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Elena does Descartes and His Method

Updated on July 1, 2017

"Good sense is mankind's most equitably divided endowment...the differences of opinion are not due to difference in intelligence, but merely to the fact that we use different approaches and consider different things. For it is not enough to have a good mind: one must use it well."    --    Descartes

Credit Wiki Commons
Credit Wiki Commons

René Descartes (1596-1650) was a French philosopher and mathematician and is considered the father of modern philosophy. For his life and works, you can click on his name above, this article delves on his famous method and my views on it.

I'm not too fond of disclaimers, but here goes one: This is my opinion.

The Method

Descartes' Discourse of Method is based on the premise to doubt everything as basis to remove oneself from preconceived notions and come up with a critical assessment born of observation. The Method provided the world a platform for all modern science to evolve. It's primarily based on the empiric method whereby data is collected and then conclusions are derived.

All of Descartes' theory is based on his presumption that there are three things that can't be doubted. Each follows a previous predefined Descartian condition, so I present them in order of Descartes logic:

1. Something has to be there to do the doubting, which induced his universally known "I think, therefore I am".

2. Doubt or doubting cannot doubt reason, because doubting is based on reason. I know, quite a mouthful.

3. Reason existing, there must exist a God as guarantor that reason is well used.

From these three premises, number 1 and 2 semi sort of adhere to the scientific principle of observation, which Descartes himself helped formulate.

Number 3... nope, sorry. I don't know where Descartes got the notion that someone, a god or anything else, ought to be guarantor that reason is well used. Particularly, when it's been proved once and again that reason is most frequently NOT well used. If anything, number 3 would be proof that god doesn't exist. In any event, and in spite of this flaw of logic and reason, applying Descartian method, I would start by doubting that god exists.

My copy of Discurso del método
My copy of Discurso del método

Descartes and I

I admire the man, this great thinker, and what he stood and still stands for, and at sweet sixteen he really bowed me, and provided me with a method to analyze my apparently incurable allergy to faith. However and ironically, Descartian method helped me achieve the opposite of what he proposed, disprove the existence of god, or at the very least use reason to doubt that god exists.

At that tender age, that realization was somewhat of a let-down to my young sensitivities, and it made me think of Descartes as a bit of a cheat and, as with many an affair, it ended rather bitterly when I discovered him cheating.

He tried very hard, and very empirically, in three different dissertations within the Discourse to prove the existence of God via logical reasoning. He didn't provide one single empiric fact to support his position, although I admit he pulled if off rather masterfully with "logic language", that is, reasoning that is linguistically flawless, but cannot be scientifically proved.

Flawless logic language, but I wasn't convinced

His extremely famous "I think, therefore I am", is (in case you never thought of it), one of the greatest syllogisms of history. Logically, "I am" cannot be deducted from "I think". The only fact that can be deducted from "I think" is "I think"!

However, Descartes used the "I think, therefore I am" to kick off one of the best postulations ever to support the existence of god: "If I think, there must be something making me think", and followed it up with, "this something must be outside myself to ensure I think properly".

Even today, I remember reading the fabulous Method and all of a sudden dropping the book on my lap and thinking, "but, but, but..."

But nothing. I was back to square one. It seemed it was just not possible to conceive the world and the natural order of things without explanations from out of this world and actually far removed from the natural order of things. Ack. Descartes reasoning sounded very solid, but to me it was just as outlandish and as much a verbal edification as Jesus walking on water. I so wish he'd saved the third principle, the third certainty that couldn't be doubted.

In spite of that, and in spite of the sour taste in my mouth at feeling cheated, I had to hand it to him, the guy kept me awake for nights on end, and I kept revisiting Descartes' postulations for months after my first read.

Time cures everything, and my 16 year old broken heart mended quite well with the years. Soon I started to see Descartes for what he was, one of the greatest thinkers of all times, his method a bright light that shines full of reason and intelligence.

I still have the same copy of Discourse of Method that I read for the first time when I was 16, and it's one of my most prized and loved books. After all, who cares about the existence of god.

One of the pages of my copy, most of them are full of scribbles with my thoughts and personal take on Descartes' reasoning.
One of the pages of my copy, most of them are full of scribbles with my thoughts and personal take on Descartes' reasoning.

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    • Feline Prophet profile image

      Feline Prophet 7 years ago from India

      You made me think, therefore you must be!

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

      I made you think, therefore... I made you think ;-)

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Good one :)

      Here's a thought - In English, 'I think, therefore I am' is taken to be a logical proof of existence. I am = I exist. But I exist separates subject 'I' from verb 'exist' in a way that does not truly match Descartes' latin form - cogito ergo sum.

      In latin, to emphasise 'I' they have the word 'ego' which Descartes did not work into his formulation.

      Maybe in English we are stretching his meaning. Thinking implies existence, but of what? Not necessarily of a separate entity that can choose to think, as an act of will.

      Or will I strike all that out and replace it with 'kewl' ;)

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

      Hi Paraglider! Great comment, and you can't strike it :-)

      The Spanish translation is closer to the Latin (same root, evidently) and doesn't include the "ego", "I", "yo", but it implies it. This is how romance languages work, they don't grammatically require the pronoun to be present in the sentence to be correct, the pronoun is implied by the verbal conjugation . We will never know if Descartes simply used language as usual or avoided the "ego" on purpose, but the fact remains that the "ego" is implied in Latin :-)

      I have to say that while I put this little essay together in English, I had all the background thinking (for years and years!) is Spansih, and my "conclusions" apply in my mind, with or without the "ego" in the sentence.

      You know, I'd love to read your take on the Discourse, I'm sure it'd be double kewl :-)

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 7 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      Far too many years ago I found myself in the same quandry, Elena.; every philosopher/school of thought that was presented to me in pursuit of my minor was soundly thrashed and put to rest. One by one they were taken to task by my no-nonsense philosophy professor without a hint of pity.

      We learn to live with these heartbreaks, do we not?

      :o)

      Laurel

      PS: Great Hub!

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

      We most certainly learn, or should learn, with the realizations, Lorlie. Sometimes they mean heartbreak, and sometimes they are liberating, often, in my case, they were both :-) Thanks for reading!

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      I think therefore I am myself - energy.

      =]

      Wonderful hub Elena. Thought provoking. Commets are going to be interesting on this one.

    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 7 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      The way in which you read Descartes is the same way in which I read the Dhammapada, which makes perfect sense to me. I liked how you use the same principles exhibited by Descartes and applied it into your own life as an attempt to make sense of nonsense (and especially at that age!) Great job, Elena.

    • maven101 profile image

      maven101 7 years ago from Northern Arizona

      My first intellectual love affair was with Descartes and his soaring Discourse...and then I ran into Camus...I really do miss those late night BS sessions, so full of passion, new thoughts, and challenging questions...and then we go to work...now retired, I am once again returning to those nights, full of questions and insight, shared with fully formed friends that can relate from experience and a lifetime of acquired knowledge...

      Thank you for re-revving up my intellectual engine and chasing me back to long forgotten philosophical tombs...Larry

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

      Hi Frieda, thanks chica, I don't think there'll be many comments here, philosophy is not what you'd call a popular topic :) Unless someone sniffs out "doubting the existence of god" and decides to set me straight, that is. Besos!

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

      Dohn, thanks! I was always a bit precocious, especially with stuff like meaning of life and such. When I found Descartes, I thought he walked on water --no pun intended, but you may have fun reading a hub I have on the "walking on water parable :-) since he explained how to go about observing and analyzing things.

      Maven, so cool that you mention Camus! My next love affair afer Descartes whas Sartre! That guy seemed to think what I thought all the time, except he did it a lot better and apparently all the time! Glad I could revive the intellectual memories for you :-)

    • Jewels profile image

      Jewels 7 years ago from Australia

      Is interesting to contemplate for one who is able to move beyond thought. So if I think then I am, if I move beyond thought, what am I? I still exist, so where does that leave Descartes and his method?

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

      Good question, Jewels, but I can't asnwer it, not could good old Descartes :-) On second thought, Descartes would have been puzzled to realize that a few many people not only don't move past the realm of thought, they never even reach thought :-)

    • Jewels profile image

      Jewels 7 years ago from Australia

      LOL, and the philosophical cycle goes round and round and round. Thing is not everything is currently fathomable by the mind and this is the dilemma. Does not mean they don't exist, we haven't found a language for them yet. Unfortunately these 'different' states are disregarded or overlooked because of a lack of reference. Thanks to the pioneers who are currently finding a language for them and dare to look in the first place.

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      Well, yes, that is what I meant. =]

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

      Hey Frieda! Elena is slow and only understood your comment well after the fact :-) In any case, as you can see, there is not much activity here. I'm spared because, ahem, I never step on anyone's toes. COUGH.

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

      Hi Elena - interesting - maybe I'm more enamoured of Sartre than of Descartes though I was fascinated reading him too. The thing is, he wrote the original in French - 'je pense donc je suis' - it was translated into Latin later and maybe got a bit lost in translation? So I'm guessing that what he wanted to express was that the fact that he was thinking meant he was existing.

    • Jewels profile image

      Jewels 7 years ago from Australia

      That's what I was seeing Shalini. His statement certainly has flaws but that was his standpoint.

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

      Shalini, Hi there! Latin and French are literal translations. I read a dissertation once regarding Descartes original language when writing "cogito ergo sum" or "je panse doncs je suis", but even if it was French originally, either way the "I" is 'present', there is no "lost in translation" gap. Latin presuposes the pronouns via the verbal form. Each form implies a pronoun, i.e. the action pertains to "I, you, he, we, you, they" implicitly.

      I think we could be hours debating this, which already charms me in regards to Descartes :-)

      Jewels, indeed it was, and what a standpoint, having me here at the wee hours of the morning to debate it :-)

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

      Hi Elena - I bow to your better understanding - maybe the great thing about these works is how different people understand them differently. A debate on Descartes sounds fascinating - maybe someday :)

    • loua profile image

      loua 7 years ago from Elsewhere, visiting Earth ~ the segregated community planet

      Elena. Strict in the box observation does not allow the discovery of out of the box thought...

      The perception of what was being said by Descartes an what was intended are quite different; i.e. for example, the constitution, democracy or any emotion that elicits god-thought in eras of fascist control... The spirit of these ideas are subjugate to the lowest common denominator when placed in this box...

      Thinking out side of the box for a moment we might see this:

      If we are thought rather than the subjective or objective result of thought then Descartes' theory might follow this line of thought ~

      "I think, therefore I am" ? thought ? for the only thing that composes thinking is thought; so I must be thought. Sound to simple? perfection always is...

      Given that observation is an organon, a tool of thought for discovery as fear stimulates doubt uncertainty for the conclusion of thought's determination and summation of the choice reason and decision for being-purpose is the god-motive and objective- intent.

      God is the highest reasoned thought over fear doubt and uncertainty; this is the notion that Descartes is propounding in his dialogue to sell the notion that thought (thinking) is the means for concluding ones observation and to fear the bad choices per decision caused by uncertainty. Its the authoritative remark; like scientific method implies to the process of theory construction.

      Descartes theory succinctly: observation = evidence * experiment

      The rule of God-thought succinctly: fear = doubt * uncertainty

      God is alive and well in your thoughts for God is doubt...

      God bless...

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

      Hello, Loua, nice to meet you! I was reading your comment with extreme interest until I reached the god part :-) All right, I confess, I read it with lots of interest till the end :-) Seriously, we don't see eye to eye in this god matter, but I appeciate your point of view and that you took the time to carefully construct it. Much appreciated!

    • profile image

      cosette 7 years ago

      wow, very cool. I was a Camus fan myself :) I'm rating up this hub!

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

      Thanks, cosette! I may address Sartre, but will leave Camus to a fan, like yourself :-)

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

      If I didn't exist, would I be able to think? Clearly not. Does the fact that I can think prove my existence? I like to think so! Interesting hub Elena. As to God, well some force created both matter and energy, but whether by accident or design, well that's anyone's guess. I'm quite fond of that painting by William Blake of God dividing the heavens (was William Blake a freemason?) but I'm not sure that life as we know it has much to do with the old bearded gent that Blake portrayed.

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

      Hello, Amanda! Language, language, what a troublesome inconvenience :-) I am with you on the Descartian logic, it makes perfect sense in our conceptual understanding of the world and, fundamentally, on the way we express it, that is, through language.

      As I said, the two first principles make sense to me, because they are based on perception, conceptualize perception in fact. Not so the third, and I've never been worried about the design or accident factor enough to turn "imagination" into fact in my mind :-) The third principle expresses a desire, not perception, in my opinion :-)

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 7 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Wow this is a loooooong way from the love letters and the photographs but I like it just as much. I'm not one for philosphical discourses and analyses but you made things palatable (at least for me) so thanks. besos! :D

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

      And besos to you, amigo! Yep, a bit removed from my usual fare, but I do love philosophy and thought a bit of homage to Descartes would do no harm :)

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