A discourse on method - by Rene Descartes (1912) - PDF-ebook

A discourse on method; Meditations on the first philosophy; Principles of philosophy

A discourse on method
Rene Descartes

Excerpt from the introduction:

Rene: Descartes was born on the 31st of March 1596 at La Haye in Touraine not far from Poitiers. His father was a gentleman of a good family who had retired from military service and had become councillor of the Parlement of Brittany. Rene was the third son. He \ was sent at the age of eight to the newly established.

The boldness of Descartes' thought had, as we have seen, its Imitations. He Hved at a time when political freedom was unknown, and when that complete liberty of thought which modern science claims as its birthright was hardly dreamt of. 

He was himself a sincere and devout son of a church that claimed not only absolute authority within its own sphere but the right to assert what was or was not included in that sphere. In the last paragraph of the Principles Descartes says, I submit all my opinions to the authority of the church. Lest I should presume too far, I afi&rm nothing, but submit all these my opinions to the authority of the church and the judgment of the more sage; and I desire no one to believe anything I may have said unless he is constrained to admit it by the force and evidence of reason. 

The conflict is evident. Descartes believed that the force and evidence of reason were appreciable by every man. His test of truth, that which we clearly and distinctly conceive is true, was one which every individual could and must apply for himself. 

But over the authority of the church, no individual had any control, and the fact that an argument had been approved by the reason of the individual man was no warrant that it would be approved by the church. Against this authority, he had no thought of protesting, and his sincere acceptance of it is of the utmost importance to his philosophy. Had he cared only for science and its assumptions he might have had recourse to equivocation and evasion to escape ecclesiastical censure. 

He might, like the genuinely sceptical writers of the next century, like all freethinkers who live under an authority which they despise but dare not affront, have become a master in the art of knowing what to say and what to leave unsaid. In that case, though his language would have been influenced by authority, his thought would have been free of it. But with Descartes, the conflict between reason and authority had to be fought out within himself.

 Review by Rowland Pasaribu:

The Discourse on the Method is a fascinating book, both as a work of philosophy and as a historical document. Descartes lived and worked in a period that Thomas Kuhn would call a "paradigm shift": one way of thinking, one worldview, was slowly being replaced by another. Descartes's work, while part of the new paradigm, still has one leg in the old mode of thought. 

The old, waning worldview was scholastic Aristotelianism. The Aristotelian paradigm had a conception of the mind, of knowledge, and of science that may seem very alien to us today, but this conception held sway over Western thought for about two thousand years. 

According to the Aristotelian tradition, the mind proper—what is exclusively "inside the head"—is limited to reason and understanding. Sensory perception, imagination, will, and so on, make reference to things outside the mind and so are not purely mental. Rather, they are the link that connects us to the outside world. According to Aristotle, there is no distinction between what I perceive and what is "out there." Thus, sensory experience gives us direct and immediate knowledge of objects in the world.

Science, in this worldview, is a matter of taking the immediate evidence of sensory experience and deducing certain conclusions from it. The sensory experience is indubitable, and the deductions are logical, so all scientific knowledge is based on absolute certainty.

the book details :
  • Author:Rene Descartes 
  • Translated by John Veitch.
  • Publication date:1912
  • Company::London: Dent ; New York : Dutton

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