René Descartes

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René Descartes (1596-1650)


    The Philosophical Dictionary.

Descartes: A New Approach




René Descartes


Key Concepts

    René Descartes is credited with providing the philosophical framework for the natural sciences. He developed a fundamental set of principles that one can know without any doubt. His "methodological skepticism" is used to doubt everything to the point at which it can no longer be doubted.
    Descartes' principle:

cognito ergo sum

    ("I think, therefore I am") epitomizes the logical culmination of methodological skepticism: The only thing we can know without any doubt is our own existence.


    Decartes' methodological skepticism established the basic principle of all sciences that verification (except of self) is impossible. Thus, scientists gain confidence in a theory not by its verification, which is impossible, but through the failure of repeated attempts to falsify it. This methodological skepticism is reflected in all scientific methodology. Recall from your lessons in statistics that one does not accept the research hypothesis (e.g., Ha: The greater the formal education the greater the income) but instead fails to reject the null hypothesis (e.g., Ho: No relationship exists between formal education and income).
    Based upon methodological skepticism, Decartes believed that the only method suitable to proof was deduction. One could not rely upon induction because one could not be certain that one truly was observing what they thought they observed or that what was being induced was true. As a point of reference, note that pure deduction is impossible also because one might begin with a law that is either flawed or incomplete.