Descartes is often regarded as the
first thinker to emphasize the use of reason to develop the natural sciences.
A method for discovery
of truth consists of four rules:
Accept nothing as true unless one has
each problem into as many parts as possible and resolve each in the best manner
Carry on reflections beginning with the most simple and
proceed little by little, to
knowledge of the most
Make enumerations so complete and
reviews so general that one can be certain of omitting
sense is, of all things among men, the most equally distributed; for every
one thinks himself so abundantly provided with it, that those even who are the
most difficult to satisfy in everything else,
do not usually desire a larger
measure of this quality than they already possess.
It is not likely
that all are mistaken the conviction it is rather to be held as testifying that
the power of judging aright and of
distinguishing truth from
error, which is properly what is called common sense or
reason, is by nature equal in all men.
The diversity of our opinions, consequently, does not arise from some
being endowed with a larger share of reason than others, but solely from this,
that we conduct our thoughts
along different ways, and do not
fix our attention on the same objects.
For to be possessed of a vigorous mind is not
enough; the prime requisite is to rightly apply it.
He truly engages in battle who endeavors
to surmount all the difficulties and errors which prevent him from reaching the
knowledge of truth.
I, Rene Descartes, hold in esteem
the studies of the
I was aware that
the languages taught in them
are necessary to the understanding of
the writings of the ancients;
that the grace of
narrative stirs the mind;
that the memorable deeds of history elevate it;
and, if read with
discretion, aid in forming the
that the perusal of all excellent books is to interview
the noblest men of past ages
and in which are discovered their highest thoughts;
eloquence has incomparable force
that poetry has its ravishing graces and
that in the mathematics there are refined discoveries
eminently suited to gratify the inquisitive, further all the arts and lessen
the labor of man;
highly useful precepts and exhortations to virtue are contained in treatises on
theology points out the path to heaven;
that philosophy affords the
means of discoursing with an appearance of truth on all matters, and
commands the admiration of the
medicine, and the other sciences,
secure for their cultivators
honors and bestow some attention upon all, even upon those abounding the
most in superstition
and error, that we may be in a position to
determine their real value, and
guard against being
I, Rene Descartes, am not at all astonished at
attributed to those ancient philosophers whose own writings we do not
I do not on that account suppose them to have been
really absurd, seeing they
were among the ablest men of their times, but only that these have been
falsely represented to us.
I am quite sure
that the most devoted of the followers of
Aristotle would think
themselves happy if they had the knowledge of nature he
I, Rene Descartes, never accepted
anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such; that is to say,
carefully to avoid precipitancy and prejudice, and to comprise nothing
more in my judgement than what was presented to my mind so clearly and
distinctly as to exclude all doubt.
I divide each of the difficulties
under examination into as many parts as possible, and as might be necessary for
its adequate solution.
I resolved to conduct my thoughts in such order
that, by commencing with objects the simplest and easiest to know,
I might ascend step by step
to the knowledge of the more complex.
The long chains of simple and easy
reasoning by means of which geometers are accustomed to reach the conclusions
of their most difficult demonstrations, had
led me to envision that all things, to
the knowledge of which man is competent, are
mutually connected in the same
There is nothing so far
removed from us as to be beyond our reach, or
so hidden that we cannot discover
it, provided only we abstain
from accepting the false for the true, and always preserve in our thoughts
the order necessary for the deduction of one truth from
Each truth discovered was a rule
available in the discovery of subsequent ones.
Expediency seemed to dictate
that I should regulate my practice conformably to the opinions of those with whom
I should have to live.
order to ascertain the real opinions of such, I ought rather to take cognizance
of what they practiced rather than
of what they said, not only because, in
the corruption of our
manners, there are few disposed to speak exactly as they believe, but also
very many are not aware of what it is that they really
Something believed is different
from something known.
When it is not in our power to
determine what is true, we ought
to act according to what is most probable.
Rene Descartes, have always endeavored to
conquer myself rather than fortune, and change my desires rather than the
order of the Earth, and in general, accustom myself to the
that, except our own thoughts, there is
nothing absolutely in our power.
consider all real objects as
equally beyond our power, we shall no more regret the absence of such real
objects as appear due at birth, when deprived of them without any
fault of our own.
I may state
that it was my conviction that I could not do better than continue in that in
which I was engaged, viz., in devoting my whole life to the culture of my
reason, and in making the greatest progress I was able in the knowledge of
Descartes, attentively examined what I was.
I observed that I could
envision that I had no body, and that there was no
Earth nor any place in which I
might be, but I could not envision that I was not.
I still was, on the
contrary, from the very circumstance that I thought
to doubt the truth of other things,
it most clearly and certainly
followed that I was.
I, Rene Descartes, thence concluded that
I was a substance whose whole
essence or nature consists only in thinking, and which, that it may exist,
has no need of place, nor is dependent on anything real.
I, that is to say, the mind by which
I am what I am,
is wholly distinct from the body, and
is even more easily
known than the body, and is such, that although the body were not, it would
still continue to be all that it is.
Rene Descartes = Cartesius
I think, therefore
Although I, Rene
Descartes, might think that I was
dreaming, and that all which I saw or imagined
was false, I could not, nevertheless, deny that
the ideas were in reality in
I was disposed straightway to search for other truths.
I, Rene Descartes, perceived that there was nothing to these
demonstrations which could assure me of the existence of their object.
For example, supposing a triangle to be given, I distinctly perceived
that its three angles were necessarily equal to two right angles, but I did not
on that account perceive anything
which could assure me that any triangle existed.
The reason which leads
many to persuade theirselves that there is a difficulty in
knowing this truth, and even also in
knowing what their mind really is
that they never raise their thoughts above
accustomed to considering nothing except by way of
imagination, which is a mode of
thinking limited to real objects,
that all that is not imaginable
appears to them not intelligible.
The truth of this is sufficiently
manifest from the single circumstance, that the
philosophers of the schools accept as a maxim that there is nothing in the
understanding which was not previously in the senses, in which however it is
certain that the ideas of God and of the Soul have never been.
appears to me that they who make use of their
comprehend these ideas do
exactly the same thing as if, in order to hear sounds or
smell odors, they strove to avail
themselves of their eyes.
Unless indeed there is this difference, that
the sense of sight does not afford us an inferior assurance to those of smell
or hearing; in place of which, neither
our imagination nor our senses
can give us assurance of anything unless our understanding intervene.
God is or exists because all that we
possess is derived from God.
Whence it follows that our ideas or
notions, which to the extent of their clearness and distinctness are real, and
proceed from God, must to that extent be true.
Whereas we not
infrequently have ideas or notions in which some falsity is contained, this can
only be the case when we proceed from lack of knowledge.
knowledge of God and of the soul has rendered us certain,
we can easily
understand that the truth of reason we experience when
awake, ought not in the
slightest degree to be called in question on account of the illusions of our
Thoughts which occur in dreaming occur within a hyperreality.
Whether awake or asleep,
we ought never to allow ourselves to be persuaded of the truth of anything
unless on the evidence of our reason.
I have also observed certain laws
established in nature by
God, that after we have reflected sufficiently upon these, we can not doubt
that they are accurately observed in all that exists or takes place on the
Earth and farther, by considering the concatenation of these laws, it appears
to me that I have discovered many truths more useful and more important than
all I had before learned, or even had expected to learn.
If God were now to create matter sufficient to compose
a universe and were to agitate the different parts of this matter, so that
there resulted a chaos as disordered as the poets ever feigned, and after that
did nothing more than lend ordinary concurrence to nature, and allow nature to
act in accordance with the laws of nature, the result, by necessity, would be
as our reality is.
I, Rene Descartes, have
pointed out what are the laws of nature; and, with no other principle upon
which to found my reasoning except the infinite perfection of God, I endeavored
to demonstrate all those about which there could be any room for doubt, and to
prove that they are such, that even if God had forged more worlds, there could
have been none in which these laws were not observed.
commonly received among theologians, that
the action by which God now
sustains the universe is the same with that by which he originally forged
it; so that even although God had
from the beginning given it no other form than that of chaos, provided only
God had established certain laws of nature, and had lent it concurrence to
enable it to act as it is wont to do, it may be believed, without discredit to
the miracle of creation, that, in
this way alone, things purely
material might, in course of time, have become such as we observe them at
present; and their nature is much more easily envisioned when they are
beheld coming in this manner gradually into existence, than when they are only
considered as produced at once in a finished and perfect state.
I, Rene Descartes,
perceived it to be possible to arrive at
knowledge highly useful in life; so
natural to our minds that no one
can so much as imagine himself ignorant of it; and in light of the
speculative philosophy usually taught in the schools, to discover a practical
means by which to know the force and action of fire,
the stars, the
heavens, and all the other bodies
that surround us, as distinctly as we know the various
crafts of our
artisans, we might also apply them in
the same way to all the uses to which they are adapted, and thus render
ourselves the lords and
possessors of nature.
And this is a result to be desired, not only
in order to the invention of an infinity of arts, by which we might
be enabled to enjoy without any trouble the fruits of the Earth, and all its
comforts, but also and especially for the preservation of health, which is
without doubt, of all the blessings of this life, the first and fundamental
I examined what were the first and most ordinary effects that
could be deduced from these causes; and it appears to me that, in this way, I
have found knowledge of the
heavens and on Earth knowledge of water,
air, fire, minerals, and other things
which of all others are the most common and simple, and hence the easiest to
I, Rene Descartes, have essayed to find
general principles, deducing them from
certain germs of truths naturally existing in our minds.
necessary also to confess that the power of nature is so ample and vast, and
these principles so simple and general, that I have hardly observed a single
particular effect which I cannot at once recognize as capable of being deduced
Thereupon, turning over in my mind, the
real objects that had ever been
presented to my senses I freely venture to state that I have never observed any
which I could not satisfactorily explain by the laws of nature.
I, Rene Descartes, am confident that there is no one,
even among those whose profession it is, who does not admit that
all that is presently known is almost
nothing in comparison of what remains to be discovered.
I incite men of superior genius to strive to proceed
farther, by contributing, each according to his inclination and ability, to the
necessary experiments, and also by informing the
public of all they might discover, so that, by
the last beginning where those before
them had left off, and thus
connecting the lives and labors of many, we might collectively proceed much
farther than each by himself could do.
I, Rene Descartes, am now in a position to
discern, as I think, with sufficient
clearness what course must be taken to make the
majority of those
experiments which may conduce to this end: but I
perceive likewise that they are
such and so numerous, that neither my hands
nor my income, though it were a thousand times larger than it is, would be
sufficient for them all; so that according as henceforward I shall have the
means of making more or fewer experiments, I shall in the same proportion make
greater or less progress in the knowledge of nature.
I had hoped to
make known the treatise I had written, and so clearly to exhibit the advantage
that would thence accrue to mankind, as to induce all who have the common good
of man at heart, that is, all who
are virtuous in truth, and not merely
in appearance, or according to opinion, as well to communicate to me the
experiments they had already made, as to assist me in those that remain to be
I neither have so high an
opinion of myself as to be willing
to make promise of anything
extraordinary, nor feed on imaginations so vain as to fancy
that the public must be much interested in my designs.
If I, Rene Descartes, were
to publish the principles of my
philosophy: for although they are almost all so evident that to assent to
them no more is needed than simply to understand them, and although there is
not one of them of which I do not expect to be able to give demonstration, yet,
as it is impossible that
they can be in accordance with all the diverse opinions of others, I foresee
that I should frequently be turned aside from my grand
design, on occasion of the opposition
which they would be sure to awaken.
I may say that such individuals have an interest in my
refraining from publishing the principles of the my philosophy; for, since
these are of a category the simplest and most evident, I should, by publishing
them, do much the same as if I were to throw open the windows, and allow the
light of day to enter.
Even superior men have no reason for any great
anxiety to know these laws
of nature, for if what they desire is to be able to speak of all things, and to
acquire a reputation for learning, they will gain their end more easily by
remaining satisfied with the appearance of truth, which can be found without
much difficulty in all sorts of matters, than by seeking the truth itself which
unfolds itself but slowly and obliges us to freely confess our
Descartes, do not wish to forestall the
judgements of others by speaking myself of my writings; but it will gratify
me if they be examined, and, to afford the greater inducement to this
I request all who may have any
objections to make them.
resolved to devote what time I may still have to live to no other endeavor
other than acquiring some knowledge of
laws of nature, the reality of
the cause is established by the reality of the effect.
It is likely that Rene Descartes died of
poisioning while tutoring
Queen Cristina of Sweden.
from brief insights into the nature of things.
Although such insights
are rare and difficult to sustain they allow us a glimpse of the basis of our
desires and grant us the ability to control those desires.
have mastery over their desires will have a healthy regard of others as they
see them as equally capable of a virtuous
Those who possess this knowledge of themselves readily come
to believe that any other individual can have the same knowledge about
themselves because this knowledge involves nothing which depends on anything
outside of the self.
Mastery over desire breeds self-assurance and
virtue be concerned about only that which we are responsible
relies for its supra-cultural validity on principles that are themselves among
its own assumptions.
The logic of its justification is
A parallel would be an aborigine insisting, "Okay, let's
settle this question of whether scientific experiment or dreaming is the way to
true knowledge once
and for all . . . Let's settle it by entering the
dreamtime and asking the
It is hard to imagine, but the
of objectivity and
determinism that lie at the
foundation of the Scientific Method are
by no means shared by all the world's traditions of thought.
A non-objective, non-deterministic, coherent
system of thought is possible.
It is more than possible: it is
necessary given the impending collapse of the world of the discrete and
separate self that we have wrought.
Necessary in light of the new
scientific revolution of the last hundred years.
Our ways of thinking are not working
anymore." - Charles Eisenstein
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