Imagine that every single thing that you are thinking about, everything that you remember, and everything that you can sense is all the fabrications of an evil demon, set on tricking you into believing in a false world. How exactly are you going to prove that anything exists if that is the case? Well, Rene Descartes had this exact thought 400 years ago.
The Father Of Modern Philosophy
Descartes was a Renaissance philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. And his analytical mind would come to question what it is that we can know for certain. He realized that all the beliefs that he had were not beliefs that he had thought out or reasoned with, but beliefs and ideas that were derived from others and his experiences.
To use Descartes's own example, imagine you had a basket of apples and you knew that there was a bad apple in there. How would you make sure that there were no bad apples left? Simple, you just empty the basket and start over. Even one bad apple(false idea) would ruin the bunch, and he did not want to risk this when it came to his ideas. To take this idea to the extreme, he had a thought experiment that everything was just a fabrication of an evil demon. How could he verify that anything is real?
He dug deep, and came to the conclusion that although the evil demon was putting thoughts into his head, he was still engaging and thinking of those false ideas. And from his thinking, he reasoned that he must exist, since you cannot think without a thinker that is partaking in the thinking. And as such, he would come to state the most influential yet seemingly obvious phrase:
“I think, therfore I am.”
- Rene Descartes
Although this seems a bit obvious, it is crucial to establish this idea as a foundation to build upon. However, is this truly the base at which we are all predicated on? Nietzsche definitely didn’t think so, and he would come to critique this very idea since the phrase assumes that there already is an “I” to begin with that thinks and using that to verify the existence of an “I” afterward doesn’t exactly make sense. However, to progress through Descarte’s rationalism and thought, I will assume from this point forward that individuals do exist due to their thought.
But what can we do with this idea? Well, this very idea serves as the foundation of modern western philosophy, that there is a sovereign individual. But now you may be asking how we can know anything else if the only thing we can truly verify is only the existence of our own mind. And with this I will introduce you to the rationalism that Descartes would come to found.
Pure Hard Facts
Descartes would be in the rationalist boot camp, believing that every fact must be derived from reason and thought alone. Our senses cannot be trusted and can be tricked any which way. But the metaphysical mind itself is separate from the body, able to discern distinct and clear ideas and facts. From this assumption, Descartes would divide the substances of reality into three major categories. Those being the body, the mind, and God.
The important distinction to make is that the mind is what is able to contain pure logic and analysis, deriving clear and distinct ideas to base reality off of, and able to think and feel, while the body is only living in the spacial realm, that is only capable of sensing, but cannot truly produce thought, feeling, or abstract truth. But the interesting third part is the idea of God.
To sum up Descarte’s proof of God, he argues that, God is a non-deciever who must be the creator of these clear and distinct ideas, such as the idea that I think, therefore I am. And it is this god that serves as the foundation for Descarte’s main point of clear and distinct ideas. Without God, or a god, then nothing could clear and distinct enough to apply the cartesian rationalism into the world.
However, pure rationalists, such as Sam Harris, would come to even disown the idea of God. But from rationalism, we can build the foundations for all thought and reason. But how far does this rationalism go?
You Kant be Serious
Although his rationalism seems reasonable, that everything can be understood through logic and reason alone, and that empirical data(at its most basic, sense data) is not always correct a man by the name of Emmanuel Kant would change the perception of rationalism and empiricism as well.
The idea that pure logic and reason can be used to describe the world assumes that we all have the same objective truth in mind, and that we all grasp at the same objective facts. But Kant would give credence to the idea that we are not all born blank slates, but born with our own innate biases. From this, we filter the objective world, and although we may have the same facts, we will come to different conclusions. And now, a new foe has appeared in the horizon.
Perspectives and interpretation play a massive role in what it means to describe objective truth and an objective reality. Imagine that everyone owns a different pair of glasses that they see with, changing how the world looks to every single individual. How can we get a consensus on what the world looks like, or what is there and what isn’t? We’ve come to the same problem in metaphysical terms. What is the correct way to interpret and perceive the truth? These are all questions that have been left unanswered by the Renaissance thinkers.
Although the questions regarding the nature of reality have yet to be fully understood through science or philosophy, through rationalism and doubt, we can forge foundations off of which, we can orientate ourselves in the world. It is now more important than ever to understand our beliefs on a much deeper level. We must understand where these beliefs come from, how we know them for certain, and analyze what falsities could be lying in all of our belief systems.
We need to forge strong foundations that we can build our beliefs off of and now, more than ever, it has become important to understand the foundations of our belief systems. Because analysis of them can make us stray closer towards truth, and closer towards unlocking all of the potential that we are possible of. And through this thought and reason, we will take control of our own lives, and decide our own path to journey into the unknown of life.
“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become”
- Carl Jung