Certainty of Faith? Arendt's and Merleau-Pontys Critique ... rooted in the philosophical project of Ren Descartes. ... dramatically in the work of Ren Descartes. ... Descartes’ discoveries in mathematics and

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  • Certainty or Faith?Arendts and Merleau-Pontys Critique ofCartesian Foundationalism

    Julia HonkasaloMasters thesisDepartment of PhilosophyUniversity of HelsinkiFall 2006

  • Tiedekunta/Osasto Fakultet/Sektion FacultyFaculty of Arts

    Laitos Institution DepartmentDepartment of Philosophy

    TekijFrfattare Author

    Honkasalo, Julia, Naheel, NathaliaTyn nimi Arbetets titel TitleCertainty or Faith? Arendts and Merleau-Pontys Critique of Cartesian FoundationalismOppiaine Lromne SubjectTheoretical philosophyTyn laji Arbetets art LevelMasters thesis

    Aika Datum Month and year September 2006

    Sivumr Sidoantal Number of pages98

    Tiivistelm Referat Abstract

    Epistemological foundationalism has for centuries attempted to unify all scientific

    inquiry into the context of one grand science, the first philosophy. One of the most

    important tasks of this tradition has been to ground all knowledge on absolutely

    certain foundations.

    In this masters thesis I ask the following question: To what extent and

    under what conditions is it possible to achieve absolute certainty in the sense of the

    attempts of Cartesian foundationalism? By examining how the 20th century

    philosophers, Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) and

    Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) interpret the epistemological methodology of

    Ren Descartes, I claim that the Cartesian achievement of absolute certainty rests on

    the implicit presupposition of an epistemologically prior form of faith in the world

    and trust (pistis) in other conscious beings. I show that knowledge is possible only

    within the context of a common world that is inhabited by several conscious beings

    that share a common linguistic system. This threefold element is shown to be the

    bedrock condition for any kind of philosophical inquiry.

    The main literature sources for this thesis are The Life of the Mind by

    Hannah Arendt, Le Visible et linvisible by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Meditationes de

    Prima Philosophiae by Ren Descartes and Erfahrung und Urteil by Edmund

    Husserl.Avainsanat Nyckelord KeywordsCertainty, faith, trust, foundationalism, subjectivity, the world, pistis, doxaSilytyspaikka Frvaringstlle Where depositedPhilosophica-library, Siltavuorenpenger 20a, 00014, University of Helsinki, FinlandMuita tietoja vriga uppgifter Additional information

  • Contents

    1. Introduction .............................................................................................................11.1 Framing the research question ..................................................................................11.2 Background: the earlier Arendt reception .................................................................41.3 The structure and outline of the masters thesis..........................................................6

    Part I Certainty in Cartesian and Husserlian foundationalism

    2. Descartes method: from mathesis universalis to methodological doubt .....................................9

    2.1 Historical background: motivations for the search of a new method..........................92.2 The confrontation with Aristotelian mathematics....................................................122.3 Discovering the method of doubt............................................................................182.4 Conclusion to the second chapter............................................................................26

    3. The Husserlian radicalization of the Cartesian method............................273.1 Philosophy as rigorous science ...............................................................................28

    3.2 The conception of authentic intuition and merely symbolic representation in Husserls early philosophy...........................................................303.3 The bracketing of the symbolic realm.....................................................................383.4 Conclusion to the third chapter ...............................................................................43

    Part II Doxa and pistis. Arendt and Merleau-Ponty on the hierarchical order of certainty and faith

    4. Arendts dismantling of Western metaphysics ............................................464.1 Perspectivism and dismantling as theoretical tools..................................................47

    4.2 The problem of grounding knowledge in experience: empiricist foundationalism and the mathematization of nature .............................................52

    4.3 The problem of grounding knowledge in subjectivity: Cartesian foundationalism and the problem of language .........................................564.4 Conclusion to the fourth chapter.............................................................................60

    5. Faith, sense of realness and trust in other people ........................................615.1 Merleau-Pontys conception of perceptual faith .....................................................625.2 Arendt and the sense of realness.............................................................................69

    5.3 Trust in other people the condition for the possibility of meaningful language.........................................755.4 Conclusion to the fifth chapter................................................................................79

    6. Conclusions.............................................................................................................80Bibliography ...............................................................................................................81

  • Each time you write something and you send it out into the world

    and it becomes public, obviously everybody is free to do with it

    what he pleases, and this is as it should be. I do not have any

    quarrel with this. You should not try to hold your hand now on

    whatever may happen to what you have been thinking for yourself.

    You should rather try and learn from what other people do with

    it.

    - Hannah Arendt

  • 1

    1. Introduction

    1.1 Framing the research question

    Epistemological foundationalism has for centuries attempted to unify all scientific

    inquiry into the context of one grand science, the first philosophy1. One of the most

    important tasks of this tradition has been to ground all knowledge on an absolutely

    certain basis. Whether the ideal has been to follow the model of Eucledian geometry and

    find a set of absolutely certain axioms from which all the rest of philosophy could be

    logically deduced, or whether the ideal has been to prove the existence of a supreme

    Being that grants the coherence of an all-explaining system, or to ground a set of

    indubitable beliefs, the key element of the projects has been the same: to guarantee

    absolutely certain foundations for all type of knowledge.

    The rigor of the task has led to a sharp demarcation between philosophical, a

    priori knowledge on one hand and empirical, a posteriori knowledge on the other hand.

    It has also left unresolved the philosophical problem regarding the relationship between

    true, philosophical knowledge and mere belief. This is because epistemological

    foundationalism has generally normatively regarded the strive for certainty as the only

    right path to truth, claiming that mere, non-founded beliefs cannot guarantee the

    coherence and rigor that a rigorously scientific philosophical system needs in order to

    qualify as a science. Partly due to the influence of this tradition, concepts such as trust

    and faith are still regarded as opposites to rational knowledge and as concepts belonging

    to theology, religious studies, social psychology or Christian philosophy rather than to

    epistemology.

    The struggle for epistemological certainty in the era of modern philosophy is

    deeply rooted in the philosophical project of Ren Descartes. Although Descartes is best

    1 Foundationalism is generally defined as a doctrine according to which a set of few basic beliefs arefoundational and non-inferential, whereas all other beliefs have to be inferred or justified by means of someprior forms of beliefs. This type of an epistemic structure originates from Aristotles Analytica Posteriora(Posterior Analytics) and is developed further most dramatically in the work of Ren Descartes.Contemporary foundationalist philosophies are those of for example Bertrand Russel, Roderick M.Chisholm and C. I. Lewis. (Audi, ed. 1995/1999, 275-276, 321-323.) Aristotle calls philosophy Firstphilosophy, meaning that philosophical inquiry must be practiced prior to any other form of scientificinquiry. Aristotles conception of philosophy is most notably emphasized in the philosophy of RenDescartes and Immanuel Kant. Contemporary forms of first philosophy include logical positivism andHusserlian phenomenology.

  • 2

    known for his provocative attempt to refute skepticism, the most important heritage for

    contemporary philosophy is Descartes rigorous epistemological methodology that he

    uses in the fields of metaphysics and natural science. It is the interpretation of Descartes

    methodology as a whole, rather than any specific doctrine - such as the mind-body

    dualism, the equation of space with matter or the discovery of analytic geometry - that

    has heavily affected and influenced various trends within 20th century philosophy. The

    most important and perhaps t