Discourse on the Method by Descartes
Why do I like philosophical books? There are many reasons. One of them is this one. They articulate major problems of human existence. Philosophy is strong in articulating existential problems. And social, political, and scientific too. They make us think by providing us with questions. I am not sure if philosophy is strong in giving us answers. I am sure, that an important cultural role of philosophy is to ask important questions. Philosophers are strong at articulating these questions in a thoughtful way. In this video series, I want to see if such questions are applicable to our times. I think, they are. A great book has a more universal meaning. The great books ask questions that are important in different epochs and cultures. That is why these books are great. And their ideas are great. Such is Discourse on the Method by Descartes.
Not everybody knows the book. Yet, everybody knows Cogito ergo sum. In English: I am thinking, therefore I exist. Yet, I do not want to explain cogito ergo sum. I want to talk about something close to it. In a technical philosophical language, we call it methodological scepticism. In a colloquial discourse, we can call it: how to avoid mistakes? The issue refers to the following problem. Is it possible to find out a method by means of which we can reach truth? Truth about socially important problems. For example, scientific problems. Or social justice problems. The Cartesian proposal is to doubt everything that you can doubt about. Then, to see if there is something solid enough that you cannot doubt. Because it is so obvious. But not obvious for you in everyday meaning. Usually, things are obvious, but we do not verify them. They are opinions. Not a solid knowledge. In Descartes, you can even doubt if you exist. It is possible that we exist in a sort of a communal hallucination. Or in a dream that a vicious spirit would impose upon us. In the process of thinking about it, we realize that we exist. Hence, it is an argument to claim that in thinking, in reasoning we have this solid basis. Thinking does not mean mere opinion.
Opinion vs Knowledge
There has always been a discussion where is the frontline between opinion and knowledge. And how we define both. Opinion would refer to what we think and what other people think. Knowledge would be something that is verifiable, falsifiable, applicable to action. A good example is what we have in science. For example, when we plan to travel by plane, we want to be sure that the plane is safe. Safe, according to the knowledge of experts. Not according to somebody’s opinion. When we go to a doctor, we need doctor’s medical knowledge rather than an opinion. The same with the justice system. When we enter the court, we want to believe that the judge and the system of justice will be fair. By using methodological scepticism, it reduces the probability of committing a mistake. I say reduce, not delete. It is hardly possible to delete all mistakes. But the problem is important in the era of the Internet. Every opinion we can have, we can find out eco chambers that confirm what we think and give us support.
Methodological Scepticism and Media Eco chambers
Eco chamber effect takes place when we look for confirmation of our views. Whatever they are. And we do not want to listen to other views. For example, we are looking for videos that would confirm what we already think. In this way, we do not confront the opposite views and arguments. It is exactly opposite to what methodological scepticism would recommend. Scepticism, at the very start, does not trust any view or opinion unless verified. Eco chamber is great to enter a community of people who share our interests. It can be dangerous when makes for social polarization. And hating each other without discussion who is right. And without hope for a better option.
Criticism by Postmodernism and Feminism
Nowadays, we have a strong criticism of the Cartesian way of thinking. And the Discourse on the Method by Descartes. For example, from contemporary postmodernism. Postmodernism says that it is an illusion that we can reach an objective perspective. Or a point at which we will be sure that something is true. Postmodernists say that any method is dependent upon many assumptions. You have to decide first which assumptions are more important than others. And then you can propose your method. For example, you must assume that the language you use is not a social construction. You must assume that language tells us the truth about the world. And it is hardly possible because we do not have a non-language access to reality. We cannot check it out. If language is a social construction, the picture of the world will be also a social construction. Feminism continues this criticism. Feminists say that this construction or convention has been created and used by the well-educated white males. And this has been for centuries. If language says anything true, it is the way they use the discourse to control and justify this control.