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Discourse de la Méthode avec introduction et notes

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30 review for Discourse de la Méthode avec introduction et notes

  1. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    3.0 to 3.5 stars (though as mentioned below, the first four sections get 4 to 5 stars). One of the most influential works in history of modern science/philosophy, the full name of the work is "Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences." It is a work that deals with the ascertaining of knowledge from "first principals" and creates a method from which all research into scientific principals could be based. He begins by saying that because so 3.0 to 3.5 stars (though as mentioned below, the first four sections get 4 to 5 stars). One of the most influential works in history of modern science/philosophy, the full name of the work is "Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences." It is a work that deals with the ascertaining of knowledge from "first principals" and creates a method from which all research into scientific principals could be based. He begins by saying that because so many different (and contradictory) theories have been set forth by learned and great men that it is impossible to "trust" anything that you can not verify yourself based on your own observations. This skepticism of all that has come before was the cornerstone for modern scientific thinking and experimentation to prove results. Highlights of this very short work are as follows: THE METHOD: In Section II, Descartes defines the "Method" he will use to estblish knowledge of the world as the following four steps: (1) Be skeptical of everything and do not accept anything as "truth" until you can be certain of its correctness and completely free from doubt; (2) divide each problem into the smallest parts possible so that you can be looking at its component parts which will be the easiest to understand (3) start from most basic concept and add complexity slowly and in degrees so that you can be absolutely certain of each step along the way and (4) from your use of (1) through (3) create general rules applicable to the whole of the subject and that apply to the largest possible group. THE MORALS: In applying the Method, Descartes in Section III identifies 3 maxims (which ge calls morals) that he will adhere to in his studies: (1) obey the laws of his Country (2) be firm and resolute in the pursuit of knowledge and (3) conquer self rather than fortune (by which he means don't pursue truth based on your own material advantage lest you avoid a line of reasoning that may be true but would lead to a disadvantage for you. In other words, truth should be your only goal. APPLICATION OF THE METHOD: In Section IV, Descartes applies the Method and derives the basic truth of his existence by stating the famous line "Cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am). He also goes on to prove the existence of God. This last "proof" is the most controversial aspect of the work and is called the negotiable ontological proof of the existence of God. Up through the end of Section IV, I would have given this 4 or 5 stars as it was both a important work and written such that it could be easily understood. Section 5 and 6 (the last half of this very short work) seemed to me to be very "muddled" and uninteresting and dealt with the difference between man and animals and the working of the human circulatory system. The meat of the work in is the first 4 sections and that is what I would recommend to anyone interested in the history of scientific and philosophical thought. Definitely, an important work.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    ...the perusal of all excellent books is, as it were, to interview with the noblest men of past ages, who have written them. René Descartes, Discourse on Method There are certain books that are hugely influential and fantastic reads. This one was hugely influential. In many ways modern science (and philosophy) owes a great deal to some of the frameworks, methods, and rationalities posited by Descartes in this book. Hell, even the idea of starting off skeptical and building from there owes a “...the perusal of all excellent books is, as it were, to interview with the noblest men of past ages, who have written them.” ― René Descartes, Discourse on Method There are certain books that are hugely influential and fantastic reads. This one was hugely influential. In many ways modern science (and philosophy) owes a great deal to some of the frameworks, methods, and rationalities posited by Descartes in this book. Hell, even the idea of starting off skeptical and building from there owes a large debt to Descartes. It isn't, however, a perfect book. Some of his "proofs" of God and the immortality of the spirit are a bit shaky (like his understanding of the functioning of the heart). But those are quibbles, minor imperfections, in a work that probably deserves to stand next to classics such as: Darwin's The Origin of Species for biology, Newton's The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy for science, and Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking for mainstreaming French cuisine. I cook, therefore I eat. When you reduce and clarify Descartes down, you are left with a lonely method of skimming off those things you can't prove, and a sticky relationship with God. Bon Appétit! Bon Pensées!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Luís C.

    Man, epicenter of nature and of the world, is a spirit endowed with a consciousness to "mater", unlike animals... By his faculty to think, to experiment, to order his thought, everyone has to doubt to seek his own "truth", whether scientific, spiritual or ideological. Descartes , a master of modern mathematics, of Cartesian thought, of empirical doubt, of methodical reasoning, revolutionized the scientific and philosophical thought of his time and of centuries to come. He is already Man, epicenter of nature and of the world, is a spirit endowed with a consciousness to "mater", unlike animals... By his faculty to think, to experiment, to order his thought, everyone has to doubt to seek his own "truth", whether scientific, spiritual or ideological. Descartes , a master of modern mathematics, of Cartesian thought, of empirical doubt, of methodical reasoning, revolutionized the scientific and philosophical thought of his time and of centuries to come. He is already distinguished from his contemporaries by writing his prose in the vulgar language, French, in a XVIIth century Latin, "vulgarizing" thus a discourse that he wants accessible to all. If I respect the scientific scope (the preliminary reflection, the non-precipitation, the observation, the experimentation) of the Discourse of the method of Descartes, I do not share its moral (philosophical or spiritual) scope. I am not alone in thinking that empiricism has no place in all the acts of our life, nor that prudence is necessarily the mother of wisdom or safety! We are not a spirit or differentiated body. The "I" makes us exist, it makes us real, but it is often others that open us to our own consciousness ... Without others, I am only a small thing.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ioana

    I concede the point: my entire philosophical raison d'être orbits around the deconstruction of the false dualism unleashed upon the world by René. Though, albeit, alas, perhaps it is unfair to blame him entirely, seeing as the Greeks started it, and considering that R. was most likely just articulating an ethos since embodied by Western (European) civilization. Dualism: the idea of separation, articulation, and demarcation, specifically into a binary framework, is the essential construct I concede the point: my entire philosophical raison d'être orbits around the deconstruction of the false dualism unleashed upon the world by René. Though, albeit, alas, perhaps it is unfair to blame him entirely, seeing as the Greeks started it, and considering that R. was most likely just articulating an ethos since embodied by “Western” (European) civilization. Dualism: the idea of separation, articulation, and demarcation, specifically into a binary framework, is the essential construct grounding “Western” progressive thought (kind of like binary mathematics is the language of digital machines; the parallel is not coincidental). The essence of dualism lies in making a distinction, differentiating between two. Such distinctions seem at first, superficially, to occur naturally in lived experience: night and day, woman and man, left and right, cold and hot, future and present; historically these differentiations have been embedded in habitual actions and ideas about morality: good and bad, moral and immoral. Upon closer inspection, of course, experience is not dual in the least: sex is not binary, our perception of space is constituted of more than directionality, while our experience of time is bound up in the present and encompasses both history (past) and hope (future). Yet dual interpretations of experience have reigned in our imaginations for thousands of years. The Age of Reason. In its essence, dualistic thought makes distinctions; such distinctions constitute the mechanics of “Western” reason. Logical versus irrational thought, knowledge versus opinion, empirical fact versus experience: reason is born of and enabled by an intricate delineation of opposing forces, one of which is always considered superior: mind over body, logic over poetry, linear argument over cyclical interrogation. Thus at the core of dualism lies an inherent judgment, that one of the two is differentiated as inadequate, unnecessary, superfluous, or inferior. Knowledge wins over Meaning. Reason over Art. Mind over Body. Man over Woman. Analysis over Synthesis. The dualism which punctures Western reason has furthered an almost compulsive race for the “truth” (versus semblance, or illusion); the truth is pursued through the collection of distinguishable facts, labeled “knowledge,” which is to be empirically verified, quantitatively measured, objectively classified, and so forth. In the classrooms of today, for example, this belief manifests as standards centered on collections of knowledge to be mastered, as quantitative measures of student progress and teacher effectiveness, and as the glorification of “cognitive” tasks over social, emotional, or bodied experiences. Dualism reigns at every level of our social, cultural fabric and material realities – it’s not just a philosophical remnant of a time long past. Linear Time. Rational thought requires orderly linearity as it seeks to collect knowledge and use it to explain causes and effects; linearity implies that in following a course of action, one progresses towards a goal, end, or objective; as G. W. Hegel wrote, human history is constantly developing through conflict. This mode of temporal understanding is so embedded in our daily acts that it is difficult to imagine alternatives: we operate by the dictates of a 24 hour clock, 7 hour week, etc, we imagine career and educational “paths” which lead towards an ultimate goal, and we have come to see the course of life itself in a similar way. The World as Mechanism: Closed Under Physics. The scientific revolution enabled by the articulation of linear reason, by the assumptions of progress, and by metaphors of knowledge as a collection of facts to be conquered, led increasingly throughout the late Renaissance years to paradigm shifts away from beliefs in the predestination of religion and towards an understanding of the nature of the world as predetermined by physical laws. Revolutionaries of the era proposed that the laws of the natural world were “closed under physics,” or able to explain any and all past, present, and future phenomena through their application; according to classical conceptions of science born in this period, “all matter acts according to predetermined and knowable laws unending material progress, communicated by media and consumption based culture” (See CA Bowers, Revitalizing the Commons: Cultural and Educational Sites of Resistance and Affirmation ). The End: The World is Conquered Only, of course it’s not, as phenomenologists, critical theorists, physicists, artists, etc etc have been attesting to in recent generations. YES dualism gave us technology, science, a way to shed religious fear in favor of scientific inquiry. BUT it also forgot so much along the way: the “other” (the body, the spirit, experience, art), an organic, non-mechanistic vision, purpose, meaning… And all this WHY?!? (ok, the Greeks, and European history, but also, THIS BOOK). At first, I began Discourse on Method in trepidation: for, after all, what if some of the ideas were indeed sound? What if I had spent my entire adult life attempting to correct and refute a construct that held up under scrutiny? But alas my fears were allayed within pages, when it became clear that Descartes is just about the least introspective person who ever lived. It goes like this: Descartes thought and thought, and couldn’t find the answers sitting at his dingy desk in his small dark room. So he went out into the world. He “traveled… frequented people of various humors and conditions, gathered varied experiences.” And alas, he still couldn’t write anything down, he was so caught up in all the experience. So he said, to hell with this, and went home. Where thought immediately came pouring in torrents. This flurry of cogitation led to the brilliant thesis that it’s not experience or the body or relationships with others, or any of the mushy-gushy sensuous stuff of life that makes the man – it’s his thought alone! Sigh. Just… sigh. [review 2016; originally read in 2008]

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Discourse on the Methods by Rene Descartes I think, therefore I am (COGITO ERGO SUM) ........ if all the other objects which I had ever imagined had been in reality existent, I would have had no reason to believe that I existed; I thence concluded that I was a substance whose whole essence or nature consists only in thinking. COGITO ERGO SUM is perhaps the most famous line ever written in all of philosophy. It is found about half-way through this treatise, which was published in 1637 and is Discourse on the Methods by Rene Descartes I think, therefore I am (COGITO ERGO SUM) ........ if all the other objects which I had ever imagined had been in reality existent, I would have had no reason to believe that I existed; I thence concluded that I was a substance whose whole essence or nature consists only in thinking. COGITO ERGO SUM is perhaps the most famous line ever written in all of philosophy. It is found about half-way through this treatise, which was published in 1637 and is surprisingly readable. Descartes, of course, was one of the world’s greatest philosophers and mathematicians. For those interested in the philosophy of Descartes you will immediately notice the heavy emphasis on rationalizing. He was known as the Father of Rationalism after all. Descartes was also a scientist and there is an excellent chapter where he describes how the circulatory system works, but Descartes’ philosophical ideas are the most quotable and memorable. For to be possessed of a vigorous mind is not enough; the prime requisite is rightly to apply it ...... My third maxim was to 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. 4 stars. I certainly enjoyed this short treatise. I am not very well read in philosophy but nevertheless it was reassuring to follow someone, with such a highly structured brain, puzzle through some deep philosophical problems. Perhaps I’d liken the experience to reading Origin of Species by Darwin. I’m a bit in awe.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rowland Pasaribu

    The Discourse on the Method is a fascinating book, both as a work of philosophy and as a historical document. Descartes lived and worked in a period that Thomas Kuhn would call a "paradigm shift": one way of thinking, one worldview, was slowly being replaced by another. Descartes's work, while part of the new paradigm, still has one leg in the old mode of thought. The old, waning worldview was scholastic Aristotelianism. The Aristotelian paradigm had a conception of the mind, of knowledge, and of The Discourse on the Method is a fascinating book, both as a work of philosophy and as a historical document. Descartes lived and worked in a period that Thomas Kuhn would call a "paradigm shift": one way of thinking, one worldview, was slowly being replaced by another. Descartes's work, while part of the new paradigm, still has one leg in the old mode of thought. The old, waning worldview was scholastic Aristotelianism. The Aristotelian paradigm had a conception of the mind, of knowledge, and of science that may seem very alien to us today, but this conception held sway over Western thought for about two thousand years. According to the Aristotelian tradition, the mind proper—what is exclusively "inside the head"—is limited to reason and understanding. Sensory perception, imagination, will, and so on, make reference to things outside the mind and so are not purely mental. Rather, they are the link that connects us to the outside world. According to Aristotle, there is no distinction between what I perceive and what is "out there." Thus, sensory experience gives us direct and immediate knowledge of objects in the world. Science, in this worldview, is a matter of taking the immediate evidence of sensory experience and deducing certain conclusions from it. The sensory experience is indubitable, and the deductions are logical, so all scientific knowledge is based on absolute certainty. One of Descartes's most significant contributions to the scientific revolution is his conception of sensory experience, imagination, and will as being just as much subjective mental phenomena as reason and understanding. His systematic doubting questions how it is that we can be certain about what we perceive. Descartes draws a sharp distinction between what our senses report to us and what is "out there." This re-conception of the mind shakes the foundations of Aristotelian scholasticism. If sensory experience is no longer self-evident, then we can no longer deduce certain scientific truths from these observations. Essentially, Descartes makes us sharply aware of what goes into a scientific observation. It is not a purely neutral and objective act of seeing the world as it is; it is an interpretive act that must be undertaken with great care and circumspection. The scientific paradigm that we have today owes a great deal to Descartes. Today, we have taken Descartes's method one step further. Now, we conclude that we can never have absolute certainty in the sciences. All we can hope for are sound theories that are supported by careful observations. Descartes himself does not reach this conclusion. To a large extent, he is still set on finding certainty. His search for certainty, beginning with the famous line "I am thinking, therefore I exist," has largely defined the course of a great deal of philosophy since his time. We can debate whether Descartes is right in having found certainty in this claim, and we can debate what kind of knowledge this is, but it seems clear that it is not a kind of knowledge that is applicable to science as a whole. In finding this certainty, Descartes hopes to rebuild science in the Aristotelian method of deduction from certain first principles. In hindsight, this effort may seem a bit misguided. Though his philosophy of science may be a bit askew, the philosophical method Descartes uses in part four of the Discourse has proven extremely valuable. His method of skeptical doubt has raised important philosophical questions concerning how we can be certain of, or even know, anything at all. His re-conception of what the mind is has largely defined the shape of Western psychology and philosophy ever since. His assertion that he is essentially a thinking thing and that his mind is distinct from his body has also raised a number of important philosophical questions: what is my relationship with my mind? What is my relationship with my body? If they are distinct, what is the causal connection between the two? And so on. Effectively, Descartes frames the questions that have preoccupied what we now call "modern philosophy." The turning point in Descartes's intellectual development occurred on November 10, 1619. He had attended the coronation of Ferdinand II in Frankfurt, and was returning to serve in the army of Maximilian of Bavaria. Due to the onset of winter, he holed himself up for a day, alone in a stove-heated room. With nothing else to occupy him, he set about thinking. He first mused that accomplishments of single individuals are usually more perfect than group efforts. Cities and buildings are more beautiful when they are made according to a single plan than when they are patched together piecemeal. Similarly, laws are better when they come from a single mind than when they evolve gradually over time. Descartes cites God's law as an instance of this perfection. These musings suggest to him that a person is best served by following the guidance of his reason alone, and not letting his judgments be clouded by his appetites and by the opinions of others. While it would be impossible to resolve the imperfections of a state or a body of sciences by tearing it all down and starting again from scratch, Descartes suggests that such a method is not quite as unreasonable on the individual level. He decided to let go of all his former opinions at once, and re-build them anew according the exacting standards of his own reason. Descartes is very careful, first of all, to point out that this method is meant only on an individual level, and he strongly opposes those who would try to topple a public institution and rebuild it from the ground up. Second, he reminds us that he only wants to discuss his method with us; he is not telling us to imitate him. In particular, he notes that there are two types of people for whom this method would be unsuited: those who think they know more than they do and who lack the patience for such careful work, and those who are modest enough to think that they are more capable of finding out the truth if they follow a teacher. Descartes would count himself among this second group if he hadn't had such a number of teachers and embarked on so many travels as to realize that the opinions of even learned men vary greatly. Before abandoning his former opinions entirely, Descartes formulates four laws that will direct his inquiry: First, not to accept anything as true unless it is evident; this will prevent hasty conclusions. Second, to divide any given problem into the greatest possible number of parts to make for a simpler analysis. Third, to start with the simplest of objects and to slowly progress toward increasingly difficult objects of study. Fourth, to be circumspect and constantly review the progress made in order to be sure that nothing has been left out. An obvious starting place was in the mathematical sciences, where a great deal of progress and certain knowledge had been achieved by means of demonstration. Descartes found his work made considerably easier if, on the one hand, he considered every quantity as a line, and, on the other hand, developed a system of symbols that could express these quantities as concisely as possible. Taking the best elements of algebra and geometry, he had tremendous success in both these fields. Before applying this method to the other sciences, Descartes thought it well to find some philosophical foundations for his method. If we were to identify a starting point for modern philosophy, November 10, 1619 would be as good a date as any. We might pinpoint precisely the moment that Descartes resolved to cast all his former opinions into doubt. This process of methodological doubt is central to Descartes, and indeed to most of modern philosophy. The results Descartes achieves by employing this method of doubt are discussed in Part Four of theDiscourse, so we will comment on his method in greater detail there. It is important, of course, that Descartes does not simply scrap everything he knows, or else he would have no guidance in rebuilding his knowledge. The four rules he lays out are meant as guidelines, so that he will be able to rely on them, and not on unnoticed prejudices. Descartes had initially collected twenty-one rules entitled Rules for the Direction of Our Native Intelligence in 1628, but left the manuscript unpublished. The four rules we find here can be read as a major abbreviation of that effort. Essentially, they demand that an inquiry proceed slowly and carefully, starting with basic, simple, self-evident truths, building toward more complex and less evident propositions. Descartes assumes a certain kind of theory of knowledge that was pretty much unquestioned in his day. In modern philosophical language, we call this a foundationalist epistemology. It sees knowledge as built up from simple, self-evident propositions, to higher and more complex knowledge. The theory states that if we were to analyze any complex proposition, we could break it down into increasingly smaller, simpler pieces until we were left with simple, non-analyzable propositions. These basic propositions would be either self-evidently true or self-evidently false. If they were all true, then we would know that the original complex proposition was also true. Of course, there are different variations of foundationalist epistemology; for example, the epistemology will shift depending on how the analysis is supposed to take place or on what the basic propositions are supposed to look like. But the general idea can be applied to Descartes easily. Knowledge is built up like a skyscraper, with the higher, complex knowledge built on simple, sturdy foundations. This is just one of a number of theories of knowledge that are batted about these days. Another theory that will come into play later in the Discourse is a coherentist epistemology, one that states that knowledge is more like a circle than a skyscraper. According to this theory, there is no foundational knowledge that is more basic than other knowledge. All knowledge fits together in such a way that it is internally coherent, but there is no fundamental self-evident proposition that is itself beyond doubt and that justifies all the other propositions. A statement is true because it is consistent with everything else we know to be true, not because it can be analyzed into simple parts. The reason that a foundationalist epistemology seems natural to Descartes at this point is that this is the epistemology that philosophy had inherited from Aristotle. As we have noted already in other sections of this SparkNote, Aristotelian scientific method works according to a system of syllogism and demonstration, where complex truths are logically deduced from simpler ones. This method implies a theory of knowledge according to which complex truths are built upon simpler ones that serve as an unquestioned bedrock of knowledge. It is significant that Descartes should choose mathematics to study according to this method. Mathematics has had far more success than any other field (except logic) with deductive reasoning. Math is built upon simple, self-evident axioms that are then used, along with some rules of inference, to derive proofs of more complex propositions. Descartes is not only one of the greatest philosophers of the modern world, he is also one of its greatest mathematicians. His discussion of algebra and geometry alludes to his discovery of analytic geometry that brought those two fields together. Until Descartes, algebra and geometry were two totally separate fields of study. He invented the Cartesian co-ordinate system that every math student knows and loves. That's the co-ordinate system with the x-axis and the y-axis that allows you to plot lines and curves and whatever other shapes you please. Geometrical figures could be plotted onto the co-ordinate grid, and since every line and curve on the grid corresponds to an equation, geometrical figures can be expressed as equations. Geometrical figures become algebraic equations, and algebraic equations can be graphed as geometrical figures. This all seems pretty commonplace to us today, but if you try to imagine solving math problems without graphing anything you'll begin to understand the colossal contribution Descartes made to mathematics.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Gator

    Reading good books is like engaging in conversation with the most cultivated minds of past centuries who had composed them, or rather, taking part in a well-conducted dialogue in which such minds reveal to us only the best of their thoughts. That is because God isnt a deceiver, which implies that he has given me the ability to correct any falsity there may be in my opinions. Indeed, everything that I am taught by nature certainly contains some truth. For the term nature, understood in the most “Reading good books is like engaging in conversation with the most cultivated minds of past centuries who had composed them, or rather, taking part in a well-conducted dialogue in which such minds reveal to us only the best of their thoughts.” “That is because God isn’t a deceiver, which implies that he has given me the ability to correct any falsity there may be in my opinions. Indeed, everything that I am ‘taught by nature’ certainly contains some truth. For the term ‘nature’, understood in the most general way, refers to God himself or to the ordered system of created things established by him. And my own nature is simply the totality of things bestowed on me by God.”

  8. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    Endeavor always to master myself rather than fortune, to try to change my desires rather than to change the order of the world, and in general to settle for the belief that there is nothing entirely in our power except our thoughts, and after we have tried, in respect of things external to us, to do our best, everything in which we do not succeed is absolutely impossible as far as we are concerned. “Endeavor always to master myself rather than fortune, to try to change my desires rather than to change the order of the world, and in general to settle for the belief that there is nothing entirely in our power except our thoughts, and after we have tried, in respect of things external to us, to do our best, everything in which we do not succeed is absolutely impossible as far as we are concerned.”

  9. 4 out of 5

    bugen

    Summary of my notes on the Discourse, by part: I. The premise is introduced that reason is naturally equal in all, and truth is to be found by conducting it correctly. Descartes attempts to show how he himself has attempted this, not to dictate how everyone should. II. The method. Descartes wished to rebuild the very foundations upon which his opinions and views were formed. He decided to do this by systematic doubt. The key point is to never accept as true anything that is not known to be Summary of my notes on the Discourse, by part: I. The premise is introduced that reason is naturally equal in all, and truth is to be found by conducting it correctly. Descartes attempts to show how he himself has attempted this, not to dictate how everyone should. II. The method. Descartes wished to rebuild the very foundations upon which his opinions and views were formed. He decided to do this by systematic doubt. The key point is to never accept as true anything that is not known to be evidently so. III. Descartes outlines his provisional moral code that he used during his search, saying that if one wishes to rebuild their house, they must have alternate accommodation while doing so. IV. From his first unquestionable principle, 'I think, therefore I am', Descartes moves on to his proof for the existence of God. V. Largely a description of a treatise he never published, and discussion of the difference between human and animals souls. This part is generally of less interest, not written with such clarity and wit. VI. Here, he describes why that treatise was never published, his thoughts on experimentation, and his plans for future publications. This suffers from the same issues as part five. The real meat of the Discourse is to be found in parts one through four.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Justin Benjamin

    Rene Descartes Discourse on the Method is one of the most difficult books for me to review, in that it is half inspiring to me, and half disappointing; what starts out as a brilliant doubting methodology, eliminating whatever can be doubted until there is nothing left than can be by any conjecture or hypothesis be reasonably doubted- arrive at a basic, fundamental truth, providing a firm rational foundation from other truths can be derived. Unfortunately, once Descartes discovers this truth, (I Rene’ Descartes’ “Discourse on the Method” is one of the most difficult books for me to review, in that it is half inspiring to me, and half disappointing; what starts out as a brilliant doubting methodology, eliminating whatever can be doubted until there is nothing left than can be by any conjecture or hypothesis be reasonably doubted- arrive at a basic, fundamental truth, providing a firm rational foundation from other truths can be derived. Unfortunately, once Descartes discovers this truth, (“I think, therefore I am”), he abandons his doubting methodology almost entirely, the remainder of the book being devoted to religion, morality, the intellectual superiority of men, Aristotelian thought, a lengthy explanation of his understanding of the human heart, and finally, a defense of his views and his reasons for promulgating them. The latter sections, when accounted together with the general apologetic tone of this work, suggests that a more fitting title would have been “Discourse on and Defense of the Method”, with the latter being the most disappointing aspect of his work. The first half of the book, divided into the first three sections, is comprised of Descartes’ intellectual background and the origins of his method, as well as the range of his education and experiences abroad. In these sections, he stresses the importance of a search for truth being elegant, providing several analogies for this, including: the aesthetic superiority of newer buildings built by one architect, over older buildings which have been maintained, remodeled, and “improved” by many different architects progressively less familiar with the original architect’s purpose;how while it more convenient to take the long winding path of a mountain, which is smooth and well-traveled, the most certain path to “truth” must necessarily be straight, though it is comparably untraveled, rocky, and passing through arduous heights and perilous precipitices; the importance of one who is lost in the forest, to stay to one side of a forest, as it is better to come out of the forest on the wrong end, than to perpetually wander in indecision, never coming out of the forest. Accordingly, he endeavors to, once he discovers the method by which to derive truths immune to doubt (dubbed by modern philosophy as the “doubting methodology”), be resolved in its application to the improvement of himself, and the acquisition of new knowledge. This may also explain his authoritative (though paradoxically humble) approach in the deriving of “truths” from his foundational axiom that his ability to think therefore he exists. (I’ll explain some of the negative impacts this had on the accuracy of his works, later on in the review). To doubt all that could be doubted, he first created a hypothetical conjecture by which everything that he knew would become uncertain, which is known today as the “dreaming conjecture”: If the waking world was really just a dream, then everything he saw could be a deception, much in the same way everything we see while dreaming is not happening in reality. It is here that he establishes that even if he were dreaming, and was thus compelled to doubt the truth of everything he saw, felt, imagined, or thought in reality, he still could not deny the fact that his doubts constituted thought, and as there needed to be a doubter to doubt something, his thoughts thereby confirmed his existence. This is the most brilliant part of “Discourse on the Method”, but unfortunately this is also where the brilliance ends. After determining that his thoughts confirm his existence (which would make him, at that point, effectively a solipsist, since the only knowledge he held with certainty was the existence of his own mind), Descartes confidently draws upon much of the knowledge that he had previously already doubted, including such axioms as the existence of perfection, the verification of ideas by virtue of being clearly known (basically, the perceived reliability of intuition), the notion that perfection and imperfection cannot coexist, the certainty that something cannot come from nothing, nor a lesser perfection come from a greater perfection. Building on these assumptions, which Descartes supposedly derived from his certainty of existence, he “proves” the absolute existence of God, that the attributes Descartes believed him to possess, were doubtlessly possessed by God, and the ones which Descartes was certain were contrary to God, he did not possess. This dramatic shift from rigid skepticism to a religiously and philosophically biased authoritarianism, greatly undermines the validity of Descarte’s “Discourse on the Method”. The ludicrousness of his “logic” can be plainly summarized as follows: 1. To find the truth, we must doubt everything that can be doubted, until we find a truth so pure that it is immune to skepticism. 2. To doubt everything that can be doubted, the notion that reality might well be a dream, is introduced. Everything we know could thus be a figment of our imagination, the deception created by mental delusion. 3. We confirm that even if we doubt all else, the fact we can doubt confirms that we can think, which further confirms that there is a thinker, proving that even for a complete cynic, existence is undeniable, and furthermore, is confirmed by attempts to doubt it. (So far so good, but Descartes’ adherence to reason ends here) 4. Everything I clearly know to be true is true indeed 5. I know that perfection must exist, because how could the thought have been impressed upon me unless there were a greater perfection beyond myself 6. This imperfection could not have come from nothing (that would be absurd), and neither could I be more perfect from that whence I came (which would be more absurd) 7. Since I must have necessarily come from this greater perfection, my existence (which I have confirmed already) must have come from God 8. Thus God exists Descartes then proceeds to determine whether God has deceived his senses to make reality different from what it is, and determines that: 1. Since God is perfect, he cannot contain anything that is imperfect 2. Thus anything imperfect, including deception, cannot come from God Accordingly, Descartes can confidently and reliably determine what is real, and what is not, and what is good, and what is bad, by measuring them against God- that is, what Descartes deemed to be imperfect, comes from chaos, and what is perfect, must necessarily have its origin on God. To agree with Descartes’ conclusions, I would argue that one must completely disregard the very method the first half of this discourse is about, and assume all of his axioms as somehow, his plethora of axioms are supported by his confirmation that thought proves existence. If anyone can connect the dots for me on this, I would love to hear their thoughts, but so far as I can tell, Descartes inadvertently let his religious beliefs, and (later on, which I’ll get to) his philosophical background, interfere with objectivity of thought, these biases preventing him from accurately applying the central axiom upon which his entire doubting methodology was founded. This kind of backwards thinking, the primary weakness of not only Descartes’ thought, but of the rationalism movement as a whole, took the rest of his “Discourse on the Method” on an intellectual tangent, producing what is rationally a vastly inferior second half as a sequel to the first. After proving God’s existence, that reality is what it appears to be, and (apparently, though such a proof is not even mentioned!) confirming the existence of the human soul, Descartes demonstrates how his knowledge of God both confirms and clarifies his knowledge of geometry and the sciences, what he perceives with the senses, and a plethora of other “truths” which he said remained yet unpublished, so as to prevent controversy from interfering with his work. He further ventured that, even if other realities were to be created by God, that all of them would be just as true, and follow the same laws of natures, since they all have their origin in God. It’s clear at this point that Descartes had abandoned his method entirely in favor of religious dogma and metaphysical presumptions that he artificially made to conform to his “method”, despite any actual reasoning or evidence to support such an association. Here “the method” is removed from discourse entirely, as the humble Descartes boasts at length about his new-found “knowledge” and the results of his experiments (most of which are already disproven through modern scientific discoveries, and little more than an application of the “science” of Aristotle, Descartes’ primary philosophical influence, and the basis for most of the second half of this discourse). He describes his discoveries of the interactions of the four elements which, in Descarte’s time, were believed to compose everything: earth, fire, air, water) and the fifth element aether, which is implied in his analyses of light and the soul. The tangent continues even farther from the method with his exposition of animal organs, how they are similar to human organs, but that whereas humans also have vegetative and sensitive souls, they also possess that which no brute (animal/non-human, and quite possibly including Africans, whom Descartes implied in the beginning of the treatise are brutes) could possess- the rational soul, which enables humans to reason, and to communicate intelligibly through language, and adapt themselves to understand and be understood, and which even the most intellectually mediocre of humans can surpass the most intelligent of animals in proficiency. Of course, modern empirical science would have disproved Descarte’s claims in this regard too. If only to further demonstrate his own ignorance, he continued on to note that no machine, whether organic or mechanical, could replicate human intelligence convincingly, which of course is handily debunked by the ever-innovative modern scientific field of artificial intelligence. Descartes has thus made a great many assumptions, a far leap from doubting everything besides his ability to think, and by virtue of that, his own existence. Contrary to the original intent, Descartes has made his way to the edge of the forest, or to draw upon Plato’s allegory, to the mouth of the cave, only to dive back inside in search of deeper “truth” than he could find in the mere assurance of his own existence. And contrary to his maxim of striving for elegance, even at the cost of intellectual hardship and existential peril, he abandoned his “Occam’s Razor” and created theories building upon a myriad of assumptions, abandoning the necessity of undoubtable axioms, in favor of religion, intuition, Aristotelian thought, and personal bias. So much for objectivity! After this point, he gives a long winding explanation of the interworkings of the heart and the flow of blood, through the lens of the aforementioned 5-element medieval conception of nature and biology. Basically, his explanations are sound, but insufficiently vague to establish his credibility as a master of anatomy, and unacceptably tainted by simplistic and distorted understandings of chemistry and elemental structure. He then skims over how he theorizes the senses manifest perception, how our body induces the sleeping and waking states, etc. With each page of Descartes’ “discourse”, the once humble Descartes transforms himself into a deluded, authoritative know-it-all, and this treatise became more difficult to read with every paragraph, as the originally meaningful discourse discards the central focus in favor of fashioning itself a medieval textbook, only stretched over every single topic of the sciences, and without much relation between them. “In fine”, [the term used in the English translation to mean 'in summary'], the second half of this treatise successfully warps it into a collection of tangential philosophical speculations misrepresented as demonstrated facts. The final section has little to be said about, except that it is half-apologetic, and half self-promotion. This sort of thing is ordinarily found in the preface or the introduction to a work, or some other sort of author’s note, but Descartes ended up placing it at the end of the book, for God knows what reason. He explains how he didn’t want to release the treatises (mainly, the other ones, which are continually aluded to in this one), but felt compelled to so as to not be thought ill of for refraining from doing so. He explains how even though he wishes to have his work undisturbed, and his repose uninterrupted, that he felt the need to release the work first to preserve his reputation (which had grown despite his efforts to the contrary), and second to ensure that a greater understanding and application of his work could be achieved than if it were published post-mortem. He then goes on to promote the importance of his work being studied and analyzed properly, and of people replying to the discourse via his publisher so as to improve it. All of these things, while perhaps essential for an author to convey to his readership, are hardly the kind of thing to be devoted a section to, but at this point I’ve already given up on finding any logic to Descartes’ “Discourse on the Method”, which disappeared soon after the third section of this treatise was completed. Regardless of my misgivings regarding the logic of this discourse, and the due-noted unfaithfulness to the axioms and maxims his work was founded on, Descarte’s authoritative approach to “truth”, and the scientific and mathematical discoveries he derived from it, have indeed benefited mankind, so ultimately, his purpose in writing this work, and the concerning treatises, was fulfilled. On one hand, I consider him the Aristotle of the 17th century, creating a philosophical movement that would impede the progress of the fields of philosophy and science for decades, even centuries. On the other hand, his somewhat extremist, biased, authoritative approach to philosophy and the sciences led him to conceive of knowledge far beyond the scope of the sciences of the time. Both perspectives are reminiscent of Sigmund Freud, the physicist-philosopher who imagined a whole system of psychoanalysis and built the foundations of modern psychology, but is now widely criticized for the many speculative ideas he promoted as fact (now mostly disproven by modern psychology and psychiatry), particularly regarding human motivation and sexuality, and child development. In the same way, Descartes’ ideas, while many (or most, I might venture) were factually wrong, and often the opposite of the truth, helped create a scientific and philosophical revolution, contributing greatly to the present knowledge of these respective fields. In light of these contributions, it’s no wonder he is widely considered the founder of modern philosophy, despite his rational shortcomings.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nina-Tala (JustAddAWord)

    i was forced into reading this and i deeply, deeply despise descartes.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Armin

    I need time to think about it....

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nemo

    An Interview with Descartes N: Cartesius, ever since I read your treatise "Meditations on First Philosophy: In which the existence of God and the immortality of the soul are demonstrated", I've wished to meet you in person and discuss the subjects in detail. C: Is that why you imagined this conversation with me? N: Unfortunately, I have no power of imagination, with which you are abundantly gifted. C: Nemo, you're gifted with the faculty of reason, which all men have, and by which you can An Interview with Descartes N: Cartesius, ever since I read your treatise "Meditations on First Philosophy: In which the existence of God and the immortality of the soul are demonstrated", I've wished to meet you in person and discuss the subjects in detail. C: Is that why you imagined this conversation with me? N: Unfortunately, I have no power of imagination, with which you are abundantly gifted. C: Nemo, you're gifted with the faculty of reason, which all men have, and by which you can distinguish truth from error. N: Speaking of the faculty of reason, you write in the Discourse on the Method that it is by nature equal in all men. But how can this be? It seems obvious that you yourself possess a far greater share of reason than most men. C: The difference does not lie in the faculty of reason itself, but in the way we 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. For myself, I have never fancied my mind to be in any respect more perfect than those of the generality. N: When you say "greatest minds", aren't you implying there is a difference in the share of reason? C: The difference of greater and less holds only among the accidents, and not among the forms or natures of individuals of the same species. Man possesses the faculty of reason as the essence of his species, which is complete in each individual, but there are differences among individuals arising from the differences in the ways they apply reason and the subjects to which they apply it. N: If I understand you correctly, you believe that if all men apply their reason rightly, they'll inevitably arrive at the same conclusion regarding the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. C: That is correct. N: Why is it that many rational and intelligent men do not believe in them at all? C: They have not applied their rational faculties, keen as they may be in other subjects, in carefully pondering these most important questions. Many learned men in my time objected to my arguments, and you've read their objections and my replies, have any of them provided any legitimate refutations? N: None whatsoever, but still it didn't prevent people from voicing their opinions. Some even conjectured that you didn't believe in the existence of God yourself, but only wrote the treatise to pacify the religious authority of your time, and forestall the fate that had befallen Galileo who had been condemned by the Inquisition. C: You've soundly refuted them yourself, Nemo. Your good will towards me is manifest in the manner you read my writings, expound my arguments and defend them against objectors. N: If I may say so, Cartesius, I think freedom is something you hold dear. If it is within your power, you'd rather devote your time to your thoughts and the search of truth in the sciences than defending your belief against unreasonable adversaries and authorities. C: Archimedes, in whose writings I discovered the methods of conducting geometry, used his knowledge of the sciences to defend the city of Syracuse against the Romans. So I found it necessary to defend our belief with the power of reason, and demonstrate that the right use of reason is beneficial to all men. N: I must confess I have become a big fan of yours, being both enthralled by the brilliance of your mind and saddened by your premature death. How much more you could have contributed to science and philosophy had you lived longer! C: There is no reason to be sad. Since I'm now free to think without any hindrance of the body, I can now comprehend and see the truth more clearly and distinctly than I ever did in the body. N: You say "see" the truth. Can you "see" without the eye or any other sensory organs? C: We do not see with the senses. The images in our mind are not generated by the sensory organs, but by the brain itself, which is also what happens to us in dreams. The mind make its own judgments of the senses it receives, and form opinions and ideas independently of the senses. A geometer can deduce the attributes of a triangle without looking at a triangle. In the same way, the whole corporeal universe can be "seen" with the rational faculty, because all bodies are quantifiable and can be accurately described by mathematics. The image of the world thus formed by the mind is far more clear and distinct than the image that is retrieved from the senses. N: As a mathematician and philosopher, you're accustomed to abstract thinking, and not only that, but you have purposefully trained yourself to think independently of the senses. Few men can do that, and I'm not one of them, I'm afraid. C: This conversation would not happen if you're incapable of abstract thinking. N: (laughing) Touche. (Read full interview at Nemo's Library)

  14. 5 out of 5

    Xander

    Discours de la Méthod (1637) is Descartes' summary introduction to his new method to acquire clear and distinct knowledge. It was published as an alternative to his planned work Le monde (including a treatise on man, L'homme), in which he argues for a mechanistic worldview and a new way of viewing man (as a material machine with an immortal soul). He broke off the writing process when he learned of Galileo's conviction by the Vatican due to the publication of his Dialogue on Two Chief World Discours de la Méthod (1637) is Descartes' summary introduction to his new method to acquire clear and distinct knowledge. It was published as an alternative to his planned work Le monde (including a treatise on man, L'homme), in which he argues for a mechanistic worldview and a new way of viewing man (as a material machine with an immortal soul). He broke off the writing process when he learned of Galileo's conviction by the Vatican due to the publication of his Dialogue on Two Chief World Systems (1632) - in which Galileo basically argued the same world view Descartes was planning to explicate in his Le Monde. Due to the shock of this event Descartes decided never to publish anymore, but soon came back around and published his Discourse and three related essays in which he tried to attain the same objective, but now in much less straightforward language. All throughout these works he is continuously claiming that he only offers 'hypotheses' and that he has much respect for the Schools (which teach Aristoteleanism) yet he doesn't need their doctrines since he can explain all the same things in much plainer terms. By trying to draw up a boundary he seems to be saying: "I might not be innocent in your eyes, but at least I'm not harmful to you!" Of course this doesn't work in times of religious and political conflicts (the Counter Reformation, the religious wars, the Thirty Years War) so he was doomed from the start, and his later life saw him getting into trouble with both Protestants (in Holland) and Catholics (in France). Now the works themselves. In short: given a material world, start from the principle of matter as 'extended thing', deduce some laws of motion, and then explain every piece of matter in quantitive terms. This is certain knowledge, because the method itself is founded on the clear and distinct principle of me as a thinking subject and God as a perfect being - garantueeing not only the existence of the material world but also the (relative) certainty of my sense perceptions. The quest is to overcome our imperfect, fallible sense apparatus through the use of reason. To illustrate the fruitfulness of his scientific methodology, Descartes added three essays. The first essay being the most important one, dealing with optics, in which he explained the breaking of light (i.e. the phenomena of refraction and reflection) with the use of applied geometry. After discovering the properties of light, he immediately moves on to describe how this knowledge helps us to overcome visual impairments and build improved visual apparatus with the help of lenses. He rounds of the (long) essay with instructions for lens grinders to build a machine, which would never operate in practice but nonetheless illustrates perfectly René Descartes brilliance and genius. When you conceive of light as outward pressure of particles that is transmitted to neighboring particles, and so on; and when you conceptualize this movement as straight lines; it becomes possible to explain light in terms of matter in motion. This has huge consequences for theories of vision, since Descartes also conceptualized the human body as a material machine. This means, in effect, that light hits the retina, is there translated into motion of nerves, which itself is transmitted to the inner walls of the brain, i.e. those parts adjacent to the brain cavities. Within the brain cavities huge amounts of animal spirits are moving, following the same mechanic laws, and shooting off to interact with the visual representations on the inner walls of the brain. In their interaction, they acquire a change of movement, again following the mechanical laws of motion, and set the pineal gland in motion. It is this motion that makes the soul perceive all the sensations (in this case a visual sensation); and the soul then makes the pinal gland move in such a way that in sets animal spirits in motion which enter the nervous system to set in motion all kinds of bodily activity. The second essay deals with all kinds of meteorological phenomena, like winds, clouds, rain, thunder, salt, etc. Like in the first essay, the second essay is grounded in a mechanistic conception of the world. All these meterological phenomena are, ultimately, explained in terms of motion of particles. There are different types of particles, and their peculiar characteristics (form, size, speed, etc.) determine their interaction with other particles. It is the totality of these interactions that constitute the motions. So Descartes, e.g., is able to explain winds as the exhalation of water particles from the Earth (or sea), which lose movement the higher they ascend and, up in the atmosphere, follow certain patterns, depending on circumstances. The second essay is most famous for its explanation of the rainbow, which is another brilliant illustration of Descartes' genius. The common theme between the Dioptrics and Meteors is Descartes' perception of the world in purely mechanistic terms. With a handful of metaphysical principles (like matter as res extensa, his laws of motion, and the three different types of particles - earth, air and fire) he is able to explain all the things in the entire universe. The third essay deals with geometry. I have to be frank: I am mathematically not versed enough to appreciate Descartes' innovations. From what I gather he translated geometrical problems into algebraic formulae, and with this was able to solve some interesting historical problems and offer a new and fruitful method of doing science, translating the world into mathematical terms, and leading, ultimately, to our modern conception of science. Also, the essay is written in a time when mathematical conventions were non-existent, making it almost impossible for the average modern day reader to follow all the arguments. The most important discrepancy in Descartes' Essays is that between his Discourse on Method and the three essays dealing with practical matters. In the Discourse, he explains the ideal method to practice science. According to Descartes, this should be modelled on geometry, i.e. being an axiomatic-deductive system, starting from clear and distinct principles (the Ego and God) and deducing new truths from these. But already in the Discourse he mentions that it is extremely unlikely that such general self-evident truths can lead to particular truths in particular sciences. How does he cope? He simply discards his ideal and starts - in each of his practical works - with certain hypotheses (for example about the nature of matter and movement) and, given these are true, deduces all the observable phenomena of the particular science. So, when he deals with the metereological issues, we have on the one hand his hypotheses about matter (three elements, infinitely divisible, all pervasive, etc.), and on the other hand his explanations of the observable worldly phenomena. This way of doing science was radically new at the time, and we still use the same model of the hypothetico-deductive method in modern science. It is ironic that Descartes viewed science as the most important part of his work, and his own pride in his scientific knowledge, brought him to extravagant claims like 'I will find a cure to make people live at least 100 years' and 'the philosopher should spend only 1 hour on metaphysics to every 100 hours of doing science'. Yet almost all of Descartes' scientific findings have been outdated, most of them within 50 years or so. To modern readers Descartes is mostly known for his metaphysical groundwork, which lead to the new scientific method developing in the seventeenth century and his substance dualism, which injected the germs of a huge future schism into philosophy. It is rightly claimed that Descartes is the founder of modern philosophy, since he introduced us to the distinction between the subjective and the objective world - how to reconcile the two would lead to huge debates about the nature of reality, the existience of the objective world, the status of scientific knowledge, etc. etc. I can definitely recommend this version Discourse de la Méthode (1637), which includes all the original essays. In my opinion, philosophical works are not understandable without grasping the historical and personal context of the author and the scientific worldview he was part of. Descartes is a case in point, since he literally stands on the break with the 'old' Medieval science (modelled on Aristotle) and the 'new' modern science (modelled on Descartes and Newton). You can't understand his philosophical works, how easy they might seem, without also understanding his conception of reality. Descartes philosophy is (in summary) the attempt to find a foundation to reason for a mechanical worldview.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mel Vincent

    Rene Descartes is not only a pure optimist and a wide thinker but he too is very eloquent, charismatic, simple and very brilliant in how he fuses his ideas and arguments to that of different sciences such as anatomy and to an extent, psychology itself. While reading this it is as if you are not reading a highly charged philosophy book but instead it makes you think that it is in fact a travel novel, which is amazing. Rene Descartes articulately draws his own opinions on the environs, perceptions, Rene Descartes is not only a pure optimist and a wide thinker but he too is very eloquent, charismatic, simple and very brilliant in how he fuses his ideas and arguments to that of different sciences such as anatomy and to an extent, psychology itself. While reading this it is as if you are not reading a highly charged philosophy book but instead it makes you think that it is in fact a travel novel, which is amazing. Rene Descartes articulately draws his own opinions on the environs, perceptions, thoughts, epiphanies and the arguments that go about him while changing scenes, places and meeting other people as well. It talks how the soul, whether that of a human or of a creature is distinct from either one and that the soul is not a part of the body and is therefore not subjected to the mortalities of the flesh, hence the immortality of the soul. He then states that dreams and conscious thoughts are not as distinct as previously thought the only this is that these are partly of truths for one could not have arrived at that thought if that did not exist in the first place and lastly, he talks about and proves the existence of God which is phenomenal and how he connects it with the other arguments of this book. And lastly, the thing that I love about this book is that it gives off a calming effect while you read it and I've come to realize and empathize that Rene Descartes is truly humble and I admire a great person who keeps his feet on the ground even if the world constantly tells hims of his genius and greatness.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jack

    Scholastic Aristotelians CRUSHED by SCEPTICISM and RATIONALITY

  17. 4 out of 5

    Victor

    I dont know how to rate this. I read this for my critical theory class and the reading experience definitely wasnt enjoyable but it kind of went over my head so I dont really know how to explain it. I don’t know how to rate this. I read this for my critical theory class and the reading experience definitely wasn’t enjoyable but it kind of went over my head so I don’t really know how to explain it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    TrumanCoyote

    Hard for me to take seriously someone who talks about perfection like it's a trait--when really it's more of a relationship between traits, or an aesthetic response to them. A master of taking 500 words to say something obvious (like Proust); and the relentless latinate style grew tiresome quickly. Also full of ridiculous insincerities: on the one hand he's leaving notes to posterity, then saying nobody cares about a schmucky little goober like himself. And with the last sentence he seems to be Hard for me to take seriously someone who talks about perfection like it's a trait--when really it's more of a relationship between traits, or an aesthetic response to them. A master of taking 500 words to say something obvious (like Proust); and the relentless latinate style grew tiresome quickly. Also full of ridiculous insincerities: on the one hand he's leaving notes to posterity, then saying nobody cares about a schmucky little goober like himself. And with the last sentence he seems to be trying to bum a living (or a retirement) off of me; the whole thing was just so...French. On the plus side: in places he achieves a jagged informality that's very intimate (especially for 1637); and the architecture of his sentences is at times impressive. Sounded more like 18th century (English anyway) than early 17th.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ben Loory

    HOW AWESOME I AM AND HOW I GOT TO BE THIS WAY the first part's great, where he's talking about re-educating himself from the ground up and throwing away all the nonsensical crap that got poured into him by other people as he was growing up. but then once he gets started again from first principles or whatever, he immediately wanders off into some pretty shaky god stuff and then it just turns into a description of how the innards of the body work which hey, might be right, but ain't so interesting HOW AWESOME I AM AND HOW I GOT TO BE THIS WAY the first part's great, where he's talking about re-educating himself from the ground up and throwing away all the nonsensical crap that got poured into him by other people as he was growing up. but then once he gets started again from first principles or whatever, he immediately wanders off into some pretty shaky god stuff and then it just turns into a description of how the innards of the body work which hey, might be right, but ain't so interesting to read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kyle van Oosterum

    One of two essential works of Descartes, I must say I'm always astonished by the lucidity of his prose and thought. While I disagree fundamentally with his repetitive presupposition that is God is necessarily good and thus does not deceive him about anything he knows or believes, I cannot understate how indebted we are to him. "At last I will devote myself sincerely and without reservation to the general demolition of all my opinions." (Except my belief in God).

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bilgehan

    Brilliant yet wrong in almost every aspect.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Emma Angeline

    so we might all be in the matrix and like no wonder he had nervous breakdowns

  23. 4 out of 5

    Xander

    In the Discours de la Methode (1637) René Descartes looks for a metaphysical foundation of all of our sciences. In other words: he wants to discover the roots of the tree of knowledge. To accomplish this, he describes the method via which we can come up with an answer. This method is radical scepticism. His criteria for truth are clear and distinct ideas. In other words, he builds epistemology and metaphysics on mathematics. The looking for an epistemological foundation of all our knowledge was In the Discours de la Methode (1637) René Descartes looks for a metaphysical foundation of all of our sciences. In other words: he wants to discover the roots of the tree of knowledge. To accomplish this, he describes the method via which we can come up with an answer. This method is radical scepticism. His criteria for truth are clear and distinct ideas. In other words, he builds epistemology and metaphysics on mathematics. The looking for an epistemological foundation of all our knowledge was to set a trend in scientific thinking that goes on until today: the reductionism of science is in essence a search to explain natural phenomena in terms of the interaction of their constituent parts. According to this view, in the end it all boils down to physics - and even physics has, in the end, its foundation in mathematics. The modern concepts of fields in physics, comes (at least superficially) awfully close to Descartes' dictum that "all matter is extension" (res extensa). Anyways, back to Descartes. Step 1 in Descartes' Discours is that we should doubt anything that contains even a tiny slither of uncertainty. Our experience of the physical world? The stars, the earth, other human beings, nature? It could be that we dream all of this. And our Dreams? Even our dreams could be illusions. So what's left? Descartes finds the foundation of all of our knowledge in his famous 'cogito ergo sum'. Even if I can have doubts about everything, the fact that I am a thinking thing ('res cogitans') is undoubtable. This is a clear and distinct idea. So Descartes finds a substance, res cogitans, that consists of our soul. Step 2 in Descartes' Discours is his proof of the existence of God. This might seem prepostorous (especially for the man who wants to overthrow the old scholastic (christian) science), but he needs God as a garantuee for the rest of his system of knowledge. As a thinking thing, I can think about my own psychological characterics and traits (even if they are illusions), but there's always a more perfect version of them. This means that everything that I am, can be more perfect, with its logical end point in a perfect being. So there's a perfect being, God, which is distinct from myself. This being exists by necessity, because existence is part of perfection. (This is one of the old theological proofs for the existence of God: a perfect being has to exist, because if it didn't exist this being could be thought of as more perfect by actually existing - the dispute about the validity of this proof still goes on). So now we have the existence of our soul as a substance and the existence of a perfect being, God. Here it is that Descartes proceeds to step 3 in his method: mathematical knowledge is the most certain knowledge there is, and the ultimate certainty of these mathematical truths is garantueed by God. A perfect being wouldn't deceive us. Hence, our clear and distinct ideas about mathematics have to be true. So, Descartes says, let's apply mathemathics to the physical world. Matter is nothing but an extended thing - 'res extensa'. This is the second, and last, substance that Descartes finds. Hence, Descartes is a dualist - someone who makes a distinction between matter and soul as two different substances. Matter being nothing but (mathematical) extension, all of nature is like a machine. The planetary orbits can be described by mechanical laws - something that Descartes wanted to try himself in his unpublished Le Monde (of which the Discours de la Methode was to be the preface). So can all the movements of matter on earth. Even animals are machines, in Descartes' view. The final problem for Descartes, is to explain how human beings differ from the rest of Nature. He has to do this, because Descartes is no materialist - Descartes was a devout Catholic, so has to prove how human beings have an immortal soul and free will, to follow God's commandments and how human beings differ from the rest of Nature, according to God's view. How does he do this? Descartes was not only a mathematician or a philosopher - he hated reading books, especially long ones - but he was also a medical scientist. He would cut open dead animals to study their anatomy and physiology and he wrote a treatise on human physiology. By studying human brain structure, Descartes found an organ - the pineal gland - that was at the centre of our brain and was therefore unlike most other (symmetrical) brain structures and regions. According to Descartes, it is in the pineal gland that our soul receives our bodily sensations and that it 'sends' commands to our bodily organs and limbs. The pineal gland, in other words, is the seat of our soul. (This, by the way, is still a hotly debated topic in contemporary neuroscience and psychology: are our thoughts material or are they made of a non-material substance? In other words: should we view human brains in a monistic/materialist way or in a dualist way?) In the last chapter of the Discours, Descartes writes about his original plans to publish a huge work that would be based on his metaphysical method, as outlined in the Discours de la Methode, but which he postponed indefinitely, after hearing of Galileo Galilei's condemnation in 1633 by the Inquisition. Descartes knew that his book would be condemned, as well as - most probably - himself. So he chose to write the Discours de la Methode, to offer readers his sceptical method for finding true knowledge. The Discours was the preface for a collection of three other works: La Géométrie (an essay on mathematics), La Dioptrique (an essay on optics) and Les Météores (an essay on metereology). The Discours offers a philosophical method to find a foundation for knowledge; the three essays are illustrations of this method applied to specific sciences. I haven't read Descartes' three essays (they don't really interest me and their contents are probably outdated anyways), but the Discours de la Methode was a nice work to read. Understanding Descartes' philosophy is essential in understanding the scientific revolution. Descartes was the first natural philosopher who offered a serious alternative to the scholastic sciences of the Middle Ages (which were based on Aristoteles' philosophy). It is no wonder that Descartes was afraid of being condemned by Catholics and Protestants alike - which he was, as a matter of historical fact, in The Netherlands. He fled to Sweden to avoid the religious battles about his philosophy, only to succumb to the effects of pneumonia. Tragic, indeed.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Brian Risselada

    An inspiration for me to take on a similar project of grounding all of my beliefs

  25. 5 out of 5

    Erick

    I have some amount of ambivalence toward skeptical philosophy in general. It's a tradition that engendered enlightenment errors and, later, influenced atheistic materialism. Descartes wasn't an atheist or a materialist as such, but his system of skeptical doubt is still incredibly silly in my opinion. First of all, a system of doubt is a contradiction in terms; a system must be based on positive and actual constituents; doubt is a negative, not a positive, so it cannot be a foundation for any I have some amount of ambivalence toward skeptical philosophy in general. It's a tradition that engendered enlightenment errors and, later, influenced atheistic materialism. Descartes wasn't an atheist or a materialist as such, but his system of skeptical doubt is still incredibly silly in my opinion. First of all, a system of doubt is a contradiction in terms; a system must be based on positive and actual constituents; doubt is a negative, not a positive, so it cannot be a foundation for any genuine philosophy. For skeptical doubt to have any constructive role, it must be based on positive and actual veritable knowledge. The only reason I would doubt anything is that the thing that is up for scrutiny does not line up with what I hold positively to be true. Beginning with the idea that I must "doubt everything" and then find a positive in that futile endeavor is incredibly ludicrous. One cannot start with a negative and ever hope to gain a positive. The maxim "I cannot doubt that I am doubting" is drunk talk in my opinion. It's just twaddle. I think it means next to nothing. Knowledge always reaches the point where no more deduction can be done. Once that point is reached, you are in the realm of intuition. Intuitive knowledge is self-evident knowledge. It cannot be broken down any further; it is at it's most basic components. To doubt that 2 plus 3 is 5 is stupid. I have no reason to doubt that such is true. It is basic intuitive knowledge. To doubt it for doubt's sake is simply to engage in schizoid dialectic that has absolutely no positive and constructive function. Once one doubts all foundation for knowledge, one no longer has a foundation to even doubt. Beginning with doubt, one must always end with doubt because it is a negative and in the end everything could be doubted if one denies that intuitive self-evident truth is real; and one would have to deny it in order to doubt everything. While Descartes does variously claim that his system is not just endless nullity, he often contradicts this in the things he says. I give this book three stars instead of a lower number because there are some interesting ideas here and there. In the sections where he deals with questions regarding the existence of God, you have some worthwhile notions. Much of that has a precedent in scholastic theology from the medieval period though; so he isn't really breaking new ground there in my opinion.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Daniella Insalaco

    Even though I am not a fan of Descartes, I did enjoy the edition that I read (courtesy of The Focus Philosophical Library) because it contained a thorough introduction, great footnotes as well as an interpretive essay at the end. This is one of the reasons why I am giving it two stars rather than one. I really disagree with Descartes on a number of levels and frankly I don't want to get into all of that on here because then I would have to divulge my personal beliefs and I don't feel comfortable Even though I am not a fan of Descartes, I did enjoy the edition that I read (courtesy of The Focus Philosophical Library) because it contained a thorough introduction, great footnotes as well as an interpretive essay at the end. This is one of the reasons why I am giving it two stars rather than one. I really disagree with Descartes on a number of levels and frankly I don't want to get into all of that on here because then I would have to divulge my personal beliefs and I don't feel comfortable doing that on a public forum. All I really want to say is that his views on animals really angered and frustrated me.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Quiver

    Innovative as it may have been at the time, A Discourse is hard to care about today even for its historical value. From what I have gathered, Descartes's other work, Meditations on First Philosophy may contain the more radical, and therefore, more interesting ideas. The Introduction and the Explanatory Notes are about twice as long as the work itself.

  28. 5 out of 5

    MisterRedTiger

    The philosophy.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sidharth Vardhan

    The first four sections deserved full five stars for what they have done for thought-philosophy but last two sections are redundant to say the least and that is where my rating declined.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Christopher McCaffery

    Trash, but fascinating trash.

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