Is our education complete once a degree has been earned? Have we learned all there is to know? Can we be sure of what we have come to know? Only a completely self-assured person might answer yes to these questions, but for Rene Descartes (1596-1650) the completion of his formal education left him feeling and thinking he was still ignorant about the certainties of human experience and existence.
This prominent Renaissance philosopher conquered the world of uncertainty in a work written in the 17th century. Mr. Descartes’, Discourse on Method, quelled the skeptics with the assertion, “I think, therefore I am”. Most important to Descartes, however, was the method for which he was able to arrive at this axiom. The philosopher, Descartes, hoped to establish a universal method, a tremendous goal, if achieved. The Renaissance era cultivated rational thought, science, and mathematics as the eminent forms of seeking knowledge. The working definition of knowledge that he uses is knowledge, which is unchanging, stable through time.
Descartes was a man of his culture and his times. The method Mr. Descartes sought would have to be inclusive of a rational methodology. Influential to Mr. Descartes methodology was mathematics. The rational process of mathematics revealed certain axioms. His goal was to achieve a universal methodology to attain or know certain truths. Seeking a universal methodology was a very ambitious undertaking, because universal means that which is true for all men at all times.
Thus, Rene Descartes was involved in a challenging pursuit. Mr. Descartes method was established upon the foundation of four rules, a type of mathematical model for the acquisition of self-evident truths. Following a methodical line of thought Descartes discovered a philosophical model to work with. The first step was to doubt everything that was not “evidently so’ to him. Only know that which is “clearly and distinctly to my mind”. Second, to “divide each difficulty I should examine into as many parts as possible. The third stage he set out to organize his thoughts into the easiest to the most complex, therefore, creating an orderly examination of the “objects of knowledge.
Finally, critical reviews of the “links in [the] argument” furthered his examination of the entire puzzle. Mr. Descartes’ methodology was paramount to the period in which it was born. However, it’s important to note that Descartes didn’t think we could, as humans, understand all existence or phenomena. We cannot come to know God’s purposes. Mr. Descartes was optimistic of the fact that all men are capable of rational thought or reasoning.
He took to a quiet environment and contemplated the serious problem for which he wanted to reconcile within himself; ho can man learn knowledge. Facilitating the process of reason is the element Descartes terms, “the natural light of the mind. ” He argues that if we are to attain axiomatic truths we must be free of “precipitancy and prejudice”, whereby reason, the natural light of the mind, shall guide us to the certainties which define our existence. Descartes’ methodology was realized through his Metaphysical Doctrine, which asserted man and god’s existence.
In deep mediation the philosopher set out to deny everything which his senses told him. Descartes distrusted the sensory-perception process. Our senses deceive us. A fellow Enlightenment rationalist and scientist, Galileo Galilei (1563-1642) shook the foundations of the Church and man’s place in the; world when he established through scientific inquiry that earth’s role is within a heliocentric universe. Our senses, our vision, tell us that the sun rises and sets in the earth’s sky daily. A deceptive reality, which made us, believe our role to be unique within the universe.
When we examine connecting phenomena, we may come to know the evident reality of a sun-centered universe. The Roman Catholic Church particularly contributed to this perspective in its religious doctrine. Inventions such as the telescope, microscope, thermometer, barometer, and air pump, furthered our scientific inquiry. Astronomers and mathematicians Copernicus (1473-1543), Kepler, (1571-1630), and Newton (1642-1727) challenged the earth-centered viewpoint and heralded an era of reasoning and the individual’s importance to it.
Descartes’ philosophy increased the importance of the individual’s mind over that of matter. Descartes believed that some substances are more real, therefore, more perfect than others. The human existence is more “real’ than lower animals. Angels are more real than men. And, God, more perfect-indeed-most of all. Believing our senses deceive us and reasoning that the sensory-perception process is as false as our dreams he next assumed everything as false. As he became aware of himself in the act of doubting he realized he could not doubt the act itself.
Therefore, his own existence, the axiomatic assertion, “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am. “) was succinctly revealed by the “natural light. ” Man is a “thinking thing”. Mr. Descartes revealed to us that upon further reflection he ascertained another axiom the existence of God. He reasoned that the state of doubting ourselves must occur because we are comparing ourselves to an existent perfection and by this perfection we mean God. God placed this idea (conception) of the ideal within all men.
The Metaphysical Doctrine hoped to establish a forward-thinking philosophy where skepticism was declined and a rational, positive thought was revolutionized. We must ask, did Descartes create a universal method for achieving truth, knowledge? -No. However, Descartes philosophy was critical to our perspective upon the world as human beings. As the founder of modern thought Descartes’ philosophy increased the value of the individual against the dominant role of the Church. The Medieval period had fallen and a far-reaching era had begun.