Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Cartesian Humility And Wisdom

"After all, it is possible I may be mistaken; and it is but a little copper and glass, perhaps, that I take for gold and diamonds. I know how very liable we are to delusion in what relates to ourselves, and also how much the judgments of our friends are to be suspected when given in our favour. But I shall endevour in this discourse to describe the paths I have followed, and to delineate my life as in a picture, in order that each one may be able to judge of them for himself, and that in the general opinion entertained of them, as gathered from current report, I myself may have a new help towards instruction to be added to those I have been in the habit of employing.

My present design, then, is not to teach the method which each ought to follow for the right conduct of his reason, but solely to describe the way in which I have endeavoured to conduct my own. They who set themselves to give precepts must of course regard themselves as possessed of greater skill than those to whom they presecribe; and if they err in the slightest particular, they subject themselves to censure. But as this tract is put forth merely as a history, or, if you will, as a tale, in which, amid some examples worthy of imitation, there will be found, perhaps, as many more which it were advisable not to follow, I hope it will prove useful to some without being hurtful to any, and that my openness will find some favour with all."

- René Descartes, Discourse on Method Part One

At a point in history when most philosophers were quite often elitist, moralistic and self-righteous, Descartes came as refreshingly humble.

This next quote where he describes his decision to alter his desires rather than change the world conveys profound wisdom that, in certain circumstances, would be a good/useful maxim to emulate, perhaps at least in the general search for happiness:

"My third maxim was ... in general to accustom myself to the persuasion that, except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power; so that when we have done our best in respect of things external to us, all wherein we fail of succes is to be held, as regards us, absolutely impossible: and this single principle seemed to me sufficient to prevent my desiring for the future anything which I could not obtain, and thus render me content."

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