The Folly of René Descartes’ Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy

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The Folly of René Descartes’ Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy

In order to embark on his quest for truth, Descartes first devises his four rules which should serve as a solid foundation for all else that he comes to understand. Those rules are here evaluated in terms of what they fail to take into consideration. The rules are examined individually and consecutively, and are therefore also reiterated in order to be clear about them. Furthermore, the approach of using these rules is also analyzed to some degree. Ultimately, however, it is my conjecture that Descartes’ four rules are not as solid a foundation as he claims, but fail to consider key issues which are noted herein.

Descartes’ first rule deals with the notion of truth, and states it as follows.

The first [rule] was never to accept anything as true that I did not plainly know to be such; that is to say, carefully to avoid hasty judgment and prejudice; and to include nothing more in my judgments than what presented itself to my mind so clearly and so distinctly that I had no occasion to call it in doubt. (11)

In essence, we are to accept only what is true. This brings up the question of how one can even know truth. For Descartes, the certain truth is “I think, therefore I am,” which is his first principle. However, even if this is a certain truth, how can we know anything else to be true? More importantly, however, the first rule states that nothing should be accepted that can be called into doubt, or to accept only that which is indubitable. Yet how can anything be indubitable, save perhaps Descartes’ first principle, and even there some may be able to find flaws? It seems doubtful whether anything can be proven beyond any reas...

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..., then there is no thing that is easier to know than another.

Descartes’ use of this approach is a false foundation as he does not see these complications. The underlying frailty of such rules is that it assumes absolute truths, without exceptions. I do not know of any truths that are absolute, and do not know of anyone who does. But more importantly, this approach would be much more effective if it was an inductive, and not a deductive, method. With an inductive method Descartes could not be refuted with a single instance, and he would not need to account for all contesting situations. It seems doubtful whether an absolutely deductive method could ever exist, based on the limits of human knowledge.

Works Cited

René Descartes. Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy. 4th edition. Trans. Donald A. Cress. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998.
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