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RENE DESCARTES (1596 -

I650)

Rationalism
 Aim:
 to construct the system of true knowledge
upon the powers of human reason alone,
a system of thought whose various
principles are true and are related to each
other in such a way that the mind could
move easily from one true principle to
another
 The beginning philosopher:
 He broke with the past and gave
philosophy a fresh start. He did not rely
on previous philosophers and their ideas,
and from authority. He used only those
truths, which he knew through his own
rational powers. His decision: "to believe
nothing too certainly of which I had only
been convinced by example and custom."
 Rules of Method:
 rules by which our powers of intuition and
deduction are guided in an orderly way.
"Reduce involved and obscure
propositions step by step to those that are
absolutely simple (analysis), and attempt
to ascend to the knowledge of all others
by precisely similar steps (synthesis)."
 Four Precepts:
 (i) Never to accept anything true which I did
not know to be such.
 (ii) To divide each of the difficulties under
examination into as many parts as possible,
and as might be necessary for its adequate
solution.
 (iii) To conduct my thoughts in such order
that by commencing with objects that are
easiest and simplest to know, I must ascend
little by little to the knowledge of the more
complex.
 (iv) In every case, to make enumerations so
complete and reviews so general that I might
be assured that nothing was omitted.
 Rationalism:
 little emphasis is given on sense experience
and experiment in achieving knowledge.
"Nothing but my understanding alone
conceives the essential qualities of things. It
is solely by an inspection by the mind that I
am able to know the true qualities of things.“
 He was confident that he could start from the
beginning, and rethink and rebuild all of
philosophy by having recourse solely to his
rational powers, and directing them in
accordance with the rules.
 Methodic doubt:
 "Because I wished to give myself entirely
to search after truth, it was necessary to
reject as absolutely false everything
concerning which I could imagine the
least ground of doubt."
 Criterion of truth:
 "I will accept nothing except that which is
true, namely, clear and distinct ideas.
 (a) Clear: "that which is present and
apparent to an attentive mind."
 (b) Distinct: "that which is so precise and
different that it contains within itself
nothing but what is clear."
 Things that are doubted:
 (i) All knowledge acquired through the
senses, because our senses sometimes
deceive us.
 (ii) All experiences may only be dreams. The
images/events in our dreams are as real as
our experiences when we are awake.
 (iii) Though mathematical truths are not
arrived at through perception, and are true
even in our dreams, these truths may have
been given us by an Evil Genius who is as
powerful as God.
 Hence, there is nothing in what I formerly
believed to be true which I cannot somehow
doubt
 The Cogito and the Self.
 There is only one thing of which we can
be certain -- the very act of doubting. The
more I doubt this act, the more I confirm
it. To doubt is to think. That which thinks
must be something. Cogito ergo sum. I
think therefore I exist.
 I affirm my existence as I discover the "I
think."
 What is it that exists?
 A res cogitans, "a thing which doubts,
affirms, denies, wills, refuses, and which
also imagines and feels."
 It is not a body, an extended substance
(res extensa) but a substance whose
whole nature is to think, a spiritual
substance.
 Descartes hoped to rebuild the whole
system of knowledge on the basis of the
first philosophical truth: Cogito ergo sum.
 The existence of God.
 Ontological argument:
 It is evident to our minds that the idea
"God" is clearly and distinctly conceived
as the most perfect being. It is likewise
clear that the very idea of perfection
implies existence so that to speak of a
non-existent perfection is to engage in a
contradiction. Thus, God necessarily
exists

What else exists?


 As a perfect being, God cannot be a
deceiver because deception is an
imperfection, which cannot be attributed
to God.
 God could not deceive us.
 The evil genius is not God. It cannot be as
powerful as God because there cannot be
two most powerful beings.
 Mathematical truths are legitimate and
certain.
 Existence of things.
 Descartes took another look at things
around him and asked: How can I know
that my body and other physical things
exist?
 Intuitively, we attest to the fact that we all
have clear and distinct experiences of
changing position and moving about.
 We also receive sense impressions of sight,
sound and touch frequently even against our
will.
 These experiences incline us to believe that
these sense impressions are conveyed to us
by corporeal objects, either our bodies or
other bodies.
 This inclination to believe comes from God.
 Since God cannot be a deceiver, then this
inclination must be right. Hence, corporeal
objects exist.
 Substance.
 There are two different kinds of substance:
(a) res cogitans, spiritual substance whose
attribute is thought, and
 (b) res extensa, corporeal substance, which
is characterized as extended.
 As each substance is "an existent thing which
requires nothing but itself to exist," then
each substance is thoroughly independent of
any other.
 Thought and extension are distinct and
separate.
 Mind-body interaction.
 Living bodies are parts of the material order,
since they are extended substances. Animals
move without thinking. Their actions are
accounted for by purely mechanical
considerations. Animals are automata.
 Many activities of man are as mechanical as
those of animals. Respiration, circulation of
the blood, and digestion are all automatic.
 These movements of the human body do not
originate from the human mind or soul.
 Mind-body interaction.
 Since the soul has its principal seat in the
brain, in the pineal gland, it comes in
contact with the vital spirits and through
these interacts with the body.
 The soul can affect the direction of motion
of certain parts of the body.
 Though each substance is completely
independent, the mind must not dwell in
the body as a pearl in an oyster, or as a
pilot in a ship.

 "Nature teaches me by these sensations of


pain, hunger, thirst ... that I am not lodged
in my body as a pilot in a vessel, but that I
am very closely united to it, and so to speak,
so intermingled with it that I seem to
compose with it one whole."