Friday, January 23, 2009

Descartes or idealism

Picture: Descartes treading a book of Aristotle.

I learned Descartes in school. Later on it was a real punishment to reread him, in view of showing the inanity of his philosophy, in particular of his metaphysics.

In short, here is why the Cartesian school of thought is a true calamity for the modern world.

All his philosophical construct rests on his renowned “I think, therefore I am”. This assertion is not false in itself as it is evident that each of us can deduce our own existence by establishing that we think. However, what is horrifying is to lay ones thought as anterior to ones sensations. Descartes in this way is the one who laid the first rock of almost all contemporary ideologies, because, as one does not necessarily know, Marx, Freud, and many others were greatly influenced by this radical inversion in our way of knowing. In fact, if our thought takes precedence over our way of knowing, what will we know? It’s simple, we will know ourselves!

So Descartes denies or rejects the proper sensibles, and recognizes the common sensibles as the only objective ones. I will remind what the proper sensibles and the common sensibles are: the proper sensibles are the realities perceived by one of the five senses (taste, smell, sight, touch and hearing), the common sensibles are those accessible through various senses (size, shape, number, motion, rest).

One must realize the crucial role that imagination and affect play in the perception of the common sensibles! If the common sensibles take precedence, as Descartes professes, the proper sensibles go to the wayside, and reality becomes secondary… and when Descartes declares that the common sensibles are the sole objective sensibles, he sinks humanity into subjectivity, later to be coined “transcendental subjectivity”.

All the same, and notwithstanding what Descartes may have thought, who claims that only the common sensibles are objective (given that one can measure them), it is the opposite which is true: only the proper sensibles are objective because they impose themselves to our intelligence externally.

Think of this, when you have a nightmare, you are a prisoner of the common sensibles: it is the big dog that is gaining ground on you, the chains that immobilize you… And then you grab your pillow in a startle, you recognize its texture, and you come back to the real world. It is through the proper sensibles that you escape from the labyrinth of nightmarish images of your dream. Well the neocartesian ideologies are the nightmare of humanity, and one must reconnect with reality to escape from them! This is the first tight turn that ones’ intelligence must not miss, lest it race straight into a field of nightmares.

And what is an ideology ? It is precisely an idea that takes precedence over reality. In general we take something that has some truth in it, and we make an absolute out of it, in other words a total system, cutting out what of reality does not fit into our idea of reality. That is what an ideology is and what history has shown and continues to show it is, and which has on occasion led to large scale massacres.

Hence Descartes is the pillar of modern errant thought, even if William of Ockham, the theologian, alienates objectivity to subjectivity; in fact, Descartes may well have popularized Occam. Whereas Aristotle seeks what is first in knowledge, and looks at the object, in other words at being (later on Thomas Aquinus would state "primo in intellectu cadit ens", "being is the first thing to fall into ones intelligence", borrowing a formula from Avicenna). But when Occam seeks what is first in knowledge, he looks at the “Intelligo”, in other words the “I am thinking”, like Descartes with his “Cogito”. And when Occam looks at the “Intelligo”, what does he know? Himself, also! In both cases being eclipses itself before quantity and the measurable, and from then on quantity has increasingly taken front stage, naturally to the detriment of quality.

Well then it is quality which we touch objectively and immediately, which imposes itself to us, whereas quantity is something subjective, which we only have access to mediately, through measure and specifically the unit of measure, which is not quantity, but something which our intelligence produces so as to all the same have something to say about quantity. Descartes in essence has put everything upside down, and everyman is clapping!!

It is quite remarkable to observe this radical difference at the source of two philosophies, one which starts, like with Aristotle, by interrogating about the existence (or non existence) of a reality, and the other, as with Descartes, which thinks first of the nature of something before even having evaluated the reality of its existence! Further, if God exists, Descartes usurps the supreme title, because in the order of being, it is only with God that the idea can precede the act of creation. Descartes should thus have been more explicit in setting forth his famous expression: “Je pense donc Dieu suis!” (I think, therefore I am God”!).


  1. Very interesting post. I took a peek through your labels and think I'll find a lot of food for thought here. Thanks!

  2. I agree that the proper sensibles should take precedence over common sensibles. After all, is it not true that the way we think and perceive things largely depend on our five senses?

  3. Thanks for comment Angela.

    Yes, it looks like we would have no realist knowledge and/or imagination without our senses.

  4. I think it is illusional to think that our common sensibles are the source of our realistic knowledge. The perception of the world is so different from one being to another. It doesn't mean one of them is more true than another one. What is reality anyway?!

    But, i agree with the fact that Descartes is the source of our individualistic and egocentric way of thinking.

    Now, what i like about Descartes is his methode. He "destroyed" all his prejucides about life, and tried to reach the root of our mind.

    It doesn't mean i agree with all his conclusions. But, more simply, i like the fact that he tried to put his thinking out of the frame of time. And out of the evolution of his time period theories.

  5. Hi Root,

    Thanks for your comment. The idealistic philosophy is analogous to art. Imo, Heidegger and Nietzche were great poets. However, to mix philosophy and poetry ends up being toxic for the neuron. Cheers.

  6. I agree Descartes got it all wrong. He noticed only half of the truth. My observations are: I often sit and think (and at that moment I know that I exist) but all of a sudden I discover that I am only sitting with no thinking taking place yet I still exist :)

  7. Yes, haha :)

    the point stressed in the article is Descartes lays his thought as the first stone of his philosophy, whereas a realist philosopher starts swith external exprerience (through the senses).

    Moreover, it does seem Descartes works are sparsed with errors.