Research papers on the philosophy of metaphysics look at the influence of Descartes and his philosophy on the world around us.
Metaphysics is one of the oldest branches of philosophy, seeking to answer some of the basic questions regarding existence, the nature of being, and the world around us. At its most basic level, metaphysics is concerned with attempting to answer two questions: what is ultimately there? And what is it like?
The word metaphysics is derived from two Greek words ("beyond" and "physics"), and was first used as the title of one of Aristotle's works, however the word was ultimately a mistranslation of what Aristotle meant. However, once in use, philosophers have attempted to answer questions beyond the physical nature of existence.
Metaphysics and the Greeks
One of the key questions in metaphysics is the exact nature of being, one that has perplexed philosophers since the ancient Greeks. Parmenides believed that reality was all part of one single Being. However, even in the 20th century, thinkers wrestled with the notion of being. Martin Heidegger, in Being and Time, attempted to refocus modern philosophy back to Being, rather than beings.
Metaphysics also explores the mind/body problem. Rene Descartes, famous for the phrase cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I exist) created the notion of dualism, believing that the mind and the body were two separate substances. Idealists, such as Berkeley or Kant, reject this and claim that things only exist when they are perceived by the mind.
Metaphysics and Descartes
The context in which the famous statement appears is important to see its relevance to the concept of self and the subject of mind entailed in it. Descartes writes, "But I soon noticed that while I thus wished to think everything false, it was necessarily true that I who thought so was something. Since this truth, I think, therefore I am [statement in italics in original], was so firm and assured that all the most extravagant suppositions of skeptics were unable to shake it, I judged that I could safely accept it as the first principle of philosophy I was seeking." In this passage, Descartes specifies mind as the "first principle" of the philosophy he was seeking. If one accepts that it must be a mind that does the thinking, one sees that by his famous statement, Descartes irrevocably puts mind, as well as the subjects of self and existence, into consideration for philosophy.
In the following passage, Descartes implies that the mind has a separate existence from matter, and that this existence is more relevant to individuals than the existence of matter, which he discusses later. "I then examined closely what I was, and saw that I could imagine that I had no body, and there was no world nor any place that I occupied, but that I could not imagine for a moment that I did not exist. On the contrary, from the very fact that I doubted the truth of other things, or had any other thoughts, it followed very evidently and very certainly that I existed."
In Part Five and Part Six, respectively titled "Some Questions of Physics" and "Some Prerequisites for Further Advances in the Study of Nature," Descartes discusses his "seeking truth in the field of science" mentioned in the full title of his "Discourse." In these Parts he discusses the following:
- Descartes' relation as a thinking person to various parts of the world of nature, the field of science.
- Descartes outlines the scientific method.
I explained in considerable length [light's] nature when contained in the sun and the stars...Thence I went on to speak particularly of the earth...how the disposition of the celestial bodies and stars, principally the moon, would cause an ebb and flow in the water.... I noticed that experimentation becomes more necessary in proportion as we advance in knowledge.