Adonis Diaries

First “mathematics” philosopher in the western civilization: Descartes

Posted on: December 22, 2009

First “mathematical” philosopher: Descartes; (Dec. 20, 2009)

Theoretically, Descartes started by doubting all previous knowledge handed down since Antiquity. The philosophical structures of Plato and Aristotle were good historical knowledge, but were of no use in comprehending the universe, the natural world, and the connection between body and mind.

Obviously, the mathematician Descartes of the 17th century could not doubt everything, otherwise, he would have no ground to start his modern “philosophical system”.

Philosophical systems, like mathematics, must be constructed from fundamental building blocks or propositions that we are certain that are real and exist. A few fundamental evidences or axioms had to be established:

The first evidence was that he doubted. Since he doubted, then Descartes proved that he was a thinking man: “I think, thus I exist”

The second evidence is that we cannot trust our senses for certainties: Since our dreams are more real and more vivid than our waking impressions then the conscious senses should not be trusted.  This evidence was known by most philosophers but they failed to go any further in their investigations.

The third evidence is that Descartes had a distinct idea of a “perfect entity” since childhood. His question was “how can an idea of a perfect entity be generated by an imperfect man”?  (I would be interested if someone can mail me an experiment that shows at what age a child construct an idea of a “coherent world”.  For me, that would be the stage when the brain has already built the main structure for perceiving the universe as a perfect entity.)

The fourth evidencewhat we grasp with our reason is more real and tenacious than what we grasp with our senses”: we know that, as individual men, we are more real than the material world since we feel and sense a wide array of pains and emotional experiences.

The fifth evidence is that the outside world (example, sun, moon, and stars) is real when we can quantitatively measure the properties and characteristics of the outside world which is the realm of reason and not of perceptual senses. Galileo was the first scientific empiricist when he wrote “Measure everything that can be measured. What is not measurable then make it measurable”

When you work out a mathematical problem you are guided by rules of thinking that symbols help redirecting the correctness of our logical system.  In philosophy, there are no symbols that can be used mathematically.

Descartes started coherently, but got diverted from pursuing his logical reasoning out of loss of patience or because he died at the age 54 and could not re-think his system: he jumped to the conclusion that God exists and he is the reason why we recognize the universe as a perfect entity.

From then on, Descartes was just stating corollaries; for example that mind is a distinct substance than the body.

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December 2009

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