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Cartesian Rationalism

Understanding Descartes


Zbigniew Drozdowicz

Descartes gave the human intellect the central role in rationalism, his system therefore is a variant of intellectual rationalism. Other forms of rationalism had emerged in scholastic philosophy and the ancient philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. While Descartes had reservations with respect to all of them, he still adopted some of their elements: not even such a self-directed and critical philosopher as Descartes could have proceeded on the difficult journey towards truth without any baggage of tradition whatsoever. Those who treated this baggage as a useless burden and have attempted to pursue truth without carrying it, have only discovered things which had long been known.
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Annex: Cartesian Meditations one more time


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Cartesian Meditations one more time

Cartesian Meditations – written by Edmund Husserl in 1929 – serve as a ready proof of the lasting philosophical influence exerted by the works of Descartes. They also demonstrate that Meditations on First Philosophy included many such elements whose presence Descartes had in fact been unaware of – despite the fact that he waged an intellectual battle to obtain the highest degree of consciousness from the first to the very last page of this book. Husserl did share this objective, and this seems to be the most important common point uniting the endeavours of both philosophers. In short, they can both be called philosophers of consciousness, but of consciousness which is arrived at through different paths. This difference is made ever more prominent as we progress in the sequence of Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations.

There are altogether five of them, and the fact that they include no reference to Descartes’ Meditation VI appears telling and thought-provoking (this meditation was meant by Descartes to delimit the ontological edge of res cogitans and facilitate the entrance into the world of res extensa). This can be seen as tantamount to an acknowledgement that Husserl did not consider such a move possible. On the other hand, it can also be seen as expressive of a mode of thinking which assumes this move not to be necessary in order to achieve the consciousness and self-consciousness sought by an intellectual of the Husserlian type. From...

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