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Rene Descartes

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Rene Descartes (1596-1650) was not only a philosopher but also a mathematician and scientist. As a philosopher, he used skepticism as a means of finding the truth of all. His idea was to doubt everything, and in doubting everything, anything that couldn’t be doubted was definite.

“I will doubt everything that can possibly be doubted, he reasons, and if anything is left, then it will be absolutely certain.” (Moore/Bruder 93) This, Descartes felt was the only way to obtain truth and knowledge. This method was to take away all the confidence in everything that was taught to us, what we sense and believe, and the things we take as being obvious. To truly determine if we know anything is for certain we must doubt it all disregarding all we knew about it before. So everything we currently believe is open to discussion and can be questioned.

Descartes’ ‘Method of Doubt’ incorporated two well-known conjectures, a dream conjecture and the evil demon conjecture. What the dream conjecture is, is the notion that everything that is reality might just be a dream. Adding to the dream conjecture, is the evil demon conjecture. This evil demon conjecture, in essence, is the concept that if this all [reality], is just a dream, then perhaps there is an evil demon that is deceiving our minds with these false images of reality. So, we can’t assume that our bodies or that anything of our experience exists

and can be trusted to be true. For everything we know could be just a dream and not real at all and controlled by a deceiver.

No, Descartes was not out of his mind. He was aware that these two conjecture he composed sounded far-fetched. However, that was the whole point. Descartes was on a quest to find certainty in an any-case-possibility.

What Descartes came up with after going through and doubting everything was the cogito, ergo sum or “I think, therefore I am.” What this meant was if you are thinking, you are existing. “The self that doubts its own existence must surely exist to be able to doubt in the first place.” (Moore/Bruder 93) Subsequently, this was the only true thing we can know to be real. We know that we exist at least in a form of a mind. So we can doubt our physical existence but not our mental existence because you can think. To take this a step further he developed the clear and distinct test.

The clear and distinct test was a test to find out what was true with “clarity and distinctness.” Meaning, anything that is clear and distinct is true. Using this clear and distinct test, Descartes came to the conclusion that God, in fact, exists. Descartes believed he viewed God clearly and distinctively, and further, God would not let an evil demon toy with his mind, if such a thing did exist.

Descartes also thought that there were two distinct substances beyond God, and these two substances were material substance and mind substance. The material substance was all that exists and occupies space and the mind substance is that of thought. “Because a substance,

according to Descartes, “requires nothing other than itself to exist,” it follows that mind and matter are totally independent of each other.” (Moore/Bruder 95)

The result to these two substances being independent of each other is called parallelism. “The mind, they argued, does not really cause the body to move. When I will that my hand should move, my act of willing only appears to cause my hand to move.” (Moore/Bruder 97)Descartes felt that God was the one who was involved in the mental things that happened and the sequence of material actions. He believed God was the reason those two things happened to happen together. This idea was called occasionalism. Descartes was first to make this systematic account of the mind and body relationship, and also the soul’s contact with the body. (Rorty)

Descartes essentially through everything, approached all metaphysical issues by going back and trying to pick apart everything about the basic things. “Descartes tried to discover metaphysical truth about what is through epistemological inquiry about what can be know.” (Moore/Bruder 97)

The profit of Descartes’ ideas is that in the dismissal of everything makes you question and look at elements that may be overlooked because it is human to draw on experience. So, to clear oneself of all former beliefs leaves everything wide open for exploration and opens up a wider scope.

The problem I find in his distinct and clear theory is Descartes proof of God’s existence. In “proving” the existence of God he uses circular reasoning. This circular reasoning is called the Cartesian Circle. The Cartesian Circle is the circular reasoning that, on one hand, we can only know that God exists because we clearly and distinctively perceive it, and on the other hand, we can only know that our clear and distinct perceptions are true because God exits. (Loeb 200-235)

This type of reasoning doesn’t make any concrete conclusions on the existence of God. It just keeps going around in a circle, one right after the other. Descartes believe that only his perceptions could be deceived not his mind. So since God was good and perfect, he wouldn’t allow him to be deceived, therefore God exists. To explain his ideas on the existence of God, Descartes states that if one can have an idea of a perfect being, which is God, then a perfect being must exist if we can think it in our minds.

All of this to me, doesn’t show any solid proof. Even though you can think something in your mind, doesn’t mean it must exits. I can think lots of things in my mind personally, that doesn’t necessary mean that somewhere, maybe not in the physical world I experience, truly exists. Also, if God did exists, and if God is perfect, as Descartes claims, then why does Atheism and such religious beliefs exist? Wouldn’t perfection be if God could exist and not be questionable? Because what Descartes believes is all that we can perceive clearly and distinctively exists, and he had not given any way that explains how you can perceive God clearly and distinctively, other than stating he can perceive in his mind.

Also, another thing that is a problem in Descartes’ method is his goal of proving the existence of the outside world was not valid by any substantial means. There is no proof that any physical object exists aside from a near universal belief that the external world exists. What Descartes says, is that since God makes us believe that there is an external world, then there must be one. However, there are lots of mistakes in his proof of God and it isn’t truly valid. So, therefore we cannot say anything in this external world does exist or either God, based on the knowledge I have obtained on the subject matter on Descartes.

From what I have read on Descartes and his philosophical ideas, there are many holes and things to argued; as I’m sure is in most theories. Nonetheless, even though his ideas aren’t entirely credible to myself, I feel that his contributions to the field of philosophy are eminent.

Descartes had brought lots of old questions of past philosophers and tried to rationalize them, he failed in my opinion to come up with any competent answers for what he was trying to prove.

However, he did prompt other philosophers in his progression to come up later with some better answers to some of these ideas.

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