Math 13March 21, 1999 Rene DescartesIn the recent hit movie The Net, the character played by Sandra Bullock has her identity erased. Everyone doubted her existence. This was not, however, the first time someone’s existence was questioned. In the early 17th century a philosopher, who is named Descartes, questioned his own existence. His life was dedicated to the founding of a philosophical and mathematical system in which all sciences were coherent. Descartes was born in 1596 in Touraine, France. His education consisted of attendance to a Jesuit school of La Fleche. He studied a liberal arts program which emphasized philosophy, the humanities, science, and math. He then went on to the University of Poitiers where he graduated in 1616 with a law degree. Descartes also served as a volunteer in several different armies to broaden his horizons.
After all of Descartes’ study and contemplation of math and science, he decided to find a single principle without doubt on which to build knowledge. His purpose in life became the development of a metaphysical theory that would prove the mathematical truth he had found. His analytical system of doubt led him to doubt everything in the world. He finally reached the conclusion that everything can be doubted except for one thing, his own existence. Even this was called into doubt and found true. Descartes rationalized that by doubting his own existence, he was thinking. If he was thinking, then he must be existing. Then he contemplated whether he was awake or asleep. If he was asleep, then he was dreaming that he was thinking and therefore not existing. He decided that one could use sense perception to realize if one was awake of asleep. Finally he concluded, “I think, therefore I am.” This became the basis for his entire system of beliefs. Descartes’ argument for existence was called “cogito ergo sum.” All of Descartes philosophical arguments were made by analytical means. He deduced the conclusion. According to Descartes, one’s existence must be because they cannot not exist. By saying that one does not exist, that person is thinking and thus externalizing their thoughts through speech and must exist. Thereby, he proved by the converse statement of nonexistence that he does exist. Descartes did differentiate between existing and being, however, this will not be addressed accept to be mentioned. Next, Descartes must prove the existence of an omnipotent and perfect being. He reasoned that he is not perfect. Then the fact that a perfect thing exists. If he exists and is not perfect then that which is perfect also exists. He says that this thing which is perfect is God. He says God exists because of his thoughts of God as an extension of God’s existence. After further philosophical reasoning he proved the existence of God. His proof of God has become the classic ontological proof used ever since. Descartes further proved that God cannot deceive anyone concerning anything. This proof was necessary in order to proceed on to other topics such as the world and it’s origins and laws. His God must also be omnipotent to do the things he wished to describe later, so he proved God to be omnipotent. The main literary work in which he published these proofs was his Meditations. The other major philosophical work, which was publisher later, was his Discourse on Method. These two main works have paved the path for modern philosophy throughout the world. Although Descartes proved the existence of God, he did not believe him to be imminent, but rather, transcendent. He was by definition a Deist. He believed that God created the world and the laws by which it works. Then, set the cosmos in motion by these natural laws and simply watches it operate. Once Descartes proved his own existence and that of God’s, he proceeded on to the sciences. He showed that mathematics was the truest of all sciences. Descartes studied math intensely at the Jesuit school. His zeal for the subject continued into his later life. Gradually, he became more and more disgusted with the current system of math. He sought to revise it and ended up revolutionizing it. Math today is based upon the Cartesian system. He is called