Comparing Rene Descartes To Paul Churchland

Comparing Rene Descartes To Paul Churchland

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Rene Descartes and Paul Churchland are both well respected philosophers with different out-looks on the mind and body relationship. Descartes achieved many great things in his time, but at the time that he wrote Meditations on First Philosophy he seemed to be borderline insane. His ideas are too drastic and gloomy, where as Churchland’s ideas in his writing Eliminitative Materialism seems to be agreeable and bright.
Rene Descartes was a famous French Philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. Because of his work in his application of algebra to geometry we now have Cartesian geometry. His views about the relationship between the mind and body have been very influential over the last 3 centuries. He was born in La Haye (which is now known as Descartes) Tourine, France in 1596. His Family was far from wealthy but surprisingly all their children became well educated men. At eight years old Descartes was enrolled at a school of Jesuits, La Fleche in Anjou. He continued to study there for eight years. After graduating he studied at the University of Poitiers, majoring in law. He graduated their in 1616. He never practiced law but rather enrolled in the service of Prince Maurice of Nassau, who was the leader of United Provinces of the Netherlands. Descartes was fascinated with living a military life but his fascination of philosophy and mathematics soon overwhelmed his life. Descartes made a pilgrimage over to France and Italy in 1623 for many years and during that pilgrimage he studied philosophy and the science of optics. In 1628 He moved to the Netherlands where he wrote his most influential works. The first major work he wrote was Essais philosophoqies (Philosophical Essays) in 1637.

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It had four main parts: an essay on geometry, another on optics, a third of meteors, and Discours de la methode (Discourse on method). Other important writing of his were: Principia Philosophiae (The Principles on Methods), and the Passions of the Soul. Descartes made a huge effort to apply the rational inductive methods of mathematics to philosophy. Before he did this Scholasticism ruled philosophy. He refused this method stating, “In our search for the direct road to truth, we should busy ourselves with no object about which we cannot attain certitude equal to that of the demonstration of arithmetic and geometry.” He said he would accept only those beliefs that appeared to him clearly to be true, using reason. Although his laws of impact, his vortex theory of gravity, and his denial of a vacuum were rejected as physics developed, he created one of the first formulations of the law of inertia. Descartes also contributed to mathematics; he specialized in the systematization of analytic geometry. He was the first mathematician to attempt to classify curves according to the types of equations that produced them. He also made contributions to the theory of equations. He was the first to use the last letters of the alphabet to designate unknown quantities and the first letters to designate known ones. Descartes also invented the method of indices to express the powers of numbers. In addition, he formulated the rule, which is known as Descartes’ rule of signs, for finding the number of positive and negative roots for any algebraic equation Unfortunately Descartes dies on February 11th, 1650. Even after his death Descartes will always be a figure and contributor to the world of philosophy and mathematics. (Hodges, Miles H)
Paul Churchland is a much more resent member of out time than Descartes, having been born in 1942. He grew up a normal childhood. Churchland worked hard to earn his PhD from the University of Pittsburgh. From 1966 onward, Churchland taught at many diverse universities in the U.S. and Canada, and he became full professor at the University of Manitoba in 1979. In 1984, he moved to University of California, San Diego, where he has been a respected Professor of Philosophy since. He wrote many articles and books including: The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul: A Philosophical Journey into the Brain MIT Press, 1995. A Neurocomputational Perspective: The Nature of Mind and the Structure of Science, MIT Press, 1989, Images of Science: Scientific Realism versus Constructive Empiricism, University of Chicago Press, 1985, Matter and Consciousness, MIT Press, 1984, Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind, Cambridge University Press, 1979. Churchland mostly wrote about topics such as mind, knowledge, science and language. His wife, Patricia Churchland is also a philosopher, not as well known but she to writes about many of the same issues. Paul Churchland’s most famous work has to do with philosophy of mind and neurophilosophy. There are dualist theories which claim that the mind exists and is different from the body. Most religions agree with the dualist theory. There are also Philosophers and scientists who go against “ folk philosophy” (our everyday, non-scientific way of talking about ourselves and our mental lives in terms of beliefs, desires, hopes and so on), claiming that mental states and processes are nothing more than states and processes of the brain. This is Churchland’s position. He aims to reduce speculations about philosophical issues. Churchland basis his ideas on the theory in cognitive science known as "connectionism" (the connections of neurons in our brains are parallel, which means that sensory inputs are processed simultaneously and not step by step). According to Churchland, there is one pattern that represents the prototypical face, which is the average of a lot of faces you have seen. Churchland shows this by prototypes that face recognition, all object recognition, and is something for which no consciousness is necessary. On a purely physical basis we can recognize objects. Churchland shows that this feature can be explained without an appeal to notions such as consciousness or meaning. If he is correct, it is a very strong argument for reductive or eliminative materialism; which would mean that we can do without consciousness and still have the capacity to reason. (“Paul Churchland”)
Both René Descartes and Paul Churchland write about ideas, thoughts, and theories, of how the brain processes ideas, and whether the final process is correct. In Rene Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes writes about weather or not God could be playing a role of deception. He believes there might be a big possibility that God may be tricking us and causing us to misconceive our thoughts. He writes, “ How do I know that God has not brought it about that I too go wrong every time I add two and three or count the sides of a square , or in some simpler matter, if that is imaginable?( Descartes, 164). His writing seems to have a flavor of that which a crazy man writes. It is a gloomy outlook on life and an insane one. If Descartes continue to think like this he will surly drive himself mad.
In Churchland’s writing, Eliminitative Materialism, he comes of as a much more sane writer. He knows that our mind deceives us yet not it such drastic ways. He believes that many things have been miss-conceptualized and that we have had many misunderstandings throughout the earlier centuries because of the lack of knowledge. He writes, “almost any human who ventured out at night could look up at the starry sphere of the heavens, and if he stayed for more than a few minuets could also see that it turned around an axis through Polaris.” (Churchland, 248) Churchland explains this not as a deception but as a misunderstanding that can be used as a building block toward a true understanding.
Towards the middle of their passages Descartes and Churchland describe their thought and theories of observation. As usual Descartes write it in gloomy detail. “Whatever I have up till now accepted as most true I have acquired either from the senses or through the senses. But from time to time I have found that the senses deceive and it is prudent never to trust completely…” (Descartes, 163). Descartes writes as if the entire world around him were untrue and a huge illusion. He wants all his senses to be correct the entire time or he will not trust it. That is preposterous because nothing can be completely correct with out any flaw all of the time. Churchland writes on a much brighter note saying, the most central things about us remaining almost entirely mysterious from within folk psychology. And the defects noted cannot be blamed on inadequate time aloud for their correction, for folk psychology has enjoyed no significant changes or advances in well over two thousand years, despite its manifest failures. Truly successful theories may be expected to reduce, but significantly unsuccessful theories merit no such explanation”. (Churchland, 249). Here he is saying that yes, the world has its flaws of theories but a slightly wrong theory is better than unknown doubt.
Rene Descartes and Paul Churchland both have very different ideas and theories about the intellectual mind. At the end of Descartes’ second meditation he realizes that human beings make their own decisions, and finally understands that decisions are made from how much the mind experiences over time. He states, “I know that even bodies are not strictly perceived by the senses or the faculty of imagination, but by the intellect alone” (Descartes, 168). Churchland on the other hand enjoys the thought of taking old ideas and theories and revising them to make them true. He writes, “Perhaps we should speak here, more liberally of revisionary materialism, instead of concentrating on the more radical possibility of an across the board elimination” (Churchland, 251). Out of the two Churchland is much more realistic and modern. He understands what is going on in the world today; his theories are written in a time where technology has taken a big step forward. Descartes writes way before our time so he has not seen the new discoveries and technologies of today’s world and he writes in a tragic tone making the reader feel as if there is nothing left to live for.
Works Cited

Churchland, Paul. Eliminative Materialism. Philosophical Horizons (pp 248-251)
Canada: Thompson Wadsworth.
Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Philosophical Horizons (pp 162-168).
Canada: Thompson Wadsworth
Hodges, Miles H. “Rene Descartes (1596 to 1650).”, 2000. 17
April 2006.
“Paul Churchland.”, 17 April 2006.
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