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Rene Descartes

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Rene Descartes

While Rene Descartes' method of finding truth was innovative and scientific, his proofs for the existence of God were ultimately very weak. In the Discourse on Method, Descartes outlines his scientific method at length. He succeeds in his desire to find true and innate ideas. However, the arguments posited for the existence of God by Descartes in the Meditations are not entirely convincing. It seems strange that if the ideas on which he makes his conclusions were correct, that the actual conclusions would be faulty. It was fallacy in his logic, not his method. In this paper, I plan to demonstrate that some of the logic used by Descartes was flawed; namely, he makes hasty assumptions from his facts and does not always follow his own rules.

Descartes intended to reach new and unknown truths with his method. Syllogistic logic, in his opinion, only demonstrated that which we already know. Descartes wanted to start a new method from scratch, one that questioned everything he knew before. He wanted to reduce complex ideas to simple ones through analysis, and then re-build the ideas through a sort of synthesis. He would intuit to clear and distinct ideas which left no room for doubt. These clear and distinct ideas are the building blocks in his philosophy. From these facts, he could deduce unknown and true knowledge. The third part of the method is enumeration, so that one makes sure nothing has been omitted. Descartes uses this very mathematical system because he admires the certainty of mathematics. He believes we can achieve certainty under his system through the fundamental operations of the mind, intuition and deduction. This will help us correctly use the powers of the mind to come to new knowledge and truth. This method can be applied to everything. We only need one scientific method because all sciences are really one science. In all sciences, we find self-evident truths, just like mathematicians find laws. The mind discovers these innate ideas, which were implanted in the mind by nature or God, when some experience triggers the potentiality of the idea in the mind. If we only reason from these ideas, says Descartes, we can only come to true conclusions and logic will never fail us.

In order to come to these ideas, we must free ourselves of all prior prejudices; Descartes says we must doubt everything, including our very own existence and the existence of everything around us. The point of hyperbolic, or exaggerated, doubt is not to doubt every single thought or belief one holds, but to doubt the very foundation on which these beliefs lie. Just as the method says, we break down our thoughts, reducing complex belief systems into the simplest parts. We must doubt all previous philosophy that we know as well as the information that comes to us through the senses. Once we've come to the first clear and distinct idea, we can start to reconstruct our knowledge slowly and methodically, so that nothing false ever enters the equation.

The first clear and distinct idea of Descartes, found in Meditation II, is the famous Cogito, ergo sum: I think, therefore I am. A similar argument first shows up in St. Augustine's Critique of Skepticism from City of God, in which Augustine explains that even if I am deceived, I must exist in order to be deceived, and thus I can't be deceived into thinking I exist. This makes it a true, clear, distinct, and innate idea, one which cannot be further broken down. The cogito of Descartes at first appears to be a syllogism with the conclusion I exist following from the premise I am a thinking thing and the hidden premise Thinking things exist. In Descartes' Reply to the Second Set of Objections, he says it's not a deductive syllogism at all because the premise Thinking things exist would have to have been known previously; this would contradict his method of hyperbolic doubt. The cogito is not deduced; it is recognized by an act of mental intuition. It's an active notion; when I think, I am. If I'm not thinking, I can't be certain that I am in existence at that moment.

Now confident in his own existence, Descartes embarks upon the task of proving that other things in the material world exist. Ostensibly, it seems that our knowledge of things outside ourselves is mostly dependent on sensory information, but Descartes says this is not the case. Like the knowledge of our existence, knowledge of the existence of things in the material world is highly dependent on mental intuition. Descartes illustrates this point by discussing a wax candle. When the wax is a candle, it is hard and has a certain shape, as well as a unique color and odor. After the candle is melted down to a glob of wax, it loses these attributes. Still, we know it is the wax candle, and that even though our senses now perceive it differently, we understand that this is the same thing it was before it melted. The senses alone cannot prove to us that

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