Essay: Rene Descartes

Sample Essay

Rene Descartes (1596-1650), French mathematician and philosopher, based his theory of philosophy on the concept of doubt.  Unlike his predecessors and contemporaries, he did not seek to rehabilitate Aristotle’s ideas in his theoretical framework.  He instead sought to destroy the very importance that Aristotle had attached to the faculty of observation.

Noting that our sensory faculties are very much capable of misleading us, as exemplified by illusions, mirages and hallucinations, he felt that reason alone should be used to judge the nature of things.  In doing so, Descartes felt that there was nothing that he could not doubt, except that he is able to doubt and so he certainly must exist. (Cottingham, 1986)

Descartes philosophy of doubt and reason is based on accepting nothing as true, except certain immutable ideas.  He believes that if even a shred of doubt exists about something then we should treat it as false, dividing it in smaller parts to comprehensively test each component individually until its true nature has been established.  Fascinated by the world of mathematics, he felt a degree of certainty could also be achieved in the world of philosophy by application of pure reasoning.  This was to usher in the era of rationalism one day.

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