Thursday, November 29, 2007

In Descartes’ fourth section (I believe) he claims that because he thinks he exists. This assumption is completely plausible. There is no way to challenge your own existence. It is the one thing that, to each individual, is permanent, no matter what else around him changes. This, however, is the only part of Descartes’ reasoning that I find completely plausible. As he continues on he discusses the existence of God and how there must be a perfect being above him to allow him to think. This, though slightly less plausible, still convinces me enough to support his argument. However, his next claim, that we all must abandon every assumption we hold about the world around us to allow us to discover the world for ourselves, is not only implausible but downright impossible.

First I will discussion how it is implausible, then I will explain how even Descartes himself demonstrated the impossibility of such a task. If it was possible for a person sitting in a stove-heated room to abandon everything he knew about the world, then when he began to observe and create his own assumptions about the world he would be limited to the space he can observe, i.e. the stove heated room. Since his mind is a blank slate the only things he could be sure existed are the components of this room. His entire world view would be based upon this room. This would become the starting point for all of this thought processes. Not only would this make his world view very obscure, it would also severely limit the purpose Descartes had for abandoning his knowledge in the beginning. No matter what method a person uses to understand the world, they must have a starting point. Now rather than the education he received as a child being his basis for understanding the world, his own personal assumptions and observations about this room would be his initial influence. To me this seems completely absurd.

In addition to this method being implausible, Descartes also, unknowingly it seems, demonstrates how impossible it is to employ. During his time in the stove-heated room, Descartes contemplates some proofs on triangles. In his attempt to prove to himself the correctness of one such proof, he fails to abandon all of his previous knowledge about triangles. In his contemplation he holds onto the fact that the three angles of a triangle must sum 180 degrees. Never does he record figuring this information out for himself. Rather he failed to abandon this knowledge he learned in his youth. In his attempt to demonstrate the usefulness of his own method he actually points out its flaws.

It is a shame that Descartes did not recognize such a flaw in his work for he had such an influence on the way people thought about the world during his time period. His empirical method did revolutionize the way scientists conduct their experiments and research, but his intention to bring this thought process to the masses failed because of errors like the one I have just discussed.

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