The Rationalism Of Descartes And Leibniz

2257 words - 9 pages

The Rationalism of Descartes and Leibniz

Although philosophy rarely alters its direction and mood with sudden swings, there are times when its new concerns and emphases clearly separate it from its immediate past. Such was the case with seventeenth-century Continental rationalism, whose founder was Rene Descartes and whose new program initiated what is called modern philosophy. In a sense, much of what the Continental rationalists set out to do had already been attempted by the medieval philosophers and by Bacon and Hobbes. But Descartes and Leibniz fashioned a new ideal for philosophy. Influenced by the progress and success of science and mathematics, their new program was an attempt to provide philosophy with the exactness of mathematics. They set out to formulate clear and rational principles that could be organized into a system of truths from which accurate information about the world could be deduced. Their emphasis was upon the rational ability of the human mind, which they now considered the source of truth both about man and about the world. Even though they did not reject the claims of religion, they did consider philosophical reasoning something different than supernatural revelation. They saw little value in feeling and enthusiasm as means for discovering truth, but they did believe that the mind of an individual is structured in such a way that simply by operating according to the appropriate method it can discover the nature of the universe. The rationalists assumed that what they could think clearly with their minds did in fact exist in the world outside their minds. Descartes and Leibniz even argued that certain ideas are innate in the human mind, that, given the proper occasion, experience would cause these innate truths to become self-evident. That the highly optimistic program of rationalism was not altogether successful is indicated in the differences of the systems it produced. These two rationalists finally interpreted the natural world after the mechanical model of physics and believed that determinism was the cause of all physical events. Descartes described reality as a dualism consisting of two basic elements, thought and extension, whereas Leibniz, a pluralist, said that although there is only one kind of substance, the monad, there are nevertheless different kinds of monads accounting for the various elements in nature. In this paper, I will provide a general overview of these two rationalist attempts at creating a formula for truth and raise some of the more common empirical problems that apply to each.
Being a mathematician, Descartes believed that a method was necessary to give his thoughts some structure and a path that could apply to all deductions of truth. In a need for a method, Descartes hypothesized that all men have virtually the same genetic disposition to reason and that the differences in opinion and error in reasoning are due to how that reason is applied. Thus he contends that there...

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