The Tractatus Comico-Philosophicus: Rene Descartes

Tractatus-283-DescartesRene Descartes Explains It All to You

  1. Here’s my method: I start by trying to doubt everything.
  2. I realize, however, that I cannot doubt that I am doubting, that I am thinking.
  3. Therefore, I exist. (I think; therefore, I am.)
  4. What am I thinking about? I am clearly and distinctly thinking of a supremely perfect being. Let’s call this being God.
  5. And, of course, in order to be supremely perfect, he must exist; that’s a tautology.
  6. In other words, it’s no more possible to envision God and have Him not exist than it is to envision a triangle that does not have three angles. Got that? You can trust me on this. I invented Analytic Geometry, after all.
  7. Now, for my final magic trick. You’re going to love this one: A supremely perfect being would not fool me about the important stuff.
  8. Therefore, all my prejudices and cultural presuppositions must be true. Did you really think I ever doubted those? Mon dieu!*

Who said philosophy was difficult?

Homework assignment 1: OK, the problem from 4 on is pretty clear, but what are the problems with 2 and 3? Those are trickier. How does he get from some thinking that is to an “I” that is thinking if he’s not let anything but this thinking in yet? See the problem? Does this wreck his argument?

Homework assignment 2: Why doesn’t D’s ontological argument apply to ANY clearly and distinctly imagined perfect entity–a supremely perfect fairy flying hippo, for example? What saves his argument there (though the argument fails for other obvious reasons)?

*NB: There are two schools of thought about Descartes’ appropriation and update of the ontological argument from Anselm. Some think that he believed this crap. Others think he recognized that his method of doubt had taken him into dangerous territory (people were routinely put to death for such thinking in Descartes’ time) and so wisely tacked this “proof” onto the end of his skeptifest as an insurance policy, recognizing that bright folks would discount it (wink, wink), just as Lucretius, being no fool, tacked the invocation to Venus onto his De Rerum Natura (Message: It’s just atoms and the void, so chill, dude.) to keep himself from suffering the fate of Socrates.

The tractatus comico-philosophicus. Dedicated to bring the wisdom of the ages to all, for why shouldn’t you be as confused as they were?

Copyright 2014 by Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.

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About Bob Shepherd

interests: curriculum design, educational technology, learning, linguistics, hermeneutics, rhetoric, philosophy (Continental philosophy, Existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics), classical and jazz guitar, poetry, the short story, archaeology and cultural anthropology, history of religion, prehistory, veganism, sustainability, Anglo-Saxon literature and language, systems for emergent quality control, heuristics for innovation
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