Rene Descartes and the Source of Knowledge Essay

Rene Descartes and the Source of Knowledge Essay

Length: 2129 words (6.1 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Powerful Essays

Open Document

Essay Preview


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...

... middle of paper ...

...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.

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

The Meditations by Rene Descartes Essay examples

- In Descartes’ Meditations, his goal to prove the existence of things could only be accomplished if he was logical, clear, and correct in his thoughts and writings. The most important issues he noted were the threat of being deceived and the potential of being incorrect in his judgments, both of which would lead him into error. Error exists as a problem that individuals encounter on a regular basis, and it also exists as a focal point in Descartes’ Meditations. Descartes defines error as “a privation or lack of some knowledge which somehow should be in me.” As a “thinking thing”, which he defines as “a thing that doubts, understands, affirms, denies, is willing, is unwilling, and also imagine...   [tags: Rene Descartes, 2015]

Powerful Essays
996 words (2.8 pages)

Rene Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy Essays

- Rene Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy Rene Descartes’ third meditation from his book Meditations on First Philosophy, examines Descartes’ arguments for the existence of God. The purpose of this essay will be to explore Descartes’ reasoning and proofs of God’s existence. In the third meditation, Descartes states two arguments attempting to prove God’s existence, the Trademark argument and the traditional Cosmological argument. Although his arguments are strong and relatively truthful, they do no prove the existence of God....   [tags: Existence God Religion Descartes Essays]

Powerful Essays
1961 words (5.6 pages)

Analysis of Rene Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy Essay

- Rene Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy Rene Descartes set the groundwork for seventeenth century rationalism, the view opposed by the empiricist school of thought. As a rationalist, Descartes firmly believed in reason as the principal source of knowledge. He favoured deduction and intellect over the senses and because of this he did not find comfort in believing that his opinions, which he had developed in his youth, were credible. It is for this reason that Rene Descartes chose to “raze everything to the ground and begin again from the original foundations,” (13)....   [tags: rationalism, doubt, knowledge]

Powerful Essays
1319 words (3.8 pages)

Descartes ' Theory Of Knowledge Essay

- The question that has plagued philosophers for centuries has been “how do we come to know what we know?” The renowned philosopher Rene Descartes discusses this phenomenon, lending forth his own solutions to this perennial predicament. In the First Meditation, Descartes’ examines truth and fallacy through the methodical picking-apart of candidates of truth. Descartes’ idea of knowledge revolves around the philosophical staple, “I think therefore I am” and believing we should come upon truth and knowledge by questioning what is presently known, looking towards God as a viable solution, and ultimately coming to conclusions by relying on the mind and intellectual thought....   [tags: Epistemology, Truth, Reality, Rationalism]

Powerful Essays
1671 words (4.8 pages)

Rene Descartes Essay

- Rene Descartes was a famous French mathematician, scientist and philosopher. He was arguably the first major philosopher in the modern era to make a serious effort to defeat skepticism. His views about knowledge and certainty, as well as his views about the relationship between mind and body have been very influential over the last three centuries. Descartes was born at La Haye (now called Descartes), and educated at the Jesuit College of La Flèche between 1606 and 1614. Descartes later claimed that his education gave him little of substance and that only mathematics had given him certain knowledge....   [tags: Biographies Bio Biography]

Powerful Essays
1096 words (3.1 pages)

Essay on Comparing Descartes and Peirce's Opinions On Knowledge

- ... Charles Peirce believed “only through the way of linguistic, logical and pragmatic signs considered as tools and objects can humans know about the natural world.” (Kremer) Whereas Descartes wants us to doubt, Peirce believed doubt was a cause of irritation arising from indecisiveness in matters of action. Peirce stated, “The function of thought was to produce belief, after it had been excited by doubt” and the effect of thought, which is belief, involves a habit which in turn is a “rule of action” so that belief becomes a “habit of action.” Instead of creating a new method, the way Descartes did, Peirce applied the scientific method....   [tags: doubting, truth, beliefs]

Powerful Essays
990 words (2.8 pages)

Rene Descartes is a Rationalist Essay

- There is a distinct difference between rationalism and empiricism. In fact, they are very plainly the direct opposite of each other. Rationalism is the belief in innate ideas, reason, and deduction. Empiricism is the belief in sense perception, induction, and that there are no innate ideas. With rationalism, believing in innate ideas means to have ideas before we are born.-for example, through reincarnation. Plato best explains this through his theory of the forms, which is the place where everyone goes and attains knowledge before they are taken back to the “visible world”....   [tags: Rationalism vs Empiricism]

Free Essays
716 words (2 pages)

Certainty is Decartes' Discourse of Method Essay

- Rene Descartes' overall objective in publicizing "Discourse of Method" is to developing a new system of knowledge that is free of prior prejudices for establishing the truth of things. In Part 4 of the book he explains the philosophical basing (the meditations) for establishing the new system. These meditations were based on the epistemological theory of rationalism: that is if someone truly knows something then they could not possibly be mistaken. He goes on to provide solid argument for his ideas....   [tags: Rene Descarte Papers]

Powerful Essays
947 words (2.7 pages)

Essay on Descartes And Locke

- Descartes and Locke One of the most important branches in philosophy, is Epistemology, which means, theory of knowledge. So far, philosophers have made many attempts to discover the source of knowledge, the standards or criteria by which we can judge the reliability of knowledge. We tend to be satisfied with think what we know about almost everything, even though sometimes we are shocked to discover that something that we thought it was sure and certain, is instead proved dubious and not sure....   [tags: Knowledge Philosophy Philosophical Essays]

Powerful Essays
1516 words (4.3 pages)

Descartes Essay

- Descartes 1. In the Discourse on the Method, Descartes laments that as a young man he was forced to conclude at the end of all his studies that “there was no doctrine [i.e., teaching or body of knowledge] in the world that was of the sort that I had previously been led to hope for.” In your essay, I would like you to discuss the nature of the body of knowledge he was looking for a s well as the place of the cogito (that is, the utterance “I think, therefore I am”) in it. You may discuss his criticism of the learning of the time, but do not spill much ink over it; the focus of your paper should be on the new science he is seeking, not the old....   [tags: Papers]

Powerful Essays
857 words (2.4 pages)