Descartes. Philosophy and Good Sense

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1 Perspectives in Philosophy Rene Descartes Descartes Philosophy is the search for certainty the search to know, for yourself, what is really true and really false to know which beliefs are reliable. However, in order to get certitude, we must start with certitude it isn t something we could mature into (traditional belief of philosophy for example, Socrates wisdom) Philosophy is not Care of the soul, a search to know thyself, for human happiness, for the good life for how we best ought to live our lives. Philosophy and Good Sense Everyone has good sense. It s the most equally distributed thing in the world. We are all our own philosophical experts Just like Luther thought that each of us can interpret Scripture for ourselves Philosophy and Good Sense So there is no cave the normal condition of man is not one of ignorance about fundamental philosophical truths. And we don t need anyone to lead us out Do you consider yourself the best judge about philosophical matters? As good as anyone else? If not, why not? Rejection of tradition I thought that the sciences contained in books are farther removed from truth than the simple inferences which a man of good sense using his natural and unprejudiced judgment draws respecting the matters of his experience. Philosophical knowledge This is a rejection of the Greek (explicitly Aristotle s) insight that by ourselves we cannot adequately find the truth, but collectively humans have amassed a considerable amount of truth. Philosophy should not be a refinement and elaboration of the common-sense knowledge and understanding of the world and ourselves. Rejection of the Scholastic method exemplified in St. Thomas Summae Socrates time spent in the agora was a waste of time! View of Philosophy Philosophy should solve problems and move on to new ones. Like geometry Philosophy isn t a practice or way of life where we need both intellectual and moral training to see and understand the answers that good wise persons have come to see after all, we all have equal good sense. 1

2 Morality As far as morality goes, Descartes can t think it is necessary for philosophical success After all, he says it was enough for him to follow a provisional morality which said Descartes Provisional Morality Obey the laws and customs of my country, and adhere firmly to the Christian faith, regulating his conduct by the most moderate opinions Be as firm and resolute in action as possible Conquer yourself rather than fortune, knowing that except for our thoughts, there is is nothing absolutely in our power. The New Philosophy True philosophy needs to start again, to build from scratch. It needs to be built by a single person Descartes creates the autonomous individual who apparently needs no community neither for his sake nor the community s. The paradigm for philosophy is mathematics. Discovering Truth The key to discovering the truth is having the correct method. Socratic dialectic does not count as a method! The method must be used on a reliable foundation Descartes Method of Doubt So he sets out "to rid [him]self of all the opinions I had adopted, and of commencing anew the work of building from the foundation" (Meditation I). Descartes Method of Doubt The method of doubt: Reject as false any idea that could possibly be wrong Nor for this purpose will it be necessary even to deal with each belief individually, which would be truly an endless labour; but, as the removal from below of the foundation necessarily involves the downfall of the whole edifice, I will at once approach the criticism of the principles on which all my former beliefs rested. 1. Philosophical beliefs Every philosophical doctrine is disputed by other philosophers So doubt is possible about philosophical beliefs We cannot use them for our foundation 2. Scientific beleifs These are not set on the firmest foundations (at his time) So doubt is possible about scientific beliefs We cannot use them for our foundation 3. Common sense beliefs: 3a. Perceptual beliefs: About the past: memories are often faulty. So it is possible to be wrong about remembered beliefs. About the future: induction is only probable and could well be mistaken. So it is possible to be wrong about beliefs about the future. 2

3 Common sense beliefs: Perceptual beliefs: About the present: could all be a vivid dream, and there is no way of telling the difference. Our present experience could be a trick caused by an evil genius a sort of evil god, so powerful that he has the ability to deceive us into believing all sorts of things that are not true. Matrix as evil demon Just like Neo was fooled into believing he was really living an entire life... Possible even if not plausible? When he was just connected to the matrix. Non-perceptual but seemingly indisputable truths: could be a trick by the evil genius too. Your feeling that you cannot doubt these truths could be induced in you by this demon. Looking for a foundation So it looks like we have doubted just about everything Is it possible to doubt that I am doubting? One statement/belief can never be doubted: I think therefore I am. So I cannot be wrong that I exist. This will become the basis of certainty for everything else. From there his argument goes basically like this: 1. Cogito ergo Sum: I exist and am a thinking being. (Rational intuition a deliverance of good sense. ) Corollary 1: I have ideas Corollary 2: I am distinct from my body (contrast with St. Thomas) 2. Whatever I perceive clearly and distinctly is true (Basic principle) [Implication of good sense also needs a defense! See pg 25] 2.Whatever I perceive clearly and distinctly is true (Basic principle) [Implication of good sense also needs a defense! See pg 25] 3.I perceive clearly and distinctly that the existence of God is the only adequate cause of my idea of God as the perfect being. 4.Therefore God exists. 4.God is perfect all powerful, all good. 5.Therefore, God would not let me believe something so strongly if it was so wrong. 3

4 6. Therefore, the principle whatever I perceive clearly and distinctly is true is a valid principle. [oh-oh The Cartesian circle? On Descartes, pgs ] 7. Therefore our strong natural tendency to believe in the existence of a world of material objects and that our ideas are caused by it, is reliable at least in general. Otherwise we would be massively deceived by God. Therefore material objects (including my own body) exist. They do not necessarily exist as we perceive them, but they nonetheless exist. 8. Further development of science (theorizing supported by observation) is now secure and believable as truths about a really existing world. Science s methodology and object now have a metaphysical guarantee. Science has also been reconciled with religious belief. [Cf On Descartes, pg 51.] Summary of the rebuild 1. I am certain that I exist 2. I am certain that God exists and is a perfect being. 3. God supports my belief in an world outside myself that I can study and learn about in science. Philosophy becomes a more technical and highly abstract study, concerned as it is with the difficult questions of justifying our processes of knowing rather than looking for ultimate causes of all reality, or the ultimate purposes of human life. Philosophy has a twofold role: (1) justifying science, its assumptions, and methods; and (2) studying entities not susceptible of scientific study, namely the human mind and God. But once philosophers abandon the possibility of truly knowing themselves or God Kant will argue that we can know only what we experience, not things like God or the soul philosophy is left with justifying science. I don t need a philosopher to tell me if a microscope really works. Kant showed that you cannot prove God s existence so Descartes proof fails. If philosophy does not justify science which it in fact did not ever do (scientists care little about what philosophers say) then WHAT DOES philosophy do in the modern world? HOW ABOUT NOTHING? Isn t that what we all already think? We know what physicists do for us, and biologists, and psychologists and priests and lawyers, but no one really can say what philosophers do what they add to our lives. HOW ABOUT NOTHING! Probably as good as an answer as anything.! After all, what do you go to a philosopher for? Advice about how best to live your life? Resolving your doubts about whether science really can tell us the truth about reality? Or resolving apparent points of conflict between two different sciences? To learn about the nature and existence of your soul? Of God? 4

5 The little orphan science that has no purpose in the modern world Philosophy What becomes of uppermost value in an enterprise such as this is freedom, which is an individual value, established against the needs of the community. How important did Socrates view his freedom of inquiry, when it lead to his arrest and sentencing to death? He accepted a sentence of death Descartes moved to Holland possibly to avoid any trouble with the Church, such as happened to Galileo Does Descartes end up advocating for a small, powerful elite class of intellectuals who will move society forward according to the dictates of their own values, rather than those of society? Two big questions About method: what is the best/appropriate way to acquire knowledge and learn the truth? Is it by group efforts, based on shared beliefs and common-knowledge, and relying on agreement and universal acceptance? [Socratic Dialectic] Or is it by individual efforts that shun the views of others and boldly assert ones own beliefs as the truth? [Cartesian Cogito] Most of us are very wary of asserting truths or views that are opposed to the views of others is that a sign of strength or weakness on our part? About philosophy: what is the role of philosophy in society? Is it to articulate and defend views believed by all, or is it a personal enterprise design only for our individual satisfaction? Is the philosophy proposed by Descartes of much use to the Church? 5

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