Rene Descartes is one of the most influential philosophers of the last few centuries, especially in relation to the study of origin and existence of mankind. In his work “Discourse on the Method”, Descartes attempts to explain a new method of reasoning, despite living in one of the most difficult periods. In the beginning, Descartes leans towards the controversial theory of the 19th and 20th centuries that “God does not exist” (Descartes, 2008).
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However, towards the end of the discourse, Descartes suddenly changes his thoughts and informs his audience that there is at least some ‘supernatural’ power (God) in control of nature. Arguably, this is a surprising end of this discourse, which suddenly diverts the audience’s perception of the matter.
In part 1, Descartes elaborates his thinking on ‘a number of considerations regarding to the sciences’. First, every person has the knowledge and ability to distinguish ‘good from evil’ and fiction from the truth.
Descartes thinks that he has improved status due to his use of ‘the method’ (Cunning, 2009). According to his argument, Descartes seems to argue that the mind of a person can elevate the human mind above those of other people in a society or group.
Accordingly, Descartes thinks that he is a beneficiary of formal education, which has improved his level of thinking. However, he also believes that the book-based education complicates the nature of his brain. It is worth noting that Descartes’ life and way of thinking in the first chapters are influenced by his lifestyle.
His initial thinking that God does not exist is based on his perceptions of social and cultural life in his early years. For instance, he visits various parts of the world after leaving school. From his journeys, he realizes that every person has ‘natural light’, which is affected by education. This form of natural light is important in realising the ‘self’ for every person.
However, in part 2 of his work, Descartes tends to realise a new phenomenon- that the work of every individual is superior to that of any committee because every individual has ‘an open plan’ when taking any task.
According to him, science, which every person learns when young, must be flawed because it is subject to many ideologies developed by various people in various times (Descartes, 2008). As such, this knowledge, including religion, is not correct. Here, he doubts the existence of God.
A number of changes have occurred between the Renaissance and the modern period. Descartes seems to lean towards these changes as he focuses on his arguments. For instance, the type of education and social life has greatly changed.
By the time he was writing, artistic and literal styles had become more liberalised than before, which gives him the freedom to argue for and against God’s existence. He notes that the changes in lifestyles affect the people’s way of thinking and perception of life and humanity.
From his strong knowledge in geography, history, geometry and sociology, Descartes tends to believe in three philosophies. First, people should never believe in anything unless they have an informed truth of the subject matter. Secondly, he believes that the process of reducing any problem disintegrates the entire matter into small units.
Thirdly, Descartes believes that one should always be orderly in his or her thoughts before proceeding from the simplest to the most difficult matter. Finally, Descartes thinks that it is better to create a long chain of reasoning and leave nothing out of context when solving a given problem of any nature (Cunning, 2009). From his analysis, this method is effective in solving social, cultural, religious and scientific problems.
However, he is not satisfied because he has some fears that it is in his own misconceptions, which interferes with the way of the real and pure reasoning. At this point, the reader realises that the argument is about to change course because the author seems to be diverting from his initial thoughts.
From this point, Descartes moves to the third part of the discourse. In this case, he proposes a provisional moral code for people (especially himself) to be used when one is rethinking his or her views of the world and humanity.
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Descartes argues that one must obey the rules and customs of his society and religion and should not be an extremist. Secondly, he argues that one must be decisive and strict and try to change the self and examine all the professions in the world. One must try to consider himself as best suited in doing something before acting.
Despite this strong concern about the society, Descartes’ final argument in part 4 of his discourse seems to turn him (and his audience) towards a sudden and surprising end- he seems to confess and believe that there is some “God”.
After travelling widely, Descartes writes his fourth part of the discourse (Marion, 2009). From this aspect, a person realises the proof of personal existence. As such, Descartes thinks that when based on reliability rather than pure reasoning, it becomes clear that the human soul has separated from the body.
Thus, Descartes uses his thoughts of ‘nonexistence of God’ to prove that there is God existing beyond human nature and powers. Consequently, this is a surprising end of the discourse because the reader expects Descartes to prove the inexistence of God as he had started. However, it is surprising to note that he uses the argument to prove the existence of God.
Cunning, D. (2009). Arguments and persuasions in Descartes meditations. London, UK: OUP.
Descartes, R. (2008). Discourse on the method. New York, NY: Cosimo Inc.
Marion, J. (2009). On Descartes’ Metaphysical Prism: The Constitution and the Limits of Onto-theo-logy in Cartesian Thought. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.