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"Rene Descartes removed the fear of science. His criticism is unjustified"

“Rene Descartes removed the fear of science. His criticism is unjustified”

He is one of the philosophers who managed to gain eternal fame with an eye-catching logo. In his case: Cogito, ergo som (I think therefore I exist).

René Descartes (1596-1650) is generally considered the “founder of modern philosophy”. According to Bertrand Russell in History of Western Philosophy (1945). Russell called it “rightly.” With his systematic skepticism of all that exists, his search for “clear and distinct” insights and a “shock-free basis” for knowledge, Descartes paved the way for natural science. Found this foundation in cogito: The fact of the thought experience itself is beyond doubt.

This achievement also sparked waves of criticism of the French thinker, which amplified into a tsunami in the late 20th century. His rationality had opened an unholy chasm between the individual, society and nature, justified animal hatred (because he suspected animals were some kind of machine), and alienated the subject of thought from the world – ‘usually Western’. In short, without Descartes there would be no destruction of the earth. Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Sartre, and many other philosophers criticized Descartes’ rationalism and scientism. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has criticized Salvage with his bestselling book Cartesian error (1994).

Everything is completely wrong, says Han van Roller, a Descartes expert. He is a professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam and has been rehabilitating the French Mobom for years. The final step is Van Ruler’s introduction to a completely new translation of Descartes’ book Meditations on first philosophyfirst published in Latin in 1641. At the book presentation in Amsterdam he pronounced “Descartes’ Poem”.

Why is Descartes’ poem necessary?

“Because he became Gott’s head in Western philosophy. Books on the philosophy of consciousness or the mind – or on neuroscience – almost always begin with a distance from Descartes: what we must certainly not have is as Descartes did. His ambivalence in particular, a term which Descartes did not use Start “.

In the Reflections The philosopher develops his ideas about matter and spirit cogito (By God, because he had to live in the new science).

In his introduction to the translation, van Roeler again emphasizes the radical innovation of Descartes’ philosophy. He writes: “In Descartes, the ‘soul’ is no longer an engine of bodily processes, but merely a personal ‘inner world’, a space for the mental experience of a system quite different from the realm of the concrete.”

With Descartes, the world becomes an empirical process that you can describe scientifically

But in doing so he opened the gap between man and the world so hated by his critics: the “materialist worldview”?

“I think you should see it differently. Descartes tried to take consciousness or human ‘soul’ seriously by taking the concept from science. You cannot reveal it with the tools of the natural sciences.”

The exact translation of Reflections By CL Vermeulen It is actually the fourth in the series of publications of Descartes’ works that was started by the philosophical publishing house Boom in 2008, but was discontinued due to lack of success. The translation includes for the first time large portions of the objections that Descartes received and answered to his Meditations.

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What you need to understand, says Van Roeler, is the turbulent intellectual context of the seventeenth century. “Everything was in motion. Descartes revolted against the “moving” Aristotelian view of the medieval scholastic world. We did not get any further. For Aristotle, reality consists of individual things that interact effectively and purposefully. People, animals, chairs, tables and stars. With Descartes, this It disappears. With it, the world becomes an experimental process that you can describe scientifically. And besides you have that cogito‘I’ who realizes something, and you have to investigate in a different way.

Descartes didn’t have a good word for consciousness, so he calls it “thinking.”

You call it misunderstood. But he’s also got a lot of imitation, right? The “difficult problem” of consciousness remains the subject of much deliberation in philosophy of mind.

“Something very crazy happened. Neuroscientists attack Descartes when they claim the same thing too often. Take Damasio. He bases himself on the textbook idea of ​​Descartes’ book: A strong duality between body and mind. Then he says: Descartes did not understand because feelings are embedded in the body.” , in our nervous system. Right. Who said that three centuries ago? Yes Descartes in another book Why de Lam’s emotions? (1649). Damasio tries to refute Descartes but is simply claiming the same thing. This will take him a long book! You see, Descartes didn’t have a good word for consciousness, so he just calls it “thinking” – and we associate that with distant thinking, contemplation, thinking. But cogito It can also refer to the sensation of pain, to the perception of something, anything.”

Damasio a neuroscientist, Descartes received serious criticism from professional philosophers.

“This is often the case. Gilbert Ryle with his influential book concept of mind (1949) Same story. It is believed that Descartes misclassifies with cogito, like someone thinks that there is a separate “Oxford University” somewhere next to all the Oxford University buildings. No, but that’s exactly what Descartes wanted to say. Our understanding of the mind or soul is not an immaterial “thing”; It plays no part in the scientific description of reality, which we find in ourselves as consciousness.”

What is “I” anyway? Descartes says it himself: It is difficult to describe in words, but it is

But then the “interaction problem” arises. How can consciousness affect material things separated from it?

“Yes, the pineal gland must make this connection possible, according to Descartes. It is always indicated not to take his ideas seriously. But in fact, Descartes denies the problem of interaction. The idea that the soul must “direct” the body or something, like An engine in a car, that’s a class error. We have the science to describe physical processes, this one. We know ourselves inside, our consciousness, that’s two. And we know we have a body that plays all kinds of feelings for us. It’s finished.”

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How do you connect the two, if one does not direct the other?

“That’s a good question, but according to Descartes, it’s not a metaphysical problem. Neuroscientists who connect the mind and the body do it now every day. An American historian of philosophy once said that if Descartes were alive today, he would have been in a hospital undergoing an MRI examination.” Magnetic. I think so too. Descartes was the first neuroscientist.”

Descartes concludes from the experience of thinking that something is thinking, I. But he has already been criticized for this reasoning. There can be ideas without “something” behind them.

“Yes, but what is an ‘I’ anyway? Descartes says it himself: It’s hard to describe in words, but it is there. It’s the first-person perspective we have about reality, unlike the third-person descriptions you find in science.” Wittgenstein says in his book Tractatus logico-philicus: The subject does not belong to the world, but is the boundary of the world.

Science should not stand in the way of wonder

According to you, Descartes also deserves to be re-evaluated in another way: as a scientist.

“He was really a great scientist. His physics was wrong, and soon Newton surpassed them. But he did very good research in optics and mathematics. He developed a good understanding of what the law of nature actually was. But it disappeared from the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave! Very strange. It is related to Descartes’ image rooted as metaphysical about God and the soul. Well, that’s the fault of the philosophers, historians of science can’t do anything about that either.”

Does he have to get a place in that museum again?

“Yes of course. It should be in the front!”

What is the most important lesson of Descartes?

“Science does not have to stand in the way of astonishment, about the world or the way we personally experience it. Take the current interest in gender identity, these are things that you can research scientifically with respect to all. Descartes wanted to appease the fear of science. This is still very relevant. “.

Rene Descartes: Meditations on first philosophy Translated by C.L. Vemeulen. Presented and commented by Erik-Jan Bos, Han van Ruler, and C.L. Vermeulen. Boom Great Classics 335 p.