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Descartes : Discourse On Method Paperback – Mar 3 1994

4.8 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1 pages
  • Publisher: Orion; Reprint edition (March 3 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046087411X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0460874113
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.9 x 1.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 191 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
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Format: Paperback
Morpheus: Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real?  What if you were unable to wake from that dream, Neo? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?
René Descartes (1596-1650) chose the "red" pill.  He chose to question the comfortable assumptions of his time.  The work of Copernicus and Galileo had exposed flaws that Descartes sought to resolve.  His scientific attitude, his style of thinking, his method set the trend for the future. As Herr Doktor Hans Küng wrote in his landmark text, _Does God Exist?_, _There is no one who personifies the modern ideal of absolute mathematical-philosophical certainty better than the brilliant inaugurator of analytical geometry and modern philosophy._  No one today thinks seriously of science as other than an objective endeavor.  Star Trek's Mr. Spock is admired.
Why bother reading Descartes?  It is not a quick read.  The language is difficult and the thought processes are not all clear and distinct.  The reason I am motivated to read Descartes is because I feel that to accept the prevailing scientism without questioning its premise is to deny the basic premise of Descartes.  I have an interest in spiritual matters, and that often leads me to question conceptual certainty.  To ignore Descartes is to take the "blue" pill. 
In the excellent introduction to this version, Dr Tom Sorell writes, _This intellectual individualism, and the idea that the typical scientific attitude is one of questioning great deal and asserting only what one can be certain of, are now utterly absorbed in modern thinking about the conduct of enquiry in general. In this respect Descartes is one of the founders of modern thought, not just the father of modern philosophy.
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"A Discourse on Method: Meditations and Principles" is more than a book, it is a challenging and rewarding mental experience. It is a tough read but well worth it just to read "I think, therefore I am" in its proper context (the simple statement that Descartes considers his first principle of philosophy).
The book is divided into three parts. In "A Discourse on Method," Descartes lays out his first principle of philosophy, and his plan for rejecting false assertions and deriving true principles. The "Meditations on the First Principle" is the wide ranging essay where "I think, therefore I am" is expanded to include all of its implications. These implications are wide ranging, from the existence of God, to the existence of our bodies, other physical objects, various scientific principles, and finally, whatever we are able to know as truth. Here is where the book poses its greatest challenge. At this point I was only reading 2-4 pages at a time. Then when I finished this part, I went back and reread a bulk of it to fully grasp the key points of the "Meditations." The third part, "The Principles of Philosophy," wouldn't have been so difficult if my brain hadn't been taxed as it was by the "Meditations." But the Principles are well organized and clearer, making the book more satisfying to read again.
Overall, this book is a treasure as an intense mental revelation. It brings together Descartes' best writing for the general reader, if the reader is up to the challenge.
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Can anything be known to be certain? This is a more difficult question than most people might recognize. Rene Descartes says yes and presents us with one of the most elegant thought experiments in the history of philosophy. We begin by calling into doubt all claims of "knowledge"; believing nothing that cannot be affirmed with absolute certainty:
Imagine now that an all-powerful, all-knowing being might exist external to that which we can experience with our senses, i.e., external to the material world (recall that we can neither know this nor know otherwise). Imagine further that this extra-material entity may be a devious trickster, messing with my mind, perhaps to amuse a twisted sense of humor. Because the possible trickster would exist external to the access of scientific scrutiny, I could, in my state of absolute skepticism, never know whether this sadistic consciousness is at work, not only in the material world, not only in my conscious perception of the material world, but in fact in the perceptions of all other conscious beings as well. Thus all scientific proofs might be mere illusion and there could be no means of determining this. In other words, if all material objects and all subjects of thought are inherently uncertain, and this is indeed a logical conclusion at this point in our consideration, what then could be known with certainty? Is then the only absolute certainty this universal and impenetrable uncertainty? Could it ever be truly known that anything exists apart from the possibility of the trickster? Only one thing: that [without regard to whether or not it is being deceived] the mind of the thinker must exist, for otherwise there is not even the illusion that our consideration is happening. Thus the only thing that I may know beyond any doubt is that my mind does exist.
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What if reality is an illusion? How can you know if *you* aren't part of that illusion? If the world is a construct whose sole purpose is to fool your senses, what kind of conclusions can you draw about the nature of reality? Can you prove you exist? Can you even trust your thoughts? These very large questions if not dismissed consist hyprebolic doubt (aka Cartesian Doubt).
By asking and analyzing these very big questions, Descartes proved that you exist, and while not trustworthy, the mere fact you _have_ thoughts, proves it (Cogito Ergo Sum). Unfortunately, due to the high level of rigor and extreme doubt, it has proven impossible to build upon that very sound foundation, and his arguments trying to take it further do not express nearly the same level of rigor, and pale to his powerful first conclusions.
With the style of analysis and fearlessly examining this, he created the basis and foundation for most modern philosophy, since many schools of thought is based upon getting off his rigorous and rather lonely dead end island of "Cartesian Doubt" with a non-rigorous assumption or supposition.
The book is a fast, and intense read, appearing to have been written over a few days. The reader is taken along for the ride and in my case, my mind was blown at the level of rigor. To me his argument leading to "Cogito Ergo Sum" is as close to a bulletproof, rigorous, perfect argument that you can experience. Its only weakness, though, if you stick to that level of rigor, you really cannot prove anything else besides your own existence!
Definitely worth the price of admission. Especially to non-philosophers like myself!
Dig in!
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