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Christian Torres

Descartes V. Hume part one: Descartes Rationalism

Renee Descartes and David Hume two great thinkers who changed the way we look at
our word. They however had very opposing views on the study of epistemology. Epistemology
otherwise known as the study of knowledge was dissected in depth by both Hume and Descartes
in order to make discoveries on our existence in this world. While Hume used empiricism to
come to his own conclusions about human knowledge and existence. Descartes used his own
brand of rationalism to begin questioning the world around him.
Rather than use commonly held beliefs and opinions Descartes a mathematician decided
to use a more mathematical approach to prove his views on the world. This way of thinking came
from a more rational approach rather than a place of pure emotion and feeling. By doing this
Descartes and others began to question the differences between mere beliefs and true knowledge.
While a belief can be found to be untrue real knowledge is much more difficult to be categorized
as false. Descartes knew this and used this truth to begin to unravel the way he thought of the
So Descartes Armed with his technique of rational thought acquired from his years as a
mathematician. He began his quest for certainty. Plato was the originator of such rational
thought with regards to applying mathematical thought to philosophy. Plato even focused entire
curriculums on mathematics for his students as a prerequisite for his own philosophical thought
exercises. Descartes however took the interconnection between mathematics and philosophy to a
whole other level not seen before in the study of philosophy. Descartes began to use what is

known as the axiomatic method to begin to answer his queries about life itself. The axiomatic
method relied entirely on the certainty of the end of the argument being interdependent on the
certainty of the beginning of said argument.
With this axiomatic method Descartes began to wonder if there was some kind of
certainty within the realm of philosophy that he could bring to light. He wondered if philosophy
would hold certain axiomatic postulates that were commonly found in subjects like geometry.
Descartes thus, wanted to make his philosophical arguments as beyond doubt as his work with
mathematics. He especially wanted to make his ideas beyond doubt because during his time and
after his time other philosophers would begin to question every single one of his ideas. These
doubters and their own ideas would eventually form the basis for modern skepticism.
How would Descartes argue with such doubters? What was his secret weapon for these
skeptics? Well, Descartes took if you cant beat them join them approach to these inquisitors. He
did this by simply doubting his doubters. This method of his known as the method of systematic
doubt which uses truth values towards beliefs that cannot be reasonably doubted. What is
interesting about this approach is that Descartes uses this systematic doubt on himself. He begins
to question the very core of his own belief systems. He did this in order to simplify his work for
in his mind if he can doubt the origin of belief he would not need to fully dismantle it by taking
its piece by piece and questioning each individual part.
In his essays Meditations Descartes fully explains his quest for certainty with this method
of systematic doubt of his very own beliefs. Descartes begins his essay by doubting all of his
basic beliefs. This is done through his skepticism of his own opinions in order to strengthen his
integrity in the sciences. He then goes on to doubt the importance and accuracy of the senses in

obtaining truth. Descartes even begins to question whether his sense of being can truly be trusted
as he knows of many other men who are considered crazy that believe their own delusions. He
then wonders if he himself is delusional. He wonders if the dreams that experiences are
comparable to the so called reality of these insane individuals. He also questions whether there
is a true distinction between being awake and the dream world. He then investigates whether the
colors that we see are truly there or are they just creations of the mind. He then wonders if a
demon is at play creating these truths that are really false in his mind.
With the idea that a demon may be in control Descartes begins to question his memories.
He further wonders what if left if there is no sense of being, if there is no God. After much inner
debate he comes to the conclusion that although his senses may not be real the fact that he is
thinking is his proof of being. He then creates the philosophical axiom cogito ergo sum. This
Latin axiom in English means I think, therefore, I am.
So within his essays Descartes not only denies his own existence to prove existence. He
also seamlessly separates the body which does not think and is mechanical in nature from the
mind. In his writing Descartes demonstrates that the mind unlike the physical body thinks and
has thus, been proven by him. He then postulates that since the mind is the origin of thoughts
then the demon does not exist. He then has a eureka moment in that he finds that what is
certainly left is God. Thus, in Descartes argument on epistemology truth must then be divine.