procrastination, heresy, and navel-gazing.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Descartes, Descartes, ... I drink therefore I am.

5. Descartes and rationalism: How did Descartes seek to secure true knowledge?

Biographically, it seems the way Descartes started out on his philosophical journey was thinking – the story goes that he was loathe to rise early in the morning and it was only when this was accepted by one of his Jesuit tutors that was he able to spend his mornings not engaged in chores but meditating, or thinking.
What he arrived at after his many mornings spent in thought would later be known as the Cartesian method (from DesCartes). And what was his method? Quite simply – doubt everything! Then one could be free to establish true knowledge from the ground up. He did this not by doubting himself and all things out of existence, but indeed by proving his existence primarily in his doubting. For his doubting was if nothing else thinking, and as his famous dictum states, ‘cogito, ergo sum’, or, ‘I think, therefore I am’.

As the father of the rationalists, Descartes sought to reduce things to its base parts. This was part one of his method – the analysis, followed then by the synthesis – the rebuilding thereafter of the problem to get an understanding of the big picture. He saw this as not dissimilar to an architect building a house – starting first with digging the trenches, and working upwards from there.

He did see some things which were beyond breaking up, beyond doubt – although his only basis for those things was that there was a good God who would prevent these things from being deceptions. This God he proved by the ontological argument (the starting point being not dissimilar to Plato’s forms) – that if we can imagine any God, inferior as the idea may be, the idea shows that there must be something even greater – and that is greater (this idea not dissimilar to Islam’s ‘Allah Akbar’ – ‘God is greater’ (than anything you could imagine)).

this is part of a series. check here for others in this series.

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