Wiping The Slate Clean:Descartes Essay, Research Paper
One of Descartes earliest arguments discusses the law of non-contradiction. In his reasoning, everyone has the same amount of good sense and access to the truth when they are born into this world, yet people obviously disagree on many issues. The reason for this fact is that people do not follow the same line of reasoning because they do not take the same things into consideration as a result of different life experiences. In Descartes law of non-contradiction there is only one truth for every question, so when two people disagree on something, one of them has to be right. A good example of this would be if there were two people. One thinks red is the best color and the other person believes blue is the best color. For Descartes, one or both of these people must be wrong because there is only one truth. His task is to look at this situation and locate who holds the truth. If certain guidelines could be established by which everyone could come to conclusions, it would be possible to obtain this truth, and we would no longer have diversity in opinions.
Descartes makes this point in reference to Philosophy when he says, ?seeing that it has been cultivated for many centuries by the most excellent minds that have ever lived and that, nevertheless, there still is nothing in it about which there is not some dispute?? To him, this means that a primary goal of philosophy, finding truth, has not been achieved. He sets forth to change that by implementing a new method of philosophy. He gathered from this that if everyone disagrees, everything that people believe must be unsure, and therefore a poor basis for truth seeking. He comes to this realization when he says, ?I deemed everything that was merely probable to be well-nigh false.? Descartes new method promoted that, to find truth, you must purge everything based upon anything unsure.
Descartes wants to strip himself of all beliefs, including everything he has learned and sensed. Our senses sometimes deceive us, and it only makes sense to choose never to trust in something that has failed us in the past. ??book learning, at least the kind whose reasonings are merely probable and that do not have any demonstrations, having been composed and enlarged little by little from the opinions of many different persons, does not draw nearly so close to the truth as the simple reasoning that a man of good sense can naturally make about the things he encounters.? He believed knowledge gained from sensation or from books is not clearly true, Descartes needed to find a way to develop a new belief system. He described this new method in four rules, which if obeyed, would constitute a satisfactory belief system and eliminate all disagreement.
The first rule states that one should only accept as true what he sees clearly and distinctly as true. Nothing with any possibility of falsity can be included. This brings up an interesting point. Is there anything that is so absolutely true? It would be very difficult to have something be thought of as true to everyone, but that is the job Descartes imposed upon himself. The second rule says it is necessary to break down all problems into as many pieces as possible so it is easier to solve them clearly. The third rule states he will start with the simplest and easiest way to understand objects and move up to more complex issues. The fourth and final rule states that he must periodically check his work, making sure that there is no possibility that he could exclude anything. This is the method by which he plans to establish indisputable truth.
Though he proposes we wipe the slate clean, Descartes claims that he is not a skeptic because skepticism ends in doubt while his goal is to firmly establish truth. Descartes is a methodical doubter who uses doubt as a tool to establish truth, so he does not simply propose that we abandon out beliefs without a plan. His four rules are the method by which he proposes to rebuild our beliefs. He argues that if you are going to throw away all of your past experiences, you must be prepared. Some kind of plan to start over should be in tacked before you throw everything out. He uses this example, ?before beginning to rebuild the house where one is living, simply to pull it down, and to make provision for materials and architects or to train oneself in architecture?? It is necessary to know exactly what to do when you purge past experiences. According to Descartes ?it is also necessary to be provided with someplace else where one can live comfortably while working on it.?
Descartes must find a way of acting, provisional morality, to hold onto temporarily until he finds the truth. He says he needs to be conservative, following the customs of the place where he is living. Descartes also states that he will be resolute in his actions. Whatever he does, whether it is wrong or right, he will follow through with it until the end. He will also conquer himself rather than the world. He is willing to accept and conform himself to events. Also, until he finds truth, he decided to be content in being a philosopher. Descartes states earlier that philosophy is speaking with probability and being admired. He then says that all probable things are false, which would make all sciences, philosophy among them, false. In addition to his provisional code of morals, Descartes also agreed to make no long-term commitments, choosing for the meantime to hold on to the given truths of the Catholic Church.
When he applies all four rules of his method he is able to establish his first principles upon which he proposes to build the truth. His first principle is, ?I think, therefore I am.? This one truth is the only thing, which he can understand as true without using any preconceptions. Using a dream analogy, he asks how we know if we are awake or asleep. Dreams do not follow a logical chain of events, and the dreamer is not always aware that they are asleep. Descartes states that, even if he is dreaming, he must exist for the simple fact that his mind is thinking. Having established one pure first principle using his method, the rest of Descartes Discourse on Method is spent in re-establishing ideas such as God, science, and the material world as truths based upon reasonable arguments instead of human impressions.