The Problem of the Incoherent Skeptical Hypotheses

O.K. Bouwsma, a twentieth century philosopher, reflecting on Descartes' method of doubt, decided that Descartes made a mistake in taking seriously either the hypothesis that one might be dreaming, or the hypothesis that one might be deceived by an evil demon. Bouwsma holds that neither of these hypotheses is coherent. In effect, if we assume that they are true, there is no way to distinguish appearance and reality, and so the appearance in fact is real. Descartes clearly believes that these hypotheses are coherent. So, who has got it right, Descartes or Bouwsma?

To work on this problem you need to read, one or both of the papers in which Bouwsma makes these claims. You can find "Descartes' Evil Genius" in Sesonske and Fleming, ed. Meta-Meditations, Wadsworth Publishing Co., Belmont, CA. 1967. Bouwsma's paper on the dream hypothesis "Descartes' Dkepticism of the Senses"In writing the paper you will have to summarize both Descartes' account of the skeptical hypothesis you are considering (one or both) and Bouwsma's argument against it. Then you get to the hard part (which should represent the bulk of the paper), coming up with a strategy and arguments to show either that Descartes' skeptical hypotheses are coherent or that they are not.

For an example of a paper on this topic, see Christopher Kaltwasser In Defence of Descartes' Malin Genie. While quite good, this paper is definitely not the last word on this subject.