Why Is René Descartes Considered The Father Of Modern Philosophy?

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Rene Descartes was an early 17th century mathematician, scientist, and philosopher. He is regarded as the father of modern philosophy because he refused to base his ideas on the conclusions of past authorities, his feelings and emotions, or even the evidence of his senses. Instead, he used a process of methodological skepticism to eliminate doubt and create a solid foundation for genuine knowledge.

Several rules guided his thinking. First of all, ideas had to be distinct and clear. Thoughts should be ordered from simple to more complex. If necessary, problems can be divided into parts so that they can more easily be solved. Conclusions should be thoroughly analyzed to detect any possible oversights.

In works such as Meditations on First Philosophy, Principles of Philosophy, and Discourse on the Method, Descartes described his process. In his efforts to eliminate all traces of doubt, he reasoned that even the existence of his body could be an illusion, but the act of thinking could not be an illusion, because even a false thought is still a thought. This gave rise to his famous declaration: "I think, therefore I am." He used this as a basis to reconstitute the world according to his own strict rules of logic. Although he used the existence of God as part of his argument, he ultimately helped free philosophy and science from theological constraints imposed by church doctrines and usher in a new era of knowledge based on reason and deduction.

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Descartes is widely considered the father of modern philosophy because he turned the focus of philosophical investigation from the world of objects, the world around us, to the thinking subject. As a renowned mathematician, Descartes wanted to build philosophical knowledge on foundations of absolute certainty, the kind one finds in mathematical theorems and equations.

That's why Descartes turned to the thinking self in his philosophical investigations. Using a novel thought experiment Descartes argued that, though it is possible to doubt the existence of the objective world around us, it is not possible to doubt our own existence. Even if the world of everyday objects in which we live was just a gigantic trick pulled on us by some evil demon, there would still need to be someone there to be tricked in the first place. Thus, so long as I am a thinking subject, I can be absolutely certain that I exist. Or, as Descartes puts it in arguably the most famous expression in Western philosophical literature:

Cogito, ergo sum. (I think, therefore I am).

Subsequent philosophers subjected Descartes' ideas to extensive criticism and revision. But to some extent, they all followed the lead of the great French thinker in starting with the thinking subject rather than the cosmos, as had been the case prior to Descartes.

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