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Discourse on the method to manage well the reason and seek truth in the sciences (such is its full title) is not only the fundamental work of the French philosopher René Descartes. It has also been judged as the milestone that marks the end of the scholastic and the beginning of modern philosophy. Discourse on the method was anonymously published for the first time in Leiden in 1637; in that first edition came to be the prologue to the three scientific treaties contained in the book (the dioptricsand meteors and geometry), and, in fact, have been published independently of treaties until the 19th century.
First edition of the Speech of the
method (1637), René Descartes
Discourse on the method consists of a brief preface and six parts. The first part deals with the science of his time; It must be observed that, despite being a philosophical work, not devoid of autobiographical elements, and precisely in this first part Descartes noted the disappointment that caused, in general, his studies at the College of the Jesuits in La Flèche, with the exception of the mathematics teaching.
For Descartes, none of the subjects that are studied in their time was interested in the search for the truth. They were pleasant, such as literature or rhetoric hobby either, or had a practical purpose, such as the technical disciplines. And different philosophies, contradicting each other, were not reaching your goal. Only mathematics, thanks to its method, showed absolute certainty.
Math, however, did not apply to the investigation of the real thing. And this consideration is which determines your philosophical project, which is none other that avoid senseless speculation and groundless arguments; Instead, it is necessary to channel the desired paths of rigor and good reason make methodological that characterize mathematics discipline to which the own Descartes made decisive contributions. So this first part is both an intellectual autobiography and review, with the depressing conclusions of the science of his time.
The second part (probably written originally as an introduction to the geometry) to remedy this situation of science providing a methodology, a firm foundation, incontestable Foundation for any rational mind. Your method will doubt, but your goal will be very different from the of skeptical doubt. If the skeptic doubts to remain in doubt, Descartes doubt (or pretend to doubt) to achieve precisely the opposite: the certainty, the absence of possible error, the sure Foundation. This radical methodical doubt is which will lead to the establishment of a new method of simple and clear.
The first of the four rules of his method is in close relationship with that "methodic doubt": do not admit as true anything without knowing with evidence that is, avoiding precipitation; It is necessary to start from rationally obvious principles, i.e., clear and perfectly intelligible.
The following three rules formulated the cautious procedure leading to true knowledge: divide the problems into its primary elements, which will be revealed as true or false (analysis); gather and organize an orderly elementary knowledge thus obtained to move up gradually, and by degrees, to the knowledge of the compounds (synthesis); enumerate and review all the known truths to be sure not to skip anything and check if they relate with the other (enumeration and test).
First edition of the Speech of the
method (1637), René Descartes
The third part of the discourse on the method contains the so-called provisional moral maxims. This does not contradict to discard the rule of methodic doubt; It just happens, as truth is not achieved, it is necessary to establish provisional rules to guide our actions. These rules include always obey the laws and customs of the country; remain faithful to the opinions which are accepted as true, while they do not demonstrate as false, thus avoiding the uncertainties in the research; OK found truths and inevitable facts, adapting to them rather than pretend that they adapt to us; and, finally, apply our lives to the cultivation of our reason and advance everything in the knowledge of the truth according to the method set out above.
According to some authors, this exhibition of a morality of respect for existing situations that constitutes the third part would have been drafted directly to obtain the privilege for printing and reassure the censors. In any case, therein the basics of the Cartesian contribution in the domain of ethics, good little relevant is indeed and often derided conservative and neoestoica.
In part four we find most interesting and acquaintance of the discourse on the method: the encounter with certainty, with the first indubitable statement. The projection of the doubt about the way in which we perceive the world, on the reliability of the senses (see bend a rod to insert it into the water), on the existence of this foreign world (inability to distinguish wakefulness from sleep) and even above the same rational truths (through the hypothesis of an evil genius who deliberately deceives us) is that will lead to the first certainty , the firm rock on which to raise the building of human knowledge.
Descartes note that, indeed, we doubt everything, but we can not doubt that I doubt, and doubt is thinking, we can not doubt that I think. The thought is our first certainty, and leads us to the certainty of our existence: "I think, therefore I exist". Man there is at least as a thinking thing, as res cogitans. The existence of thought is a clear and distinct concept, an obvious truth that serves as a starting point.
We are when, trying to get to a certainty, we doubt, we trying to overcome an imperfect state and achieve another perfect that we do not yet possess. But the idea of perfection (without which man could not have idea of his imperfection as subject to doubt, that he is wrong) can not come thinking, which is imperfect, but a perfect being: God. God is the perfect being who has put the idea of perfection in our thinking. It is the Cartesian version of the ontological argument of San Anselmo de Canterbury: the idea that we have of God already holds in itself its existence, since it could not possess the utmost perfection if missing some quality; If you are missing the quality of existing, it would not perfect.
Of our own existence and the existence of God is clear that the world outside, different from us, also exists. If the world did not exist, Dios we would be deceiving, making us appear as existent a world that does not exist; But God, being as it is perfect, can not deceive: deceit and falsehood are imperfections, and cannot be a supreme body perfect attributes. Therefore, Descartes concludes, the outside world exists and we trust (although critically) the testimony of the senses.
In the fifth, Descartes presents some applications of scientific method to physical studies. The creation, the universe is governed by mechanical laws that allow to account for all material phenomena. Descartes conceived the human body as a mechanism, and here developed his mechanical explanation of the motion of the heart, as well as his conception of other living beings as "animales-maquina".
The sixth and last part tells the incidences in the elaboration of the same work, explaining the reasons why three years delayed its publication (fear of causing scandal, such as Galileo, and be troubled with any controversial) and reasons that induce him finally to publish it: show the result of their studies honestly and give others the possibility to continue them.
Regard to Galileo, adheres to the contrary to the exclusivists theses, and on Science, highlights the practical function, domain of nature, which may have: the end of knowledge is happiness and not the mere contemplation; medicine will have a very important role, since the health of the body is the first condition of all spiritual activity. Reflections on science as a collective work of long duration, for which it is essential to the Constitution of a true community of researchers and found also in this sixth part, written perhaps as a preface to the dioptrics and meteors, considerations on the scientific work as an activity of cooperation on a large scale.
It has been argued repeatedly that the discourse on the method of Descartes is one of the works which inaugurated modern philosophy and science. Among its virtues is lucidity and simplicity of his argument, which would favour (along with the fact of being written in French) the dissemination of new guidelines of Rationalist philosophy. This rationalism, culminating in Spinoza, is however still tempered in the work of Descartes dualism between matter and thought and a spiritualism that endure various aspects of religious thought, especially of St. Augustine.