Rene Descartes was a remarkable French philosopher whose contribution to the development of modern science and philosophy can be best of all proven by such titles as the Father of Modern Philosophy and the Father of Modern Mathematics that are traditionally ascribed to him. There is no doubt that it is impossible to get such strong respect and authority unless your work is really valuable. Descartes was an all-round person who had a great number of scientific interests, all of which found their reflection in his numerous works. Though all works of Rene Descartes are significant, they have been studied by numerous researchers and even today they are considered valuable sources of philosophic ideas, the present paper will focus on one particular book by Descartes, Discourse on Method. Its special interest lies in the attempt of the author to give the explanation of the method of science that remains reasonable today by means of autobiographical approach.
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The first part of Discourse on the Method opens with a statement that a reader can find rather optimistic, the author states that all people are rational pari passu, and the application of different ways and methods of applying reason is the main cause of different understanding of the truth. The philosopher finds this explanation sufficient for the presentation of his own method, though he has no intention to impose it on a reader, he just wants to give a personal description of the paths he has followed in his pursuit of the truth (Descartes 4). It is up to a reader to accept it or to reject it as unconvincing. Descartes gives an account of his impression of the studies at “one of the most celebrated schools in Europe” (Descartes 5) as absolutely unsatisfying. Instead of giving him answers to the questions, studying provided the philosopher with doubts, errors, and controversies that begot his feeling of utter ignorance. Thus, the author sees no use in studying volumes of literature and he resorts to the study of his own self and his reason. Thus, Descartes gives utterance to the intelligent mind of his time. The fact is that scholastic philosophy offered by Aristotle, the one that had dominated the philosophical mind for centuries proved to be limited and insufficient, as the concept of knowledge and the methods of its acquisition needed revision and modernization.
The second part of Discourse on Method presents four basic rules, laws, or precepts of his method. First, he claimed it was necessary “to accept nothing as true” that he did not clearly recognize to be true (Descartes 10). This means that are person should never become a victim of prejudice and precipitation, the only possible source of acceptable knowledge is the knowledge that cannot be questioned by mind and reason. The second rule says that it is necessary to divide all the difficulties that are examined into as many minor parts as possible. Third, Descartes advises to carry on the reflections in suitable order, starting with the simplest objects and those that are the easiest to understand. Gradually, a person will be able to progress to the knowledge of more complex nature. Finally, the fourth rule of the method of Descartes is to “make enumerations so complete and reviews so general that I should be certain of having omitted nothing” (10). It is worth mentioning that today all rules offered by the philosopher are applicable and seem reasonable. In fact, they can be found in modern epistemology, mainly in foundationalism that claims that it is possible to support and justify one belief by another one that needs no justification and is unquestionably correct. Foundationalists see knowledge as a pyramid that stands on its top instead of its base. Minor knowledge is the basis for more complex one. In fact, these views coincide with Descartes’ to a great extent.
In the third part of the philosophical treatise, Descartes presents the maxims and morals that should guide the person’s conduct while his mind is in the process of doubt. The first maxim says that a person should “obey the laws and customs” of his country (Descartes 13). The second maxim says that a person should be “firm and resolute in [his] actions” (Descartes 13). The third one prescribes to conquer oneself, not fortune. The last one says that a person should choose the best occupation for him/her. No doubt, these maxims were influenced by Jesuit education and the dominance of the Jesuits in philosophy of that epoch. Still, though the genuine motivation of Descartes in unknown and cannot be proven with absolute certainty, the advice he gives in the form of the maxims is perfectly logical and reasonable nowadays.
Finally, let us consider the statement that has become the most well-known quotation associated with the name of Rene Descartes: “I think, therefore I am” (17). The author cannot question his own existence as he doubts and thinks and he has to exist to do this. With the help of this statement, the philosopher succeeds in tearing down the whole philosophy of Aristotle. Thus, the main merit of the work of Descartes is the interpretation of the relationship between human mind and the world.
Drawing a conclusion, it is possible to say that Descartes can be really called a man who changed Western philosophy in the Age of Scientific Revolution. His Discourse on Method is a deep philosophical work that tackles a number of eternal questions, provides a number of unique answers, some of them remain topical many centuries later. Discourse on Method is a deep and controversial philosophical work that is sure to be interesting and thought-provoking for contemporary readers.
Descartes, Rene. Discourse on Method. 2010. Web.
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