“Discourse on the Method” by Rene Descartes
“Discourse on the Method” by Rene Descartes is both a historical document and philosophical work. Scientists and historians agree that this book has contributed significantly the history of modern science and psychology. In his book Descartes describe the method which provides solid background for all modern natural sciences. Descartes pays thorough attention to the problem of scepticism in his work continuing the researches made by ancient philosopher Sextus Empiricus and the author Michael de Montaigne. The purpose of the book seems to prove people that truth should be regarded as incontrovertible.
Therefore, the author chooses the approach of challenging and doubting everything when assessing the world. In such a way Descartes tend to look at ordinary things from the new perspective which is clear of biased nations.
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(Descartes 1960) In particular, Descartes discusses the following issues: how to think correctly, the method of science, morals maxims derived from method, proof of human soul and god, experiments, and, finally, connections between physics and heart. When arguing how to think correctly, Descartes offer ‘building metaphor’ meaning that human opinions and thoughts are the grounds which shape further perceptions.
The ideas and opinions are claimed to be of sedentary nature and Descartes argues that he “firmly believed that in this way he should much better succeed in the conduct of his life, than he built only upon old foundations, and leaned upon principles which, in his youth, he had taken upon trust”. (Descartes 1960) Summing up, the core principle of thinking correctly is that humans shouldn’t tend to seek for old foundations; instead, they should seek for new fertile and to build new knowledge on it.
In the method of science Descartes distinguishes four precepts which characterise the method. The first precept suggests that people shouldn’t percept anything for granted if they can’t be re-assured that it is true. Descartes says it is necessary to avoid prejudice and precipitancy and to believe things which exclude all grounds for any doubts and hesitations. The second precept is “to divide each of the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible, and as might be necessary for its adequate solution”.(Descartes 1960)
The third principle is that it is necessary to conduct your thoughts and ideas in such a way that it would be possible to go from the simplest to the most complex: “I might ascend by little and little, and, as it were, step by step, to the knowledge of the more complex; assigning in thought a certain order even to those objects which in their own nature do not stand in a relation of antecedence and sequence”. (Descartes 1960) Finally, the fourth precept is that we must be sure that nothing is omitted meaning reviews should general and enumerations should be complete.
Further, Descartes analyzes three moral maxims derived from the method. He says that he adopted those maxims to make them effectively function in ‘real world’. Method of radical doubts requires analyzing moral side of such experiments. Descartes’ three maxims is the basis of rudimentary belief system. Its principles are: • To obey country’s religious customs and laws; • To be confident in all actions; • To endeavour and to conquer yourself as well as to change desires instead of trying to change the order of the whole world because we doesn’t have enough power to do that.
When proving existence of soul and God, Descartes challenges his thinking and reasoning. Nevertheless, he believes that there are three things which aren’t subjected to being doubted. These things support each other forming stable ground for Descartes’ method. These things are reason as doubting is based on reasoning, and existence of soul and God guaranteeing that the reason is misguided. Descartes provides reasoned argument why God and, moreover, he is the primary contributor to what we now call ontological proof of the God existence. (Descartes 1960)
Descartes also pays attention to describing natural laws, the laws of the Sun and the stars, etc. Descartes believes that it is Moon that causes flood and ebb. Further, Descartes examines ideas of fire and light going to examining the motion of blood in arteries and heart. In contrast to generally accepted ideas, Descartes argues that these motions are independent of what it is thought and he draws the conclusion that human soul and human body are separate. Nevertheless, Descartes doesn’t distinguish between human soul, mind and spirit as they are all important constituents of rational thinking.
As a consequences, the idea that “I am thinking, therefore I am” appeared. Finally, when speaking about experiments Descartes writes that “experiments, that they become always more necessary the more one is advanced in knowledge; for, at the commencement, it is better to make use only of what is spontaneously presented to our senses”. (Descartes 1960) Descartes’ ideas are strongly tied with modern philosophy and science. For example, his “The Method in Mathematics and the Sciences” has practical application nowadays in all schools.
Descartes’ arguments are the basis of Cartesian coordinate systems as well as analytic geometry, the Histogram and mathematical heuristic. The method Descartes uses in his work is extremely valuable because sceptical doubt became a matter of philosophical debates how human can be sure of anything. Modern Western philosophy is influences by his re-conception of the mind – the idea that human mind is separate from human body. Summing up, Rene Descartes set a number of questions which have formed the base of what we call now ‘modern philosophy’. (Descartes 1960)