Descartes’ Discourse

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Last updated: April 4, 2019

Throughout the duration of Descartes’ Discourses, theology, the nature that constitutes humanity and the established views on God are all called into question alongside the formulation of his new ‘mathematical’ philosophy. Despite very few palpable idioms or consensus’ arising from the text, which dealt more with the exploration of social and metaphysical paradigms, Descartes raised issues that not only founded the fundamental ideologies of ‘modern’ philosophy (primarily “I think therefore I am”) but also were the subject of intellectual debate throughout the 17th and 18th Century – reiterating the influence and longevity of this document.Regardless of the fact that Descartes stresses that this work is a journey of personal ideological discovery, the importance of these passages remains prominent today as it raises timeless questions about the human condition that can never be wholly resolved (e. g.

: what factors compose our humanity? Does God exist? What is man’s relationship with God? ) which is especially pertinent in today’s world of political instability and religious fundamentalism.Indeed, the two most widely known of Descartes’ philosophical ideas are those of a method of hyperbolic doubt, and the argument that, though he may doubt, he cannot doubt his very existence. The first of these comprises of the fundamental ideals of Descartes’ philosophical method. He resolutely refused to accept the authority of previous philosophers – but he also declined to accept the obviousness of his own senses.It is clear throughout the text that the Aristotelian and Scholastic paradigms that had been predominant during the medieval period were being wholly discarded in favour of a revised philosophy that was integrated with the ‘new’ sciences (Descartes wanted to apply the ‘certainty of its demonstrations and the evidence of its reasoning’ of mathematics to ‘more lofty edifices’ such as Theology and Philosophy1). In the search for a foundation for philosophy, whatever could be doubted must be rejected. He resolves to accept nothing that is not intrinsically linked to irrefutable evidence.

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In this manner, Descartes peels away the layers of beliefs and opinions that clouded his view of the truth. Once Descartes had dismissed all his previous methods of thinking, he set about reconstructing the primary principles that constituted his persona by method of accepting nothing without unassailable verification. In this manner, Descartes proves that he himself must have the basic characteristic of thinking, and that this thinking entity is quite distinct from his body; the existence of a God (which allowed him the ability to think in such an objective fashion); the existence and nature of the external world; and so on.

What is important in this for Descartes is, first, that he is showing that knowledge is genuinely possible (and thus that sceptics must be mistaken), and, second that, more particularly, a mathematically-based scientific knowledge of the material world is possible2. However, Descartes quickly discerns that the only tangible results of such an exercise is the ability to prove nothing beyond his own conscious, knowing existence – highlighting the Discourses’ failure to comprise a comprehensive, new philosophical ideology.Another cause for the Discourses lack of distinct resolutions is that Descartes deals primarily with the cogitation and deliberation of issues – rather than achieve anything outright. This is highlighted in Discourse 2 as he states that this document is merely an exploration of his own fundamental paradigms and ideas regarding existence, and that they were not intended for replication by those that studied him (‘my plan has never gone beyond trying to reform my own thoughts and make them wholly my own..

.I set this out as a model for you…

I do not advise anyone to copy it’3). As well as this, Descartes did not establish a definitive consensus as to the application of mathematical certainties to the field of human enquiry; though his work was very influential during the formative years of the Enlightenment, predominant in both the 17th and 18th Centuries – which served to reiterate his position as the mainstay of modern philosophy.Summaries of this text usually centre around stating that ‘Descartes began by determining everything and wound up denying practically nothing of the traditionally accepted world-view, only he felt that at the end he was no longer merely accepting this world-view on faith, but rather had achieved certain knowledge if its validity’i??.

Furthermore, another inference as to the cause of Descartes’ lack of achievement in the Discourses was his systematic, clinic approach to the subject at hand.After intellectual scrutiny from both Locke and Voltaire, many concluded that, although his influence and reputation could not be negated, ‘Descartes was led astray by the system; he tried to derive factual truths about the world from principles that are supposedly known as priori’4. Overall, the primary function of the Discourses was to provide the foundations for a wholly new entity of philosophical thought, prove the existence of God and ‘highlight the dualistic theory of the mind and its relation to theology and science’5.It is clear that Descartes provided an alterative method of philosophical thought (which were later expanded upon in Cartesianism and, to a lesser extent, Occasionalism), though beyond this very few of his ideas were absolutely proved. However, it is important to discern the fact that Descartes originally intended these Discourses as a preface to the Meditations – a possible explanation as to why this text poses many more questions than it solves.In relation to Descartes’ view on education, I am inclined to agree with his prognosis that not only is sterile atmosphere of the classroom no adequate substitute for first-hand experience. Furthermore, like Descartes I believe education to be the most important factor of ones formative years and that, as children, we are very much at the mercy of our teachers opinions, as these are what they will instil in us throughout the initial years of learning.Indeed, despite the criticism that Descartes faced regarding the methodical nature of his theological investigation, this is precisely the correct approach to assume in the formulation of a new philosophical method of thinking.

It is stipulated from the beginning that Descartes has decided to operate under the ideal of hyperbolic doubt, the act of ‘rejecting as being absolutely false everything that was not entirely indubitable in my belief’6.Although this could lead one into a hypothetical quagmire of debating anomalies such as whether or not we ‘are deceived every time [we] add two to three, or count the sides of a square…

‘7, it is the only plausible way of broaching a task of this enormity. Personally, I would consider a commission such as this would require careful preparation in order not to simply revert to the idioms of my upbringing. As Descartes correctly ascertains in Discourse 2 we were ‘all governed as children by our appetites and teachers..

. ot always receiving the best advice; it is impossible that our judgements be as rational or sound if we had had full use of our reason at birth’8. This is certainly true of the majority of people, who formulate the most fundamental of their future ideologies during the formative years of their life – not only through education but also through their social environment and an emulation (albeit a times unconscious) of their parent’s beliefs. So a new ideological construction would require a systematic deconstruction of all of ones prior beliefs with a view to question them at a later date.Indeed, the widespread acceptance of a new method of thinking would require the mainstream populous to be able to associate in some way with its philosophies – be it on a social, cultural or spiritual level.

To ensure that a balance is reached between mainstream acceptance and maintaining ideological integrity, the best effective technique to formulise a new system of thinking would be to carefully assess the most elemental ideals of human existence (freedom of speech, a right to property and social interaction, etc. and ally them with an amalgamation of religious paradigms (which determine the basis for most established social values). In this vein, one could create a philosophy which would encapsulate all the ideals a utopian society would hope to entail whilst incorporating the consensus of religious autonomy; which would in turn initiate a philosophy that would span cultures as it would constitute no standardised spiritual principles that could oppose individual’s sacred beliefs.This view is also supported by Descartes, who regards cultural liberalism indicative of an advanced mind (‘It is a good thing to know of the customs and manners of various peoples in order to judge our own more objectively and not think everything that is contrary to our ways irrational as those who have seen nothing are in the habit of doing’9). However, I myself would not broach a subject as intricate as a new philosophical learning with the clinical logistics of Descartes mathematics.Though Theology and Philosophy are based wholly upon the solidarity of ones opinions, Descartes attracted criticism for his allegiance to mathematical application (see above), a view I would reiterate as life cannot be attributed to such quantifiable, logistical principles – existence is too rife with circumstantial anomalies and natural chaos to be categorised in such a fashion. The adoption of a more pragmatic approach to such an undertaking would have be more suitable as it could then allow for all the polarised and disparities of human thought to be encompassed.Indeed, the primary function of such a philosophy would be to ensure the well-being and prosperity of those that subscribed to its ideas, which would require it to address the issues that face the world today and subsequently propose rational solutions.

The most predominant of these would be the religious turmoil that has embroiled the Middle East as well as Northern Ireland for much of the 20th Century as well as the influx of immigrants to Western Europe that has created multicultural societies that has in turn led to secularised communities within inner cities that propagates racial tension.Though it would be impossible to propose a ideal resolution to these troubles, such a philosophy would nevertheless be charged with broaching not only this issue but also deal with other marginalized ethnic communities as well as the poverty of inner city life that perpetuates such racial clashes. Again, such a philosophy would have to be free of any religious or social stigma in order to be ideologically appealing to both sides regardless of spiritual leanings as integration of both communities is the only feasible answer to problems that are perpetuated by right-wing propaganda (e. . : the strong BNP presence in Bradford that triggered the race riots) and ignorance. So not only would one wish to deal with the social stigmas that communities adopt in relation to others, but also focus upon constructing a set of philosophical maxims that would integrate people of differing spiritual beliefs without that aspect of their personas being a factor upon which they may be subject to prejudice.

However, focus on these topics should not deter from certain underlying cultural problems that are manifested in today’s society.Traits such as Greed and promiscuity (social as well as sexual) were positively encouraged in the latter half of the 20th Century whereas they had previously been (rightly) shunned. The former is due to the introduction of e-commerce and conglomerations, and the introduction of the consensus in big business that ideological and spiritual compromise is essential for financial success, whereas the latter is primarily due to the growing influence of popular culture throughout music, film and literature.The fundamental ideals of what is socially acceptable are changing (albeit not always for the worse, as shown during build up to Iraq conflict, the population is now more politically aware and anti-war than ever before) and this philosophy would have to readdress the balance of social the paradigms that base the concepts of an idyllic society. All these problems today highlight a world that is attempting to pursue many different ideals and socio-political principles, which are often contradictory, yet failing to adhere to any of them fully.The paradox of today’s ‘world-wide village’ of social and industrial unification alongside social radicals (such as Anarchists or the increasingly prevalent BNP) reiterates the amalgamation of ideas that constitutes the world’s population.

Indeed, while many choose to move towards the ‘utopia’ of technological enlightenment (the internet, bionics, etc. ) others display solidarity and an affirmative action to what they regard as society’s morale decline by embracing the back-to-basics ideals of religious and political fundamentalism.In short, today’s world is one of many different people, moving both socially and philosophically in many different directions. It is an established fact that the majority of the worlds most fundamental social and moral values (do not murder, do not steal, treat others how you would wish to be treated) as well as the causes of the most bloody conflicts (e. g.

: the crusades) stem directly from religion influences – and the importance of Gods role in human consciousness is a subject that is predominant in the Discourse. Initially, Descartes presents an ideological paradox between at the crux of his metaphysics.While Descartes’ whole system of scientific knowledge is based on an assured knowledge of God’s existence, he explicitly states that the entity of God is beyond human comprehension. ‘This paradox emerges in Descartes’ proofs of God’s existence, and hinges on the relationship between the affirmation of God’s existence and the elucidation of the idea of God, which is the basis for that affirmation’10. This is evident primarily in Discourse IV, where Descartes engages this topic directly, citing his consideration of a divine nature as an ‘inquiry into the source of my ability to think of something more perfect than I was’11.God is a prominent feature of Descartes’ work, regarded as not only responsible for the creation of man’s nature and capacity for philosophical reasoning, but is also accountable as a moralistic figure for human emulation. Critics focus heavily upon Descartes’ reasoning and motives in discussing such a standardised theological debate, the general consensus being that ‘it is always in the course of reasoning about his own nature that Descartes raises himself up to contemplate God’12.Although Descartes does not fully develop his ideas at this juncture (instead waiting until the 3rd Meditation to expand them into a cohesive argument) his ideas of God assimilate the eventual aim of the Discourses, alongside the formulation of a Philosophy that heralds a new age of thinking.

Indeed, God is a prevalent force in the influence of mans’ thought and nature, as it is the fundamental of teachings of an individuals respective religion that shapes their beliefs and persona throughout their life.Religion also has an oblique impact on those with subversive attitudes to God, as every society in the world founds its principles on some form of religious teaching. In short, as religion and its ideals have a timeless association with mankind, it will always influence those who adhere to its teachings though despite a mainstream embrace of atheism in recent times, the basic paradigms are so ingrained in the fabric of our laws and morals that it will always be prevalent to some degree in the social domain.In summary, Descartes attempts to tackle a plethora of issues in the Discourse, with varying success. Little is actually proven in these passages, yet they provided the foundation for his future work (The Meditations, The World, etc. ) and the basis for modern philosophy.

One topic that Descartes preoccupies himself with is that of God’s existence, a belief crucial to his philosophical argument and a major contributing factor to an individual’s nature and personal consensus’.A new way of thinking such as this should ideally encapsulate principles that are pragmatic yet appeal to a wide audience- that can only effectively be achieved through an amalgamation of fundamental social values and paradigms that are prevalent in most organised religions. It would also have to propose viable resolutions to the current political and social instabilities that plague the world. In short, a philosophy much akin to the one Descartes formulises in this instance, yet with a view to affect communities and not just the individual.

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