Known as the Father of western philosophy, Rene Descartes (born 1596) realized the pointlessness of debating issues with the fundamentally religious, causing him to leave Catholic influenced Europe and find a home in the north west, where Protestantism ruled, with its greater spirit of inquiry.
Throughout this world of experience, he realized that little knowledge could be certain. Hence, he decided to be cynical of all knowledge. Introducing Radical Doubt, everything was to be doubted. In this way, he began a search for the one element of man that could be relied on. And he eventually realized what this was.
Man, he decided, could think. In some form of mental sense, he had ideas which made him think. Hence, in thinking, he existed. And through experience he perceived and thought. In his famous dictum, he expressed the uniqueness of man’s existence: I think, therefore I am.
Such a view validated reason, observation and the laws man devised to understand nature and society. But in thinking, man was different to anything else in existence. Man, he argued, had a soul which permitted thinking to occur. Man had a spiritual centre which inhabited a physical body. Without that centre, man would be a physical, soulless machine. Hence, the rest of the world must be a soulless machine. Hence, mind was separated from body. And it was ‘mind’ which made man unique and above all else.
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