« Philosophize This!

Episode #028 ... Rene Descartes pt. 1 - Context

2014-07-09 | 🔗

On this episode of the podcast, we begin learning about Rene Descartes. First, we find out why the entire human race can be compared to the loud, obnoxious guy at a party who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else. Next, we examine Descartes’ rigorous method of doubt and how it involves Morpheus from the Matrix and Sully from Monsters Inc. Finally, we think about how doubt can help us live better lives and why, when it comes to our beliefs, one bad apple really does spoil the barrel. All this and more on the latest episode of Philosophize This!

Support the show on Patreon!

www.philosophizethis.org for additional content.

Thank you for wanting to know more today than you did yesterday. :)

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
For more information about this or any episode of the podcast chow got the website at philosophize this org. We have additional content further reading and scripts of every show all three, of course, But if you value the shows an educational resource and you want to help, keep it going, you can find that more about how to do that at patriarch dot com, slash philosophize this or alter if you're buying something from Amazon this week anyway. Clicking through our banner. It's at the bottom center of the landing page of philosophize. This org, small percentage goes back to the show. It may just be a click for you, but every little bit adds up there. Key for wanting to know more today than you did yesterday, and I hope you have a show. Renee Deckard is one of these people whose reputation proceeds him so much. But just dive right into the episode and start talking about his life. It would be a little bit cavalier for me. He's one of these names from philosophy, but even people that have long to no experience
project miserably through these philosophical treatises, pretty much everybody has a little bit of an idea of who we was most people have directly spoken to typically can identify correctly, as the guy. That said, I think there for I am now. Maybe you listened to, the show may be downloaded. This one episode to try to figure out What that even means, but I'm here to tell you a day. Cart is much much more than just this single sentence that he said famously he's, often credited as being the Father of modern philosophy and a truly understand why to truly, understand why he so influential, I think it's important to talk about his life in the time period. He was. Through this is gonna. Give us some good context. So let's just take that sentence at face value. I think, therefore, I What is that even saying what does not even meet me? It sounds like the most painfully obvious statement. Ever uttered in the history of the world into a modern person, they must look at
didn't say how stupid, where these people back in the sixteen hundreds. It took them thousands of years just to realise that they were actually thinking about stuff. Well, no, not exactly. I think the best way to begin to say something that we ve touched on many times before, and this podcast the world today is very, very different than the world was back. Then. Alright people, during the time of day cart, were lost and very confused. And it's pretty easy to understand why just think about what they've been through recently things weren't, always this chaotic for these people they used to know everything. That's what we got to understand. For a long time, humanity was the smartest guy. Humanity knew there were alike, things that everybody thought they knew for certain. But then that came com cashing down in a big way in multiple different ways. We seen the protestant reformation where the implementation of
Religion of an entire millennium came crashing down. People were told this stuff was the word of God. The way that the church did things was endorsed by God. The rituals you performed on behalf of the church aren't you favour with God for thousands of years? These people were told that this stuff was the infallible truth and look it better be considering the eternal fate is at stake. I mean really If you believe that an omniscient, omnipotent God laid out a set of behavioral restrictions for you to follow centuries ago in a language that you can't speak, Then you better be pretty certain about, what's expected of you, because not exactly easy to get that guy on the phone and ask for some clarified, patients on all this stuff, the one path that they saw, the one correct set of behaviors that actually earned you a place in God's kingdom above and,
of etching, your name into the charred walls of the damned these behaviors changed drastically with the protestant reformation and as an average person living at the time, was there anything else. You needed to be more sure about the Gnat suggest imagine living back then? How terrified would you be minimal Can you know for certain that you're actually going to Heaven what, if the way that these people told you was the way to earn your salvation? What this whole time, you ve been doing it all wrong. You thought this whole time that the things that Europe doing, are putting human God on pretty good terms? But what have you been doing it wrong the whole time, What is this is the reason why bad stuff is still happening to you all the time and then Once you decide that the church Authority has been misrepresenting this stuff in some way, how can you be confident and what replaces it? How could you ever be confident that stuff
How do you know that these new rituals and new ways of doing things? How do you know that that stuff is the correct way to burn your spot into the club? Can we ever interpret the words of God written down by the select few chosen people and arrive at the a system that we know is accurate with complete certainty. Can we remember this question now or other entire areas of thought that were being called into question at the time? For example, scholasticism the dialectic. A method of reasoning and education that was dominant throughout the entire middle ages that we talked about and it was slowly being overthrown by the new humanistic way of looking at things, which really wasn't that new, because it was a hearkening back to classical antiquity. Anyway, people had started to question the role of government and the individuals life. Was this feudal system that we had used for so long, where a large peasant class lives a symbiotic,
I've style with overlords. Was that the best way to do things, or should we perhaps revolt and try to overthrow this outdated system?. Concepts that were older than the new testament itself were being shattered. The Tomic mind of the universe with the earth at the centre and The sun and all the rest of the celestial bodies revolving around us is becoming very clear that it wasn't true. We had Copernicus with on on the revolutions of the celestial spheres. Galileo, Working on a mathematical approach to physics, all this stuff was being thrown out the window. For the longest time humans thought that they were the smartest guy at the party. They thought they had. Everything figured out, but much like that guy at the party that thinks he's the smartest much like the guy, that talks really loud and is completely overconfident and She knows everything. It just takes one person with a marginal amount of critical thinking to asking the right questions.
Make him realize that he might not know as much as he first thought. You know, Socrates comes into the party and ask him a question or two and his voice gets a little softer and he's a little less confident And then he figures out. Something else is completely wrong and he gets a little more timid living Chile humanity became like Michael Sarah. You know the stuff, we thought we were. So certain about, for so long is just garbage. What do we do now? So we said, let's start over: let's try to figure everything out. But this time, let's try to base our knowledge on something a whole lot more substantive than we did last time. We made a lot of mistakes the first time around, and this problem really is central to the time period. There are all different types of people emerging that have different thoughts on this one issue, one of these types of people, like the question that people asked about real, truth that we talked about before. Can we know anything for certain? Maybe we can't
On the other hand, this group of people out there, like Francis Bacon, that think not only can we arrive at certain knowledge, but that now Which is the saviour of humanity it's going to solve all of humanity's problems. If only we could find a scientific method we will be living in a utopia, then there's other people up I think maybe it will solve all of humanity's problems, but it seems possible too I and a single method that can unite all the different sciences into one. A Go method to arrive at scientific truths, which would obviously speed things up drastically and many department. What we see emerging in these scientific approaches of Thomas Hobbs and Francis Bacon that we talked about in the last couple episodes is this search, but nobody's completely satisfied with what's been found, yet
and what emerges from these people that are thinking about this issue is one of the most famous divides in the history of philosophy and the man that started the man to put his stake in the ground, for people to oppose initially was Renee Descartes. Now this famous rivalry of thinkers, this famous I will report on different sides of a single issue, brought us so much brilliant ideas, and so many insights, that's what we're gonna be talking about for quite a while. I'm talking about the famous divide between the continental Rationalists and the british Empire, We know what rationalism and empiricism are rationalism is the idea that knowledge can be arrived at through the use of reason and empiricism, which is the idea that knowledge needs to be arrived at through sense. Experience. These two ways of thinking can be seen as the two premises from which
people argued in this age of confusion that they were and to try to work I bet knowledge, that's more trustworthy than what we had before this famous device I been thinking goes like this. Although some people make slight adjustments, the three big british empiricists were John Locke, George Berkeley and David the three big Continental rationalists were Descartes Spinoza and likeness. But some other thinkers thrown in there as well, and we're certainly going to talk about all of them. Let me to say real, quick, some people lump Emmanuel count into the rationalists. Some people say he was the guy who managed to fuse together the two approaches so he's outside of this divide, but it's safe to say that either way he really is the climax of this famous divide between the continent racialist and the british empiricist, and he's a very
where we're going? No matter how you see it but day, cart started at all. The best way to understand where Decart was coming from is to think of this guy, this guy, that throughout their life, has been conditioned to have the most extreme over simplified viewpoints you have ever met, but I'm not talking about date. Cart when I say that I'm talking about who date card is responding to and his work, this guy with the over simplified viewpoints represents the entire human race and look. This is the reason I got into philosophy. In the first place, this idea noticed very early on that. I was scared was everybody else around me and really who can blame? You know, there's no users manual for living as a being on this planet. There's no, no community college class that you can take. That teaches you.
True nature of everything that is in fact you can go to school. For ten years, you can learn about one subject: unsteady super hard. But that one subject for all ten of those years and at best you're an expert in one little tiny sliver of this incredibly diverse and complicated world that we live in and one thing so diverse and complicated. They can easily become overwhelmed people and when things overwhelming. We try to simplify them as human beings trying to make sense of being a young whipper snapper? I knew how stupid I was. I knew that I knew nothing I looked around me and I saw that pretty much everyone yeah I'd ever met had some sort of black and white way of looking at a certain issue that helped make them feel like they were an expert in that field, but really they were justice abused? As I was, they were just willing to mask their uncertainty with complacency. I mean you see it all the time.
This. Particular race of people are ruining the world religion is. In the World Democrats are winning the world- and this is just one form of me- you ask most people what their most firmly held conviction is about anything what is the thing that you believe in the most and the entire world? And it doesn't take many questions for them to see that it might not be as simple as what they're initially leading on about this way of thinking directly applies to this point in history, Francis Bacon has a quote. He said nothing is so firmly believed, as that which we lease now the world that we live in is not I can wait. This certainly is black and white in it. But then there are about a million different shades of gray in between black and white. Were reality always lies and the like first thing I wanted to do was a young adult. This fall into this trap, simply because it was easy for me to do so.
For some reason. I was willing to admit to myself tat. I was a dumb kid was willing to admit to myself that I didn't know anything when this example. Descartes represents this way of thinking and the can different beliefs of humanity during his time period- are represented by this over the top extremely oversimplified. I talk and really loud at a party someone just imagine a guy that was born into a really strange household. His parents are good parents, they engage him a lot and they try to educate him about the world as best they can The problem is, they have a really over simplified, unrealistic view of the world. Through years and years of conditioning this guy becomes this cocktail of black and white views. May you can insert your favorite ones here is he's a racist. He
doomsday pepper, probably believes in some sort of reptilian shapeshifters at the head of our government. You can really take your pick of any anything Well once that guy is that far off the rails, with these oversimplified views once that guy has a criterion of truth, that's that easily met. Let's say we had to prescribe some method for him to be brought back to reality. What would he have to do? Well, this is the problem day. Cart was faced with back in his time. Thinking lazy is what got Europe into trouble in the first place. Europe got so far off the rails, with all the things that we thought we knew for certain, because it at a criterion of truth. That was really shaky. Descartes thought that, in order for us to arrive at certain knowledge that was trustworthy enough to base our future knowledge on type of knowledge that could transform humanity, as we know it for us to get there. We needed to start over.
We needed to establish first principles, things that are absolutely true, so true that their self and then through reason. We need to arrive at further conclusions. The way he did. This is through a rigorous method of doubt, one only comparable to pyro in ancient Greece. He said quote: I must once and for all seriously undertake to rid myself of all the opinions which I had previously accepted and commenced to build a new from the foundation. If I wanted to establish anything firm and lasting in the sciences, end quote: remember one group of people that he's fighting against at the time. One of these groups of people that emerged surrounding this quandary that they were facing was the radical sceptics, people that thought that there was no way to ever know anything for certain and to be fair,
at the time. Nobody knew if there was in many ways. People still do not know. If there is take art decided that, in order to refute these radical sceptics that he knew he'd have to stand the test of. If you ever wanted to make anything substantive, he had to prove to them that some things can be known for certain and that those things should be known as the first principles that we can then use to reason and fight for their knowledge with, but he had to be certain. He couldn't just sit down for a couple hours and shot down a couple dozen things that he knows for certain and then expect the sceptics to just take his word for it. They would ruthlessly tear anything he set apart. If there was any room for doubt, he would fail and he knew this. He said quote reason already persuades me that I ought no less carefully withhold my assent from matters which are not entirely certain and indubitable, then from those which appear to be manifestly to be false.
If I am able to find and each one some reason to doubt this will suffice to justify my rejecting of the whole end quote the only way they can be certain that his knowledge would hold up to all the radical sceptic scrutiny is a day card. Him self made sure to argue against his own thoughts, just as well as the greatest sky. It certainly would eventually this method of doubting every single thing, no matter how seemingly insignificant, in order to eventually arrive at first principles that we can base future philosophy on. This is really what is best known for, but first let me explain how Descartes did it and then we can talk about how it applies to our loud. Ninety friend, at the party that we ve been talking about. Descartes starts by asking the easy questions. We probably ask why
Like is this job really the best job for me. Is this spouse of mine really the love of my life? You know, but then they cargoes deeper into doubt. He starts asking. What is it exactly that I am and then he goes deeper into doubt. He go so deep that he questions whether the world around us is actually real I mean couldn't be fake, he says: haven't our senses fooled all of us at some point in time. A mirage in the desert. You look at an optical illusion and a children's book your eyes play tricks on you, bear says that when he's dreaming like when he's actually in the dream state. But he doesn't even know that he's dreaming, that's a long after the fact wakes up in his bed. The sheep to stick into his body like the cold, sweat,
how can you know whether your dreaming or awake right now? What if this, is a dream? What, if you're having a dream about this podcast right now Now what if what you perceive as reality right now is and actually reality. It's not real at all. Couldn't that be the case? That's what they are talking about. Is kind of embarrassing that I'm using this example, because it's so, why we used in philosophy, but look there's. So much ninja philosophy, sprinkled around throughout the matrix, trilogy that it becomes a very useful tool when trying to explain these things. Morpheus asked Neil at a certain point in the first movie. Have you ever had a dream, neo that you were so sure was real. What, if your unable to wake from that dream, how would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world and day card ass central? he's before them. A Chaskey brothers ever did LSD for the first time. How can we be certain that the world that we perceive as real
He says quote: I see so manifestly that there are no certain indications by which we may clearly distinguish wakefulness from sleep. End quote. So what Descartes saying here is our senses are far too flawed and untrustworthy to ever true knowledge on, but he also says that, although our senses may be at least always potentially deceiving us. Certain things must be true, even if we can use our senses to accurately measure them. You know like the things that make up the framework of the universe, things that are always true things like two plus two is for, and the parallel pie, still another other mathematical axioms. We may not be able to use our senses to arrive at truth, but we can use reason to arrive at these constant to the universe right well no day. Cart goes even further. He says that even these
things that are seemingly constant, might not be true, because after all, there could be an evil entity whose entire existence is dead, It is to deceiving him. How do we know that? Isn't the case he says quote. I shall then suppose some evil genius not less powerful than deceit has employed his whole energies and deceiving me. I shall consider that all extra, All things are but illusions in dreams of which this genius has availed himself to lay traps. For my credulity end quote Descartes ass. How can I be certain that there isn't so, evil demon assigned to me in my life that spends every second, tat every day. Trying to deceive me. The believing that the world exists can with monsters ink right where there's a monster assigned to every child in the world. How do we so that we don't have solely a sign
our senses and he spends. All day, every day, trying to convince us that cars exist, that food exists, that other people exist. What, if this demon is just pretending to be all of this stuff tricking us? How can we be certain that that's not the case? Dehart says we can't, but we can be certain about one thing that we are thinking, because, even if the demon feeds us, I thought that's intended to be deceptive were still thinking a descent. Thought. It's still a thought. So therefore we must be thinking things whatever. They are. Decart then reasons that simply by around thing at the self evident point that we are thinking we thereby exist to him. We have to be in order to be thinking. I think, therefore I am Dick our talks. A lot about this method of rigorous doubt he
himself says that each individual person shouldn't apply this method that everything in their life like he did. That would be pointless and impractical. I mean what possible benefit. Could we really get from doubting whether a hairdresser really exists, but what he does mention briefly is that this method of doubt is something that we should apply to our critical police. We should hold them up most intense skeptical scrutiny because, like us, pretending to know that a hairdresser exists based on conditioning, we can be condition to believe that other things at a case, things that can cause us harm things that prevent us from living life fully. We shouldn't by this method to all of our beliefs. Look there Devon. We believe that we all hold that are very useful, but should we vilify entire groups of people or
needless obstacles in front of us in our personalized, simply because we want the world to be more simple than it actually is. Let's go back to our racist friend at the party for a second he's got this whole elaborate system of oversimplify beliefs. That he's been Condition to believe, and now he walks around his life as though there the gospel truth? Think of how much more centred how much more based in reality, his thoughts would be if he just applied the method of doubt that day card outlines what would really happen if he put his racist viewpoints under a microscope, Let's just analyze this one over simplified view and how that might help. What if this guy was forced to ask himself, is it possible? Is it at all possible, that this single race of people, this group of people ancestors hailed from this small proxy. Somebody with more or less sunlight than I got. Is it possible that they are not the downfall of the humans,
is there even a shadow of doubt there is it at all possible that the true causes actually much more complex? You know it's based on historical events. It's based on trends and forces, government inefficiency, whatever it is dear- would say that if there's even a shadow of doubt possible, but you should throw that belief out and start over again and how would a philosopher think about this? Really just think about how much past change, abolishing that one over simplification could make in the skies life, and I can think of a hundred examples. Now that he isn't denouncing and entire race of people at every second of the day he frees up. Lots of things that used to be impossible for him now, he hasn't denouncing this race of people. He has a lot more people. He could potentially be friends with. He would have never considered them ass friends before just making this one
Very small change yields many more meaningful relationships in the skies life. That's a positive change right. What else does this change Now it doesn't have to walk around in a public place scowling at certain people based on their ethnicity have to have all those negative destructive thoughts Swarming around in his head all the time he doesn't have to see. People and go there. They go again walking around and the farmers market ruin in the world as usual. Think of how much that benefits, and one by product of this change in his thoughts might be that feels he has more influence in the world than he initially thought. I mean if this guy thinks that the world is being brought down by a singer, race of people. He must so feel a certain amount of helplessness that goes with that. How can he possibly nurture the positive growth of the world when simply the presence of these people brings it down in his,
might by thinking that the problems of the world are caused by societal forces, maybe he would feel a sense of empowerment. Maybe he'd feel he could actually make a change if he dedicated his time wisely enough and just think about what all the greek philosophers would say about what he stands to gain just from the intellectual pursuit, the satisfaction you know, learning about all the different opinions from Anthropos is about what the problems are, sociologists, psychologists and then maybe one day he could arrive at the greatest gift to a mind imaginable, the understanding of truth. Think of all that he stands to gain from it. What criterion of truth is cool enough as a basis to marginalize entire groups of people. Take our talks a lot about these conditioned biased thoughts at we It actually is a really great metaphor about apples. He says when you have a bar, Earl of apples and you
somewhere inside that barrel, there's some bad apples that might spoil the whole bunch? What do you do about that? Well, you can't just go sifting through the barrel trying to delicately pick out the bad ones, because what, if you miss one that one bad apple could ruin all of the rest of the good ones instead, what you should do Decart says is: you should dump out all of the apples and start completely over that you're, certain that you got all of them. One bias dot arrive at based on conditioning is enough to spoil the entire barrel of thoughts in your mind now, next time, on the show we're going to go further into day carts life we're going go further into the relationships that shaped his thought and more about how his metaphysics shaped the famous divide between the continental Rationalists and the british pierces. You can follow me on Twitter. At I am Stephen West. You can join In the discussion on Facebook, we find me
oral dilemmas within the Popular NEWS of the weak and ask questions about it even find out at facebook dot com? Slash for ossifies. This show, if you love philosophy, finds this and want to make sure you never misses episode, please, consider signing up for email notifications, what it is is whenever new episode is released, we send out an email, letting you know that it was released. We let you know what the episodes about and we also send you some additional text content that we created about whatever philosophical topic we were talking about that weak. There's no span, and I'm not sending you a bunch of emails all the time it's just whenever new episode is released. So if that something your info, You can sign up at philosophize this org. And, as always, think for wanting to know more today, then you did yesterday
Transcript generated on 2020-09-30.