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Discourse on Method

"I think, therefore I am."

p. 53.

Discourse on Method. 1637.

"For it is not enough to have a good mind, rather the main thing is to apply it well."

"…common sense or reason, is naturally equal to all men."

p. 27.

René Descartes, 31 March 1596 - 11 February 1650.



Descartes wrote "Discourse on the Method of Properly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking the Truth in the Sciences" in six parts that appeared in 1637. His conceptual conceit as expressed in the work was to be a modern rebuttal to Aristotle.

His interpreter writes:

The first section of this preface to three scientific treatises contains a biography; the second a methodological exposition which, instead of being continued by details of its application to the sciences, is followed by a chapter on ethics and another on metaphysics. The thread is renewed in the fifth chapter after which the sixth and last forms a sort of new introduction taking up themes already treated.

F. E. Sutcliffe, Introduction, p. 11.


Many historic questions raise serious problems about how we know from a range of evidence from material remains, to written records,or transcriptions of orally derived traditions, or graphical materials such as paintings, sketches, maps, drawings, plans and the like that Mediaeval ism faltered and when faced with thinkers such as René Descartes was eventually replaced by "modern culture."

Descartes was concerned that society without a means of weighing the evidence to question the veracity -- or who do we believe-- of authority would remain both stunted and superstitious.

Recall that in 1637, when the work Discourse on Method appears that Galileo was under house arrest for professing that the Sun and not the earth was the center of the heavens having been found guilty of heretical thinking at his trial before the Holy Inquisition in 1633.

His rationality of vision is a nagging influence on writers who seek to distinguish facts from fiction and seek through observation and experiment to come to authoritative estimations that contradict mere guesses or opinions.

Descartes' historical importance arises from seven habits of mind that he exhibited:

  1. His disbelief in and rejection of authoritarianism,
  2. He is a rationalist with scientific optimism for the possibility of sorting out truth from error.
  3. He offered a skeptical analysis of experience as the means of discerning universal laws; empirical.
  4. He insisted the certainty of existence from first understanding the self exists.
  5. His belief in dualism; the mind and the body are divergent entities.
  6. Contribution to epistemology (study of knowing how we know) with the correspondence theory of truth derived from empirical, intuitive, and inferential knowledge of the world and humans in the world.
  7. The use of geometry as a new field in mathematics to analyze motion and by inference of understanding change over time.




1: Some Thoughts on the Sciences.

"It indicates rather that the capacity to judge correctly and to distinguish the true from the false, which is properly what one calls common sense or reason, is naturally equal in all men, and consequently that the diversity of our opinions does not arise does not spring from some of us being more able to reason than others, but only from our conducting our thoughts along different lines and not examining the same things."

2: The Principal Rules of the Method.

"I had complete leisure to meditate on my own thoughts."

3: Some Moral Rules Derived from the Method.

"I formed a provisional moral code which consisted of only three or four maxims, which I am willing to disclose."

4: Proofs of the Existence of God and the Human Soul.

". . .but as I wanted to concentrate solely on the search for truth, I thought I ought to do just the opposite, and reject as being absolutely false everything in which I could suppose the slightest reason for doubt, in order to see if there did not remain after that anything in my belief that was entirely indubitable."
"I think, therefore I am."

5: Some Questions of Physics.

"...here the complete chain of the other truths that I deduced from these first ones."

6: Some Prerequisites for Further Advances in the Study of Nature.

"Moreover I noticed, concerning experiments, that they are all the more necessary the more one is advanced in knowledge."




spin Philosophical discussion that bears on the quality of scientific, historical, and technological questions.

go deduce: from a general statement you derive a series of dependent statements whose propositions are accepted as valid because the underlying assumption is accepted as true.

A: Such as air of a warmer temperature is lighter and this floats above that layer where cold air does float below.

B: Water that is warm will rest above colder water at depth.

A, which is true, has the same characteristic or determining qualities as B; therefore B is true.




Scientific evidence

"he is a good experimentalist . . . .his facts are always correct."

"his empiricism has a rationalistic flavor that distinguishes it in two or three ways from that of a modern scientist."

Laurence J. Lafleur. p. xiv-xv. Discourse on Method



clip For example, the case of:

"I explained at some length the nature of the light which is found in the sun and the stars, and how from them, it crosses in an instant the immense expanses of the heavens, and how it is reflected from the planets and the comets towards the earth."

"Next I came to speak of the earth in particular and to point out how it is that, … how there being water and air on its surface, the disposition of the heavens and the heavenly bodies, principally of the moon, must cause an ebb and flow in all respects similar to that which we see in our seas, and furthermore a certain current, as much of water as of air, from east to west, such as one notices between the tropics. . . ."

pp. 63-64.

Discourse on Method. 1637.

Heliocentric system

saveThe earth is not the center of the planets, but is a planet that moves about the sun. The source of light reflected from the planets and the moon and observed from earth is the sun.

Descartes' book "De Mundo" was ready for publication when, in November 1633, Descartes heard belatedly of the condemnation of Galileo. Now at the basis of Descartes' system was the Copernican theory of the rotation of the earth: to publish in the face of the attitude of the Church, would be to incur, . . . the risk of failure in the pursuit of the aim he had set for himself, namely to see his philosophy accepted and taught by those best placed to disseminate it, the Jesuits. His disappointment was intense."

F. E. Sutcliffe, Introduction, p. 9.



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indubitable, doubtless, certain, unquestionable


Discourse on the Method of Properly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking the Truth in the Sciences. René Descartes, 1637 (Bungay, Suffolk, U.K.: Penguin, 1968, 1985), Translated by F. E. Sutcliffe.


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