Starting with Descartes by C.G. Prado
By C.G. Prado
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Extra info for Starting with Descartes
The other side of this is that you should not automatically resist what is initially obscure or strange. A philosophical work must be read in as open-minded and ﬂexible a way as possible. Philosophers are concerned to change their readers’ thinking at the most fundamental level, and if you are to beneﬁt from what they say, you need to allow your deepest assumptions and values to be challenged. A difﬁcult balance must be struck between being gullible and being open-minded. Consider a claim you will encounter in what follows: Descartes will contend that at this precise moment you may be dreaming.
Notice that there is no hint here of the complexities introduced by interpretation, by point of view. This is where the vision metaphor shows itself to be so pivotal and, at the same time, so restrictive of Descartes’ thinking. He believed – as in fact many people do – that we can settle disputes about what is or is not true by just looking. He gives no thought at all to how what we see is so often a function of what we want or expect to see, nor does he consider how seldom we encounter ideas, things, or events that present themselves completely unambiguously.
On the plus side, Descartes’ philosophical thought was as innovative and productive as his mathematics in that he offered a persuasive presentation of skeptical analytic methodology and thereby prioritized reason in a novel and productive way. Descartes’ thought was also innovative in providing a new conception of consciousness and its contents, a conception that greatly inﬂuenced the development of empiricism and through it Anglo-European philosophy down to our own time. And Descartes’ thought was innovative in providing a fresh causal argument for the existence of God.