Doubt and Dogma with Descartes

Rosa Li
3 min readNov 22, 2020

Rene Descartes is a 15th centry philosopher famous for saying “I think therefore I am”. He is known to be the first modern philosopher and is famous for his work in rationalism, methodically doubting everything an using reason to arrive at the truth.

Mnay philosophers of his time used the values and beliefs of the church to back up his beliefs but Descartes did not trust anything other than pure logic.

Here are some of my thoughts on his work:

Why is doubt important?

Descartes believed that many of the problems in the world are products of false truths (ie. wars, conflicts, etc.) This makes sense because beliefs are subjective and geographical. Humans acquire beliefs through senses and other people. For example, we know that the sky is blue because our eyes perceive that. This can change, however, if someone who has never seen is sky is repeatedly told the sky is red. In this case, that person will believe the sky is red.

Variation in beliefs can be dependent on geographic location. Although we are now living in the information age and are grounding our beliefs in true facts, a lot of our beliefs still stem from religion. Different geographical regions have different primary religions which leads to different beliefs. For example, the main religion in the Middle East is Islamic and the main religion of China is Budhism. Although there are similarities between the two religions, there are also differences. Therefore, in grounding our beliefs on religion, our perception of the truth will vary.


Dogma are beliefs that people usually hold unquestionably. One example is the belief that killing is bad. Murder is usually regarded as the crime above all other crimes those who committ such a crime will usually undergo the most severe punishment.

But isn’t social suppression worse? For example, someone who is trapped in a life they don’t enjoy but were forced to live may develop stress and depression. Stress can lead to 1) venting to people around you which will damage relationships. 2) make more mistakes leading to more stress. 3) make bad food decisions. 4) Increased sensitivity to situations. 5) Depressions. People in high-stress jobs have shown to be more susceptible to marriage problems, alcoholism, etc. Suppression negatively impacts other people just as muder will. Through relentless doubt, one can determine when beliefs are actually rational, this will lead to better decisions and a better life. (not saying you should kill someone, it was just an example).

A few other unfinished thoughts:

  • For humans to get the knowledge that can change humanity, we need to understand first principles.
  • Although rigorous doubt is extremely valuable, questioning everything is pointless, 95%+ of things in life should not be questioned to such an extent.
  • Can use this to establish ethics of technology -> what is good and what is bad, ie. is planting chips in people’s brain good or bad?