Rene Descartes and the Source of Knowledge Essay

Rene Descartes and the Source of Knowledge Essay

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DESCARTE: SOURCE OF KNOWLEDGE

Rene Descartes, a 17th century French philosopher believed that the origin of knowledge comes from within the mind, a single indisputable fact to build on that can be gained through individual reflection. His Discourse on Method (1637) and Meditations (1641) contain his important philosophical theories. Intending to extend mathematical method to all areas of human knowledge, Descartes discarded the authoritarian systems of the scholastic philosophers and began with universal doubt. Only one thing cannot be doubted: doubt itself. Therefore, the doubter must exist. This is the kernel of his famous assertion Cogito, ergo sum (I am thinking, therefore I am existing). From this certainty Descartes expanded knowledge, step by step, to admit the existence of God (as the first cause) and the reality of the physical world, which he held to be mechanistic and entirely divorced from the mind; the only connection between the two is the intervention of God.
In the first meditation he casts doubt on the previous foundations of knowledge and everything he has learned or assumed. He stated "But reason now persuades me that I should withhold assent no less carefully from opinions that are not completely certain and indubitable than I would from those that are patently false." In order to evaluate and discern what is actually true he divides the foundations of knowledge into three sources: the senses, reality, and context.
In the second meditation he has found one true fact, "I think, therefore I am". Descartes then attempts to discover what this "I" is and how it perceives reality. The "I" is a body, a soul, and a thinking thing. It gains perception and recognition through the senses, the imagination, and the mind. He runs into two major problems in these meditations. The first was the existence of reality. The second is the connection between body and mind as he defines them.
Descartes is clearing away all knowledge that can be called into doubt. By doing this he hopes to create something real and lasting in the sciences, a foundation to build on. This indisputable fact will become the starting point or origin of all other true knowledge he can build upon it. He starts the first argument by attacking the very beginning of knowledge, human senses. Descartes states, "Surely whatever I had admitte...


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...ll true knowledge is solely knowledge of the self, its existence, and relation to reality. René Descartes' approach to the theory of knowledge plays a prominent role in shaping the agenda of early modern philosophy. It continues to affect (some would say "infect") the way problems in epistemology are conceived today. Students of philosophy (in his own day, and in the history since) have found the distinctive features of his epistemology to be at once attractive and troubling; features such as the emphasis on method, the role of epistemic foundations, the conception of the doubtful as contrasting with the warranted, the skeptical arguments of the First Meditation, and the cogito ergo sum--to mention just a few that we shall consider. Depending on context, Descartes thinks that different standards of warrant are appropriate. The context for which he is most famous, and on which the present treatment will focus, is that of investigating First Philosophy. The first-ness of First Philosophy is (as Descartes conceives it) one of epistemic priority, referring to the matters one must "first" confront if one is to succeed in acquiring systematic and expansive knowledge.

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