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Rene Descartes was one of the most influential thinkers in the history of the philosophy. Born in 1596, he lived to become a great mathematician, scientist, and philosopher. In fact, he became one of the central intellectual figures of the sixteen hundreds. He is believed by some to be the father of modern philosophy, although he was hampered by living in a time when other prominent scientists, such as Galileo, were persecuted for their discoveries and beliefs. Although this probably had an impact on his desire to publish controversial material, he went on to devise works such as the Meditations on First Philosophy and the Principles of Philosophy Aside from these accomplishments, his most important and lasting mathematical work was the invention of analytic geometry. It seems that the underlying point of Descartes's philosophy is to specify exactly what it is that we are sure we know.

Understanding Descartes' philosophy begins with understanding his method of doubt. Think about it like this. Almost everything you believe to be true comes from the senses or through the senses. However, the senses are sometimes deceptive. Since the senses are not completely trustworthy, it is irrational to place complete trust in them. However it is no small leap of faith to presume that everything our senses tells us is false. In fact, it seems almost preposterous to say such a thing. But as Descartes points out, we have dreams regularly and in these dreams everything we experience is a figment of our imagination, or at least not real in the physical sense. So, at least according to Descartes, it is reasonable to doubt everything our senses tell us, for the time being. Now, using similar logic, we can say that everything we have learned from physics, astronomy, medicine, and other such fields are all doubtful. Descartes even believed we could say that such simple, logical statements as 2+3 = 5 or a square has 4 sides could be conceived to be false. "Since I judge that others sometimes make mistakes in matters that they believe they know most perfectly, may I not, in like fashion, be deceived every time I add two and three or count the sides of a square'" We are now at the point where we are doubting everything ' the world around us, that we have a body, and anything else that we could possibly believe.

Perhaps I even doubt that I exist myself. But in doing this, I am in the act of doubting. How can I doubt something if I do not exist. By the same token, maybe I am deceived into thinking I don't exist by some other entity. But then I must exist for it is I who is being deceived. This is the basic premise of Descartes' famous Cogito Ergo Sum ' I think therefor I am. Here Descartes is not saying anything about what we are here, just that we are. Next his desire is to find out exactly what he is. Well, Descartes states, if I exist, for how long do I exist? I exist for as long as I think, and if I cease to think, then I shall also cease to exist. Therefor, I am nothing but a thinking thing ' that is, a thing that "doubts, understands, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, and that also imagines and senses." Although saying he is all of these things is indeed a bold statement, Descartes feels that in his attempt to prove that he exists ...

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