Happy Birthday, Descartes

DESCARTES’ DREAM

from Descartes’ Dream, by Phillip J. Davis and Reuben Hirsh

THE MODERN WORLD, our world of triumphant rationality, began on November 10, 1619, with a revelation and a nightmare. On that day, in a room in the small Bavarian village of Ulm, Rene Descartes, a Frenchman, twenty-three years old, crawled into a wall stove and, when he was well warmed, had a vision. It was not a vision of God, or of the Mother of God, or of celestial chariots, or of the New Jerusalem. It was a vision of the unification of all science.

The vision was preceded by a state of intense concentration and agitation. Descartes overheated mind caught fire and provided answers to tremendous problems that had been taxing him for weeks. He was possessed by a Genius, and the answers were revealed in a dazzling, unendurable light. Later, in a state of exhaustion, he went to bed and dreamed three dreams that had been predicted by this Genius.

In the first dream he was revolved by a whirlwind and terrified by phantoms. He experienced a constant feeling of falling. He imagined he would be presented with a melon that came from a far-off land. The wind abated and he woke up. His second dream was one of thunderclaps and sparks flying around his room. In the third dream, all was quiet and contemplative. An anthology of poetry lay on the table. He opened it at random and read the verse of Ausonius, “Quod vitae sectabor iter” (What path shall I take in life?). A stranger appeared and quoted him the verse “Est et non” (Yes and no). Descartes wanted to show him where in the anthology it could be found, but the book disappeared and reappeared. He told the man he would show him a better verse beginning “Quod vitae sectabor iter.” At this point the man, the book, and the whole dream dissolved.

Descartes was so bewildered by all this that he began to pray. He assumed his dreams had a supernatural origin. He vowed he would put his life under the protection of the Blessed Virgin and go on a pilgrimage from Venice to Notre Dame de Lorette, traveling by foot and wearing the humblest-looking clothes he could find.

What was the idea that Descartes saw in a burning flash? He tells us that his third dream pointed to no less than the unification and the illumination of the whole of science, even the whole of knowledge, by one and the same method: the method of reason.

Eighteen years would pass before the world would have the details of the grandiose vision and of the “mirabilis sientiae fundamenta”— the foundations of a marvelous science. Such as he was able to give them, they are contained in the celebrated “Discourse on the Method of Properly Guiding the Reason in the Search of Truth in the Sciences.” According to Descartes, his “method” should be applied when knowledge is sought in any scientific field. It consists of (a) accepting only what is so clear in one’s own mind as to exclude any doubt, (b) splitting large difficulties into smaller one, (c) arguing from the simple to the complex, and (d) checking, when one is done.

March 31 is Descartes’ birthday! Happy Birthday.

Go here for a slide show review of his Meditations.

Here is an earlier birthday post.

Read the entry from Stanford Encyclopedia.


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Obligation

Autumn 1986 Number 77 (Vol 19 No.3)

OBLIGATION, ANARCHISM, AND FOOTBALL

By Bob Lane

It might be useful to consider the questions of political theory, and the language used in the answers offered over the centuries. “How can we explain why it is that the great majority of people seem to voluntarily accept their inequality?” is the central or crucial question in the field of political theory. This question, as Hume noted, comes from the observation that, in fact, it is so easy for the few to rule over the many.

Why is this the case?

Sometimes the answer is offered that we have an obligation to obey the State. What is the nature of this obligation? Where does it come from? Can we reduce all political obligation to the application of a formula?

As Thomas McPherson puts it in his book Political Obligation: “The philosopher’s interest in political obligation has been mainly in the problem of the grounds of political obligation — that is, in the questions: “Why ought we to obey the government?”(p. 4) And, if we cannot find a ground in political obligation then we have anarchy.

First, notice the difference between:

(1) Why ought we obey the government? and

(2) Why do we obey the government?

. . .

Read more? Oh, yes, please!!

Sunday’s Sermon: Morality

Re-publishing this review for obvious reasons. – sob89

Review – Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality
Evolution, Culture, and Wisdomdn
by Darcia Narvaez
W. W. Norton, 2014
Review by Bob Lane, MA
Mar 17th 2015 (Volume 19, Issue 12)

Narvaez writes, Today there is often no logical grounding for morality and therefore no need to behave morally. (249)     In this interdisciplinary, well-researched, readable book she attempts to find, describe, and present arguments for that missing logical grounding with suggestions for the development of better people and better societies. The dozen chapters that comprise the book can be seen as either a paradigm shift or a sea change in moral philosophy. She advocates a care ethic based on a wide array of biological, environmental, and epigenetic factors.

Who doesn’t remember the work of Noam Chomsky in the field of linguistics and language acquisition? Chomsky taught us that there is a universal grammar and pointed as evidence to the fact that even very young children seem to have the ability to apply grammar rules that they obviously haven’t been taught. Kids know more about language than we can explain by pointing to what they have been taught. Similarly, Narvaez argues that “(1) morality emerges from biology and embodiment – our lived experience; (2) our morality is multi-dimensional and arises from our evolved brain propensities. Through epigenetics and developmental plasticity…” we grow our moral sense.  (3) Cultures are malleable and can either “encourage or discourage our highest human nature.” (4) Humans can “self-author virtue and wisdom capacities” to change culture. As with language acquisition we come into world biologically prepared for the development of a moral sense.

Continue reading

SS: Stretch your horizons

ODIP: The Online Dictionary of Intercultural Philosophy

 

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Description:

The Online Dictionary of Intercultural Philosophy offers brief and understandable definitions of non-Western philosophical terms. It aims to promote a shift from Comparative Philosophy to World Philosophy enabling a genuine plurality of knowing, doing, and being human. The Online Dictionary of Intercultural Philosophy 1) collects key-concepts from several regions and 2) presents those concepts in a succinct fashion. It is meant to be an inspiring and stimulating resource for philosophers who aim to expand their horizons and think interculturally.

 


 

Last Week’s Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

  1. Cosmology: Methodological Debates in the 1930s and 1940s (George Gale) [REVISED: June 4, 2015]
    Changes to: Bibliography
  2. Emergent Properties (Timothy O’Connor and Hong Yu Wong) [REVISED: June 3, 2015]
    Changes to: Main text, Bibliography

    Word Meaning (Luca Gasparri and Diego Marconi) [NEW: June 2, 2015]

  3. Skepticism (Peter Klein) [REVISED: June 2, 2015]
    Changes to: Main text, Bibliography, notes.html
  4. Quantum Approaches to Consciousness (Harald Atmanspacher) [REVISED: June 2, 2015]
    Changes to: Main text, Bibliography, notes.html
  5. The Revision Theory of Truth (Philip Kremer) [REVISED: June 2, 2015]
    Changes to: Main text, Bibliography
  6. Convention (Michael Rescorla) [REVISED: June 1, 2015]
    Changes to: Main text, Bibliography
  7. Hermann Weyl (John L. Bell and Herbert Korté) [REVISED: June 1, 2015]
    Changes to: Main text, Bibliography
  8. Fallacies (Hans Hansen) [NEW: May 29, 2015]

Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?

https://i1.wp.com/penguinrandomhouse.ca/sites/default/files/book_new/field_coverimageuri/9780143194323_0.jpg

Over the past few decades, celebrity culture’s grip on our society has tightened. For Timothy Caulfield, a health science expert, this culture has a measurable influence on individual life choices and health-care decisions.

While acknowledging the pervasiveness of celebrity culture, Caulfield doesn’t mock those who enjoy it (in fact he loves celebrity culture.) But with a skeptic’s eye and a scientific lens, Caulfield identifies and debunks the messages and promises that flow from the celebrity realm, whether they are about health, diet, beauty, or what is supposed to make us happy.

Check out the book!

 

Fallacies, Miracles, and Fun

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1. A two part discussion of David Hume’s argument against miracles. Here.

2. A discussion of fallacies at the SEP.

3. Philosophers’ Breakup Letters Throughout History from The New Yorker (like the one below):

For our entire relationship, I was absolutely and irrevocably miserable. I can see now that you used me purely as a means to an end. Don’t you know how that makes me feel? It is imperative that you reflect on the meaning of universal law, and stop doing that thing you did with your tongue. I hated that.—Immanuel Kant

4. Remember Phineas Cage?