Rusyniak 1 Christopher Rusyniak Professor Brown Perspectives: PL09008 February 9, 2008 I will say nothing of philosophy other than

this: once I saw that it had been cultivated for several centuries by the most excellent minds which had ever lived, and that, nonetheless, there was still nothing in it which was not disputed and which was thus not still in doubt, I did not have sufficient presumption to hope to fare better there than the others. Considering how many different opinions, maintained by learned people, philosophy could have about the same matter, without there ever being more than one which could be true, I reckoned as virtually false all those which were merely probable. This excerpt from Descartes Discourse on Method is most interesting as it is generally a disclaimer for his works and that which he deems “the most valued occupation,” and in fact the person which he is when writing this discourse. When reading Descartes one cannot help but notice the many contradictions that Descartes knowingly creates in order to reconcile himself with the his education and his environment. On philosophy, however, that he has no problem with distancing himself from empiricism. One of the bedrock principles of empiricism is learning through experience. Descartes somewhat ridicules this. In the very beginning of Part I he states that experience, especially from our youth, can be and is misleading. A suggestion may only be deemed true if it is indubitably so and currently impossible to disprove, everything else must be dismissed as false. His work is the culmination of his efforts to create a method in order that one can determine whether ideas are true and then build upon those. The bedrock of this method is not experience, but rather careful reason. He explicitly does this in his third maxim that he creates after his hope to erase his experiences. This maxim dictates that one, or rather he, must not seek to change the world, but

Rusyniak 2 rather to change his own desires, this is easier and faster and lets him change that which he has most control of, himself. This is the converse of what someone like Hobbes or Bacon might speak. For Example : For the end which this science of mine proposes is the invention not of arguments but of arts; not of things in accordance with principles, but of principles themselves; not of probable reasons, but of designations and directions for works. And as the intention is different, so, accordingly, is the effect; the effect of the one being to overcome an opponent in argument, of the other to command nature in action. (Bacon) The aim of his work is to find truth and the process of finding truth is the most noble and happiest of all. On certain axioms, however, Descartes does agree wholeheartedly with the empiricists. Notably, both schools of thought emphasize that all knowledge must come from within your person. For that reason none of Descartes’ work is arranged as a lecture, but rather a biography and demonstration of how to implement his example method. He elaborates on the idea that one person’s idea is better than that of a compilation of many. Confusion arises, and all the ideas with various fathers have various respective supporting axioms which probably are not compatible ‘cross-platform,’ and therefore provide unfounded conclusions. The rationalist method of reasoning is not particularly innovative or new. It does, though, make recommendations for use during reasoning. Descartes presents us with four major laws. The first generally prescribes that things are doubtful until carefully proven certain. For that reason he loves mathematics, especially geometry as there is no room for speculation as in philosophy. Later he states that one must divide larger problems into more simple parts. Its is easiest to misinterpret results of complicated experiments if you do not properly understand the principals that are at the foundation of that problem. This he claims is the flaw in Aristotelian reason. The syllogism is effective for argument and persuasion, but often you are pushing for

Rusyniak 3 and end, such as power, not a more perfect knowledge. If one portion of the deduction is flawed the entire conclusion and all the conclusions based on that conclusion are flawed and this may go undetected, and you yourself may believe the utilitarian falsity that you fabricated only for the purpose of winning an argument. His third recommendation decrees that one must then in order of difficulty approach these problems. The fourth vaguely proposes that the thinker be extremely careful in his analysis as if this problem is prematurely regarded as certainly solved and it is not than the problem that is more complex cannot hope to be true. If anything this is what would be his code of ethics, its aim is to make sure that your reason is not polluted with falsity. At the commencement of his discourse Descartes claims that everyone is endowed with equal reason, just as all human beings are equal. The sense that the product of some people’s reason are better than others is only a function of how careful the thinker is to filter out all knowledge that was not made certain within his person. This certitude is central to the rationalist method. One of the famous axioms that Descartes was able to prove was “I am thinking, therefore I exist.” This is clear because if one tries to doubt that the mere action of doubting must mean you exist. It is similar to claiming that every point doesn’t have a counterpoint. Descartes emphasizes, just as Bacon did that the senses are not a reliable medium of accepting certain truths. Several ages before Aristotle would assume everything he perceived was true. Thus, because our senses deceive us sometimes, I was willing to assume that there was nothing which existed the way our senses present it to us. And because there are men who make mistakes in reasoning, even concerning the most simple matters of geometry, and who create para-logisms, and because I judged that I was subject to error just as much as anyone else, I rejected as false all the reasons which I had taken earlier as proofs. Finally, considering that all the same thoughts which we have when awake can also come to us when we are asleep, without there being truth in any of them at the time, I determined to pretend that everything which had ever entered my mind was no more true than the illusions of my dreams. (Descartes)

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Aristotle didn’t seem to be as obsessed about certitude nearly as much, he was more so pushing virtue as a model of living. “There are three kinds of disposition, then, two of them vices, involving excess and deficiency respectively, and one a virtue, viz. the mean, and all are in a sense opposed to all; for the extreme states are contrary both to the intermediate state and to each other, and the intermediate to the extremes; as the equal is greater relatively to the less, less relatively to the greater, so the middle states are excessive relatively to the deficiencies, deficient relatively to the excesses, both in passions and in actions” (Aristotle 48) The model rationalist’s ethical maxims are ones of which the end is to propagate certain research. For example the first is to respect, live by, and uphold the rules of your home country. This is merely so that others don’t extradite him from society and so that he may continue to live and think in peace. His second is in the interest of making progress, at first to at least make a decision, as a decision is better than no decision. As his thinking becomes more complex, I’m sure he abandoned this maxim in order to be certain that all his axioms are true. The third seems to be an ideological maxim remaining from his Jesuit education in the academy. That is to conquer yourself rather than the rest of the world. The final one merely establishes his

occupation, one of thinking as the most noble. Aristotle would approve. In the same way he states that an ultimate source of pleasure would be learning or understanding for the sake of understanding, and for no other selfish goal. This brings one closer to his ultimate good, happiness, which everyone should strive for. The mind is the only thing that can be pleased to create lasting happiness in the words of Aristotle. Aristotle and Descartes both illustrate the body and soul (mind in Descartes) as two separate entities. Aristotle would portray the body and a necessary obstacle of appetite capable of perception. Descartes is visibly dedicated to the relation and interaction between the body and

Rusyniak 5 the mind. Especially interesting to him was the way mind is able to perceive, he must have decided that if he was able to discover the vehicle by which this was done he would be able to differentiate between truth and illusion of truth. Essentially Descartes could be seen as a mean of the ancients and the empiricists in the sense that he borrows ideas from both schools of thought and then attaches his infatuation with certitude. His ethics he takes from the ancients, his distrust of the academy is identical, yet maybe a less zealous version of Bacon, he and Hobbes share the same views on speech being that which makes us human. This compilation makes for a very effective and usable Discourse on Method.