Morpheus: Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real?† What if you were unable to wake from that dream, Neo? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?
René Descartes (1596-1650) chose the "red" pill.† He chose to question the comfortable assumptions of his time.† The work of Copernicus and Galileo had exposed flaws that Descartes sought to resolve.† His scientific attitude, his style of thinking, his method set the trend for the future. As Herr Doktor Hans Küng wrote in his landmark text, _Does God Exist?_, _There is no one who personifies the modern ideal of absolute mathematical-philosophical certainty better than the brilliant inaugurator of analytical geometry and modern philosophy._† No one today thinks seriously of science as other than an objective endeavor.† Star Trek's Mr. Spock is admired.
Why bother reading Descartes?† It is not a quick read.† The language is difficult and the thought processes are not all clear and distinct.† The reason I am motivated to read Descartes is because I feel that to accept the prevailing scientism without questioning its premise is to deny the basic premise of Descartes.† I have an interest in spiritual matters, and that often leads me to question conceptual certainty.† To ignore Descartes is to take the "blue" pill.†
In the excellent introduction to this version, Dr Tom Sorell writes, _This intellectual individualism, and the idea that the typical scientific attitude is one of questioning great deal and asserting only what one can be certain of, are now utterly absorbed in modern thinking about the conduct of enquiry in general. In this respect Descartes is one of the founders of modern thought, not just the father of modern philosophy._
Descartes believed that when the methods† and its applications were considered together, it would be possible to see in them the outlines of a comprehensive science capable of answering any factual question that the mind could propose.† Many people today still believe this.† The success of scientific discovery and technology, indeed progress, itself, has benefited from this attitude.† Equations relate known to unknown elements.† Difficulties are divided under examination into as many parts as possible with clear relations to one another.† Who questions this approach?† It is the basis of systems theory, of categorizing our world, making it manageable, controlled, predictable.† Subject and object are distinct.
Descartes' confidence in his new method can be seen as he applies it to metaphysics, namely the existence of a deity.† Dr Sorell identifies the conclusion that a non-deceiving God exists as _perhaps the most important in the Meditations.† Once it is established it guarantees the truth of 'I am thinking, therefore I am' which otherwise has only subjective certainty_† Descartes' conclusion about God, which he confirms by another proof in Meditation Five, guarantees the reality of precisely those simple things (i.e. shape, size) needed to construct the sort of physics (i.e. a mathematical physics which explains all phenomena as the result of the motions of matter)._ Strangely, the foundational belief in God, so integral to Descartes methods, has been set aside in modern scientism.
This skepticism is not entirely groundless because Descartes' proofs of the existence of God have not faired well in history.† His clear and distinct methods, so powerful in characterizing the natural world, have provided certainty of self but are still uncertain of God.† As Dr. Küng points out, _Even Descartes' contemporaries objected that the proof of God appealing to clear and distinct knowledge is in the last resort not conclusive but rests on a vicious circle._† His ontological argument remained conceptually convincing only as long as ideas are granted a reality of their own.
Yet, the objective standard set by Descartes, so automatically applied to the natural world, is too often tossed aside when addressing existential or spiritual matters.† Everyone is an expert on religion, it would seem.† The attitude, central to Descartes' methods, of questioning a great deal and asserting only what one can be certain of is utterly ignored outside the field of scientific enquiry.† Dr. Küng writes, _What was the consequence of all this for the relationship between subject and object, reason and faith?† Subject and object were torn apart and existed unconnected alongside each other: there was a cleavage between self-understanding and understanding of the world_† Conceptual certainty is a long way from existential security.
Reading A DISCOURSE ON METHOD MEDITATIONS AND PRINCIPLES by René Descartes has helped me to understand the founding principles of my world view.† His example is a role model for me to question this view and to take responsibility for my own assumptions.† It has strengthened my spiritual commitment as I understand the limits of the clear and distinct Cartesian system and move towards my own eternal security.
If you are interested in the foundations of modern thought, if you are interested in awakening from the dream that is its embrace, then, this book may be interesting to you.† Ironically, this book is a tool to break from the world view it created.† Descartes is offering you the "red" pill. ;D