Essay on Cartesianism

In this essay I want to talk about some criticisms of the method by René Descartes (1596-1650), Cartesianism. Analyzing the criticisms, we note often misrepresentations that sometimes go unnoticed by unsuspecting eyes. Thus, presenting critical currents and differentiate them as to their legitimacy can be useful for our reflection. When you read contemporary texts on science often find a critical corrosive to Cartesian method. However, we must make some considerations before embarking on a campaign of agreement and reproduction of such criticism. We begin by examining the mode employed by Descartes to study a particular problem. In “Discourse on the Method” (1637) Desacartes describes the four pillars of what is now known by Cartesianism.

The first was never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such. That is to say, carefully to avoid misunderstanding and prejudice, and to comprise nothing more in my judgment than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt. The second, to divide each of the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible and as might be necessary for its adequate solution. The third, to conduct my thoughts in such order that, by commencing with objects the simplest and easiest to know, I might ascend little and little, and, as it were, step by step, to the knowledge of the more complex, assigning in thought a certain order even those those objects which in their own nature do not stand in a relation of ascendancy and sequence. And the last, in every case to make enumerations so complete, and reviews so general, that I might be assured that nothing was omitted.

At first statement, it seems obvious why this way of thinking is to be reproached. After all, why someone would think to reduce the complexities of living organisms? There is more that one must know about the Descartes method. We observe a set of procedures ordered and assuming certain rules for the establishment of utterances. Thus, providing a method itself. Professor Gilles-Gaston Granger, a specialist in philosophy of science and epistemology, in a publication of 1993 entitled “La Science et les sciences,” argues that the rules Cartesian belong, at least with regard to the empirical sciences, to context of justification, which is more related to the validation of scientific statements than with their discovery. So that becomes legitimate infer there is a more general application of the method of Descartes, and then a way to test scientific statements.

Mistaken to believe that Descartes did not propose relationships between the parties analyzed. Certainly nothing compared to what he preaches holistic or ecological philosophy, but enough for do not summon the method to courts. If today is the possible morphological study of organisms, it is thanks to the invention of the microscope. Why the microscope was invented is not to reduce structures and study them at a level immediately below its structure? Today we have a vast amount of information to start any research and undoubtedly the theoretical basis of this information were released at least two centuries ago (I can miss the regression, are perhaps the bases oldest).

When you start to extensive research of a living system, many principles are considered as homeostasis, the chemical notions that govern metabolism, physical hemodynamics, among others. However, when observing with watchful eyes, we perceive that to lead at any understanding of these processes was necessary to isolate cells, simulate reactions in vitro, purify organic compounds, among other principles that do not move away from Cartesianism.

The term reductionism is loaded with meaning positivist and thus seems justified when we hear someone say that reductionist methods deserve little credibility. On the other hand, it would be extremely unlikely that biology got to the level it is today without employing methods that aimed to understand the structures at different levels of your organization.

It could still say that the Cartesian view does not have a broad acceptance by aesthetic-discoursive question. We can not remain stoic in the face of a suite by Bach performed in an environment with good acoustics. This is because the art that immerses the senses in an ocean of indescribable sensations, can attract our attention and thrill us. I can not imagine anyone, even easily commotion, shedding tears in an anatomy class. And if there were, the protagonist would undoubtedly formaldehyde.

The Cartesian way of examining is dry, tasteless to those who wait for something like a poetic speech Fritjof Capra. Few people have that ability. Perhaps this is one reason that our society keep some resistance to scientific argument about experiments with stem cells, for example. I think the distancing of science in relation to non-specialists is closely linked to learning and, sometimes, the prolixity of discourse that emerges from our scientists invested the authority of knowledge granted by the same company that does not understand the ideas of science.

Even within the scientific community, we observe some difficulty to adhering practices or methods that do not have a dress inspired by the human sciences by many scientists who believe to be free-thinkers. Academic training is targeted to a particular way of thinking. In this model, one should be repulsed by positivism or by any other manner that is aesthetically objectionable. There is some reversal here? No, certainly I am alluding to the academic areas of humanities or, my particular interest, the health sciences.

At this point another consideration is needed. The term “aesthetics” here takes on meaning beyond the trivial sense of morality. And that moral definition is somewhat subjective? This assumes dependent peculiarities of the individual and some environmental variables such as financial status, education, etc.

Morality is defined as conformance to standards, rights and duties shared. When two socially accepted standards conflict, the person learns to make judgments based on a sense of individualized consciousness. People are morally obliged to obey the established rules, but only to the extent that serve human needs (Sadock, 2007).

My objective with this argument is to show that many methods are functional for some situations, but can be target of prejudgment and left out, even if only in discourse, for reasons that do not relate to tests that refute the method, but for religious reasons or because the persons was brought up to believe that these methods are traditional and demoralized.

[…] There is only one way of thinking capable of handling the complex world of scientific research. The ideal would be to employ methods, and not a particular method, which increase the possibilities of analysis and obtaining answers to the problem proposed (Silva 2001).

It is not intended here to make judgment of right or wrong in denying a particular model of doing science. But it is necessary to look up to the fact that, in many cases, models considered traditional can be apply and functional. When you add to discussion a pinch of global warming, acid rain, melting ice caps, global economic crisis, recession in developed countries, and other catastrophes we reached the climax of ignorance and blame science. We forget that science is an essentially human activity, it is not good or bad, but the man behind it is. Anyway, whatever refuses Cartesianism, the scientist that aims to understand its object of study will only get rid of the mat that keeps a stationary phase when he realize that must use all the investigative possibilities and inevitably resort to some method to analyze the parts.

Let us now turn to legitimate criticism. If there is something that shows weakness in Cartesian argument is undoubtedly the employment of religiosity and faith exacerbated to argumentative practice. Descartes thought definitely proved the existence of God based on the famous argument “cogito, ergo sum“. Believed to have shown what were the laws of nature, and this without base their reasons on any other principle than “the infinite perfections of God.”

Dr. Silvio Zamboni believes that Descartes was a watershed concerning the division of human knowledge, especially with regard to the explanatory aspects. Going even further by claiming that Cartesianism is the reason, and explains what can be framed within its precepts. What’s the rational affirmation of God as the first cause? In this respect it would have been safer for Descartes did not manifest. Descartes part of the presence of thought and not of the natural world, believing that the world of representations is nothing but illusion. So the only thing that exists is surely the “I” who is conscious of itself. Now, if the whole world does not go outside of representation, just an illusion, then why Descartes believes to be the language – an instrument through which reached its “cogito, ergo sum” – free from such status? The language is not the product of the natural world and really be outside of the human being? It is full of representations that led the understanding of the natural world. Descartes was not so skeptical, just made a mess in the way that only philosophers can do. Consider a series of Descartes conclusions:

[…] First, which realizes the difference between blood coming out of veins and arteries that leaves only may originate from the fact that, having been diluted and distilled as it passes through the heart, is thinner , livelier and warmer immediately after leaving it, i.e., when flows in the arteries, than it is a while before it penetrate, i.e., when flows in the veins.

After digestion: how she sue the stomach not the heart to send him heat through the arteries, and, with that, some of the most fluid of the blood, which help dissolve the food they were brought thither?

And the action that transformed the juice of these foods on blood, it will not be easy to understand if one considers that this is boiling, passing through successive times through the heart perhaps more than one or two hundred times a day?


SADOCK, Benjamin James. Compendio de psiquiatria: ciências do comportamento e psiquiatria clínica. 9 ed. Porto Alegre: Artmed, 2007.
GRANGER, G. G. A ciência e as ciências. São Paulo: UNESP, 1994.
DESCARTES, R. Discurso do método: regras para a direção do espírito. São Paulo: Martin Claret, 2006.
SILVA, E. L. Da. Metodologia da pesquisa e elaboração de dissertação. 3 ed. Florianópolis: Laboratório de ensino a distância da UFSC, 2001.
ZAMBONI, S. A pesquisa em arte: um paralelo entre arte e ciência. 2. ed. – Campinas: Autores Associados, 2001.

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This work by Alison Felipe Alencar Chaves is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


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