No, “Descartes” is not just the name of a high school or a bus stop. Descartes is the story of a brilliant dude of the seventeenth century who, with his discoveries, upset philosophy.
Descartes is therefore above all a philosopher, a mathematician, and a physicist. One has even created an adjective with his name: someone is said to be “Cartesian” to emphasize his rational mind.
So now, you may be wondering what is the relationship between Descartes and a rational mind? It’s simple; all his life, Descartes was interested in the power of the human spirit in the face of knowledge – in other words, why do we know so much in our little head and how can we be sure that they are true?
He thought and thought …
And then one day, Descartes said “I think therefore I am“ and everything was enlightened …
Well, after several years of thinking, Descartes got up one morning and said, “It’s crazy, I know and I’ve learned a lot of things in my life. But at the same time, I also happened to know things wrong by believing that they were true … So suddenly, it’s possible that everything I know is wrong? ”
This question, you could very well have asked the day you discovered that Santa Claus did not exist and that all your world has collapsed around you.
Descartes did it for a specific purpose: to seek the truth. He writes that he wants to “find only one thing that is certain and unmistakable” (Metaphysical Meditations); that is to say, to find something that absolutely nobody can question.
So to pursue his quest for truth, he questioned all his knowledge.
Descartes farted a cable to start doubting everything or what?
Not at all. His quest is reasoned and comes from two major findings:
- Finding No. 1: he realizes that part of his knowledge is false or wrong and that one can never finally be sure of a truth. And for a scientist, it’s the average way.
- Observation No. 2: he discovers that our 5 senses are deceptive and move us away from the truth because what we perceive by our senses is subjective. – For example: make a fruity scent to two different people, you can be sure that one will smell an apricot smell, and the other a smell of strawberry. The same for a garment: a T-shirt can be dark blue for you, and black for your neighbor. In short, no one holds true truth about the things around us because our perception is not objective. It is not enough to see to know, that’s what Descartes concludes.
Ok, but how did he go about doubting everything?
Do not believe that putting all your knowledge into doubt is done with a snap. On the contrary, to achieve this in the rules of the art and in a rigorous way, Descartes has created his own method to refound his knowledge on solid foundations (hence the title of his famous work, Discours de la méthode ).
And his method is to doubt everything, but in a precise order:
- He begins by examining his doubtful opinions. That is to say, all the received ideas that he had, and that were not founded to eliminate them (for example: to think that all blondes are teubées).
- He then doubts information received by his 5 senses (for the reasons mentioned above).
- He questions bodies and matter because they are also perceived by our senses.
- He then doubts rational truths (mathematics, physics, etc.)
- Then he ends up doubting the existence of God, because God is also a thought that comes from his mind, and like any thought created by the mind, it deserves to be questioned.
He discovered something after doubting 10 thousand years, right?
The answer is YES! But the fight was tough. Descartes, with his big arms and big brain, also had to fight against what he calls “the evil genius”.
What he calls the “evil genius” is something straight out of his imagination: he thinks a very powerful and clever “evil genius” hides in his head, and spends his time fooling him on everything; even on what seems to him the safest.
So, after having exterminated this evil genius, after having totally stripped off any link that unites him to the world, Descartes discovers ONE certainty: I am “a thinking thing”.
He realizes that even if this evil genius has the power to deceive him by parasitizing his mind with false truths, there is ONE thing he cannot do: this deceitful genius can never prevent Descartes from thinking. And what does it matter if what he thinks is wrong? Here is the act of thinking that is the most important:
He can never make me anything, as long as I think I am something.
After becoming aware of this manipulation, Descartes stops doubting.
He discovered an unmistakable truth: as long as I think, I exist. Even if everything I think is false or illusory, thinking is unquestionable. If this genius deceives me, it is above all because I exist. In short, as long as I think, I am something. And as powerful as it is, this evil genius in my head will never be able to suppress my existence. That’s a sure thing.
And what has changed in the world?
It does not seem like that, but Descartes has really shaken up the codes. At the time, fashionable philosophy was church-run, church-run philosophy – and it was not fun. It consisted of learning religious texts to learn to think, with religion at the heart of thought.
But in the sixteenth century, philosophers began to get tired of “philosophizing” on ancient concepts, so new philosophies and scientific discoveries will come to shake up the scholasticism. But the Church, which did not accept the questioning of its representation of the world, did not let it go. She even condemned Galileo in 1632 because he showed that the earth was round.
Fortunately, Descartes was in Holland when he began to doubt. He was able to break away from the scholastic tradition by giving a central place to human thought and subjectivity (and leaving aside religion).
A small conclusion to shine in society
This indisputable truth that Descartes sought was thought, or more precisely, the act of thought that is so powerful because it belongs to us alone and that, what does the absurdity of our words matter: we are and we will remain subjects who think (and who are aware of it).
This discovery is called the Cogito : the famous “I think therefore I am” – or ” Cogito ergo sum” if you want to shine in the evening (note: the “u” in Latin is pronounced “or”, so it will be necessary to pronounce ” soum “- it was just to prevent you from pretending to be a teube). Continue reading…
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