Essay: Synopsis of Descartes: On A Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences

Synopsis of Descartes:

On A Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason

and Seeking Truth in the Sciences

by A.D. Shaffer

{Graduate Studies; originally written for Humanities 530 Spring 2015}

Rene Descartes developed his personal philosophy through his own experiences inside of nature while addressing outside influences in which the self is formed. Cartesian dualism involves the separation of mind from body, or the spiritual experiences from the physical. Throughout the creation of his philosophy, Descartes notes that he is leery to publish his findings because his truths may not be the same as the truths of others. The truth, he moves, is subject to experience and cannot be learned from another individual insomuch that a person will better educate themselves by experiencing life.

Beginning in the academic sciences, Descartes holds that mathematics alone can be recognized as purely true as two plus two will always be four: “Beyond all, I was most pleas’d with the Mathematicks, for the certainty and evidence of the reasons thereof; but I did not yet observe their true use and thinking that it served only for Mechanick Arts…” (17). For his profession he choses the writing of letters so as to better experience the wonders of the world.

The importance of experience over lessons cannot be stressed enough as Descartes leads by example for the rest of humanity. He takes to travel to glean his own experiences: “I wholly gave over the study of Letters, and resolving to seek no other knowledge but what I could finde in my self, or in the great book of the world, I imployed the rest of my youth in Travell, to see Courts and Armies, to frequent people of severall humors and conditions, to gain experience, to hazard my self in those encounters of fortune …” (20). Through living life and writing of his objective opinion, Descartes advises to stick to the roads to avoid the dangers of the uncivilized woods in which he means for the individual to take advantage of known truths found in custom.

In architecture, Descartes preferred one builder to many because too many designers on one object would result in a catastrophic structure. He also favored fewer laws as the less laws there were in play, then more attention could be applied with strict observance. In his quest for truth, Descartes developed four laws of his philosophy: to accept nothing as true unless he was sure it was a known truth, to divide any difficulties into subsequent groups, to orderly lead his thoughts, and to critique his findings with specific calculation (35-36). False reason is seen as contemptible to Descartes as his religious beliefs ensured that God does not let falsity be present in the mind.

Cartesian dualism notes the separation from the physical of the mind, or two levels of existence: that of the material self and the thinking self or soul. Descartes said, “I knew then that I was a substance, whose whole essence or nature is, but to think, and who to be, hath need of no place, nor depends on any material thing. So that this Me, to wit, my Soul, by which I am what I am, is wholly distinct from the Body, and more easie to be known then it…” (59). The human act of contemplation allowed for Descartes to recognize the separation of materialism and spiritualism.

Works Cited

Descartes, Rene. A Discourse of a Method for the Well Guiding of Reason and the Discovery of

Truth in the Sciences. London: Thomas Newcombe, 1637. Project Gutenberg Ebook.

Picture c/o:  https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/73/Frans_Hals_-_Portret_van_Ren%C3%A9_Descartes.jpg

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