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Explain and discuss the significance of Descartes' work on Epistemology.

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Introduction

Explain and discuss the significance of Descartes' work on Epistemology. During the time of one of the greatest modern thinkers and philosophers - Rene Descartes (1596-1950), Philosophy and science were overlapped. Physics was known as 'Natural Philosophy.' Descartes used the word 'Philosophy,' (meaning the 'Love of Wisdom') to include science. Descartes thought of Knowledge as being represented as the 'Tree of Knowledge,' with the roots as Metaphysics, the trunk was Physics, and the branches were the other sciences. Metaphysics meant to Descartes what we call 'Epistemology' which was derived from the Greek words 'episteme' (knowledge) and 'logos' (discourse about). Hence, Epistemology means the 'Theory of Knowledge,' which is the study of nature, source, limits and validity of knowledge that includes such questions as "What is knowledge? How can knowledge be obtained? What is the difference between knowledge and belief?" There are two opposed epistemological theories, which are empiricism and rationalism. The centre areas of disagreed concern are the source of our ideas and how we know necessary truths. Empiricists, such as that of Aristotle (384-322 BCE) - argued that knowledge of the form was 'a posteriori' - we only develop knowledge of the form of, e.g. a horse, after contact with lots of horses. and also claim our ideas are derived from sense-experience. Rationalists, for example like Plato (428-347 BCE) - who thought 'a prior' was possible. Plato tried to show that mathematical knowledge was innate and not derived from sense experience, and also believed that our ideas were discovered by 'a priori' reasoning. Epistemology has been a major concern of philosophers ever since the philosopher Descartes called attention to its importance in the 17th century. Descartes was a rationalist, who played a prominent role in shaping the agenda and thus became the founder of modern philosophy. Descartes, as shown at the beginning of his 'Meditations,' was in search for indubitable knowledge (i.e. ...read more.

Middle

entire world around him is an illusion, he claims this shows that he himself, his own thinking soul, is not a part of that world, but a separate existent. The Cogito was an extraordinary discovery, and as the first principle of all of Descartes' work, had also influenced all kinds of modern philosophy i.e. Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-80) founded his version of Existentialist philosophy on it. Sartre thought that the Cogito was not so perfect - "It's certainly not as 'clear and distinct' as Descartes thought it was because it's not clear that we are directly aware of ourselves in the way he says we are." Although, as Sartre may not have found the Cogito entirely perfect, it still remains one of the most important discoveries of Western Philosophy, and may be said to mark the spot of where Modern Philosophy begins and Scholasticism ends. However, the Cogito had seemed to be a slight dead end as even though you may know for sure that you exist at that exact moment when you are thinking or doubting, only proved to Descartes that your mind exists but not anything else exists outside of yourself. Thus, this kind of private knowledge was of limited use. So, Descartes thought it necessary to change this private temporary knowledge into something that would be more public and permanent. He thought that if he could find what made the Cogito so certain, then he would be able to unveil a universal rule that would offer alike guarantees of certainty about other kinds of knowledge. Hence, Descartes thought that there must be a "method," which would organise the human search for knowledge more systematic, and successful. The 'Discourse on Method,' carefully itemises all the 'Rules for the Direction of the Mind' that need to be followed if scientific investigation is to be more than a haphazard mixture of intuition and guesswork. This is where Descartes attempts to show how it is possible to discover true knowledge just by using a few central procedural rules. ...read more.

Conclusion

However, he wanted to go beyond Descartes in two crucial areas. Firstly he held that Descartes' belief that the human soul was something wholly outside the natural order was absurd, and would make it impossible for us ever to give an objective, scientific account of the place of human beings in the world and of the best way for them to live their lives. Secondly, he thought that Descartes' belief in a traditional Christian God meant that he would never be able to reconcile the life of science and the life of religion. The history of European thought since Descartes' day suggests that Spinoza was right on both count; but his own attempt to resolve those problems proved much too radical, and his ideas were generally despised both in his own lifetime and after. However, one thing that Descartes, Spinoza, and also of the philosopher Leibniz, had in common was their desire to look beyond the world of experience, their willingness to say that despite all appearances, the world is not as it seems: it is a spatial continuum with immaterial souls, a timeless psycho-physical totality, it is an infinity of interlocking perspectives. In the conclusion, Descartes made a large impact of Epistemology, as he did not rely on others teaching to assist him in his search for indubitable knowledge. He founded the 'Cogito ergo Sum' - which managed to show that he could be certain that whenever he was thinking or doubting, he was thus at the same moment existing too. Descartes also managed to prove the existence of God, through various arguments, such as the 'Trademark' and 'Ontological' argument. Other philosophers prior to him, like Aristotle and Aquinas, were also in search for certain knowledge, although, Descartes, discovered, how to find indubitable knowledge of the world, simply by his 'clear and distinct' rule, and by confirming this rule by the existence of God. Thus, forming his infamous 'Cartesian Circle.' Descartes inspired and influenced other philosophers, such as Baruch Spinoza. ...read more.

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