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A portrait of Rene Descartes the father and originator of modern philosophy and France's greatest philosopher hangs in the Lupul museum in Paris. He looks out at you from heavy lidded eyes aloof and somewhat arrogant and the smile is one of gentlemanly scorn and contempt. How did this man shapes the philosophy of the modern world in which we live. Descartes was a man of the early seventeenth century but he had only contempt for his society including the Court of the King Louis the thirteenth the clergy of the church and the man in the street and his of they is and his contempt was undisguised. For what was taught in the universities which he regarded as outmoded traditional stagnant still clinging to a mediæval learning and submissive to church authority. Descartes himself attended law flush which was a recently founded
Jesuit university established for the education of the sons of the nobility. All these eight years. At last flush Descartes says. From my childhood I lived in a world of books and I was eager to learn from them. But as soon as I had finished the course of studies I found myself saddled with so many doubts and era's that I seemed to have gained nothing. Nevertheless I had been in one of the most celebrated schools in all of Europe. After university he had studied Greek Latin history literature or science mathematics and philosophy. All of these. Only mathematics which had been well taught at Left place and the little science that they offered seemed to Descartes to have any certainty or to offer any true knowledge of the world. Descartes had a special
scorn for philosophy. Philosophy is a term of contempt and derision for him. He says all philosophy. It has been studied for many centuries by the most outstanding lines without having produced anything which is not in dispute. You can see that Descartes the father of modern philosophy begins to look very modern indeed. He begins to look like the revolutionary students of the 1960s who condemned the universities for their irrelevance to the problems of war civil rights and poverty. But Descartes doesn't want relevance. He is asking for truth and for the overthrow of false beliefs in order to reach true beliefs. But Descartes goes even further and argues that our beliefs would actually be Pura and on firmer ground. If from childhood we had never been under the control of teachers but had been guided
soley by our own reason. But is it possible for me or would it be possible for you to overthrow all the accumulation of beliefs however false or uncertain and to use only our own reason as the basis for believing anything. This is what they call proposes and this is the way modern philosophy begins. It begins with de cartes meditations and with a revolutionary overthrow of all the least. And so with a complete break with the medieval world modern philosophy begins with the self in solitude meditating with a person conscious of the false and dealt full things he has accepted so far in his life and deciding in his meditations that the time has come to
overthrow all his beliefs in the first Adams's of the meditations Descartes says everything must be thought really overthrown for once in my life if I ever want to establish anything solid and permanent in the sciences and Descartes goes on to say today I have freed my mind from all cares. I am quite alone. At last I shall have time to devote myself seriously and freely to the destruction of all my former opinions. But can I can you. By our own reason established solid and permanent truth. Descartes like Plato and all of rationalism claims that reason is universal in all human beings. He claims as all right does that reason is the most important element in human
nature. That reason is the only means to certainty in knowledge. That reason is the best way to determine what is right and good and how to construct a good so sayat all of rationalism claims makes these same claims. We have seen Plato make these claims. The reason is the most important single factor in human nature that reason is the only means to certainty and knowledge. That reason is the only way to establish what is good for human beings and to construct a good society. But how can I buy my own reason established solid and permanent truth which possible also for is have failed to do. They consonants are like that of most rationalists is let mathematics be your ideal. Let mathematics be your model for the use of reason
in Descartes to discourse on method. Another one of his great works he says of all who have sought for the truth in the sciences. It has been the mathematicians alone who have been able to succeed in producing reasons which are evident and certain. And that was a method of mathematics using reason alone. Descartes believes which enabled of the Polish astronomer Copernicus in the 17th century to revolutionize astronomy with the earth centered heliocentric theory of the universe and enabled the Italian astronomer Galileo in the 17th century to offer of the final proof Copernican theory the Copernican heliocentric theory of the universe. This is the method which Descartes himself a mathematician himself the inventor of analytical geometry wants to use for philosophy
and mathematics he thinks can clean up the confusions and uncertainties of philosophy. The math of mathematics will gain the same clarity and certainty for philosophy as geometry has and as the sciences have gained full of physics and astronomy. By becoming mathematical philosophy could achieve absolute certainty and could prove itself as mathematics does to my own reason to your own reason and to everyone else's and be acknowledged as a universally true philosophy a final truth. Which would then end the bitter disputes raging between the church and the scientists in Descartes time. It would end the fear of the Inquisition under which scientists lived the fear of imprisonment or torture the fear that Descartes himself had that he might suffer the same fate as
Galileo. But what is the method of mathematics with which descant proposes to solve the ills of philosophy. Descartes tells us in his rules for the direction of the mind and mathematics he says consists in the use of the only two mental operations by which we are able to arrive at true knowledge. And these two mental operations are intuition and deduction. By intuition he means our understanding of self evident principles such as the axioms of geometry for example our understanding the axiom that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. This is self-evident to our reason or things equal to the same thing are equal to each other again. Still the evidence it proves itself to our reason or such as an arithmetic proposition such as three
plus two equals five. These propositions are all self-evident in that they prove themselves to reason. To understand these propositions is to know that they are absolutely true. No rational mind can doubt them. By deduction of Descartes means orderly a logical reasoning or inference from self-evident propositions as all of geometry is reasoned in strict order by deduction from its self-evident axioms and postulates. The best example of this is of course the well-known deductive propositions. All men are mortal. Socrates is a man therefore Socrates is mortal. The chief secret of method says Descartes sharing a little secret with us is to arrange all facts into a deducted logical system. Descartes goal as a philosopher
is to build a system of philosophy based upon axioms known by intuition and by deduction such a system of philosophy as will remain as certain and as imperishable as geometry. No philosopher has ever made a bolder attempt to arrive at a philosophy of absolute truth. The entire series of the six meditations as Descartes presents them day after day is a single sustained effort to reconstruct philosophy to build it all over again. Too fine for philosophy. The certainty of a mathematical proof. What Descartes is determined to find is a self evident principle which will serve as the axiom or first principle for his mathematical philosophy and will serve as the foundation from which an absolutely certain philosophy can be deduced. But what are the requirements which this foundational belief must meet.
Descartes lays down three one. It certainty must be such that it is impossible to doubt it. It must be self-evident to reason it must be clear in itself and distinct from every other belief to the certainty of this belief must be ultimate and not dependent upon the certainty of any other belief. And three it must be about something which exists so that it beliefs about the existence of other things may be deduced. But how will I find such a belief. They guard asks and he answers by the method of doubt. The attitude of doubt was in the air. In the seventeenth century which was a century of change a transitional era where the old beliefs and philosophy losing their credibility and the new scientific theories under fire and not yet established on a firm philosophic foundation.
Descartes will use the method of dumbs But despite the solitary quiet of his meditations they karts doubting is a revolutionary. He is going to overthrow all his beliefs. He is going to doubt everything to achieve his bold quest for an absolutely certain philosophy. Descartes is willing with equal boldness to overthrow and destroy all he has ever believed to doubt everything. Scepticism is the name for the philosophic position of doubt concerning the reliability of knowledge. Descartes type of scepticism is called methodical or methodological skepticism. Methodological skepticism may be defined as the use of doubt methodically in order of by using doubt to arrive at true knowledge. Descartes uses methodological
skepticism in order to overthrow his beliefs. Meditation one you may know is entitled of the things which we may don't but to doand all of his beliefs to take complete inventory of all his beliefs would be interminable. I will examine them says Descartes. The mathematician Descartes the lover of mathematical orderliness. I will examine them by classes or groups to see if there was any one belief which defines doubt by meeting all three criteria. First the proposition must be impossible to do. Second it must be an ultimate truth. And third it must be about something that exists. And so in an orderly was a class spike last group by group Descartes goes through all his beliefs. First he looks at beliefs of sense
perception. These are the most readily believed of all what I know by my senses. But they are often deceptive. For example what distant objects look like to the naked eye is now denied by the telescope. Galileo had just invented the telescope in sixteen hundred nine and what minute very small objects look like to the naked eye is now denied by the microscope which Kepler had just designed in sixteen hundred eleven. And what about optical illusions such as the pencil that looks bent in the water. And what about the hallucinations that affect the senses. Clearly says Descartes the senses are untrustworthy as a source of certainty. But surely Descartes insists I cannot doubt my senses telling me that I am here seated by the
fire attired in a dressing gown and that these hands and this body are mine. Yes he says have I not dreamed that I was sitting here. And may I not be dreaming. Descartes who slept so much must have had this dream often what I perceived by the senses may be the deception of a dream. And so he goes to one of the class of the leaves. Second what about the leaps in material things. What about the belief that an external world exists. These beliefs must be doubted because they are based upon sense perception which is now understood to be deceptive and therefore uncertain and so thoroughly Aust What about beliefs from the natural sciences. These two must be doubted because they are based upon objects known by sense perception which is now a stablished to be untrustworthy and so forth where he goes on. What about beliefs in mathematics. Why does he doubt these.
He has always regarded mathematics as completely certain in his propositions for him mathematics is the very model of certainty. Moreover mathematical propositions are not made doubtful by being derived from sense perception. Not at all Descartes says whether I am awake or asleep. Two plus three makes five and a square has only four sides. And it seems impossible for such obvious truths to fall under a suspicion of being false. These beliefs mathematical beliefs are known by reason not by the senses but is it impossible to doubt them. He reflects mathematicians sometimes fall into araa. Could they always be in error. In an effort to push his methodological skepticism to its extreme
and for lack of a reason to doubt mathematics Descartes invents one. Suppose he says there is an evil and powerful demon who deceives me in all the things I think I know best so that I am always deceived even in my mathematical believes. This is the strongest possible doubt they cart himself says it is exaggerated hyperbolic. It seems contrived. Not a Genuine doubt but he pushes his case. Can any belief would stand to this dose. Can any belief withstand my doubting all beliefs on the ground that I may be deceived in all my beliefs even those I think are absolutely certain by some malignant demon. Now Descartes enters with his famous triumphant reply. Even if I am deceived in all my beliefs I must exist in order to be deceived. If I
don't own my beliefs including those of mathematics. There is one belief that cannot be doubted. Every time I doubt I must exist to doubt indulging the truth of every other belief. I cannot doubt the belief that I am doubting therefore I exist. Even of all the beliefs I am conscious of are false. One belief remains true at any moment that I am conscious of thinking or of any mental act such as being conscious of doubting or willing. I exist as a thinking or doubting or willing thing. And so Descartes has found he is absolutely certain self evident and Indu bootable first principle. He formulated in Latin as Koga toe ere go soem Koga toe. I think ere go there for soem I am and in French his native language. Usual
poems don't just sweep. Thinking for Descartes includes any act of consciousness that we are immediately aware of he says by the word thought. I understand all that of which we are conscious as operating in us. And so thinking includes doubting understanding affirming and denying willing refusing feeling as conscious acts. All of these necessitate my existence I think therefore I am. I doubt that I think I deny that I think these only confirm that I must exist. To deny or to doubt. How do I know this belief. Err Go saw him. I think therefore I am by immediately understanding as self-evident that to think to doubt or deny or will. I must exist and that my
thinking without my existing is impossible. Kogut O error go sown is true. Each time I think it kowtow err go some is true. Each time I deny it. But what is this guy who thinks and therefore exists but kowtow proves only that I exist as a thinking thing and only when I am conscious of thinking. Good to go soon. Every time I think therefore I am. It proves that I am a thinking thing an existence substance and as an existent substance. A thinking thing. It is my nature to have thoughts ideas beliefs but nothing has been proved by the koto about my body or its movements. My walking more eating. I cannot claim self evident truth for I move therefore I am. Because
moving I can know only by sense perception only by observing myself to move the Colletto proves only that whenever I am immediately conscious of thinking I exist as a thinking thing. But does the koto fulfill the three requirements. Descartes laid down one. Is it self evident to reason. Is it in do bits of all they cut answers yes. You can't escape the koto by delving it every time you don't it. You affirm it. Two is the koto independent of any more ultimate truth. They cut answers yes but kowtow is not inferred from all who think exist. I think therefore I exist. But rather I myself understand as a self-evident truth that I exist whenever I think and 3
does the koto refer to the existing world this was the third requirement and they caught on so yes it refers to me who exists as a thinking thing. So am I am I exist. And so Descartes claims that the koto checks out with his three requirements have later philosophers agreed. Does the koto proof withstand criticism as an absolutely certain foundation for philosophy. There have been hundreds of critical commentaries on the koto prove all of these. The most frequent attack on the cogito proof is one first made by Pia Gasol indeed in letters that he wrote to Descartes and he claimed that the koto does not meet the second requirement that it is not ultimately but depends upon all the truths to have the truth
upon which the koto clearly depends are one that things or substances exist to that thinking or any other action or a state can exist only as the action or state of a substance. These two truths are necessary for the proof of the Koga which says that my thinking cannot exist without my existence as a thinking substance. Descartes assumes Thus these two propositions that substances exist and that actions such as thinking can exist only as the actions of a substance. They caught assumes these two propositions but does not prove them. In fact he borrows them from the very mediæval philosophers whom he despises. And finally what about the influence of the Coto de Caza grounds his entire philosophy on the absolute truth that when
I am conscious of thinking I know I exist in descant theory of knowledge. The one truth that is unshakable safe and secure from any doubt is that of my own existence as a conscious object. And most of the Cartesian code Ditto introduces subjectivism into modern philosophy so Objectivism is the view that I can know with certainty only myself as conscious subject and my thoughts. So Objectivism is the view that I can know with certainty only my own consciousness and its content and must subjectivism carries the implication that the knowledge of other minds and of matter and of the physical universe can be proved if at all. Only on the basis of what I know with certainty namely the existence of my own subjective consciousness. Note the title of meditation to its title is of the nature of the human
mind and that it is easier to know than the body. They're full for subjectivism the knowledge of the existence of everything else other than my own mind becomes questionable problematic. What about the existence of my body. The song other mines God the physical universe. These must be proved to exist and they can be proved to exist in only one way by inference from my consciousness and its content on the basis of my consciousness and its content which are all that can be known with certainty. But since my own mind and its thoughts are all I can know with certainty and the existence of anything else becomes therefore questionable. Subjective consciousness and its contents are separated from the physical world of nature and from the social world of human beings these physical nature. Human beings are ex Turnell to me out there separate from what I am certain of my
own consciousness and its thoughts. Can this separation this chasm this gulf between my consciousness and the world and human beings. Can this Gulf ever be bridged. This problem and these questions begin with Descartes and played all philosophy which comes after him. Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting.
From Socrates To Sartre
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Doubting to Believe
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Maryland Public Television
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Maryland Public Television (Owings Mills, Maryland)
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Episode Description
Descartes II: The Self-evident First Principle. Cogito Ergo Sum - Descartes' goal: to build a system of philosophy as certain and imperishable as geometry by using the methods of mathematics; self-evident truths and deduction. The first two Meditations; the search for a self-evident first principle as foundation for philosophy. Requirements this principle must meet. Skepticism as method of discovering this absolutely certain belief. Deceptiveness of sense-perception; possible deceptiveness of mathematics by demon. But I think, therefore I am (Cogito ergo sum) the one belief self-evidentally true. Meaning of thinking. Does the Cogito meet the three requirements? Criticisms of Cogito proof. Influence of Cogito: Subjectivism.
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"From Socrates to Sartre is an educational show hosted by Dr. Thelma Z. Lavine, who teaches viewers about the theories and history of philosophy."
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Copyright Holder: MPT
Host: Thelma Z. Lavine, Ph.D.
Producing Organization: Maryland Public Television
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Duration: 00:30:00?
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Chicago: “From Socrates To Sartre; #8; Doubting to Believe,” Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 4, 2023,
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APA: From Socrates To Sartre; #8; Doubting to Believe. Boston, MA: Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from