Rene Descartes: A Great Thinker of the Western World
“I think therefore I am” are the words that come to mind as we encounter the subject of Descartes. We see man full of knowledge and ideas ready to expand and break free. His interest in knowledge and the acquisition of truth itself brought him to doubt all around him, including God and his very own existence. He is even considered to be the Father of Modern philosophy because he guided the thinkers of his time to deviate from the Scholastic-Aristotelian method. This is due to his belief that the scholastic method was prone to doubt since it relied on sensation as the source for all knowledge, meaning that teachings adhered to traditional methods posed by the church. However we cannot simply look at Descartes without knowing anything about his background and inspirations.
Rene Descartes is credited with being the father of modern philosophy. Not only is he accredited to being a man of extraordinary genius, but his ideas changed the way western European thinkers viewed theology. Having his mother die after he was born caused young Rene to live with his grandmother in La Haye. He was sent to a Jesuit college called La Fleche, where he studied grammar, rhetoric, and a philosophical curriculum of verbal arts and logic. He was disappointed in the courses he had to take, except for mathematics, thus explaining his infatuation with the subject along with physics. Either way he left La Fleche with a very broad liberal arts education in 16141. He received his degree and license in civil and canon law at the University of Poiters. From there, Descartes became a volunteer for the army of Maurice of Nassau in the Netherlands during the summer of 1618. It is said that before he went to Netherlands, Descartes had lost all interest in science and mathematics and experienced a period of depression or mental breakdown. However while at Nassau, he met the most important influence of his early adulthood: Isaac Beekman3. It was Beekman who re-ignited Descartes interest in science and opened his eyes to the possibility of applying mathematical techniques to other fields outside of the pre-determined mindset. A push was all that Descartes needed to make him set his eyes on a new method of scientific findings. For a while, he was on and off theories, starting and never finishing them, including his Rules for the Direction of the Mind. He moved to the Netherlands yet again in 1628 in order to find a place full of peace and quiet where he could think. He tried to run away from Paris and its city full of distractions. It is here that Descartes began to work on “a little treatise,” which took him approximately three years to complete, entitled The World3. The World constituted in showing the mechanisms behind not using the Scholastic principles of substantial forms and real qualities3 and in giving an account for the origin of the universe, nature and the human body. He also stated here that he agreed with the heliocentric theory proposed by Galileo, that the sun is the center of the universe rather than the earth. He chose not to publish his work after learning of Galileo’s condemnation; thus his work was not seen until his death. He did decide, however, to publish his Geometry, Dioptrics, and Meteors which he prefaced with a brief Discourse on Method. He saw this method as something that could be applied to almost anything; but mostly to philosophy.
Before Descartes, there was Aristotle and previous other thinkers who believed in syllogisms or basically deductive reasoning that can be used as an extremely subtle, sophisticated, or deceptive argument. For example syllogisms’ usually follow something along the lines of “All A is C; all B is A; therefore all B is C3.” Descartes did not believe in syllogisms because their conclusions merely brought forth a probable statement which could not be easily proven. “Since a statement is probable because it is a statement” this just caused...
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