Unit 5 Day 5 pgs 463-464 I.

Towards a New Earth: Descartes, Rationalism, and a New View of Humankind -New conception of the universe contained in the cosmological revolution of 16th and 17 centuries had impact on Western view of humankind. Nowhere is this more evident in work of René Descartes (1596-1650), an extremely important figure in Western society. Descartes began by reflecting doubt and uncertainty that seemed pervasive in the confusion of the 17th century and ended w/ philosophy that dominated Western thought until twentieth century. -Descartes was born into family of French lower nobility. After Jesuit education, he studied law at Poitiers but traveled to Paris to study by himself. In 1618, at beginning of Thirty Years¶ War, Descartes volunteered service in army of Maurice of Nassau, but his motives seem to be guided less by desire for military action than for travel and leisure for time to think. -Night of Nov. 10, 1619, Descartes underwent ³ecstatic illumination of the mystic.´ Having seen in a night the outlines of a new rational-mathematical system, w/ sense of divine approval he made new commitment to mind, mathematics, and mechanical universe. For rest of life, Descartes worked out details of vision. Starting point for Descartes¶ new system was doubt, as explained at beginning of most famous work Discourse on Method written in 1637: From my childhood, I have been familiar with letters; and as I was given to believe that by their means a clear and assured knowledge can be acquired of all that is useful in life, I was extremely eager for instruction in them. As soon, however, as I had completed the course of study, at the close of which it is customary to be admitted into the order of the learned, I entirely changed my opinion. For I found myself entangled in so many doubts and errors that, as it seemed to me, the endeavor to instruct myself had served only to disclose to me more and more of my ignorance. -Descartes decided to set aside that he had learned and begin again. One fact beyond doubt-his own existence: But I immediately became aware that I was thus disposed to think that all was false, it was absolutely necessary that I who thus thought should be something; and not noting that this truth, I think, therefore I am, was so steadfast and so assured that the suppositions of the skeptics, to whatever extreme they might all be carried, could not avail to shake it, I conclude that I might w/o scruple accept it as being the first principle of the philosophy I was seeking. -With emphasis on mind, Descartes asserted that he would accept only those things that his reason said were true. From first postulate, Descartes deduced an additional principle, the separation of mind and matter. He argued since ³the mind cannot be doubted but the body and material world can, the two must be radically different.´ From this came absolute duality b/w mind and body, what is called Cartesian dualism. Using mind or human reason, path to certain knowledge, and its best instrument, mathematics, humans can understand material world b/c it¶s pure mechanism, a machine that is governed by own physical laws b/c it¶s created by God, the greatest geometrician. -Descartes¶ conclusions of nature of universe and human beings had important implications. His separation of mind and matter allowed scientists to view matter as dead or inert, as something that was totally separate from themselves and could be investigated independently by reason. -Split b/w mind and body led Westerners to equate their identity w/ mind and reason rather than w/ whole organism. Descartes has rightly been called the father of modern rationalism. His books were placed on papal Index of Forbidden Books and condemned by many protestant theologians. The radical Cartesian split b/w mind and body had devastating implications not only traditional religious views of the universe but also for how Westerners viewed themselves.

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