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Discourse on Method

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By far the most widely used translation in North American college classrooms, Donald A. Cress's translation from the French of the Adam and Tannery critical edition is prized for its accuracy, elegance, and economy. The translation featured in the Third Edition has been thoroughly revised from the 1979 First Edition and includes page references to the critical edition for By far the most widely used translation in North American college classrooms, Donald A. Cress's translation from the French of the Adam and Tannery critical edition is prized for its accuracy, elegance, and economy. The translation featured in the Third Edition has been thoroughly revised from the 1979 First Edition and includes page references to the critical edition for ease of comparison.

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By far the most widely used translation in North American college classrooms, Donald A. Cress's translation from the French of the Adam and Tannery critical edition is prized for its accuracy, elegance, and economy. The translation featured in the Third Edition has been thoroughly revised from the 1979 First Edition and includes page references to the critical edition for By far the most widely used translation in North American college classrooms, Donald A. Cress's translation from the French of the Adam and Tannery critical edition is prized for its accuracy, elegance, and economy. The translation featured in the Third Edition has been thoroughly revised from the 1979 First Edition and includes page references to the critical edition for ease of comparison.

30 review for Discourse on Method

  1. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    3.0 to 3.5 stars (though as mentioned below, the first four sections get 4 to 5 stars). One of the most influential works in history of modern science/philosophy, the full name of the work is "Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences." It is a work that deals with the ascertaining of knowledge from "first principals" and creates a method from which all research into scientific principals could be based. He begins by saying that because so ma 3.0 to 3.5 stars (though as mentioned below, the first four sections get 4 to 5 stars). One of the most influential works in history of modern science/philosophy, the full name of the work is "Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences." It is a work that deals with the ascertaining of knowledge from "first principals" and creates a method from which all research into scientific principals could be based. He begins by saying that because so many different (and contradictory) theories have been set forth by learned and great men that it is impossible to "trust" anything that you can not verify yourself based on your own observations. This skepticism of all that has come before was the cornerstone for modern scientific thinking and experimentation to prove results. Highlights of this very short work are as follows: THE METHOD: In Section II, Descartes defines the "Method" he will use to estblish knowledge of the world as the following four steps: (1) Be skeptical of everything and do not accept anything as "truth" until you can be certain of its correctness and completely free from doubt; (2) divide each problem into the smallest parts possible so that you can be looking at its component parts which will be the easiest to understand (3) start from most basic concept and add complexity slowly and in degrees so that you can be absolutely certain of each step along the way and (4) from your use of (1) through (3) create general rules applicable to the whole of the subject and that apply to the largest possible group. THE MORALS: In applying the Method, Descartes in Section III identifies 3 maxims (which ge calls morals) that he will adhere to in his studies: (1) obey the laws of his Country (2) be firm and resolute in the pursuit of knowledge and (3) conquer self rather than fortune (by which he means don't pursue truth based on your own material advantage lest you avoid a line of reasoning that may be true but would lead to a disadvantage for you. In other words, truth should be your only goal. APPLICATION OF THE METHOD: In Section IV, Descartes applies the Method and derives the basic truth of his existence by stating the famous line "Cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am). He also goes on to prove the existence of God. This last "proof" is the most controversial aspect of the work and is called the negotiable ontological proof of the existence of God. Up through the end of Section IV, I would have given this 4 or 5 stars as it was both a important work and written such that it could be easily understood. Section 5 and 6 (the last half of this very short work) seemed to me to be very "muddled" and uninteresting and dealt with the difference between man and animals and the working of the human circulatory system. The meat of the work in is the first 4 sections and that is what I would recommend to anyone interested in the history of scientific and philosophical thought. Definitely, an important work.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    “...the perusal of all excellent books is, as it were, to interview with the noblest men of past ages, who have written them.” ― René Descartes, Discourse on Method There are certain books that are hugely influential and fantastic reads. This one was hugely influential. In many ways modern science (and philosophy) owes a great deal to some of the frameworks, methods, and rationalities posited by Descartes in this book. Hell, even the idea of starting off skeptical and building from there owes a l “...the perusal of all excellent books is, as it were, to interview with the noblest men of past ages, who have written them.” ― René Descartes, Discourse on Method There are certain books that are hugely influential and fantastic reads. This one was hugely influential. In many ways modern science (and philosophy) owes a great deal to some of the frameworks, methods, and rationalities posited by Descartes in this book. Hell, even the idea of starting off skeptical and building from there owes a large debt to Descartes. It isn't, however, a perfect book. Some of his "proofs" of God and the immortality of the spirit are a bit shaky (like his understanding of the functioning of the heart). But those are quibbles, minor imperfections, in a work that probably deserves to stand next to classics such as: Darwin's The Origin of Species for biology, Newton's The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy for science, and Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking for mainstreaming French cuisine. I cook, therefore I eat. When you reduce and clarify Descartes down, you are left with a lonely method of skimming off those things you can't prove, and a sticky relationship with God. Bon Appétit! Bon Pensées!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Luís C.

    Man, epicenter of nature and of the world, is a spirit endowed with a consciousness to "mater", unlike animals... By his faculty to think, to experiment, to order his thought, everyone has to doubt to seek his own "truth", whether scientific, spiritual or ideological. Descartes , a master of modern mathematics, of Cartesian thought, of empirical doubt, of methodical reasoning, revolutionized the scientific and philosophical thought of his time and of centuries to come. He is already distinguishe Man, epicenter of nature and of the world, is a spirit endowed with a consciousness to "mater", unlike animals... By his faculty to think, to experiment, to order his thought, everyone has to doubt to seek his own "truth", whether scientific, spiritual or ideological. Descartes , a master of modern mathematics, of Cartesian thought, of empirical doubt, of methodical reasoning, revolutionized the scientific and philosophical thought of his time and of centuries to come. He is already distinguished from his contemporaries by writing his prose in the vulgar language, French, in a XVIIth century Latin, "vulgarizing" thus a discourse that he wants accessible to all. If I respect the scientific scope (the preliminary reflection, the non-precipitation, the observation, the experimentation) of the Discourse of the method of Descartes, I do not share its moral (philosophical or spiritual) scope. I am not alone in thinking that empiricism has no place in all the acts of our life, nor that prudence is necessarily the mother of wisdom or safety! We are not a spirit or differentiated body. The "I" makes us exist, it makes us real, but it is often others that open us to our own consciousness ... Without others, I am only a small thing.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ioana

    I concede the point: my entire philosophical raison d'être orbits around the deconstruction of the false dualism unleashed upon the world by René. Though, albeit, alas, perhaps it is unfair to blame him entirely, seeing as the Greeks started it, and considering that R. was most likely just articulating an ethos since embodied by “Western” (European) civilization. Dualism: the idea of separation, articulation, and demarcation, specifically into a binary framework, is the essential construct ground I concede the point: my entire philosophical raison d'être orbits around the deconstruction of the false dualism unleashed upon the world by René. Though, albeit, alas, perhaps it is unfair to blame him entirely, seeing as the Greeks started it, and considering that R. was most likely just articulating an ethos since embodied by “Western” (European) civilization. Dualism: the idea of separation, articulation, and demarcation, specifically into a binary framework, is the essential construct grounding “Western” progressive thought (kind of like binary mathematics is the language of digital machines; the parallel is not coincidental). The essence of dualism lies in making a distinction, differentiating between two. Such distinctions seem at first, superficially, to occur naturally in lived experience: night and day, woman and man, left and right, cold and hot, future and present; historically these differentiations have been embedded in habitual actions and ideas about morality: good and bad, moral and immoral. Upon closer inspection, of course, experience is not dual in the least: sex is not binary, our perception of space is constituted of more than directionality, while our experience of time is bound up in the present and encompasses both history (past) and hope (future). Yet dual interpretations of experience have reigned in our imaginations for thousands of years. The Age of Reason. In its essence, dualistic thought makes distinctions; such distinctions constitute the mechanics of “Western” reason. Logical versus irrational thought, knowledge versus opinion, empirical fact versus experience: reason is born of and enabled by an intricate delineation of opposing forces, one of which is always considered superior: mind over body, logic over poetry, linear argument over cyclical interrogation. Thus at the core of dualism lies an inherent judgment, that one of the two is differentiated as inadequate, unnecessary, superfluous, or inferior. Knowledge wins over Meaning. Reason over Art. Mind over Body. Man over Woman. Analysis over Synthesis. The dualism which punctures Western reason has furthered an almost compulsive race for the “truth” (versus semblance, or illusion); the truth is pursued through the collection of distinguishable facts, labeled “knowledge,” which is to be empirically verified, quantitatively measured, objectively classified, and so forth. In the classrooms of today, for example, this belief manifests as standards centered on collections of knowledge to be mastered, as quantitative measures of student progress and teacher effectiveness, and as the glorification of “cognitive” tasks over social, emotional, or bodied experiences. Dualism reigns at every level of our social, cultural fabric and material realities – it’s not just a philosophical remnant of a time long past. Linear Time. Rational thought requires orderly linearity as it seeks to collect knowledge and use it to explain causes and effects; linearity implies that in following a course of action, one progresses towards a goal, end, or objective; as G. W. Hegel wrote, human history is constantly developing through conflict. This mode of temporal understanding is so embedded in our daily acts that it is difficult to imagine alternatives: we operate by the dictates of a 24 hour clock, 7 hour week, etc, we imagine career and educational “paths” which lead towards an ultimate goal, and we have come to see the course of life itself in a similar way. The World as Mechanism: Closed Under Physics. The scientific revolution enabled by the articulation of linear reason, by the assumptions of progress, and by metaphors of knowledge as a collection of facts to be conquered, led increasingly throughout the late Renaissance years to paradigm shifts away from beliefs in the predestination of religion and towards an understanding of the nature of the world as predetermined by physical laws. Revolutionaries of the era proposed that the laws of the natural world were “closed under physics,” or able to explain any and all past, present, and future phenomena through their application; according to classical conceptions of science born in this period, “all matter acts according to predetermined and knowable laws unending material progress, communicated by media and consumption based culture” (See CA Bowers, Revitalizing the Commons: Cultural and Educational Sites of Resistance and Affirmation ). The End: The World is Conquered Only, of course it’s not, as phenomenologists, critical theorists, physicists, artists, etc etc have been attesting to in recent generations. YES dualism gave us technology, science, a way to shed religious fear in favor of scientific inquiry. BUT it also forgot so much along the way: the “other” (the body, the spirit, experience, art), an organic, non-mechanistic vision, purpose, meaning… And all this WHY?!? (ok, the Greeks, and European history, but also, THIS BOOK). At first, I began Discourse on Method in trepidation: for, after all, what if some of the ideas were indeed sound? What if I had spent my entire adult life attempting to correct and refute a construct that held up under scrutiny? But alas my fears were allayed within pages, when it became clear that Descartes is just about the least introspective person who ever lived. It goes like this: Descartes thought and thought, and couldn’t find the answers sitting at his dingy desk in his small dark room. So he went out into the world. He “traveled… frequented people of various humors and conditions, gathered varied experiences.” And alas, he still couldn’t write anything down, he was so caught up in all the experience. So he said, to hell with this, and went home. Where thought immediately came pouring in torrents. This flurry of cogitation led to the brilliant thesis that it’s not experience or the body or relationships with others, or any of the mushy-gushy sensuous stuff of life that makes the man – it’s his thought alone! Sigh. Just… sigh. [review 2016; originally read in 2008]

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rowland Pasaribu

    The Discourse on the Method is a fascinating book, both as a work of philosophy and as a historical document. Descartes lived and worked in a period that Thomas Kuhn would call a "paradigm shift": one way of thinking, one worldview, was slowly being replaced by another. Descartes's work, while part of the new paradigm, still has one leg in the old mode of thought. The old, waning worldview was scholastic Aristotelianism. The Aristotelian paradigm had a conception of the mind, of knowledge, and of The Discourse on the Method is a fascinating book, both as a work of philosophy and as a historical document. Descartes lived and worked in a period that Thomas Kuhn would call a "paradigm shift": one way of thinking, one worldview, was slowly being replaced by another. Descartes's work, while part of the new paradigm, still has one leg in the old mode of thought. The old, waning worldview was scholastic Aristotelianism. The Aristotelian paradigm had a conception of the mind, of knowledge, and of science that may seem very alien to us today, but this conception held sway over Western thought for about two thousand years. According to the Aristotelian tradition, the mind proper—what is exclusively "inside the head"—is limited to reason and understanding. Sensory perception, imagination, will, and so on, make reference to things outside the mind and so are not purely mental. Rather, they are the link that connects us to the outside world. According to Aristotle, there is no distinction between what I perceive and what is "out there." Thus, sensory experience gives us direct and immediate knowledge of objects in the world. Science, in this worldview, is a matter of taking the immediate evidence of sensory experience and deducing certain conclusions from it. The sensory experience is indubitable, and the deductions are logical, so all scientific knowledge is based on absolute certainty. One of Descartes's most significant contributions to the scientific revolution is his conception of sensory experience, imagination, and will as being just as much subjective mental phenomena as reason and understanding. His systematic doubting questions how it is that we can be certain about what we perceive. Descartes draws a sharp distinction between what our senses report to us and what is "out there." This re-conception of the mind shakes the foundations of Aristotelian scholasticism. If sensory experience is no longer self-evident, then we can no longer deduce certain scientific truths from these observations. Essentially, Descartes makes us sharply aware of what goes into a scientific observation. It is not a purely neutral and objective act of seeing the world as it is; it is an interpretive act that must be undertaken with great care and circumspection. The scientific paradigm that we have today owes a great deal to Descartes. Today, we have taken Descartes's method one step further. Now, we conclude that we can never have absolute certainty in the sciences. All we can hope for are sound theories that are supported by careful observations. Descartes himself does not reach this conclusion. To a large extent, he is still set on finding certainty. His search for certainty, beginning with the famous line "I am thinking, therefore I exist," has largely defined the course of a great deal of philosophy since his time. We can debate whether Descartes is right in having found certainty in this claim, and we can debate what kind of knowledge this is, but it seems clear that it is not a kind of knowledge that is applicable to science as a whole. In finding this certainty, Descartes hopes to rebuild science in the Aristotelian method of deduction from certain first principles. In hindsight, this effort may seem a bit misguided. Though his philosophy of science may be a bit askew, the philosophical method Descartes uses in part four of the Discourse has proven extremely valuable. His method of skeptical doubt has raised important philosophical questions concerning how we can be certain of, or even know, anything at all. His re-conception of what the mind is has largely defined the shape of Western psychology and philosophy ever since. His assertion that he is essentially a thinking thing and that his mind is distinct from his body has also raised a number of important philosophical questions: what is my relationship with my mind? What is my relationship with my body? If they are distinct, what is the causal connection between the two? And so on. Effectively, Descartes frames the questions that have preoccupied what we now call "modern philosophy." The turning point in Descartes's intellectual development occurred on November 10, 1619. He had attended the coronation of Ferdinand II in Frankfurt, and was returning to serve in the army of Maximilian of Bavaria. Due to the onset of winter, he holed himself up for a day, alone in a stove-heated room. With nothing else to occupy him, he set about thinking. He first mused that accomplishments of single individuals are usually more perfect than group efforts. Cities and buildings are more beautiful when they are made according to a single plan than when they are patched together piecemeal. Similarly, laws are better when they come from a single mind than when they evolve gradually over time. Descartes cites God's law as an instance of this perfection. These musings suggest to him that a person is best served by following the guidance of his reason alone, and not letting his judgments be clouded by his appetites and by the opinions of others. While it would be impossible to resolve the imperfections of a state or a body of sciences by tearing it all down and starting again from scratch, Descartes suggests that such a method is not quite as unreasonable on the individual level. He decided to let go of all his former opinions at once, and re-build them anew according the exacting standards of his own reason. Descartes is very careful, first of all, to point out that this method is meant only on an individual level, and he strongly opposes those who would try to topple a public institution and rebuild it from the ground up. Second, he reminds us that he only wants to discuss his method with us; he is not telling us to imitate him. In particular, he notes that there are two types of people for whom this method would be unsuited: those who think they know more than they do and who lack the patience for such careful work, and those who are modest enough to think that they are more capable of finding out the truth if they follow a teacher. Descartes would count himself among this second group if he hadn't had such a number of teachers and embarked on so many travels as to realize that the opinions of even learned men vary greatly. Before abandoning his former opinions entirely, Descartes formulates four laws that will direct his inquiry: First, not to accept anything as true unless it is evident; this will prevent hasty conclusions. Second, to divide any given problem into the greatest possible number of parts to make for a simpler analysis. Third, to start with the simplest of objects and to slowly progress toward increasingly difficult objects of study. Fourth, to be circumspect and constantly review the progress made in order to be sure that nothing has been left out. An obvious starting place was in the mathematical sciences, where a great deal of progress and certain knowledge had been achieved by means of demonstration. Descartes found his work made considerably easier if, on the one hand, he considered every quantity as a line, and, on the other hand, developed a system of symbols that could express these quantities as concisely as possible. Taking the best elements of algebra and geometry, he had tremendous success in both these fields. Before applying this method to the other sciences, Descartes thought it well to find some philosophical foundations for his method. If we were to identify a starting point for modern philosophy, November 10, 1619 would be as good a date as any. We might pinpoint precisely the moment that Descartes resolved to cast all his former opinions into doubt. This process of methodological doubt is central to Descartes, and indeed to most of modern philosophy. The results Descartes achieves by employing this method of doubt are discussed in Part Four of theDiscourse, so we will comment on his method in greater detail there. It is important, of course, that Descartes does not simply scrap everything he knows, or else he would have no guidance in rebuilding his knowledge. The four rules he lays out are meant as guidelines, so that he will be able to rely on them, and not on unnoticed prejudices. Descartes had initially collected twenty-one rules entitled Rules for the Direction of Our Native Intelligence in 1628, but left the manuscript unpublished. The four rules we find here can be read as a major abbreviation of that effort. Essentially, they demand that an inquiry proceed slowly and carefully, starting with basic, simple, self-evident truths, building toward more complex and less evident propositions. Descartes assumes a certain kind of theory of knowledge that was pretty much unquestioned in his day. In modern philosophical language, we call this a foundationalist epistemology. It sees knowledge as built up from simple, self-evident propositions, to higher and more complex knowledge. The theory states that if we were to analyze any complex proposition, we could break it down into increasingly smaller, simpler pieces until we were left with simple, non-analyzable propositions. These basic propositions would be either self-evidently true or self-evidently false. If they were all true, then we would know that the original complex proposition was also true. Of course, there are different variations of foundationalist epistemology; for example, the epistemology will shift depending on how the analysis is supposed to take place or on what the basic propositions are supposed to look like. But the general idea can be applied to Descartes easily. Knowledge is built up like a skyscraper, with the higher, complex knowledge built on simple, sturdy foundations. This is just one of a number of theories of knowledge that are batted about these days. Another theory that will come into play later in the Discourse is a coherentist epistemology, one that states that knowledge is more like a circle than a skyscraper. According to this theory, there is no foundational knowledge that is more basic than other knowledge. All knowledge fits together in such a way that it is internally coherent, but there is no fundamental self-evident proposition that is itself beyond doubt and that justifies all the other propositions. A statement is true because it is consistent with everything else we know to be true, not because it can be analyzed into simple parts. The reason that a foundationalist epistemology seems natural to Descartes at this point is that this is the epistemology that philosophy had inherited from Aristotle. As we have noted already in other sections of this SparkNote, Aristotelian scientific method works according to a system of syllogism and demonstration, where complex truths are logically deduced from simpler ones. This method implies a theory of knowledge according to which complex truths are built upon simpler ones that serve as an unquestioned bedrock of knowledge. It is significant that Descartes should choose mathematics to study according to this method. Mathematics has had far more success than any other field (except logic) with deductive reasoning. Math is built upon simple, self-evident axioms that are then used, along with some rules of inference, to derive proofs of more complex propositions. Descartes is not only one of the greatest philosophers of the modern world, he is also one of its greatest mathematicians. His discussion of algebra and geometry alludes to his discovery of analytic geometry that brought those two fields together. Until Descartes, algebra and geometry were two totally separate fields of study. He invented the Cartesian co-ordinate system that every math student knows and loves. That's the co-ordinate system with the x-axis and the y-axis that allows you to plot lines and curves and whatever other shapes you please. Geometrical figures could be plotted onto the co-ordinate grid, and since every line and curve on the grid corresponds to an equation, geometrical figures can be expressed as equations. Geometrical figures become algebraic equations, and algebraic equations can be graphed as geometrical figures. This all seems pretty commonplace to us today, but if you try to imagine solving math problems without graphing anything you'll begin to understand the colossal contribution Descartes made to mathematics.

  6. 4 out of 5

    bugen

    Summary of my notes on the Discourse, by part: I. The premise is introduced that reason is naturally equal in all, and truth is to be found by conducting it correctly. Descartes attempts to show how he himself has attempted this, not to dictate how everyone should. II. The method. Descartes wished to rebuild the very foundations upon which his opinions and views were formed. He decided to do this by systematic doubt. The key point is to never accept as true anything that is not known to be evident Summary of my notes on the Discourse, by part: I. The premise is introduced that reason is naturally equal in all, and truth is to be found by conducting it correctly. Descartes attempts to show how he himself has attempted this, not to dictate how everyone should. II. The method. Descartes wished to rebuild the very foundations upon which his opinions and views were formed. He decided to do this by systematic doubt. The key point is to never accept as true anything that is not known to be evidently so. III. Descartes outlines his provisional moral code that he used during his search, saying that if one wishes to rebuild their house, they must have alternate accommodation while doing so. IV. From his first unquestionable principle, 'I think, therefore I am', Descartes moves on to his proof for the existence of God. V. Largely a description of a treatise he never published, and discussion of the difference between human and animals souls. This part is generally of less interest, not written with such clarity and wit. VI. Here, he describes why that treatise was never published, his thoughts on experimentation, and his plans for future publications. This suffers from the same issues as part five. The real meat of the Discourse is to be found in parts one through four.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Justin Benjamin

    Rene’ Descartes’ “Discourse on the Method” is one of the most difficult books for me to review, in that it is half inspiring to me, and half disappointing; what starts out as a brilliant doubting methodology, eliminating whatever can be doubted until there is nothing left than can be by any conjecture or hypothesis be reasonably doubted- arrive at a basic, fundamental truth, providing a firm rational foundation from other truths can be derived. Unfortunately, once Descartes discovers this truth, Rene’ Descartes’ “Discourse on the Method” is one of the most difficult books for me to review, in that it is half inspiring to me, and half disappointing; what starts out as a brilliant doubting methodology, eliminating whatever can be doubted until there is nothing left than can be by any conjecture or hypothesis be reasonably doubted- arrive at a basic, fundamental truth, providing a firm rational foundation from other truths can be derived. Unfortunately, once Descartes discovers this truth, (“I think, therefore I am”), he abandons his doubting methodology almost entirely, the remainder of the book being devoted to religion, morality, the intellectual superiority of men, Aristotelian thought, a lengthy explanation of his understanding of the human heart, and finally, a defense of his views and his reasons for promulgating them. The latter sections, when accounted together with the general apologetic tone of this work, suggests that a more fitting title would have been “Discourse on and Defense of the Method”, with the latter being the most disappointing aspect of his work. The first half of the book, divided into the first three sections, is comprised of Descartes’ intellectual background and the origins of his method, as well as the range of his education and experiences abroad. In these sections, he stresses the importance of a search for truth being elegant, providing several analogies for this, including: the aesthetic superiority of newer buildings built by one architect, over older buildings which have been maintained, remodeled, and “improved” by many different architects progressively less familiar with the original architect’s purpose;how while it more convenient to take the long winding path of a mountain, which is smooth and well-traveled, the most certain path to “truth” must necessarily be straight, though it is comparably untraveled, rocky, and passing through arduous heights and perilous precipitices; the importance of one who is lost in the forest, to stay to one side of a forest, as it is better to come out of the forest on the wrong end, than to perpetually wander in indecision, never coming out of the forest. Accordingly, he endeavors to, once he discovers the method by which to derive truths immune to doubt (dubbed by modern philosophy as the “doubting methodology”), be resolved in its application to the improvement of himself, and the acquisition of new knowledge. This may also explain his authoritative (though paradoxically humble) approach in the deriving of “truths” from his foundational axiom that his ability to think therefore he exists. (I’ll explain some of the negative impacts this had on the accuracy of his works, later on in the review). To doubt all that could be doubted, he first created a hypothetical conjecture by which everything that he knew would become uncertain, which is known today as the “dreaming conjecture”: If the waking world was really just a dream, then everything he saw could be a deception, much in the same way everything we see while dreaming is not happening in reality. It is here that he establishes that even if he were dreaming, and was thus compelled to doubt the truth of everything he saw, felt, imagined, or thought in reality, he still could not deny the fact that his doubts constituted thought, and as there needed to be a doubter to doubt something, his thoughts thereby confirmed his existence. This is the most brilliant part of “Discourse on the Method”, but unfortunately this is also where the brilliance ends. After determining that his thoughts confirm his existence (which would make him, at that point, effectively a solipsist, since the only knowledge he held with certainty was the existence of his own mind), Descartes confidently draws upon much of the knowledge that he had previously already doubted, including such axioms as the existence of perfection, the verification of ideas by virtue of being clearly known (basically, the perceived reliability of intuition), the notion that perfection and imperfection cannot coexist, the certainty that something cannot come from nothing, nor a lesser perfection come from a greater perfection. Building on these assumptions, which Descartes supposedly derived from his certainty of existence, he “proves” the absolute existence of God, that the attributes Descartes believed him to possess, were doubtlessly possessed by God, and the ones which Descartes was certain were contrary to God, he did not possess. This dramatic shift from rigid skepticism to a religiously and philosophically biased authoritarianism, greatly undermines the validity of Descarte’s “Discourse on the Method”. The ludicrousness of his “logic” can be plainly summarized as follows: 1. To find the truth, we must doubt everything that can be doubted, until we find a truth so pure that it is immune to skepticism. 2. To doubt everything that can be doubted, the notion that reality might well be a dream, is introduced. Everything we know could thus be a figment of our imagination, the deception created by mental delusion. 3. We confirm that even if we doubt all else, the fact we can doubt confirms that we can think, which further confirms that there is a thinker, proving that even for a complete cynic, existence is undeniable, and furthermore, is confirmed by attempts to doubt it. (So far so good, but Descartes’ adherence to reason ends here) 4. Everything I clearly know to be true is true indeed 5. I know that perfection must exist, because how could the thought have been impressed upon me unless there were a greater perfection beyond myself 6. This imperfection could not have come from nothing (that would be absurd), and neither could I be more perfect from that whence I came (which would be more absurd) 7. Since I must have necessarily come from this greater perfection, my existence (which I have confirmed already) must have come from God 8. Thus God exists Descartes then proceeds to determine whether God has deceived his senses to make reality different from what it is, and determines that: 1. Since God is perfect, he cannot contain anything that is imperfect 2. Thus anything imperfect, including deception, cannot come from God Accordingly, Descartes can confidently and reliably determine what is real, and what is not, and what is good, and what is bad, by measuring them against God- that is, what Descartes deemed to be imperfect, comes from chaos, and what is perfect, must necessarily have its origin on God. To agree with Descartes’ conclusions, I would argue that one must completely disregard the very method the first half of this discourse is about, and assume all of his axioms as somehow, his plethora of axioms are supported by his confirmation that thought proves existence. If anyone can connect the dots for me on this, I would love to hear their thoughts, but so far as I can tell, Descartes inadvertently let his religious beliefs, and (later on, which I’ll get to) his philosophical background, interfere with objectivity of thought, these biases preventing him from accurately applying the central axiom upon which his entire doubting methodology was founded. This kind of backwards thinking, the primary weakness of not only Descartes’ thought, but of the rationalism movement as a whole, took the rest of his “Discourse on the Method” on an intellectual tangent, producing what is rationally a vastly inferior second half as a sequel to the first. After proving God’s existence, that reality is what it appears to be, and (apparently, though such a proof is not even mentioned!) confirming the existence of the human soul, Descartes demonstrates how his knowledge of God both confirms and clarifies his knowledge of geometry and the sciences, what he perceives with the senses, and a plethora of other “truths” which he said remained yet unpublished, so as to prevent controversy from interfering with his work. He further ventured that, even if other realities were to be created by God, that all of them would be just as true, and follow the same laws of natures, since they all have their origin in God. It’s clear at this point that Descartes had abandoned his method entirely in favor of religious dogma and metaphysical presumptions that he artificially made to conform to his “method”, despite any actual reasoning or evidence to support such an association. Here “the method” is removed from discourse entirely, as the humble Descartes boasts at length about his new-found “knowledge” and the results of his experiments (most of which are already disproven through modern scientific discoveries, and little more than an application of the “science” of Aristotle, Descartes’ primary philosophical influence, and the basis for most of the second half of this discourse). He describes his discoveries of the interactions of the four elements which, in Descarte’s time, were believed to compose everything: earth, fire, air, water) and the fifth element aether, which is implied in his analyses of light and the soul. The tangent continues even farther from the method with his exposition of animal organs, how they are similar to human organs, but that whereas humans also have vegetative and sensitive souls, they also possess that which no brute (animal/non-human, and quite possibly including Africans, whom Descartes implied in the beginning of the treatise are brutes) could possess- the rational soul, which enables humans to reason, and to communicate intelligibly through language, and adapt themselves to understand and be understood, and which even the most intellectually mediocre of humans can surpass the most intelligent of animals in proficiency. Of course, modern empirical science would have disproved Descarte’s claims in this regard too. If only to further demonstrate his own ignorance, he continued on to note that no machine, whether organic or mechanical, could replicate human intelligence convincingly, which of course is handily debunked by the ever-innovative modern scientific field of artificial intelligence. Descartes has thus made a great many assumptions, a far leap from doubting everything besides his ability to think, and by virtue of that, his own existence. Contrary to the original intent, Descartes has made his way to the edge of the forest, or to draw upon Plato’s allegory, to the mouth of the cave, only to dive back inside in search of deeper “truth” than he could find in the mere assurance of his own existence. And contrary to his maxim of striving for elegance, even at the cost of intellectual hardship and existential peril, he abandoned his “Occam’s Razor” and created theories building upon a myriad of assumptions, abandoning the necessity of undoubtable axioms, in favor of religion, intuition, Aristotelian thought, and personal bias. So much for objectivity! After this point, he gives a long winding explanation of the interworkings of the heart and the flow of blood, through the lens of the aforementioned 5-element medieval conception of nature and biology. Basically, his explanations are sound, but insufficiently vague to establish his credibility as a master of anatomy, and unacceptably tainted by simplistic and distorted understandings of chemistry and elemental structure. He then skims over how he theorizes the senses manifest perception, how our body induces the sleeping and waking states, etc. With each page of Descartes’ “discourse”, the once humble Descartes transforms himself into a deluded, authoritative know-it-all, and this treatise became more difficult to read with every paragraph, as the originally meaningful discourse discards the central focus in favor of fashioning itself a medieval textbook, only stretched over every single topic of the sciences, and without much relation between them. “In fine”, [the term used in the English translation to mean 'in summary'], the second half of this treatise successfully warps it into a collection of tangential philosophical speculations misrepresented as demonstrated facts. The final section has little to be said about, except that it is half-apologetic, and half self-promotion. This sort of thing is ordinarily found in the preface or the introduction to a work, or some other sort of author’s note, but Descartes ended up placing it at the end of the book, for God knows what reason. He explains how he didn’t want to release the treatises (mainly, the other ones, which are continually aluded to in this one), but felt compelled to so as to not be thought ill of for refraining from doing so. He explains how even though he wishes to have his work undisturbed, and his repose uninterrupted, that he felt the need to release the work first to preserve his reputation (which had grown despite his efforts to the contrary), and second to ensure that a greater understanding and application of his work could be achieved than if it were published post-mortem. He then goes on to promote the importance of his work being studied and analyzed properly, and of people replying to the discourse via his publisher so as to improve it. All of these things, while perhaps essential for an author to convey to his readership, are hardly the kind of thing to be devoted a section to, but at this point I’ve already given up on finding any logic to Descartes’ “Discourse on the Method”, which disappeared soon after the third section of this treatise was completed. Regardless of my misgivings regarding the logic of this discourse, and the due-noted unfaithfulness to the axioms and maxims his work was founded on, Descarte’s authoritative approach to “truth”, and the scientific and mathematical discoveries he derived from it, have indeed benefited mankind, so ultimately, his purpose in writing this work, and the concerning treatises, was fulfilled. On one hand, I consider him the Aristotle of the 17th century, creating a philosophical movement that would impede the progress of the fields of philosophy and science for decades, even centuries. On the other hand, his somewhat extremist, biased, authoritative approach to philosophy and the sciences led him to conceive of knowledge far beyond the scope of the sciences of the time. Both perspectives are reminiscent of Sigmund Freud, the physicist-philosopher who imagined a whole system of psychoanalysis and built the foundations of modern psychology, but is now widely criticized for the many speculative ideas he promoted as fact (now mostly disproven by modern psychology and psychiatry), particularly regarding human motivation and sexuality, and child development. In the same way, Descartes’ ideas, while many (or most, I might venture) were factually wrong, and often the opposite of the truth, helped create a scientific and philosophical revolution, contributing greatly to the present knowledge of these respective fields. In light of these contributions, it’s no wonder he is widely considered the founder of modern philosophy, despite his rational shortcomings.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mel Vincent

    Rene Descartes is not only a pure optimist and a wide thinker but he too is very eloquent, charismatic, simple and very brilliant in how he fuses his ideas and arguments to that of different sciences such as anatomy and to an extent, psychology itself. While reading this it is as if you are not reading a highly charged philosophy book but instead it makes you think that it is in fact a travel novel, which is amazing. Rene Descartes articulately draws his own opinions on the environs, perceptions, Rene Descartes is not only a pure optimist and a wide thinker but he too is very eloquent, charismatic, simple and very brilliant in how he fuses his ideas and arguments to that of different sciences such as anatomy and to an extent, psychology itself. While reading this it is as if you are not reading a highly charged philosophy book but instead it makes you think that it is in fact a travel novel, which is amazing. Rene Descartes articulately draws his own opinions on the environs, perceptions, thoughts, epiphanies and the arguments that go about him while changing scenes, places and meeting other people as well. It talks how the soul, whether that of a human or of a creature is distinct from either one and that the soul is not a part of the body and is therefore not subjected to the mortalities of the flesh, hence the immortality of the soul. He then states that dreams and conscious thoughts are not as distinct as previously thought the only this is that these are partly of truths for one could not have arrived at that thought if that did not exist in the first place and lastly, he talks about and proves the existence of God which is phenomenal and how he connects it with the other arguments of this book. And lastly, the thing that I love about this book is that it gives off a calming effect while you read it and I've come to realize and empathize that Rene Descartes is truly humble and I admire a great person who keeps his feet on the ground even if the world constantly tells hims of his genius and greatness.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nemo

    An Interview with Descartes N: Cartesius, ever since I read your treatise "Meditations on First Philosophy: In which the existence of God and the immortality of the soul are demonstrated", I've wished to meet you in person and discuss the subjects in detail. C: Is that why you imagined this conversation with me? N: Unfortunately, I have no power of imagination, with which you are abundantly gifted. C: Nemo, you're gifted with the faculty of reason, which all men have, and by which you can distinguis An Interview with Descartes N: Cartesius, ever since I read your treatise "Meditations on First Philosophy: In which the existence of God and the immortality of the soul are demonstrated", I've wished to meet you in person and discuss the subjects in detail. C: Is that why you imagined this conversation with me? N: Unfortunately, I have no power of imagination, with which you are abundantly gifted. C: Nemo, you're gifted with the faculty of reason, which all men have, and by which you can distinguish truth from error. N: Speaking of the faculty of reason, you write in the Discourse on the Method that it is by nature equal in all men. But how can this be? It seems obvious that you yourself possess a far greater share of reason than most men. C: The difference does not lie in the faculty of reason itself, but in the way we apply it. The greatest minds, as they are capable of the highest excellences, are open likewise to the greatest aberrations; and those who travel very slowly may yet make far greater progress, provided they keep always to the straight road, than those who, while they run, forsake it. For myself, I have never fancied my mind to be in any respect more perfect than those of the generality. N: When you say "greatest minds", aren't you implying there is a difference in the share of reason? C: The difference of greater and less holds only among the accidents, and not among the forms or natures of individuals of the same species. Man possesses the faculty of reason as the essence of his species, which is complete in each individual, but there are differences among individuals arising from the differences in the ways they apply reason and the subjects to which they apply it. N: If I understand you correctly, you believe that if all men apply their reason rightly, they'll inevitably arrive at the same conclusion regarding the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. C: That is correct. N: Why is it that many rational and intelligent men do not believe in them at all? C: They have not applied their rational faculties, keen as they may be in other subjects, in carefully pondering these most important questions. Many learned men in my time objected to my arguments, and you've read their objections and my replies, have any of them provided any legitimate refutations? N: None whatsoever, but still it didn't prevent people from voicing their opinions. Some even conjectured that you didn't believe in the existence of God yourself, but only wrote the treatise to pacify the religious authority of your time, and forestall the fate that had befallen Galileo who had been condemned by the Inquisition. C: You've soundly refuted them yourself, Nemo. Your good will towards me is manifest in the manner you read my writings, expound my arguments and defend them against objectors. N: If I may say so, Cartesius, I think freedom is something you hold dear. If it is within your power, you'd rather devote your time to your thoughts and the search of truth in the sciences than defending your belief against unreasonable adversaries and authorities. C: Archimedes, in whose writings I discovered the methods of conducting geometry, used his knowledge of the sciences to defend the city of Syracuse against the Romans. So I found it necessary to defend our belief with the power of reason, and demonstrate that the right use of reason is beneficial to all men. N: I must confess I have become a big fan of yours, being both enthralled by the brilliance of your mind and saddened by your premature death. How much more you could have contributed to science and philosophy had you lived longer! C: There is no reason to be sad. Since I'm now free to think without any hindrance of the body, I can now comprehend and see the truth more clearly and distinctly than I ever did in the body. N: You say "see" the truth. Can you "see" without the eye or any other sensory organs? C: We do not see with the senses. The images in our mind are not generated by the sensory organs, but by the brain itself, which is also what happens to us in dreams. The mind make its own judgments of the senses it receives, and form opinions and ideas independently of the senses. A geometer can deduce the attributes of a triangle without looking at a triangle. In the same way, the whole corporeal universe can be "seen" with the rational faculty, because all bodies are quantifiable and can be accurately described by mathematics. The image of the world thus formed by the mind is far more clear and distinct than the image that is retrieved from the senses. N: As a mathematician and philosopher, you're accustomed to abstract thinking, and not only that, but you have purposefully trained yourself to think independently of the senses. Few men can do that, and I'm not one of them, I'm afraid. C: This conversation would not happen if you're incapable of abstract thinking. N: (laughing) Touche. (Read full interview at Nemo's Library)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jack

    Scholastic Aristotelians CRUSHED by SCEPTICISM and RATIONALITY

  11. 5 out of 5

    TrumanCoyote

    Hard for me to take seriously someone who talks about perfection like it's a trait--when really it's more of a relationship between traits, or an aesthetic response to them. A master of taking 500 words to say something obvious (like Proust); and the relentless latinate style grew tiresome quickly. Also full of ridiculous insincerities: on the one hand he's leaving notes to posterity, then saying nobody cares about a schmucky little goober like himself. And with the last sentence he seems to be Hard for me to take seriously someone who talks about perfection like it's a trait--when really it's more of a relationship between traits, or an aesthetic response to them. A master of taking 500 words to say something obvious (like Proust); and the relentless latinate style grew tiresome quickly. Also full of ridiculous insincerities: on the one hand he's leaving notes to posterity, then saying nobody cares about a schmucky little goober like himself. And with the last sentence he seems to be trying to bum a living (or a retirement) off of me; the whole thing was just so...French. On the plus side: in places he achieves a jagged informality that's very intimate (especially for 1637); and the architecture of his sentences is at times impressive. Sounded more like 18th century (English anyway) than early 17th.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ben Loory

    HOW AWESOME I AM AND HOW I GOT TO BE THIS WAY the first part's great, where he's talking about re-educating himself from the ground up and throwing away all the nonsensical crap that got poured into him by other people as he was growing up. but then once he gets started again from first principles or whatever, he immediately wanders off into some pretty shaky god stuff and then it just turns into a description of how the innards of the body work which hey, might be right, but ain't so interesting HOW AWESOME I AM AND HOW I GOT TO BE THIS WAY the first part's great, where he's talking about re-educating himself from the ground up and throwing away all the nonsensical crap that got poured into him by other people as he was growing up. but then once he gets started again from first principles or whatever, he immediately wanders off into some pretty shaky god stuff and then it just turns into a description of how the innards of the body work which hey, might be right, but ain't so interesting to read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Brian Risselada

    An inspiration for me to take on a similar project of grounding all of my beliefs

  14. 5 out of 5

    Erick

    I have some amount of ambivalence toward skeptical philosophy in general. It's a tradition that engendered enlightenment errors and, later, influenced atheistic materialism. Descartes wasn't an atheist or a materialist as such, but his system of skeptical doubt is still incredibly silly in my opinion. First of all, a system of doubt is a contradiction in terms; a system must be based on positive and actual constituents; doubt is a negative, not a positive, so it cannot be a foundation for any ge I have some amount of ambivalence toward skeptical philosophy in general. It's a tradition that engendered enlightenment errors and, later, influenced atheistic materialism. Descartes wasn't an atheist or a materialist as such, but his system of skeptical doubt is still incredibly silly in my opinion. First of all, a system of doubt is a contradiction in terms; a system must be based on positive and actual constituents; doubt is a negative, not a positive, so it cannot be a foundation for any genuine philosophy. For skeptical doubt to have any constructive role, it must be based on positive and actual veritable knowledge. The only reason I would doubt anything is that the thing that is up for scrutiny does not line up with what I hold positively to be true. Beginning with the idea that I must "doubt everything" and then find a positive in that futile endeavor is incredibly ludicrous. One cannot start with a negative and ever hope to gain a positive. The maxim "I cannot doubt that I am doubting" is drunk talk in my opinion. It's just twaddle. I think it means next to nothing. Knowledge always reaches the point where no more deduction can be done. Once that point is reached, you are in the realm of intuition. Intuitive knowledge is self-evident knowledge. It cannot be broken down any further; it is at it's most basic components. To doubt that 2 plus 3 is 5 is stupid. I have no reason to doubt that such is true. It is basic intuitive knowledge. To doubt it for doubt's sake is simply to engage in schizoid dialectic that has absolutely no positive and constructive function. Once one doubts all foundation for knowledge, one no longer has a foundation to even doubt. Beginning with doubt, one must always end with doubt because it is a negative and in the end everything could be doubted if one denies that intuitive self-evident truth is real; and one would have to deny it in order to doubt everything. While Descartes does variously claim that his system is not just endless nullity, he often contradicts this in the things he says. I give this book three stars instead of a lower number because there are some interesting ideas here and there. In the sections where he deals with questions regarding the existence of God, you have some worthwhile notions. Much of that has a precedent in scholastic theology from the medieval period though; so he isn't really breaking new ground there in my opinion.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Daniella Insalaco

    Even though I am not a fan of Descartes, I did enjoy the edition that I read (courtesy of The Focus Philosophical Library) because it contained a thorough introduction, great footnotes as well as an interpretive essay at the end. This is one of the reasons why I am giving it two stars rather than one. I really disagree with Descartes on a number of levels and frankly I don't want to get into all of that on here because then I would have to divulge my personal beliefs and I don't feel comfortable Even though I am not a fan of Descartes, I did enjoy the edition that I read (courtesy of The Focus Philosophical Library) because it contained a thorough introduction, great footnotes as well as an interpretive essay at the end. This is one of the reasons why I am giving it two stars rather than one. I really disagree with Descartes on a number of levels and frankly I don't want to get into all of that on here because then I would have to divulge my personal beliefs and I don't feel comfortable doing that on a public forum. All I really want to say is that his views on animals really angered and frustrated me.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kyle van Oosterum

    One of two essential works of Descartes, I must say I'm always astonished by the lucidity of his prose and thought. While I disagree fundamentally with his repetitive presupposition that is God is necessarily good and thus does not deceive him about anything he knows or believes, I cannot understate how indebted we are to him. "At last I will devote myself sincerely and without reservation to the general demolition of all my opinions." (Except my belief in God).

  17. 4 out of 5

    Quiver

    Innovative as it may have been at the time, A Discourse is hard to care about today even for its historical value. From what I have gathered, Descartes's other work, Meditations on First Philosophy may contain the more radical, and therefore, more interesting ideas. The Introduction and the Explanatory Notes are about twice as long as the work itself.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Christopher McCaffery

    Trash, but fascinating trash.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bilgehan

    Brilliant yet wrong in almost every aspect.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Josh Anderson

    Descartes is really optimistic. That's really what underlies everything here. First, he has discovered, in a Socratic way, that no one really knows anything and that the Aristotelian method has been outgrown. He uses imagery a lot, like how the best buildings are the ones designed by one architect, not a team of (sometimes inevitably conflicting) builders. In the same vein, he talks about the city layout, and how an engineered city is obviously the most effective (although "perfect" is the word Descartes is really optimistic. That's really what underlies everything here. First, he has discovered, in a Socratic way, that no one really knows anything and that the Aristotelian method has been outgrown. He uses imagery a lot, like how the best buildings are the ones designed by one architect, not a team of (sometimes inevitably conflicting) builders. In the same vein, he talks about the city layout, and how an engineered city is obviously the most effective (although "perfect" is the word he uses) when planned and conducted by one mind as opposed to a bric-a-brac juxtaposition with illogical roads and buildings that over-tower each other in a chaotic competition of view-ability. In short, he demonstrates how the naturally unplanned metropolis inevitably gets chaotic and ugly, and how this relates to his whole methodology of thinking. Descartes explores two sciences, algebra and geometry, and shows what I take to be the instructions to a visual reasoning palace, akin to Ramon Lull; Giordano Bruno; and who knows how many others in their versions of the memory palace technique. For Descartes, it is using the lines, planes, and eventually one must assume, structures themselves, in combination with meaningful symbols to achieve an algebraic method of reasoning out every problem, from every angle, and to weigh each problem out according to its temperance. Those with the most temperance are to be sought after first, because they are the least likely to lead one astray, lest that "hypothesis" turned out to be a miscalculation. This, I believe he says, can only be felt in the heart. So essentially he's found a method to approach every problem by having it correspond directly to his heart, and thus making the ultimate existential choice of freedom. The old buildings need to be razed and the new ones, gone through the methodology (only partially) presented here, and believed in with admirable gusto by Descartes, need to be erected new, pure ones in their place. Pure may be too strong a word, but that's how I interpret his aesthetic ideal: many cooks spoil the meal, or one creator is the best to unify all elements into a coherent synthesis. Certain elements may be re-used, but only after careful examination and essentially a re-invention of them. This is an answer to Socrates. A formula to answer the fool's guise that threatens us with our own inner logic. It reads rather a bit too optimistic at times, as the proof in God is very simplistically glossed over, as well as the immortality of the soul. This is certainly not the existentialism of Sartre, but one can see how existence preceding essence led up to the eventual conclusion that God is not necessary to philosophy, at least to the atheistic existentialists. And it is possible that Descartes may have eventually come to this conclusion had he lived long enough to come against some kind of life-altering ordeal. I look forward to finishing the Meditations because I think they must be read as one (with the Discourses), however, I did want to give my thoughts on reading this first. Although I think some of this thinking is outdated, his optimism and excitement about learning is the most valuable thing to be taken here. That and his ability to really make things visual by repeated motifs, such as the city planner, his geometer, his plumb-line and his own "city planning" are all very useful in constructing positive thinking. Descartes is the most optimistic thinker I've come across so far, and rather than feeling "crushed" by knowledge, he has found a way to believe that he knows how to conquer it, love it, and ultimately use it for the ultimate good. To stop reasoning things more and more imperfectly, but rather to start reasoning things more perfectly, little by little, until we are closer to the truth than we were had we gone down the road of assumption and inherited and thus outgrown moralities.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michael Kress

    I read Meditations on First Philosophy before Discourse on Method and liked it better. Discourse was a harder read and some parts of it were boring. I give Meditations 4 stars and Discourse 2 stars, so that averages out to 3 stars. I started out listening to Dedication on audio book. It's a letter he wrote to the Pope trying to prove that he wasn't an atheist. He was a contemporary of Galileo, who was in hot water at the time for his astronomical heresies. It's funny because the letter doesn't s I read Meditations on First Philosophy before Discourse on Method and liked it better. Discourse was a harder read and some parts of it were boring. I give Meditations 4 stars and Discourse 2 stars, so that averages out to 3 stars. I started out listening to Dedication on audio book. It's a letter he wrote to the Pope trying to prove that he wasn't an atheist. He was a contemporary of Galileo, who was in hot water at the time for his astronomical heresies. It's funny because the letter doesn't seem sincere at all. But I guess the Pope bought it. Later on Descartes abandoned some of his writings in fear of getting in trouble with the church. I switched to paperback after Dedication because the prose is hard to follow on audio book. Meditation One is where he starts to doubt everything. I like the idea of him sitting next to the fire in his dressing gown meditating on this stuff. It's just a cool, peaceful picture in my mind. Mediation Two is where he makes the famous statement "I think, therefore I am." It occurred to me that Socrates knew nothing, but centuries later Descartes decided that he could at least know that he existed. The Third Meditation has some interesting theories trying to prove the existence of God. His argument that you can't have infinite regress is pretty sound. According to Descartes, the universe could not exist without some type of God to set it in motion. This sounds like some form of Deism to me. I had been pondering these types of things myself. That is what initially attracted me to this book. Descartes is considered to be one of the first scientists, but we know a lot more about it than he did at the time. He even acknowledged that there was much more to be revealed, and science has probably refuted a lot of his claims. I won't discuss meditations four through six here, but they are just as interesting as one through three. Discourse on Method seems like a book prepping the reader for Meditations. This is unfortunate since I read Meditations first. In a way it's good though because I might not have made it through if I didn't know that Meditations was better. He talks about how he traveled all over Europe seeing sights and meeting new people. Sounds fun! His theory about animals being automations and not having any real feelings is interesting but disturbing. Darwin's theory of evolution pretty much blows that idea out of the water. We are not nearly as separate from or different than animals as Descartes claimed. The part where he talks about how the heart pumps blood almost bored me to tears. I didn't know if I was going to make it through that part. Then we get to the part where he calls out his critics. I really liked the writing here because he's basically saying that they are not real philosophers like he is and he's putting them in their place. In the end, he just wants everyone to leave him alone so he can chill out and write Meditations. I was just glad to be done with this so that I could put it up and move on to something else.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tarik Lahyany

    After embarking on a bulk of fields, studying for several years, Descartes reached out the decision to study his own self, and employ all the abilities to try to choose the right path. His logic if the cogito goes as follows: Part one: Principles of the cogito: There's less perfection in a work produced by several persons than in ons produced by a single hand. Examples from architecture, a building designed by 1 architect is always more beautiful than the one designed by two. Also, the laws designe After embarking on a bulk of fields, studying for several years, Descartes reached out the decision to study his own self, and employ all the abilities to try to choose the right path. His logic if the cogito goes as follows: Part one: Principles of the cogito: There's less perfection in a work produced by several persons than in ons produced by a single hand. Examples from architecture, a building designed by 1 architect is always more beautiful than the one designed by two. Also, the laws designed by savage humans are easily to follow, compared to the ones that set on orevious constitutional foundation. Sciences found on books are richer than then ones found on them. Religion created by God is much more fertile and good than the one created by men. The world is largely composed of two sorts of individuals who should not try to follow. A) the ones who think themselves more able than they really are, so they make precipitate judgements and do not have patience to think matters through thoroughly. Once they doubt their thoughts, they become unable to follow the narrow path that leads more directly, and will remain lost all their lives. B) There are those who have enough sense or modesty to realize that they are less able to distinguish the true from the false than are others. The ones that held different opinions from us are not barbarians, in fact they are as reasonable as ourselves. Part two: Rules: Never accept something as true, unless recognized to be evidently such; Divide the difficulties into as much as possible, as might be required for an easier solution; Think in an orderly fashion, beginning wirh things which were simplest and easiest to understand, ans gradually and by degrees reaching for other complexities; Always make enumerations so complete, and reviews so generous.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lana

    There are certain books that no matter how many times you read, it is as if each time you read them again you're getting in touch with a new story, a new discovery, a new realization, a new reality. There are not many books to which I could attribute this peculiar characteristic, but the Discourse on Method is assuredly one of them. I don't know how to describe what I think about this treatise seeing that every time I read it I find myself with different questions and conclusions. I cogitate that There are certain books that no matter how many times you read, it is as if each time you read them again you're getting in touch with a new story, a new discovery, a new realization, a new reality. There are not many books to which I could attribute this peculiar characteristic, but the Discourse on Method is assuredly one of them. I don't know how to describe what I think about this treatise seeing that every time I read it I find myself with different questions and conclusions. I cogitate that this is possibly due to the fact that I take fairly long pauses between each sentence, this way I'm able to genuinely reflect on what was said, something that is usually not very common or exciting when you read a fiction novel, for instance, but can add a lot to the reading experience in this case, specially if you most of the time agree partly to what was said or proposed. It is not uncommon to feel some surprise when analyzing the content of Discourse on Method. The title promises an explanation of the method, it is actually much more a brief and unexpected narrative of the author's career path along with a sketch of his doctrine. The didactic air that the book suggests is broken when the very René Descartes writes that his writing should be read perhaps even as a fable with the sole purpose to show how he conducted his own reason. "So I don’t aim here to teach the method that everyone must follow if he is to direct his reason correctly, but only to display how I have tried to direct my own. (..) I am presenting this work only as a history—or if you prefer, a fable" (Descartes, 2007, p.2) Although I might say I do like this book, some contradiction is notable regarding this introductory statement. If, for example, he argues that everyone should use reasoning to achieve real knowledge and at the same time he defends his method is the true way, he is indeed after all defending that his method is the one that everyone must follow. Leaving this small bumptious incoherence apart, with the maxim "I think, therefore I exist" Descartes opens wide space for his worthy notoriety in philosophy. In fact, if we think about the time this treatise was written, in 1637, when rationality as we know was in very early ascendancy and all scientific writing was directed to a small elite; Descartes, writing in French and vulgar language, searches and supports in an audacious way the widespread use of reasoning that, according to him, everybody endowed with common sense owns. From this assumption, that we are all equally endowed with rational capability, he comes to the conclusion that the cause that leads us to different opinions is the lack of a safe method, which has the objective to help us achieve also a safe knowledge. With this, the book gets, at least for me, in a way a semi-didactic characteristic that at points do have a pinch of arrogance, but that also is made interesting for being of personal character and having the life experiences of the author as guiding tools instead of only a list of theoretical methodology. Descartes chronicles his journey in search of the method in an intimate way and tries during this process to universalize the concepts arising from his own personal reasoning. His method, as he claims, is that we need at first to put all our knowledge into question and that it is necessary to question and analyze everything carefully in order to surely come to a pure truth. If this is something that we can actually accomplish and if it is a method that everyone should adhere to, I refuse, as Descartes himself meant, to judge. However, I am sure that such a concept would have much to add to our contemporary society. After all, what is truth? And where we acquire most of our "truths"? Of our friends, our parents, the media, the school, the great scientists and thinkers from the past and from our modern culture? Descartes himself? It would be advisable to question all that. And from all of all these sources, even if we tried to establish the ones that seem more sensible, after analyzing we would come to the indubitable conclusion that we are often nothing more than perpetuating the ideas of others, which are seldom accurate or meritorious or ours. As Descartes constantly advises, we should question when we want to fully understand. And, as a matter of fact, even if there is the possibility of a complete acquisition of the truth, even that I believe we should question. Are we able to know the truth, and if we are or not, what are the possibilities of human knowledge? In philosophical terms, skeptics and dogmatists have very sore to discuss, however, independently of the line we chose, such questions have much to enrich us, as humans. And if all that we can control are our thoughts, nothing makes us more humans than the actual practice of such an act constantly. And this is a firm and absolute truth in which Descartes believes. In other words, Descartes tends to emphasize the prevalence of the subjective awareness over the objective being to consider only knowable what comes from the mind. I see therefore that Descartes was a convict rationalist and recommended, in short, the distrust of our sensory perceptions which leads nothing more than to mistakes. For him the true knowledge of external things should be achieved through logical thinking, something I, with all possible unpretentiousness, personally believe to be rather utopian and idealist. My point of view is probably connected to my skeptical character than to the real truth. I am, in any case, far from obtaining the truths I aspire, but in most of the cases I see in reasoning a frequent efficiency and can be considered an also very rationalist person, yet disregarding everything else, as he suggests, seems incongruous to me. Anyway, regardless of any final conclusion and if in fact, I fully, partly or completely disagree, this doesn't change the fact that this work of non-fiction is very significant for me and therefore deserved my four stars. I believe that reading this book brings me continual intellectual progress in many aspects and I find delight in re-reading excerpts of it since my first contact with it, back in school in a sociology class, when all I thought at first was to be reading about a reality way too distant from my own, but that I see today to be at times closer than imaginable.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Agostinho Paulo

    The privilege of acquainting yourself with great minds is that you get to see the wealth of tricky and subtle ways which we can lose our way, so that we should, in the end, never (gullibly) follow in their tracks. René Descartes is one of them; he is by many hailed as the father of modern sciences, although while reading these potent, lucid and persuasive Mediations it becomes disquietingly tough to see in what actual way do we owe so much to him. Other than being a distinguishable forerunner th The privilege of acquainting yourself with great minds is that you get to see the wealth of tricky and subtle ways which we can lose our way, so that we should, in the end, never (gullibly) follow in their tracks. René Descartes is one of them; he is by many hailed as the father of modern sciences, although while reading these potent, lucid and persuasive Mediations it becomes disquietingly tough to see in what actual way do we owe so much to him. Other than being a distinguishable forerunner that is. 'But reason is only a tool and Descartes was superficial.' So says Fritz, in Beyond Good and Evil. Needless to say, that is a distinctly incendiary statement. And I take his side on this one. I enjoyed this work as much as I learnt so much from it, and most importantly on how to avoid his mistakes.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chai Zheng Xin

    Interesting but tough read. The language used is abstruse. I understood and enjoyed the principles and maxims of reasoning expounded by Descartes and also his argument of proving existence aka cogito ergo sum. However, his applications of the principles on different subjects, especially the one on human anatomy was hard for me and I just glossed through. In spite of this, I still find the book's lessons on regulating your reasoning process insightful.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kaju Janowski

    It's curious how he emphasises his modesty, yet I've completely different feeling about it. A lot of rambling on if you ask me. Thing that got me the most is how he discarded the influence of external world and thus formulated "cogito ergo sum". Never thought about it that way, which points that often the path of understanding is more important than the conclusion.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Paul Womack

    The edition I read, translated by John Veitch, by Premiumclassbooks, was not easy on the eyes. But, I read in order to determine for myself, as best I could, the primary ideas Descartes wanted to convey rather than depend on the assessments of others. Thus, next will be the Meditations.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Pimpo Gregor

    It is important. but at the end it just remains as a history example.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Διόνυσος Ελευθέριος

    One of the very finest products of the history of philosophy, René Descartes' Discourse on the Method is, in this Focus Philosophical Library edition, translated by the late Richard Kennington. Of special importance in this edition is Kennington's very good interpretive essay, "Descartes' Discourse on Method," which is only elsewhere found in a posthumous collection of his essays, On Modern Origins: Essays in Early Modern Philosophy . My understanding is that this was originally a lecture deliv One of the very finest products of the history of philosophy, René Descartes' Discourse on the Method is, in this Focus Philosophical Library edition, translated by the late Richard Kennington. Of special importance in this edition is Kennington's very good interpretive essay, "Descartes' Discourse on Method," which is only elsewhere found in a posthumous collection of his essays, On Modern Origins: Essays in Early Modern Philosophy . My understanding is that this was originally a lecture delivered at the University of Chicago in 1980. Regarding Kennington's ultimate conclusion, however, I can only go part way, at least provisionally, or before greater study. The question he ends on is this: has the "bond between philosophy or science and society been shown to be reasonable?" No, he concludes, for that bond rests on two elements which are, in fact, irreducible. The elements are two themes, the theme of utility and the theme of certainty. Since utility, or science for the sake of power, or for the possession and mastery of nature, is something the certainty of which, as Kennington says, "we are free" to philosophize about independently, we can reject Descartes' project. I agree to a point. Yes, we lack a "categorical obligation" to the modern project. But does that mean that the Cartesian project is unreasonable? I'm disinclined to think so because I doubt that Descartes was unaware of Kennington's discovery. Kennington's essay, despite his many indications of Descartes' dissimulative style of writing and his implicit demand that we modify the theological-political situation that he faced, is silent about that situation when I think it matters most, when we aim to draw the final conclusions about what "we are free" to do regarding his project today. His interpretation seems to suggest that we are free to reject the modern project because of the unreasonableness of Descartes' position, but, it seems to me, that Descartes' position wasn't simply unreasonable because it successfully brought about the needed change in the theological-political situation. Christianity was, after all, dealt a very serious blow. Modern science's appropriation of human charity from the jurisdiction of Christianity reduced Christianity's influence. Without any further explicit indication of the need that Descartes faced and the deliberate benefits to humanity that he brought about, I can only partly endorse Kennington's essay. However, I will note this: Kennington comes from a tradition whose members are careful writers who know how to read very careful writers, and it's not impossible that his silence on Descartes' full motives is telling; so, I will remain open to the possibility that he has a more "charitable" albeit obscure interpretation in mind. If I find grounds for that during future study of this essay, I will append them to this review. Appendage: My original hesitation above about Kennington's interpretive essay resulted from all but the very end of Kennington's final, thirty-first, paragraph. Taking a closer look at the very end revealed to me further grounds for hesitation. Now I'm less inclined to hope for his greater, if somewhat concealed, charity of interpretation. The very ending is this: "Here, in Descartes, science does not know the ultimate, the particles; it does not know the whole. As scientific knowledge, it does not comprehend the human. If reinterpreted within these limits, its knowledge may well be an immense benefaction. But since it knows neither the whole nor the human part, we are free to philosophize independently of Cartesian and modern science." This is more in keeping with the tradition that Kennington comes from. On the other hand, it also seems too easy. Since "knowing the whole" is so probably out of reach, any project that cannot aspire to attain it can simply be dispensed with. The demand for knowledge of the whole is such a high demand that it can serve as an effective skeptical argument for almost anything. But that's too easy, especially as Kennington leaves it, without further elaboration. It still seems to me that Descartes knew these same limitations, and if so, then a better critique would lie in explaining how the Cartesian project, as conceived by Descartes, including its known limitations, is no longer necessary for the times. For that, though, it seems to me that we can turn to Nietzsche. A clarification: my basic, at present, disagreement is this: Kennington's argument about the limitations of Cartesian science are based on limitations that I believe Descartes was aware of. In that case, Kennington's argument against Descartes goes no further than Descartes. The limitations that Kennington reveals are limitations fully revealable at any time, even in Descartes' time. The most important limitations, then, are not with Descartes, but with history, i.e., there are even better limitations on which one could disagree with Cartesian science. Something like that, at least for now.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Fadri Mokolintad

    I think I understand only 7% of this book. It means I have to re-read it in the future...

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