Descartes Quotes

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Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle. That principle is of great antiquity; it is as old as Socrates; as old as the writer who said, 'Try all things, hold fast by that which is good'; it is the foundation of the Reformation, which simply illustrated the axiom that every man should be able to give a reason for the faith that is in him, it is the great principle of Descartes; it is the fundamental axiom of modern science. Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic position, which if a man keep whole and undefiled, he shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the face, whatever the future may have in store for him. The results of the working out of the agnostic principle will vary according to individual knowledge and capacity, and according to the general condition of science. That which is unproved today may be proved, by the help of new discoveries, tomorrow. The only negative fixed points will be those negations which flow from the demonstrable limitation of our faculties. And the only obligation accepted is to have the mind always open to conviction. That it is wrong for a man to say he is certain of the objective truth of a proposition unless he can provide evidence which logically justifies that certainty. This is what agnosticism asserts and in my opinion, is all that is essential to agnosticism.

Thomas Henry Huxley
In conscious life, we achieve some sense of ourselves as reasonably unified, coherent selves, and without this action would be impossible. But all this is merely at the 'imaginary' level of the ego, which is no more than the tip of the iceberg of the human subject known to psychoanalysis. The ego is function or effect of a subject which is always dispersed, never identical with itself, strung out along the chains of the discourses which constitute it. There is a radical split between these two levels of being - a gap most dramatically exemplified by the act of referring to myself in a sentence. When I say 'Tomorrow I will mow the lawn, ' the 'I' which I pronounce is an immediately intelligible, fairly stable point of reference which belies the murky depths of the 'I' which does the pronouncing. The former 'I' is known to linguistic theory as the 'subject of the enunciation', the topic designated by my sentence; the latter 'I', the one who speaks the sentence, is the 'subject of the enunciating', the subject of the actual act of speaking. In the process of speaking and writing, these two 'I's' seem to achieve a rough sort of unity; but this unity is of an imaginary kind. The 'subject of the enunciating', the actual speaking, writing human person, can never represent himself or herself fully in what is said: there is no sign which will, so to speak, sum up my entire being. I can only designate myself in language by a convenient pronoun. The pronoun 'I' stands in for the ever-elusive subject, which will always slip through the nets of any particular piece of language; and this is equivalent to saying that I cannot 'mean' and 'be' simultaneously. To make this point, Lacan boldly rewrites Descartes's 'I think, therefore I am' as: 'I am not where I think, and I think where I am not.

Terry Eagleton
Is it possible that the Pentateuch could not have been written by uninspired men? that the assistance of God was necessary to produce these books? Is it possible that Galilei ascertained the mechanical principles of 'Virtual Velocity, ' the laws of falling bodies and of all motion; that Copernicus ascertained the true position of the earth and accounted for all celestial phenomena; that Kepler discovered his three laws-discoveries of such importance that the 8th of May, 1618, may be called the birth-day of modern science; that Newton gave to the world the Method of Fluxions, the Theory of Universal Gravitation, and the Decomposition of Light; that Euclid, Cavalieri, Descartes, and Leibniz, almost completed the science of mathematics; that all the discoveries in optics, hydrostatics, pneumatics and chemistry, the experiments, discoveries, and inventions of Galvani, Volta, Franklin and Morse, of Trevithick, Watt and Fulton and of all the pioneers of progress-that all this was accomplished by uninspired men, while the writer of the Pentateuch was directed and inspired by an infinite God? Is it possible that the codes of China, India, Egypt, Greece and Rome were made by man, and that the laws recorded in the Pentateuch were alone given by God? Is it possible that e†schylus and Shakespeare, Burns, and Beranger, Goethe and Schiller, and all the poets of the world, and all their wondrous tragedies and songs are but the work of men, while no intelligence except the infinite God could be the author of the Pentateuch? Is it possible that of all the books that crowd the libraries of the world, the books of science, fiction, history and song, that all save only one, have been produced by man? Is it possible that of all these, the bible only is the work of God?

Robert G. Ingersoll
In the history of philosophy, the term 'rationalism' has two distinct meanings. In one sense, it signifies an unbreached commitment to reasoned thought in contrast to any irrationalist rejection of the mind. In this sense, Aristotle and Ayn Rand are preeminent rationalists, opposed to any form of unreason, including faith. In a narrower sense, however, rationalism contrasts with empiricism as regards the false dichotomy between commitment to so-called 'pure' reason (i.e., reason detached from perceptual reality) and an exclusive reliance on sense experience (i.e., observation without inference therefrom). Rationalism, in this sense, is a commitment to reason construed as logical deduction from non-observational starting points, and a distrust of sense experience (e.g., the method of Descartes). Empiricism, according to this mistaken dichotomy, is a belief that sense experience provides factual knowledge, but any inference beyond observation is a mere manipulation of words or verbal symbols (e.g., the approach of Hume). Both Aristotle and Ayn Rand reject such a false dichotomy between reason and sense experience; neither are rationalists in this narrow sense. Theology is the purest expression of rationalism in the sense of proceeding by logical deduction from premises ungrounded in observable fact-deduction without reference to reality. The so-called 'thinking' involved here is purely formal, observationally baseless, devoid of facts, cut off from reality. Thomas Aquinas, for example, was history's foremost expert regarding the field of 'angelology.' No one could match his 'knowledge' of angels, and he devoted far more of his massive Summa Theologica to them than to physics.

Andrew Bernstein
The discords of our experience-delight in change, fear of change; the death of the individual and the survival of the species, the pains and pleasures of love, the knowledge of light and dark, the extinction and the perpetuity of empires-these were Spenser's subject; and they could not be treated without this third thing, a kind of time between time and eternity. He does not make it easy to extract philosophical notions from his text; but that he is concerned with the time-defeating aevum and uses it as a concord-fiction, I have no doubt. 'The seeds of knowledge, ' as Descartes observed, 'are within us like fire in flint; philosophers educe them by reason, but the poets strike them forth by imagination, and they shine the more clearly.' We leave behind the philosophical statements, with their pursuit of logical consequences and distinctions, for a free, self-delighting inventiveness, a new imagining of the problems. Spenser used something like the Augustinian seminal reasons; he was probably not concerned about later arguments against them, finer discriminations. He does not tackle the questions, in the Garden cantos, of concreation, but carelessly-from a philosophical point of view-gives matter chronological priority. The point that creation necessitates mutability he may have found in Augustine, or merely noticed for himself, without wondering how it could be both that and a consequence of the Fall; it was an essential feature of one's experience of the world, and so were all the arguments, precise or not, about it. Now one of the differences between doing philosophy and writing poetry is that in the former activity you defeat your object if you imitate the confusion inherent in an unsystematic view of your subject, whereas in the second you must in some measure imitate what is extreme and scattering bright, or else lose touch with that feeling of bright confusion. Thus the schoolmen struggled, when they discussed God, for a pure idea of simplicity, which became for them a very complex but still rational issue: for example, an angel is less simple than God but simpler than man, because a species is less simple than pure being but simpler than an individual. But when a poet discusses such matters, as in say 'Air and Angels, ' he is making some human point, in fact he is making something which is, rather than discusses, an angel-something simple that grows subtle in the hands of commentators. This is why we cannot say the Garden of Adonis is wrong as the Faculty of Paris could say the Averroists were wrong. And Donne's conclusion is more a joke about women than a truth about angels. Spenser, though his understanding of the expression was doubtless inferior to that of St. Thomas, made in the Garden stanzas something 'more simple' than any section of the Summa. It was also more sensuous and more passionate. Milton used the word in his formula as Aquinas used it of angels; poetry is more simple, and accordingly more difficult to talk about, even though there are in poetry ideas which may be labelled 'philosophical.

Frank Kermode
Reading list (1972 edition)[edit] 1. Homer - Iliad, Odyssey 2. The Old Testament 3. Aeschylus - Tragedies 4. Sophocles - Tragedies 5. Herodotus - Histories 6. Euripides - Tragedies 7. Thucydides - History of the Peloponnesian War 8. Hippocrates - Medical Writings 9. Aristophanes - Comedies 10. Plato - Dialogues 11. Aristotle - Works 12. Epicurus - Letter to Herodotus; Letter to Menoecus 13. Euclid - Elements 14. Archimedes - Works 15. Apollonius of Perga - Conic Sections 16. Cicero - Works 17. Lucretius - On the Nature of Things 18. Virgil - Works 19. Horace - Works 20. Livy - History of Rome 21. Ovid - Works 22. Plutarch - Parallel Lives; Moralia 23. Tacitus - Histories; Annals; Agricola Germania 24. Nicomachus of Gerasa - Introduction to Arithmetic 25. Epictetus - Discourses; Encheiridion 26. Ptolemy - Almagest 27. Lucian - Works 28. Marcus Aurelius - Meditations 29. Galen - On the Natural Faculties 30. The New Testament 31. Plotinus - The Enneads 32. St. Augustine - On the Teacher; Confessions; City of God; On Christian Doctrine 33. The Song of Roland 34. The Nibelungenlied 35. The Saga of Burnt Nje¡l 36. St. Thomas Aquinas - Summa Theologica 37. Dante Alighieri - The Divine Comedy;The New Life; On Monarchy 38. Geoffrey Chaucer - Troilus and Criseyde; The Canterbury Tales 39. Leonardo da Vinci - Notebooks 40. Niccole² Machiavelli - The Prince; Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy 41. Desiderius Erasmus - The Praise of Folly 42. Nicolaus Copernicus - On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres 43. Thomas More - Utopia 44. Martin Luther - Table Talk; Three Treatises 45. Frane§ois Rabelais - Gargantua and Pantagruel 46. John Calvin - Institutes of the Christian Religion 47. Michel de Montaigne - Essays 48. William Gilbert - On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies 49. Miguel de Cervantes - Don Quixote 50. Edmund Spenser - Prothalamion; The Faerie Queene 51. Francis Bacon - Essays; Advancement of Learning; Novum Organum, New Atlantis 52. William Shakespeare - Poetry and Plays 53. Galileo Galilei - Starry Messenger; Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences 54. Johannes Kepler - Epitome of Copernican Astronomy; Concerning the Harmonies of the World 55. William Harvey - On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals; On the Circulation of the Blood; On the Generation of Animals 56. Thomas Hobbes - Leviathan 57. Rene Descartes - Rules for the Direction of the Mind; Discourse on the Method; Geometry; Meditations on First Philosophy 58. John Milton - Works 59. Molie¨re - Comedies 60. Blaise Pascal - The Provincial Letters; Pensees; Scientific Treatises 61. Christiaan Huygens - Treatise on Light 62. Benedict de Spinoza - Ethics 63. John Locke - Letter Concerning Toleration; Of Civil Government; Essay Concerning Human Understanding;Thoughts Concerning Education 64. Jean Baptiste Racine - Tragedies 65. Isaac Newton - Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy; Optics 66. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz - Discourse on Metaphysics; New Essays Concerning Human Understanding;Monadology 67. Daniel Defoe - Robinson Crusoe 68. Jonathan Swift - A Tale of a Tub; Journal to Stella; Gulliver's Travels; A Modest Proposal 69. William Congreve - The Way of the World 70. George Berkeley - Principles of Human Knowledge 71. Alexander Pope - Essay on Criticism; Rape of the Lock; Essay on Man 72. Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu - Persian Letters; Spirit of Laws 73. Voltaire - Letters on the English; Candide; Philosophical Dictionary 74. Henry Fielding - Joseph Andrews; Tom Jones 75. Samuel Johnson - The Vanity of Human Wishes; Dictionary; Rasselas; The Lives of the Poets

Mortimer J. Adler
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