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Descartes Project And The Role Of The Cogito Notes

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Descartes' project Evidence for Descartes' project as being one of truth: the opening principle in the Principles is concerned with what the seeker after truth must do. He must, once in the course of his life, doubt everything, as far as possible. According to Michael Williams, Descartes was attempting to overthrow Aristotelian physics, in favour of his own mechanistic views. By making his project turn on general epistemic considerations, he could achieve his aim without explicitly facing the Aristotelian view - which many at the time would have held on to above Descartes' new physics. As Hatfield points out, Descartes was sensitive to the prudential value of not attacking the scholastic Aristotelian position directly: it was the accepted position not just of university education, but also was strongly supported by both Protestant and Catholic orthodox theologians. Descartes offered a new vision of the natural world: one with few natural universal laws and few fundamental properties. He denied the senses reveal the nature of substances, and held that in fact the human intellect is able to perceive the nature of reality through a purely intellectual perception - as in the wax example in Mediation II. Thus, in order to procure the fundamental truths of metaphysics, we must "withdraw the mind from the senses" and turn to our innate ideas of the essences of things. For Descartes a necessary and sufficient criterion for true (clear and distinct) knowledge is that it is "followed by a great inclination of the will". Such propositions are recognised by such an unshakeable inclination of the will that they cannot be challenged, even by the systematic doubt of the Meditations. Descartes held that the human mind comes supplies with innate ideas that allow it to perceive the main properties of God (infinity and perfection), the essence of matter and the essence of mind. However, he denied that there are eternal truths independent of God's will, and also rejected that they reflect the contents of God's intellect. Instead, eternal truths are the free creations of God: He could have willed it that 2 + 3 = 6. However, our conceptual capacities are limited to the innate ideas God has implanted in us, and these reflect the actual truths He created.

The aim of philosophy Descartes clearly saw philosophy as somehow prior to all other knowledge. It was the supposed to be the "foundations of physics" and all other subjects, from which other subjects could grow. For example, the order in the Principles builds up from 'principles of knowledge'
- metaphysics - through principles of material things, to the visible universe and onto living things and man. Philosophy is like a tree, with metaphysics as the roots, the trunk as physics, and the branches as the other sciences For example, in the Preface to the Principles, he talks of philosophy as providing 'complete' knowledge, encompassing "everything which the human mind is capable of knowing".

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