Initiator of Modern Thought
, also known as Renatus Cartesius was born near Tours on 31 march 1596 a son to a noble and moderatley wealthy family. He was educated by Jesuits and showed early signs of attachments to intellectual pursuits; mathematics in particular. He studied at the universities of Franeker and Leiden, and taught a few years at the univerity of Utrecht.
On leaving school Descartes lived a few years in Paris, in a way appropriate to his rank and income. As he becamoe more and more engrossed in his studies he found the social life so distracting that he took a job in the Bavarian army, thus ensuring leisure and quiet for his 'meditations'. This was at the beginning of the thirty year war.
In 1633 Descartes abandoned his plans to publish 'Treatise on the World
' due to the condemnation of Galileo
by the roman catholic church. In 1643 his work was condemned by the univesity of Utrecht.
Descartes died on 11th of February 1650 in Stockholm, Sweden. He had been invited there to teach the queen Christina of Sweden. Some say that he died due to pneumona because he was fond of working in bed untill noon. The sudden shock of having to get up at 5 a.m. due to Christina's demands may have been too much for him.
In 1663 the Pope placed Descartes' works on the 'Index of Prohibited Books'.
When he was 23, Descartes wrote his Discourse on Method, expressing his reflections on 'the foundations of a wonderfull science'. This was not a body of knowledge, but a way of investigating things. The rules of which were:
The first was to accept nothing as true which I did not clearly recognize to be so: that is to say, carefully to avoid precipitation and prjudice in judgements, and to accept in them nothing more than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly that I could have no occasion to doubt it.
The second was to devide up each of the difficulties which I examined into as many parts as possible, and as seemed requisite in order that it might be resolved in the best manner possible.
The third was to carry on my reflections in due order, commencing with objects that were the most simple and easy to understand, in order to rise little by little, or by degrees, to knowledge of the most complex, assuming an order, even if a little fictitious one, among those which do not follow a natural sequence relatively to one another.
The last was in all cases to make enumerations so complete and reviews so general that I should be certain of having omitted nothing.
Out of this short fragment from 'Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, and Searching for Truth in the Sciences
'; a treatise on Descartes' way to obtaining 'true' knowledge through meditations (pure thought in Descartes' words) it is easy to come to Descartes' most famous quote:
Cogito, ergo Sum
This means: 'I think, therefore I am'. The reason Descartes concluded that he (at least) thought was because he could doubt everything, even thought, but when doubting he was still thinking. A summary of his philosophy could be 'Dubito, ergo Cogito, ergo Sum'
: I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.
The problem with Descartes' philosophies so far is that it leads to a certain skepticism concerning everything which can is percieved. For what can be doubted can be disregarded. This skepticism
leads to a form of solipsism
in the sense that any human cannot be sure about anything except the existence of oneself. All perceptions might be generated by the thoughts of the individual, making it so that it seems likely that only that individual exists in reality.
In Descartes' definitions consciousness (that which cannot be doubted; thought) is that which can be acted upon. That leaves the question what is acting upon it. The answer to that is very simple: God; thus solving the solipsistic problem. However, God being perfect and cause of everything - including one's thoughts - could not be a deceiver (Evil Daemon
). Therefore any thoughts correspond to an external reality (or most of them do); thereby also overthrowing skepticism.
are known as the three great (continental
; traditionally set out against the three great (British) empiricists Locke
The Pineal Gland
An important result of Descartes' method is the seperation of thinking and extension, reason and body. This is done by the 'Cartesian Doubt
'. The body can be denied, but thought (doubt itself) cannot. Descartes concluded that if the existence of A can be denied, but the existence of B cannot, then A and B are distinct things. Therefore a human must be, as Plato
held, really two things: a space-occupying body and a non-spatial soul.
The body is like a 'machine'
(1) to him, made up out of bones, nerves, muscles, veines, blood and skin that even if there were no mind in it, it would not cease to move in all the ways that it does at present when it is not moved under the direction of the will, nor consequently with the aid of the mind.
The problem with this phiolosphy is the question how the two seperate things (reason and extension) interact. Descartes' solution to this problem was that the soul pushed against a part of the body, the pineal glad
, thus 'controlling' the body. This theory was found to be incompatible with the fundamental physical law of the conservation of momentum.
Denial of interaction
Because of the pineal gland theory being incompatible with the law of conservation of momentum some alternative theories were formulated. These are two of the most interesting (and holding) theories of denial of the mind-body interaction.
(1625-1669) propounded th etheory known as Occasionalism
. The theory holds that God has created the workings of the mind and the workings of the body as two seperate 'clocks', strings of cause and effect, being timed so perfectly that any occorance in one of the two occurs simaltaniously with an occurance in the other. No interaction between the two exists in this theory.
(1638-1715) went even further, in saying that all causality does not exist, except in God. God is the only real cause in the universe, who directly causes every thing and every event, in such a way that it seems to us as if these events produce eachother.
(1) During the renaissance and the enlightenment the opinion that animals (and sometimes man) were mere machines; soulless, was held. The soul was what seperated man from animal, or individual from his fellow man. I a way these opinions are still held in medical science. The body can be 'repaired' as any machine.
A New History of Philosophy: From Descartes to Rawls - Wallace I matson
Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking Truth