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Discourse on Method by Rene Descartes

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In general, Descartes explained that if there are any imperfections in the constitutions of states, tradition has materially leveled their problems and will manage to steer clear of the defects. Thus, in this part, Descartes denies that his plan to undertake the reform of knowledge has a revolutionary design. He believed that it would be unwise to undertake the reform of a state or education by undertaking it from the ground up. However, regarding his own opinions and beliefs, it would be preferable "to get rid of them, all at one go, in order to replace them afterwards with better ones. " Hence, Descartes finds himself caught in the middle between two types of people.

There are those on whom "God has bestowed more of his favors" and will no doubt see his plans for self-improvement as too cautious. Then, there are others who are content to follow existing opinion and practice as the only reliable guide. Descartes advised that he would have included himself in this second class if he had not come upon a discovery that there is no opinion or custom so strange that it has not been held or practised by someone somewhere.

He mentions that his travels merely confirmed to him that custom is variable and that we hold the opinions we do purely as a matter of chance. The Middle Ages was characterized by two intellectual crises that profoundly affected Western civilization. First, the decline of the traditional Aristotelian thought that eventually questioned the methods and foundations of the sciences. Second, new attitudes toward religion undermined the religious authority and gave agnostic and atheistic ideas a chance to be heard.

During  the  17th  century, René Descartes attempted to resolve both crises. He followed Francis Bacon and Galileo in criticizing existing methods and beliefs, but whereas Bacon had argued for an inductive method based on observed facts, Descartes made mathematics the model for all science. Descartes staunchly supported the truth contained in the “ clear and distinct ideas” of reason itself. Descartes believed that by following his rationalist method, one could establish the fundamental underlying truths for all knowledge (Microsoft Encarta 2005). Before the Enlightenment period, many people accepted the way things were and did not question there being.  

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