Saturday, May 10, 2008

Descartes (1596-1650 A.D.)


By Richard E. Noble

Descartes is credited as the father of modern philosophy, and rightfully so, says Bertrand Russell. Descartes said that he would discover 'truth' by first discarding all of his prior and useless education. He would find truth, through the processes of doubt. He would question and doubt everything, until he could establish one statement that could not be denied, and from that one statement he would advance until he discovered the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The one statement that he established as the basic fundamental truth in life was, 'cogito ergo sum' (I think, therefore I am).
I remember reading this in his Discourse on Method over thirty years ago and saying to myself, What is this guy talking about? I did not think myself into existence. I do not exist because I think. If anything, 'I exist, therefore I think', would be closer to the truth. But not even this is true because lots of things that exist, don't think, my wife for example (That's a joke honey, just kidding). A stone doesn't think, but it exists, and a tree. At least I think these things don't think, but I'm really not that sure. They used to tell me that animals didn't think - yah, right! And Lobsters don't feel anything when you dump them while still alive and kicking into boiling hot water either.
Descartes was also interested in cutting up animals. From examining the entrails of cut up animals that he got from his local butcher, he determined not only the processes of digestion and the principles of proper nutrition and health, but that the human soul was contained in the pineal gland. I presume that a soul must have popped out of some dead pineal gland and said boo. But, I thought animals didn't have souls? Oh well, he wrote books about all of this. Of course they were all wrong, but you have got to start somewhere. He then commissioned himself to cut up animal brains in order to determine the workings of thought and imagination. He didn't get to finish or even start this project, but going from where he left off, we can presume that he probably would have been wrong there also, but who knows?
Although he lived a rather surreptitious and clandestine existence sneaking about and hiding here and there throughout Europe, he seemed to be a good enough fellow. Anybody who loved all cross-eyed people can't be all bad.
He wasn't very fond of women, and didn't find them very attractive and considered them for the most part to be God's little annoying way of distracting him from his discovering of the Truth. He was a very religious and moral guy and only had one illegitimate child that we know of.
He is most famous for reaffirming Plato's idea that the 'real' isn't really real, and that what isn't really real, really is real.
He was a good Catholic also.