René Descartes


The Father of Skeptical Rationalism

The Cartesian 

Perspective

 

Grounded in the "Real":

 

"I think, therefore I am."

 

Other Resources

René Descartes

(March 31, 1596 - February 11, 1650) 

 

René Descartes, French philosopher

(Public Domain image and caption from Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

Empiricism

 

René Descartes is considered by many to be the father of modern science, empiricism, and by some to be the father of modern philosophy.  His many contributions to science and mathematics make him one of the most important men in Western history.

 

Views on Rhetoric

 

Rhetoric has "the possible use...to serve to explain at times more easily to others the truths we have already ascertained."  Nevertheless, Descartes discounted the importance of every endeavor that was not epistemic, including rhetoric.  Descartes believed that rhetoric was inherently deceitful, serving to distract the recipient with seductive persuasion rather than provable logic. 

 

"Those who have the strongest power of reasoning, and who most skillfully arrange their thoughts in order to render them clear and intelligible, have the best power of persuasion even if they but speak the language of lower Britanny and have never learned rhetoric."

 

Impact on Rhetoric   

 

Descartes impact on rhetoric is indirect, but substantial.   It may have been Descartes who originally used the word "rhetoric" perjoratively, as mere decoration without real content.  His insistence on persuasion based on empirical evidence had even greater repercussions for Western society.

 

As other thinkers were beginning to develop ideas that may have lead to the exploration of the "soft" sciences, Descartes' ideas led to a rejection of Aristotelian relativism and a reestablishment of Platonic empiricism that reigned largely unquestioned until the 20th Century.

 

His legacy was a scientific era based on mathematical proofs and experimental repeatability.  Not until the development of the atom bomb and the monstrosities of the Holocaust would the supremacy of rationalism be questioned.