Rene Descartes and His Philosophy Accomplishment Essay

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René Descartes’ works have affected several fields within academia, with several concepts bearing his name, such as the Cartesian coordinate system and Cartesian ethics. Although Descartes’ influence branches into mathematics and cosmology, he is perhaps most renowned for his interest in metaphysics and epistemology. In his 1641 treatise, Meditations on First Philosophy, French intellectual René Descartes rejects earlier forms of philosophy and develops his own methodology to analyze the truth of his beliefs. Descartes establishes an analytical tone in order to deconstruct and reexamine his assumptions about himself and the world around him. Descartes transformed philosophy by doubting preceding ideologies and developed the concept later dubbed Cartesian skepticism.

According to Cartesian philosophy, knowledge is defined by indisputable certainty. Thus, nothing can be truly known unless it is thoroughly examined to confirm its existence. Descartes notes that he once held assumptions that he later found to be untrue; consequently, any number of beliefs he currently holds could also be untrue, as he did not realize that his initial beliefs were false while he believed them. Generally recognized as the father of modern philosophy, Descartes utilized rationalism in order to understand the world around him, relying on his intellect rather than the works of others. Deductive reasoning allowed Descartes to perform a comprehensive analysis of his beliefs.

In order to detect whether or not a belief is false, we must begin with known truths and reconstruct our beliefs. Descartes explained that he “must once for all seriously undertake to rid [himself] of all the opinions which [he] had formerly accepted, and commence to build anew from the foundation” (Meditations 6). While it may seem plainly apparent that the kinesthetic senses would be a reliable source of information about the world, Descartes argued that empirical observation is subject to error. Descartes presented ways in which our senses regularly deceive us, such as mirages, phantom pain, and, most prominently, dreams. For instance, those with mental illnesses may experience hallucinations which do not exist in actuality, and while dreaming, we often believe the events we are experiencing are real. Once he demonstrated the fallibility of the senses, Descartes noted that “it is wiser not to trust entirely to anything by which we have once been deceived” (Meditations 7).

The only way to detect whether or not the events are actually occurring is to wake up and discover they were merely a dream. However, because we are unable to “step out” of our waking experiences, unlike dreams, we experience global doubt that cannot be discovered by comparing it to a baseline, further complicating the problem. Descartes also introduced the concept of a theoretical “Evil Genius”, who has the power to corrupt our perceptions and trick us into believing illusions. He describes all aspects of reality, from colors to figures to sound, to be merely “the illusions and dreams of which this genius has availed himself in order to lay traps for [Descartes’] credulity” (Meditations 8). To combat this “Evil Genius”, Descartes asserted that each belief must be meticulously examined to ensure its actuality.

Descartes also discussed the danger of holding false beliefs, comparing it to receiving a basket of apples in which some of the produce may or may not be rotten. If even one apple has begun to decay, it will eventually ruin the rest of the apples. Similarly, an untrue idea will infect the rest of one’s beliefs, whether one is aware of it or not. Thus, in order to separate the fallacious ideas from the factual ideas, Descartes established that one must examine each individual apple, or idea, on its own, to verify its veracity.

But how do we know what we do and do not know? This seemed to be an impossible conundrum until Descartes reached an epiphany. While he could doubt everything, he could not doubt the fact that he was doubting. Doubt itself is undoubtable, and the existence of doubt indicates thought. In order to think, there must be a being to produce that thought. Thus, Descartes was able to verify, at the very least, that he himself must exist, regardless of the Evil Genius’s deceit. In Meditations, Descartes coined the famous phrase, “Dubito ergo cogito ergo sum”, or “I doubt, therefore, I think, therefore I am”, often shortened to merely “Cogito ergo sum”. This axiom forms the foundation of Descartes’ principles and the solution to his perplexing thought experiment. Whether or not his physical body existed, Descartes knew that his mind, capable of thought, must exist: “I see clearly that there is nothing which is easier for me to know than my mind” (Meditations 12). By establishing a distinction between the mind and body and disregarding sensory input, Descartes called into question what was previously held as objective truth.

Descartes’ accomplishments have immortalized him as one of the great thinkers of the 17th century, and indeed all of humanity. He is among well-established company, joined by other exemplary sophists, explorers, and scientists, such as Thomas Hobbes, Nicolaus Copernicus, Sir Isaac Newton, Martin Luther, Christopher Columbus, and Bartholomew de las Casas. While these men have all made significant contributions to modern history, Descartes distinguishes himself by relying primarily on his own logic, completely reinventing traditional philosophy rather than building upon ideas from prior thinkers. Descartes revolutionized epistemology by completely disregarding all previously held assumptions in favor of discovering truths independently to be sure of their accuracy. By ascribing no credibility to “truths” he did not discover himself, Descartes truly developed a unique approach of thinking that still bears his name today: Cartesian philosophy.

A particularly unique facet of Descartes’ Meditations is that Thomas Hobbes, a fellow philosopher, criticized Descartes for his work; in fact, Hobbes formulated 16 objections to Meditations. Descartes responded to each grievance in turn, providing concise replies that clarify his position and defends his arguments. Each objection dissects a certain aspect of the Meditations. The first 11 objections refer to the first three Meditations. Five of these objections and their relationship with the three Meditations will be discussed at length.The first Meditation deals primarily with calling into question seemingly known facts.

Hobbes’ primary objection to the first Meditation referred largely with uniqueness; namely, that Plato first questioned the existence of everything. Descartes responded that he merely wished to search for an answer, and that he did not claim to have produced this question from his own intellect. Although Hobbes correctly noted that Descartes did not initially posit this query, Descartes was the first to pose an extensive answer to Plato’s dilemma. Because of its lengthy and exhaustive response to Plato, Descartes’ response distinguishes him from other great thinkers such as Newton, Copernicus, and Hobbes himself.

In the second Meditation, Descartes revealed that one’s own mind is, by his rationale, more definite, and in fact the only unequivocal facet of his existence, as his physical body could have been a deception by the Evil Genius. Hobbes’ second objection concerned semantics, specifically that Descartes argued that the soul is metaphysical without evidence. However, in his rebuttal, Descartes clarified that the terms he used to refer to “have the faculty of thought”, such as “mind”, “understanding”, “reason”, and “soul”, do not imply that cognition is not somatic (Objections 43).

Hobbes also referred to semiotics in his third objection, where he claimed that Descartes failed to make a clear distinction between the thinker and his or her thoughts, instead resorting to pedantic jargon that disregards the heart of the question. Descartes answered by explaining that he is capable of different modes of behavior, which do not define him. He stated that he “simply mean[s] that all these ways of thinking inhere in [him]” (Objections 45). Hobbes observed that Descartes, unlike Aristotle before him, failed to distinguish between imagination and conception, again contending that Descartes merely conjoined names rather than providing insightful commentary on the contrast between the two concepts.

In the third Meditation, Descartes supported the existence of a omniscient and perfect God by explaining that perfection must come from without because he is not an infinite and perfect being. Hobbes’ fifth objection again pertained to semantics; he argued that ideas of metaphysical objects are based on real observations, while God’s existence is uncertain and therefore cannot be proven. Descartes replied that language limited him from choosing any other appropriate words other than “idea” and that Hobbes’ objection misinterpreted his intent. Hobbes’ final objection of the three Meditations is that fear is inherently reducible to the object which is being feared. Descartes dismissed this comment by providing an example in which fear of an object and the perception of the object are implicitly separate: “It is self-evident that seeing a lion while being afraid of it is different from simply seeing it” (Objections 47).

By developing his own form of philosophy rather than relying on the work of previous thinkers, utilizing skepticism to deconstruct and vet his beliefs, and answering Hobbes’ criticisms, René Descartes has distinguished himself as a unique and widespread influence on the field of philosophy. Descartes transformed how we think and perceive ourselves and the world around us not by asking a question, but by finding an answer.


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Rene Descartes and His Philosophy Accomplishment Essay. (2021, Jul 23). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/rene-descartes-and-his-philosophy/



What is Rene Descartes is known for?
Rene Descartes is a French philosopher who is known for his famous philosophical statement, "Cogito, ergo sum" or "I think, therefore I am."
What were the basic ideas of Descartes?
René Descartes was a French philosopher and mathematician who is now considered the father of modern philosophy. His major work, Meditations on First Philosophy, was published in 1641. In it, Descartes argues that the only thing that can be known for certain is that he exists.
Why is Rene Descartes philosophy important?
Rene Descartes is important because his philosophy stresses the importance of reason and thinking things through for oneself.
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