when one is dreaming he or she is completely engaged in a fictional state of consciousness as if it is the truth. Whatever we experience in dreams is imagining of different scenarios but not real engagement in them. Analytically, Descartes considered the same experience saying that there are no distinguishable signs between dreams and wake experience. Being seated in front of the fire was an imaged experienced in a dream because he woke up to find himself in bed which is different from actually sitting in front of the fire. This was false awakening for him which he perceived to be a real possibility. Therefore, a dream is an illusion while wakefulness is a reality.

Wake experiences can be replicated in dreams with the same subjectivity to a similarity of experience in a reality. Thus, it will be illogical to believe that we are actively involved in a wake experience when we are actually in dream imagined experience. Descartes’ premises on the dream argument could be false. This statement presents a clear point of contradiction between first and second premises. The main message here is that both dream and wake experience cease to be veridical but all are illusory. The conclusion is made regarding the 2nd premise of Descartes that there are no definite signs to distinguish dream experience from wake experience.

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The 3rd premise makes it clear that Descartes made an error in his own reasoning. The premise based on the dream state, so when he was dreaming, all the perception he had about everything could be false. In the dream, he touched himself to believe that he was not actually dreaming. In this premise, the philosopher contradicts his reasoning by negating what he thought previously to be true. The 3rd premise cancels the 1st and the 2nd premises. Conversely, Descartes ought to have thought that whatever perceptions we have they are not illusions but real and true. In case the perceptions occur in a dream, we should understand that they are a representation of a scenario that happened in a reality and now being simulated in a dream.

To conclude, the second premise is an inference from the first premise. The conclusion that Descartes made basing on the both experiences can be refuted by the 3rd argument concluding that all his perceptions are false. He ought to have considered both wake and dream experience as synonymous. Although I agree that the premise upon which Descartes based his argument regarding lack of distinguishable signs to separate wake and dream experience, I find his conclusion very contradictory, and therefore, not reliable. He did not consider both scenarios as synonymous. The presence of the 3rd premise cancels all other previous premises.