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Rene Descartes: Famous French Philosopher Essay

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Updated: Oct 23rd, 2021

“Introducing Philosophy: A Text with Integrated Readings”, by Robert C. Solomon, presents an introduction to the subject of philosophy and gives an overview into the fundamental problems of philosophy that constitute the subject as well as the spectrum of perspectives used by various philosophers to resolve these problems (Oxford University Press).

Rene Descartes

French Philosopher Rene Descartes, also widely hailed as “The Father of Modern Philosophy”. “Meditations on First Philosophy” was first published in 1641.

He believed that the acquiring of knowledge was an action that man was not capable of performing by the use of his senses rather man acquired knowledge through the reasoning of logic and judgment (Lex Newman). Descartes draws a strong line between the belief of the existence of something and the knowledge of the existence of something. For instance, Descartes states:

I shall proceed by setting aside all that in which the least doubt could be supposed to exist, just as if I had discovered that it was absolutely false; and I shall ever follow in this road until I have met with something that is certain, or at least, if I can do nothing else, until I have learned for certain that there is nothing in the world that is certain. (Solomon 195).

In the coming paragraphs, an analysis of Descartes’ standpoint of knowledge and man’s acquiring of knowledge shall be analyzed (European Graduate School).

Descartes is also of the opinion that man does not merely acquire knowledge as he lives, but there are certain elements of knowledge that are of an innate nature to man (Solomon, Introducing Philosophy ). Descartes refers to these elements of knowledge as absolute truths of the universe that are woven into God’s creation of the universe.

In layman terms, Descartes believed that the only way to be sure of an existence of a tangible or an intangible was to analyze it from scratch without considering the knowledge and of opinions we have developed on it and gained from our surrounding. Descartes suggests that once we perceive something, we subconsciously begin to lay more stress upon the degree to which we perceive it, when we should be analyzing the degree of legitimacy of our perception instead. Descartes believes that the moment we begin to perceive an entity, we forget to analyze the authenticity of our perception and our concentration begins to center solely around the degree of perception of the entity.

Therefore, according to Descartes, we need not rework the entire collection of the perceptions we harbor, rather we only need to reevaluate and rework the foundations of our perceptions. We need to only make an analysis of the foundations upon which we have built our perception of the world around us. This is so because a reworking of the entirety of our ideas and concepts of the world around us would be an endless task since we spend every instant of our lives generating ideas and understandings of the world around us, based on the perceptions we have chosen to see our world from. As Descartes stated:

It will not be requisite that I should examine each in particular, which would be an endless undertaking; for owing to the fact that the destruction of the foundations of necessity brings with it the downfall of the rest of the edifice, I shall only in the first place attack those principles upon which all my former opinions are rested. (Solomon 191).

Analysis of Descartes’ statement

Descartes states that:

“I put my hand up in front of my face and open my eyes. I know there exists a hand in front of me”.

From Descartes’ statement, we can concur that he does not believe in anything existing unless and until we have a reason to believe that it exists. Until we are sure about the existence of something after having perceived it through our senses, we cannot be fully sure of the existence of that entity. This is so because we ourselves may be non-existent if our senses were all we use to infer the true existence of an entity. Even if we do manage to establish the reality of our existence, the question of whether we are currently awake or asleep and dreaming continues eludes us. Descartes stated this concept of human consciousness wonderfully when he said:

I extend my hand and perceive it; what happens in sleep does not appear so clear nor so distinct as does all this. But in thinking over this, I remind myself that on many occasions I have in sleep been deceived by similar illusions, and in dwelling carefully on this reflection I see so manifestly that there are no certain indications by which we may clearly distinguish wakefulness from sleep that I am lost in astonishment. And my astonishment is such that it is almost capable of persuading me that I now dream. (Solomon 192).

This statement of Rene Descartes probably brings to light the interaction between the mind and the body. According to him, the body is an essential property with a spatial extension and the mind is the ability through which this essential property thinks.

In the same way if the above statement is closely analyzed, it is clear that Descartes put his hand up to his face, which is a bodily motion, yet before opening his eyes he knew his hand was in front of his face. This was the mind body connection; the bodily motion corresponded to the mind that processed this thought.

In modern times it could be referred to by the scientific point of view that the brain is the center, processing all sensations and conveying it through the sensory nerves or motor nerves to whichever region necessary. Therefore before the body even performed the function of lifting a hand in front of his face, Descartes’ mind had already thought about this function and the brain had sent sensory signals to the respective limb to perform it. Obviously even before lifting his hand, Descartes was already aware of the fact that his hand was in front of his face.

This statement also reflects Dualism, the theory according to which it is believed that there is indeed a connection between the mind and body even though they are presumed to be two very different entities, which are opposites in nature as well (AllAboutPhilosophy.org). As the mind is thought to be massless and the body is composed of physical matter and corresponds to the tangibility of nature (Baker).

The statement serves to elaborate upon the fact that without the perception of the mind, the operation of the senses is not capable of existing. Isolation of the senses from the body means that the senses, although continue to exist and comprehend, cease to be of any relevance (Garth Kemerling.). Hence, the question of the relevance of the human mind is raised, and once more, the sense of the perception of existence is brought to the doorstep of the existence of the terms that define the relevance and credibility of perception.

Works Cited

AllAboutPhilosophy. . 2008. Web.

Baker, G. Descartes’ Dualism. Routledge, 1995.

European Graduate School. René Descartes. 2008. Web.

Garth Kemerling. Philosophy Pages – . 2009. Web.

Lex Newman. , Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 1997. Web. 2009.

Oxford University Press. Introduction to Philosophy – Description. 2005. Web.

Solomon, R. Introducing Philosophy. Oxford University Press, 2001.

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