Read Discourse on Method; And, Meditations on First Philosophy by René Descartes Free Online
Book Title: Discourse on Method; And, Meditations on First Philosophy|
The author of the book: René Descartes
Edition: Hackett Publishing Company
Date of issue: January 1st 1993
ISBN 13: 9780872201729
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 3.65 MB
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Reader ratings: 3.8
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Very unfortunate hair notwithstanding,
Rene “I think, therefore I exist” Descartes was one of the most influential contemplators in the history of philosophy and was instrumental in fomenting the modern modes of intellectual exploration known as deductive reasoning and the scientific method. While he was certainly not alone in the wilderness championing the transformation of knowledge accumulation methods, he was definitely among the significant trail-blazers dropping bread crumbs for the participants of the scientific revolution to follow.
His most important contribution to this endeavor was this treatise which he penned quilled in 1637.
Now for those who love to take deeps breaths, fill their mouths with a lot of words and then allow them to spill out, all smart-like, in front of company, the full name of Descartes most famous work is "Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences." It is a treatise intended not to convey specific factual knowledge, but rather is intended to provide the methodology through which knowledge may be obtained.
Descartes based his search for truth on ascertaining knowledge that could be derived from "first principals" and created a method (outlined below) from which all research into scientific principals, according to Descartes, should 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 his approach and has remained an integral component of modern scientific thinking and experimentation. If you can’t prove it, it didn’t happen.
“If you would be a real seeker after truth, you must at least once in your life doubt, as far as possible, all things.”
In Section II of Discourse, Descartes defines the "Method" he will use to establish knowledge of the world. It is comprised of 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 (”The first precept was never to accept a thing as true until I knew it as such without a single 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 (“Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it.”);
(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. “Each problem that I solved became a rule, which served afterwards to solve other problems.”
Descartes discussion of the method and its application is remarkable as a piece of insight into the mind of an intellectual juggernaut. The man could think his booty off.
Following his break down of the components of “the Method,” Descartes goes on the in Section III of The Discourse to identify three maxims, referred to as morals, that he will adhere to in his studies:
(1) Obey the laws of his Country (boring, yet practical);
(2) Be firm and resolute in the pursuit of knowledge; (a bit “Captain Obvious” but I think that is part of the point of returning to first principals); and
(3) Conquer self rather than fortune (i.e., 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.
Here, Descartes does a nice job describing what should be the goal of men of learning and the importance of removing your own motivations from the equation. If only more people would take heed of this pearl of wisdom.
APPLICATION OF THE METHOD:
In Section IV, Descartes takes his Method and his Morals and applies them to derive the basic truth of his existence expressed in the famous utterance "Cogito ergo sum." He also uses this section to put forth his most controversial use of his system by proving the existence of God. Whew….I’m glad that’s settled now what’s for supper.
This last "proof" is called the negotiable ontological proof of the existence of God and centers on the idea that God’s existence is immediately inferable “a priori” from any contemplation of the idea of a supreme being. Let me stave off any religious discussion at this point by simply saying that Descartes application of the method here is a tad strained and I think even he saw that as his reasoning is more categorical than deductive.
THE REST (Sections V and VI):
Up through the end of Section IV, I would have given this 4 or 5 stars as it was both fascinating and presented in a fashion that was easily understood and digested. Section 5 and 6, comprising the half of this work, was cluttered and read like a pile of muddle. It was also mostly uninteresting and concerned the difference between man and animals and the working of the human circulatory system. I felt like I had stumbled into some ill-advised sequel that failed to pick up the plot from the earlier work.
My advice: skip that last two sections…I think you’ll be happier.
The meat of the work in is the first 4 sections and that is what I would recommend to anyone even remotely interested in evolution of modern scientific and philosophical thought.
Overall, 3.5 stars (though the first four sections get a strong 4 to 5 stars).
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED (as long as you stop after Section IV).
P.S. Just to spike the ball on behalf of Mr. Descartes, he was also extremely influential in the field of mathematics and is considered the father of analytical geometry. Impressive is it not.
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Read information about the authorRené Descartes, also known as Renatus Cartesius (Latinized form), was a highly influential French philosopher, mathematician, scientist, and writer. He has been dubbed the "Father of Modern Philosophy," and much of subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which continue to be studied closely. His influence in mathematics is also apparent, the Cartesian coordinate system that is used in plane geometry and algebra being named for him, and he was one of the key figures in the Scientific Revolution.
Descartes frequently sets his views apart from those of his predecessors. In the opening section of the Passions of the Soul, a treatise on the Early Modern version of what are now commonly called emotions, he goes so far as to assert that he will write on his topic "as if no one had written on these matters before". Many elements of his philosophy have precedents in late Aristotelianism, the revived Stoicism of the 16th century, or in earlier philosophers like St. Augustine. In his natural philosophy, he differs from the Schools on two major points: First, he rejects the analysis of corporeal substance into matter and form; second, he rejects any appeal to ends — divine or natural — in explaining natural phenomena. In his theology, he insists on the absolute freedom of God’s act of creation.
Descartes was a major figure in 17th century continental rationalism, later advocated by Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz, and opposed by the empiricist school of thought consisting of Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. Leibniz, Spinoza and Descartes were all versed in mathematics as well as philosophy, and Descartes and Leibniz contributed greatly to science as well. As the inventor of the Cartesian coordinate system, Descartes founded analytic geometry, the bridge between algebra and geometry, crucial to the invention of calculus and analysis. Descartes' reflections on mind and mechanism began the strain of Western thought that much later, impelled by the invention of the electronic computer and by the possibility of machine intelligence, blossomed into the Turing test and related thought. His most famous statement is: Cogito ergo sum (French: Je pense, donc je suis; English: I think, therefore I am), found in §7 of part I of Principles of Philosophy (Latin) and in part IV of Discourse on the Method (French).