Descartes’ dream argument

Descartes’ dream argument




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Descartes’ dream argument

There has always been concern and argument if indeed the dream argument as advanced by Descartes poses problems to the understanding of the external exisitnce.In the Meditations one is made to doubt the external existence that we have come to know based on our sensory beliefs(Klein,2014).

Descartes notes that our sensory experiences can be misleading and they are not always reliable. He is skeptical about overlying on the sensory-based knowledge of the world around him. For instance even the mere action of sitting by the fireside holding a piece of paper in his hand may just a dream not something that is actually happening.

The pinch test is one of the most reliable tests you can do to determine whether you are dreaming or you are still awake. One can pinch and squeeze his nose making breathing impossible then at the same time attempt to breath trough the blocked nostril. According to Descartes if I am pinching my nose there is no ground to believe that I am not pinching while on the other hand If I were now dreaming that I am pinching my nose then there are grounds to believe that because in dreams it is possible to have the your nose pinched and struggle to breathe while in fact you are not pinching your nose at all. You cannot know that you are pinching your nose because you cannot know that you are not dreaming of pinching your nose (Newman, 2010)

There are those who have taken the pinch test seriously and they have reported of feeling pain in their dreams because of pinching even though in actual sense they are not feeling any pain. One may decide that they are feeling pain from an actual pinch but imagine that they are dreaming and not feeling any actual pain in the real sense of pain and in such a case the dreams can be said to be unreliable.

Descartes would not agree with the reliability of the pinch test because he says that one cannot be so sure whether they are dreaming or awake. He insinuates that perhaps everything is a dream and it is very hard for someone to say and distinguish between the dreaming and the waking experiences thus the pinch test isn’t an accurate rendering of the two experiences.

We can be in a dream and dream that we wake up though we don’t or be awake and think we are even though we are not and we dream and thus our understanding of the two experiences isn’t so good for anyone to claim that they can use the pinch test to prove their waking and dreaming experience (Chappell, 2013)

I completely agree with the reasoning as it has been presented here because the difference between dreaming and waking has not be well developed. The experiences that one may have while awake are the same one that you may have while fast asleep in bed. And there is no reason to believe that pinching yourself and feeling pain is limited to when one is awake. For instance, in some dreams you might feel the pain and in some dream there is no pain but one acts as if they are in real pain and due to these conflicting feelings that are in dreams and there is no enough justification to take the pinching test seriously.

Another reason that I agree with Descartes is that pain seems to be exaggerated in dreams than it actually is in real life. The pain of pinching oneself of being pricked is intense and heightened and when you wake up it might continue for no apparent reason.


Chappell, T., (2013) Plato on knowledge in the Theaetetus’, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013 Edition),E.N.Zalta

Klein, P., 2014, “Skepticism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2014 Edition), E.N

Newman, L., 2010, “Descartes’ Epistemology”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), E.N. Zalta (ed.)

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