Discourse on Methods



So, I’ve started reading Discourse on the Method for Conducting One’s Reason Well and for Searching for Truth in the Sciences (Descartes, also holy shit that title).  I’ve only read part 1 and 2, but I’m really struck by how a lot of his ideas sound at least kind of close to stuff I see in the rationalist sphere thus far.

His first part seems to touch on the concept of taking ideas seriously (I also note some interesting stuff that seems basically progressive, the idea that all people are generally reasonable and come to conclusions with reason based on experience.  Basically, rather than dismissing people as savages or uncivilized, actually accept that hey, people do actually use their brains and maybe you just haven’t experienced the same things that lead to your conclusions.  I guess maybe this is a sort of preprogressive stance?  Or at least, it should be, I know that unfortunately it’s become a lot more popular to shut out anything that isn’t The Narrative but still).  Like, largely he seems to have spent the first part of his life just voraciously going after all the ideas, traveling all over the world that he could reach, and just living, experiencing, and trying not to dismiss?  It’s possible I’m reading way too much into it because of the pattern that I often see in the circles I follow, just, like, I dunno, I got that vibe from his writing.

The other trend I notice in the first part is that he’s very…dismissive and critical of academia, which seems to be something we’re rediscovering in modern society (the idea that it’s great to be lettered and learn things but, like, it’s no substitute for travel or life experience).  It’s pretty fascinating to see that these were things people criticized back in the 1600s too.

Part 2 is where we kind of start to get to the stuff that Descartes is most famous for, the radical doubt, and his reasoning for it.  It’s interesting that he kind of discourages people from tearing down what they know, it’s a different tack from the (admittedly very few) other philosophical writings I’ve read, though on the flip side, he does seem pretty proud of himself so maybe it’s just some weird manipulation stuff.  But, like, overall his axioms for his methods (”1. Never accept anything as true that I did not plainly know to be such […] 2. Divide each of the difficulties I would examine into as many parts as possible and as was required in order to better resolved them; 3. To conduct my thoughts in an orderly fashion […] 4. Everywhere to make enumerations so complete and reviews so general that I was assured of having omitted nothing.”) sound a lot like ways to overcome bias and other such concepts in rationalist spheres.  (Also this sounds like a proto scientific method, which might also be a thing?)

Anyway I noticed a lot more stuff but I kind of stupidly forgot to write things down as I was reading, so this is what you get for now.  I am definitely enjoying Descartes so far though!

Oh yeah, addendum to this.  What I think I really like is how unexpectedly cheerful and earnest Descartes is so far, at least in Discourse on Method.  Like, whenever I think of my broad understanding of Cartesian philosophy, it’s really dour and kind of depressing, but, like Descartes is just nerding the fuck out over this and having a good time and it makes me happy.

To conclude this thread, I did finish Discourse and Meditations.  Overall, I was down right until I reached Meditations 3, when the ontological argument became Descartes’ way out.  I will post my (poorly written) research paper on the subject at some point.

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