Discourse on the Method

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Discourse on Method

Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences (French : Discours de la Méthode Pour bien conduire sa raison, et chercher la vérité dans les sciences) is a philosophical and autobiographical treatise published by René Descartes in 1637. It is best known as the source of the famous quotation "Je pense, donc je suis" (English: "I think, therefore I am", or "I am thinking, therefore I exist"), [1] which occurs in Part IV of the work. A similar argument, without this precise wording, is found in Meditations on First Philosophy (1641), and a Latin version of the same statement Cogito, ergo sum is found in Principles of Philosophy (1644).

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

Philosophy intellectual and/or logical study of general and fundamental problems

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

René Descartes 17th-century French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist

René Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. A native of the Kingdom of France, he spent about 20 years (1629–1649) of his life in the Dutch Republic after serving for a while in the Dutch States Army of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange and the Stadtholder of the United Provinces. He is generally considered one of the most notable intellectual figures of the Dutch Golden Age.

Contents

Discourse on the Method is one of the most influential works in the history of modern philosophy, and important to the development of natural sciences. [2] In this work, Descartes tackles the problem of skepticism, which had previously been studied by Sextus Empiricus, Al-Ghazali [3] , Francisco Sánchez and Michel de Montaigne. Descartes modified it to account for a truth he found to be incontrovertible. Descartes started his line of reasoning by doubting everything, so as to assess the world from a fresh perspective, clear of any preconceived notions.

Skepticism or scepticism is generally any questioning attitude or doubt towards one or more items of putative knowledge or belief. It is often directed at domains, such as the supernatural, morality, religion, or knowledge. Formally, skepticism as a topic occurs in the context of philosophy, particularly epistemology, although it can be applied to any topic such as politics, religion, and pseudoscience.

Sextus Empiricus ancient Greek philosopher

Sextus Empiricus, was a physician and philosopher, who likely lived in Alexandria, Rome, or Athens. His philosophical work is the most complete surviving account of ancient Greek and Roman Pyrrhonism.

Al-Ghazali Persian Muslim theologian, jurist, philosopher, and mystic

Al-Ghazali was one of the most prominent and influential philosophers, theologians, jurists, and mystics of Sunni Islam. He was of Persian origin.

The book was originally published in Leiden, in the Netherlands. Later, it was translated into Latin and published in 1656 in Amsterdam. The book was intended as an introduction to three works: Dioptrique , Météores and Géométrie. La Géométrie contains Descartes's initial concepts that later developed into the Cartesian coordinate system. The text was written and published in French rather than Latin, the latter being the language in which most philosophical and scientific texts were written and published at that time. Most of Descartes' other works were written in Latin.

Leiden City and municipality in South Holland, Netherlands

Leiden is a city and municipality in the province of South Holland, Netherlands. The municipality of Leiden had a population of 123,856 in August 2017, but the city forms one densely connected agglomeration with its suburbs Oegstgeest, Leiderdorp, Voorschoten and Zoeterwoude with 206,647 inhabitants. The Netherlands Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) further includes Katwijk in the agglomeration which makes the total population of the Leiden urban agglomeration 270,879, and in the larger Leiden urban area also Teylingen, Noordwijk, and Noordwijkerhout are included with in total 348,868 inhabitants. Leiden is located on the Oude Rijn, at a distance of some 20 kilometres from The Hague to its south and some 40 km (25 mi) from Amsterdam to its north. The recreational area of the Kaag Lakes (Kagerplassen) lies just to the northeast of Leiden.

Amsterdam Capital city of the Netherlands and municipality

Amsterdam is the capital city and most populous municipality of the Netherlands. Its status as the capital is mandated by the Constitution of the Netherlands, although it is not the seat of the government, which is The Hague. Amsterdam has a population of 854,047 within the city proper, 1,357,675 in the urban area and 2,410,960 in the metropolitan area. The city is located in the province of North Holland in the west of the country but is not its capital, which is Haarlem. The Amsterdam metropolitan area comprises much of the northern part of the Randstad, one of the larger conurbations in Europe, which has a population of approximately 8.1 million.

Dioptrique

"La dioptrique", is a short treatise published in 1637 included in one of the Essays written with Discourse on the Method by Rene Descartes. In this essay Descartes uses various models to understand the properties of light. This essay is known as Descartes' greatest contribution to optics, as it is the first publication of the Law of Refraction.

Together with Meditations on First Philosophy, Principles of Philosophy and Rules for the Direction of the Mind , it forms the base of the epistemology known as Cartesianism.

<i>Rules for the Direction of the Mind</i> book

In 1628 or a few years earlier, René Descartes began work on an unfinished treatise regarding the proper method for scientific and philosophical thinking entitled Regulae ad directionem ingenii, or Rules for the Direction of the Mind. This work outlined the basis for his later work on complex problems of mathematics, science, and philosophy. 36 rules were planned in total, although only 21 were actually written. This work was not published during the author's lifetime. A Dutch translation appeared in 1684, and the first Latin edition in 1701.

Epistemology A branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge.

Cartesianism philosophical and scientific system of René Descartes

The Cartesian Method is the philosophical and scientific system of René Descartes and its subsequent development by other seventeenth century thinkers, most notably Nicolas Malebranche and Baruch Spinoza. Descartes is often regarded as the first thinker to emphasize the use of reason to develop the natural sciences. For him, the philosophy was a thinking system that embodied all knowledge, and expressed it in this way:

Organization

The book is divided into six parts, described in the author's preface as

  1. Various considerations touching the Sciences
  2. The principal rules of the Method which the Author has discovered
  3. Certain of the rules of Morals which he has deduced from this Method
  4. The reasonings by which he establishes the existence of God and of the Human Soul
  5. The order of the Physical questions which he has investigated, and, in particular, the explication of the motion of the heart and of some other difficulties pertaining to Medicine, as also the difference between the soul of man and that of the brutes
  6. What the Author believes to be required in order to greater advancement in the investigation of Nature than has yet been made, with the reasons that have induced him to write

Part I: Various scientific considerations

Descartes begins by allowing himself some wit:

Good sense is, of all things among men, the most equally distributed; for every one thinks himself so abundantly provided with it, that those even who are the most difficult to satisfy in everything else, do not usually desire a larger measure of this quality than they already possess.

"...the reading of good books is like a conversation with the best men of past centuries-" (apocryphal quote) Library Walk 28.JPG
"...the reading of good books is like a conversation with the best men of past centuries–" (apocryphal quote)

A similar observation can be found in Hobbes: "But this proveth rather that men are in that point equal, than unequal. For there is not ordinarily a greater sign of the equal distribution of anything than that every man is contented with his share", [4] [ relevant? ] but also in Montaigne, whose formulation indicates that it was a common place at the time: "Tis commonly said that the justest portion Nature has given us of her favors is that of sense; for there is no one who is not contented with his share." [5] [6] Descartes continues with a warning:

For to be possessed of a vigorous mind is not enough; the prime requisite is rightly to apply it. The greatest minds, as they are capable of the highest excellences, are open likewise to the greatest aberrations; and those who travel very slowly may yet make far greater progress, provided they keep always to the straight road, than those who, while they run, forsake it. [7]

Descartes describes his disappointment with his education: "as soon as I had finished the entire course of study... I found myself involved in so many doubts and errors, that I was convinced I had advanced no farther... than the discovery at every turn of my own ignorance." He notes his special delight with mathematics, and contrasts its strong foundations to "the disquisitions of the ancient moralists [which are] towering and magnificent palaces with no better foundation than sand and mud".

Part II: Principal rules of the Method

Descartes was in Germany, attracted thither by the wars in that country, and describes his intent by a "building metaphor". He observes that buildings, cities or nations that have been planned by a single hand are more elegant and commodious than those that have grown organically. He resolves not to build on old foundations, or to lean upon principles which, he had taken on faith in his youth. Descartes seeks to ascertain the true method by which to arrive at the knowledge of whatever lay within the compass of his powers; he presents four precepts:

The first was never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such; that is to say, carefully to avoid precipitancy and prejudice, and to comprise nothing more in my judgment than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt.

The second, to divide each of the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible, and as might be necessary for its adequate solution.

The third, to conduct my thoughts in such order that, by commencing with objects the simplest and easiest to know, I might ascend by little and little, and, as it were, step by step, to the knowledge of the more complex; assigning in thought a certain order even to those objects which in their own nature do not stand in a relation of antecedence and sequence.

And the last, in every case to make enumerations so complete, and reviews so general, that I might be assured that nothing was omitted. [8]

Part III: Morals and Maxims of conducting the Method

Descartes uses the analogy of rebuilding a house from secure foundations, and extends the analogy to the idea of needing a temporary abode while his own house is being rebuilt. The following three maxims were adopted by Descartes so that he could effectively function in the "real world" while experimenting with his method of radical doubt. They formed a rudimentary belief system from which to act before he developed a new system based on the truths he discovered using his method:

  1. The first was to obey the laws and customs of my country, adhering firmly to the faith in which, by the grace of God, I had been educated from my childhood and regulating my conduct in every other matter according to the most moderate opinions, and the farthest removed from extremes, which should happen to be adopted in practice with general consent of the most judicious of those among whom I might be living.
  2. Be as firm and resolute in my actions as I was able.
  3. Endeavor always to conquer myself rather than fortune, and change my desires rather than the order of the world, and in general, accustom myself to the persuasion that, except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power; so that when we have done our best in things external to us, our ill-success cannot possibly be failure on our part.

Part IV: Proof of God and the Soul

Applying the method to itself, Descartes challenges his own reasoning and reason itself. But Descartes believes three things are not susceptible to doubt and the three support each other to form a stable foundation for the method. He cannot doubt that something has to be there to do the doubting (I think, therefore I am). The method of doubt cannot doubt reason as it is based on reason itself. By reason there exists a God, and God is the guarantor that reason is not misguided. Descartes supplies three different proofs for the existence of God, including what is now referred to as the ontological proof of the existence of God.

Part V: Physics, the heart, and the soul of man and animals


Here he describes how in other writings he discusses the idea of laws of nature, of the sun and stars, the idea of the moon being the cause of ebb and flow, on gravitation, and going on to discuss light and fire.

Describing his work on light, he states that he

expounded at considerable length what the nature of that light must be which is found in the sun and the stars, and how thence in an instant of time it traverses the immense spaces of the heavens.

His work on such physico-mechanical laws is, however, projected into a "new world." A theoretical place God created "somewhere in the imaginary spaces [with] matter sufficient to compose . . . [a "new world" in which He] . . . agitate[d] variously and confusedly the different parts of this matter, so that there resulted a chaos as disordered as the poets ever feigned, and after that did nothing more than lend his ordinary concurrence to nature, and allow her to act in accordance with the laws which he had established." He does this "to express my judgment regarding . . . [his subjects] with greater freedom, without being necessitated to adopt or refute the opinions of the learned." Descartes goes on to say that he "was not, however, disposed, from these circumstances, to conclude that this world had been created in the manner I described; for it is much more likely that God made it at the first such as it was to be." Despite this admission, it seems that Descartes' project for understanding the world was that of re-creating creation—a cosmological project which aimed, through Descartes' particular brand of experimental method, to show not merely the possibility of such a system, but to suggest that this way of looking at the world—one with (as Descartes saw it) no assumptions about God or nature—provided the only basis upon which he could see knowledge progressing (as he states in Book II). Thus, in Descartes' work, we can see some of the fundamental assumptions of modern cosmology in evidence—the project of examing the historical construction of the universe through a set of quantitative laws describing interactions which would allow the ordered present to be constructed from a chaotic past.

He goes on to the motion of the blood in the heart and arteries, endorsing the findings of "a physician of England" about the circulation of blood, referring to William Harvey and his work De motu cordis in a marginal note. [9] : 51 But then he disagrees strongly about the function of the heart as a pump, ascribing the motive power of the circulation to heat rather than muscular contraction. [10] He describes that these motions seem to be totally independent of what we think, and concludes that our bodies are separate from our souls.

He does not seem to distinguish between mind, spirit and soul, which are identified as our faculty for rational thinking. Hence the term "I think, therefore I am." All three of these words (particularly "mind" and "soul") can be identified by the single French term "âme."

Part VI: Prerequisites for advancing the investigation of Nature

Descartes begins by noting, without directly referring to it, the recent trial of Galileo for heresy and the condemnation of heliocentrism; he explains that for these reasons he has been slow to publish. [11]

I remarked, moreover, with respect to experiments, that they become always more necessary the more one is advanced in knowledge; for, at the commencement, it is better to make use only of what is spontaneously presented to our senses.

First, I have essayed to find in general the principles, or first causes of all that is or can be in the world.

Secure on these foundation stones, Descartes shows the practical application of "the Method" in Mathematics and the Science.

Influencing future science

The most important influence, however, was the first precept, which states, in Descartes words, "never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such." This method of pro-foundational skepticism is considered to be the start of modern philosophy. [12] [13]

Quotations

See also

Related Research Articles

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References

  1. Garber, Daniel (1998, 2003): Descartes, René; The Cogito Argument In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge. Retrieved 2017-11-12.
  2. Davis, Philip J.; Hersh, Reuben (1986). Descartes' Dream: The World According to Mathematics. Cambridge, Mass.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
  3. Najm, Sami M. (July–October 1966). "The Place and Function of Doubt in the Philosophies of Descartes and Al-Ghazali". Philosophy East and West. 16 (3–4): 133–141. doi:10.2307/1397536. JSTOR   1397536.
  4. http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/hobbes/leviathan-c.html#CHAPTERXIII Archived May 28, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  5. "Essays of Montaigne, vol. 6 - Online Library of Liberty". libertyfund.org.
  6. "Essays of Montaigne, vol. 6 - Online Library of Liberty". libertyfund.org.
  7. Descartes, Rene (1960). Discourse on Method and Meditations. Laurence J. Lafleur (trans). New York: The Liberal Arts Press. ISBN   978-0-672-60278-8.
  8. Descartes, René (2004) [1637]. A Discourse on Method: Meditations and Principles. Translated by Veitch, John. London: Orion Publishing Group. p. 15. ISBN   9780460874113.
  9. Descartes (1637).
  10. W. Bruce Fye: Profiles in Cardiology – René Descartes, Clin. Cardiol. 26, 49–51 (2003), Pdf 58,2 kB.
  11. Three years have now elapsed since I finished the treatise containing all these matters; and I was beginning to revise it, with the view to put it into the hands of a printer, when I learned that persons to whom I greatly defer, and whose authority over my actions is hardly less influential than is my own reason over my thoughts, had condemned a certain doctrine in physics, published a short time previously by another individual to which I will not say that I adhered, but only that, previously to their censure I had observed in it nothing which I could imagine to be prejudicial either to religion or to the state, and nothing therefore which would have prevented me from giving expression to it in writing, if reason had persuaded me of its truth; and this led me to fear lest among my own doctrines likewise some one might be found in which I had departed from the truth, notwithstanding the great care I have always taken not to accord belief to new opinions of which I had not the most certain demonstrations, and not to give expression to aught that might tend to the hurt of any one. This has been sufficient to make me alter my purpose of publishing them; for although the reasons by which I had been induced to take this resolution were very strong, yet my inclination, which has always been hostile to writing books, enabled me immediately to discover other considerations sufficient to excuse me for not undertaking the task.
  12. Descartes' Life and Works by Kurt Smith, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Retrieved 2017-11-20
  13. Descartes, Rene by Justin Skirry (Nebraska-Wesleyan University), The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy , ISSN 2161-0002. Retrieved 2017-11-20