The Philosophical and Scientific Methods of René Descartes

5184 Words21 Pages
The Philosophical and Scientific Methods of René Descartes René Descartes (1596 – 1650) is one of the most widely known philosophers in history and he is frequently discussed as an inventor of the modern scientific method. Rene Descartes was born on March 31, 1596, in La Haye of Touraine. He came from a wealthy family, and thus did not have any real financial worries. At age ten, his father sent him to the College Henri IV at La Fleche. This was a newly established Jesuit school, which was considered one of the best in Europe in terms of academic quality. Although Descartes appreciated what he was taught in mathematics, he was nonetheless discontent with the scholastic teaching he received from that school (Cress, 1993). Scholasticism was a teaching based on the doctrines of Aristotle and the Christian church. Followers of scholasticism often looked upon Aristotle’s work and the teachings of the church as authoritative figures. Indeed, much of their activity consisted in carefully scrutinizing the classical works of Aristotle in an attempt to resolve any contradictions between his works and the doctrines of the church. One of the reasons why Descartes was dissatisfied with Aristotelian-Scholasticism was because of the circular arguments it offered in explaining natural phenomena. For example, Aristotle’s argument that it is in the nature of earthly matter to fall down towards the Earth was to Descartes not an explanation, but rather only a description of what was happening. Furthermore, Descartes argues that terms used in scholasticism such as “heaviness” and “gravity” were not clearly understood. Thus, Descartes then proposed to do away with the foundations of scholasticism and start again from the beginning (Cottingham, 1986). Descartes’ dissatisfaction with scholasticism and his interest in beginning with new foundations of knowledge reflect the historical-scientific context of his time. Prior to the seventeenth century, medieval ideas had predominated. These ideas included the necessity to resurrect ancient knowledge, and to discourage innovations. By the seventeenth century, the idea that modern men could be wiser than the ancients was stimulated by the likes of Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon. However, Bacon and Descartes led two distinct schools of thought in regard to how one should pursue the acquisition of knowledge. While Descartes favored a more rational and theoretical approach, Bacon favored an empirical and practical approach.

More about The Philosophical and Scientific Methods of René Descartes

Open Document