René Descartes and Methodological Scepticism (a very brief guide).

René Descartes was a 17th-century French philosopher and is widely considered to be the father of modern philosophy. He was also a Rationalist. This means that he was more inclined to depend on reason and logic as the best guide for belief and action.

Methodological Scepticism:

He dedicated a lot of his life to establish the fundamental knowledge about the universe: differentiating the truth from what isn’t. To do this, he disregarded anything he knew to be true until he could prove otherwise. He failed miserably at doing so.

It is impossible for us to know anything, and be able to prove it, because what we think we know is composed entirely of varying levels of belief. Essentially, we cannot prove that anything exists because we rely on our senses to tell us things. Our senses are unreliable because it distorts the truth. For instance, objects may appear different underwater, but in reality, we know it to be different.

Descartes did, however, manage to prove that without a shadow of a doubt that he existed.

This is where his famous “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think therefore I am”) argument comes in. What he means by this is that if for him to be asking questions about nature’s existence, then there must exist something to be asked about.

He simplified this explanation of the “ontological argument” by using axioms of geometry. For instance, it would be impossible to argue that a square does not have four sides because doing so would defy logic. Descartes argued that the definition of the square necessitates the existence of the square. In the same way, Descartes then went on to prove the existence of supernatural beings (i.e. God), because, using the same argument, the definition of god necessitates the existence of god.

Cartesian Dualism:

This means that there are two main foundations to existence: the mental and the body. His philosophy states that the mental cannot exist outside of the body, and the body cannot think.


Also interesting by Descartes:

(Method of doubts – people are often confused about the ‘big’ questions in life, for instance, “what’s the meaning of life?”, because they do not break the questions down to understandable amounts and go through each individual matter at a time. Thus, a philosopher’s job would, in theory, would be to sort through these “like separating good and bad apples”, which would ultimately lead to solving the question.)

René Descartes wrote a lot during his lifetime. Here are some that are recommended:

  • The Description of the Human Body
  • Dioptrique
  • Discourse on the Method
  • Meditations and other Metaphysical Writings
  • Passions of the Soul
  • Principles of Philosophy