Here are my notes on RenéDescartes (1596-1650). Comments and criticisms are welcome.Please email them to KAGAN@maple.lemoyne.eduor mail them to me at the following address:
Rabbi Michael Kagan
Dept. of Philosophy
Le Moyne College
Syracuse, NY 13214-1399
René Descartes (1596-1650)
BackgroundRenaissance--discuss rise of Platonism andadvances in sciences including the pressure brought through the reformationand counter reformation. The Copernican revolution (Copernicus, 1473-1543).Galileo (1564-1642) including his 1632 Dialogue on the two chief worldsystems. (1633 had to recant and remained under house arrest).
René Descartes (1596-1650). Studiedin Jesuit college of La Fl`eche, then law at Poitiers, graduating in 1616(From Flew). From noble and wealthy family; had fascinating relationshipswith royal ladies. Analytic geometry. ***Leisure and philosophy.Relate to the doing of philosophy by women after the Renaissance.
Bruno burned at the stake in 1600.
Galileo in trouble with inquisition in1634.
Descartes withheld his 1st book on theworld (Copernican) when heard about Galileo's adventures.
late 1620s Rules for the direction ofthe mind (published 1701)
1637. The Discourse on Method,his philosophical introduction to his work Dioptric, Meteors, and Geometry
1641 Meditations on First Philosophy
1644 Principles of Philosophy
Passions of the Soul (1649 out of hiscorrespondence with Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia
1649 Went to Queen Christina of Swedenin Stockholm; died 1650.
Method and MeditationsHere are online links to the text of the Discourseon Method, and the
Meditations including Descartes' own SYNOPSIS.
(These links are from: RutgersPhilosophy Resources - Electronic Texts)
Rules from Discourse on Method:"The first was to accept nothing as true whichI did not clearly recognize to be so: that is to say, carefully to avoidprecipitation and prejudice in judgments, and to accept in them nothingmore than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly thatI could have no occasion to doubt it.
The second was to divide up each of thedifficulties which I examined into as many parts as possible, and as seemedrequisite in order that it might be resolved in the best manner possible.
The third was to carry on my reflectionsin due order, commencing with objects that were the most simple and easyto understand, in order to rise little by little, or by degrees, to knowledgeof the most complex, assuming an order, even of a fictitious one, amongthose which do not follow a natural sequence relatively to one another."
The last was in all cases to make enumerationsso complete and reviews so general that I should be certain of having omittednothing." (Matson, p. 280, citing Discourse on Method, Open Court, La Salle,edition)
Matson writes: 282: "Plato and Descarteshad much in common . . . . Both were mathematicians, both aimed to putknowledge on a firm foundation by generalizing mathematical methods, andboth believed that the indispensable first step for reconstructing knowledgeconsisted in clearing away rubble, by means of a searching critique ofhitherto receive opinions. "
Descartes' Criticism of knowledge andthe method of doubt.
Outline of the Meditations and aftermathI. First Meditation
A. Challenges testimonyII. Second Meditation
B. Sense knowledge
1. Dream argument-challenge to the categoryC. mathematics and other a priori knowledge
A. Cogito, ergo sum-I think, thereforeI am. (note resemblance to Augustinian argument)III. Third Meditation-Descartes' argumentfor God's existence
1. I am a thinking being (since doubtfulas body)B. My thoughts as seemings are also certain,the content qua content indeed seems as it seems
a) body is divisible, but we cannot conceiveof half a mind2. Certainty lasts only as the thinking
C. The Wax inspected by the mind is knownas one substance
D. Judgment that there are other peoplebehind the appearances
***The Cartesian box and the threatof solipsism***
***The long talk with John McCraw-doas class discussion***
A. The mark of the Cogito is its clarityand distinctness-Descartes thinks he's found here the criteria of knowledgeIV. Fourth Meditation
1. Clear & distinct: "I term thatclear which is present and apparent to an attentive mind, in the same wayas we assert that we see objects clearly when, being present to the regardingeye, they operate on it with sufficient strength. But the distinct is thatwhich is so precise and different from all other objects that it containswithin itself nothing but what is clear." (Matson, p. 288, sitingPrinciples of Philosophy, 45).B. Ideas considered as images are not equal:
1. . . . considering them as images, ofwhich some represent one thing and some another, it is evident that theydiffer greatly among themselves. For those that represent substances areundoubtedly something more, and contain in themselves, so to speak, moreobjective reality, or rather, participate by representation in a higherdegree of being or perfection, than those which represent only modes [e.g.roundness] or accidents [e.g., color]]. (Matson, 289)C. The idea with the greatest objective realityis that of God --note that objective reality seems to mean somethinglike greatest reality in terms of what perfection the object of the ideais portrayed as having, whereas formal and actual reality seems to be suchreality if it is really truly real---
D. It is manifest by the light of nature(note Augustine's influence) that There must be at least as much realityin the efficient and total cause as in its effect.
1. Therefore any idea must eventuallyhave a cause which has sufficient formal reality to generate it
a) Can Descartes have caused his own ideas-hethinks so with respect to all ideas but God (note somewhere that this iswhere Descartes' argument would lose the assent of an Adveita Vedantist)--sincehe, as a finite being could not have given rise to an infinite idea. Nowsince Descartes did not seem willing to doubt language and logic (necessaryfor doubt) hi didn't doubt what he took to be a logical principle aboutcausation (OR HE WAS A SECRET WRITER).
Explanation of error through will (asin Augustine)--a free will solution to one part of the problem of evil(see Matson, p. 292)V. Fifth Meditation
Descartes' ontological argument-may inthe end be that God must exist since knowledge is possible (in that casea transcendental argument)VI. Sixth Meditation:
A. Mind/body distinction
1. Conception (intellection; mind turnstoward itself) vs. imagination (involves images and intuitions)
2. reconstruction of the world top down.
AftermathVII. the word ended up with is a world ofmind and body, where it is the business of science to figure out the lawsof bodies, but where theology still rules over the soul. Note parallelto Kantian position regarding the noumenal and phenomenal.
VIII. Responses to the mind-body problem.
Occasionalism of Arnold Geulincx (1625-1669)IX. The problem of changing the philosophyto suit the science in a world where the science changes
Pre-established harmonization throughthe Divine of Nicholas Malebranche (1638-1715)
Spinozistic (1632-77) monism (and othern-aspects theories)
For some follow-up on these issue go to 1997Kagan notes on Kant
Back to 1997 Kagan Notes on I and Thou andMartin Buber (1878-1965)
Back to Kagan'shomepage on maple.lemoyne.edu (http://webserver.lemoyne.edu/~kagan/index.html)
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