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RenĂŠ Descartes Discourse on the method


Chapter 2 I was then in Germany, attracted thither by the wars in that country, which have not yet been brought to a termination; and as I was returning to the army from the coronation of the emperor, the setting in of winter arrested me in a locality where, as I found no society to interest me, and was besides fortunately undisturbed by any cares or passions, I remained the


whole day in seclusion, with full opportunity to occupy my attention with my own thoughts. Of these one of the very first that occurred to me was, that there is seldom so much perfection in works composed of many separate parts, upon which different hands had been employed, as in those completed by a single master. Thus it is observable that the buildings which a single architect has planned and executed, are generally more elegant and commodious than those which several have attempted to improve, by making old walls serve for purposes for which they were not originally built. Thus also, those ancient cities which, from being at first only villages, have become, in course of time, large towns, are usually but ill laid out compared with the regularity constructed towns which a professional architect has freely planned on an open plain; so that although the several buildings of the former may often equal or surpass in beauty those of the latter, yet when one observes their indiscriminate juxtaposition, there a large one and here a small, and the consequent crookedness and irregularity of


the streets, one is disposed ment of their association as to allege that chance rather communities, have followed than any human will guided the appointments of some wise by reason must have led to legislator. It is thus quite such an arrangement. And if certain that the constituwe consider that nevertheless tion of the true religion, there have been at all times the ordinances of which are certain officers whose duty derived from God, must be it was to see that private incomparably superior to buildings contributed to pubthat of every other. And, to lic ornament, the difficulty speak of human affairs, I of reaching high perfection believe that the pre-eminence with but the materials of of Sparta was due not to the others to operate on, will be goodness of each of its laws readily acknowledged. In the in particular, for many of same way I fancied that those these were very strange, and nations which, starting from even opposed to good morals, a semi-barbarous state and but to the circumstance that, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx advancing to civilization by originated by a single indixxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx slow degrees, have had their vidual, they all tended to a laws successively determined, single end. In the same way and, as it were, forced upon I thought that the sciences them simply by experience contained in books (such of of the hurtfulness of parthem at least as are made up ticular crimes and disputes, of probable reasonings, withwould by this process come out demonstrations), composed to be possessed of less peras they are of the opinions fect institutions than those different indiwhich, from the commenceviduals massed together, are


set up great difficulty thrown, are with serice on en wh pt erect again, or even ke such is alof ll fa e th d an ously shaken, any imThen if there are ways disastrous. states of ns tio e constitu perfections in th ersity of div e th ist ex h (and that many suc to asalone sufficient constitutions is bt materidou t ou th wi s ha sure us), custom d inconveniences, an ar ally smoothed their cle er th oge to steer alt has even managed mber which nu a d cte re cor of, or insensibly ainst t have provided ag sagacity could no e, the defects fin in d, an ; ect with equal eff an the more tolerable th are almost always in l; va mo re for their change necessary which wind ys wa gh hi at th the same manner ented, by being much frequ among mountains, us, dio mo com so smooth and become gradually than em th low fol to ter that it is much bet g over er path by climbin to seek a straight g to the in nd sce des d an the tops of rocks es. bottoms of precipic any that I cannot in Hence it isfrom busy farther truth than the dsiman ess stl re ose of th ree approve deginferences nor ple which a ne man of good sense th bir by er ith led who, caland meddler using hissnatural unprejudiced judgent gem na ma e th in rt pa take ne torespecting fortu ment draws the matters of his experience. And because we have all to pass through a state of infancy to manhood, and have been of necessity, for a length of time, governed by our desires and preceptors (whose dictates were frequently conflicting, while neither perhaps always counseled us for the best), I farther concluded that it is almost impossible that our judgments can be so correct or solid as they would have been, had our reason been mature from the moment of our birth, and had we always been guided by it alone. It is true, however, that itt is not customary to pull down all the houses of a town with the single design of rebuilding them differently, and thereby rendering the streets more handsome; but it often happens that a private individual takes down his own with the view of erecting it anew, and that people are even constrained to this when their houses are in danger of falling from age, or when

the foundations are insecure. With this before me by way of example, I was persuaded that it would indeed be preposterous for a private individual to think of reforming a state by fundamentally changing it throughout, and overturning it in order to set it up amended; and the same I thought was true of any similar project for reforming the body of the sciences, or the order of teaching them established in the schools: but as for the opinions which up to that time I had embraced, I thought that I could not do better than resolve at once to sweep them wholly away, that I might afterwards be in a positio to admit either others more correct, or even perhaps the same when they had undergone the scrutiny of reason. I firmly believed that in this way I should w much better succeed in th conduct of my life, than if I built only upon old foundations, and leaned upon principles which, in my youth, I had taken ######## upon trust. For although I recognized various difficultie ######### in this undertaking, these were not, however, without remedy, nor once to be compared with such as attend the slightest reformation in public affairs. Large bodies, if once overof public affairs, are yet always projecting reforms and if I thought that this tract contained aught which might justify the suspicion that I was a victim of such folly, Ixxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx would by no means permit its publication. I have never contemplated anything higher than the reformation of my own opinions, and basing them on a foundation wholly my own. And although my own satisfaction with my work has led me to present here a draft of it, I do not by any means therefore recommend to every one else to make a similar attempt. Those whom God has endowed with a larger measure of genius will entertain, perhaps, designs still more exalted; but for the many I am much afraid lest even the present undertaking be more than they can safely venture to imitate. The single design to strip one's self of all past beliefs is one that ought not to be taken by every one. The of men is composed of two classes, for neither of which would this be at all a befitting resolution: in the first place, of those who with more than a due confidence in their own powers, are precipi-


want the patience requisite for orderly and circumspect thinking; whence it happens, that if men of this class once take the liberty to doubt of t

I was then in Ger nation; and as I was r a locality where, as I the whole d I remained which may again, perhaps, be of the very first that received into favor before nations make an equal ten years have gone, appears character which a per to us at this moment extravaoriginally, this indiv gant and ridiculous. I was thread the byway that would stance that in dress i thus led to infer that the lead them by a shorter course, before ten years h ground of our opinions vor is far and will lose themselves and of our opinion ground more custom and example than continue to wander for life; of our opinion any certain knowledge. ground And, in the second place, of those cult finalllly, although such be discovery, as in who, possessed of sufficient from Ithe crowd no one the ground of our opinions, sense or modesty to determy own remarked that a plurality of reason in the mine that there are others But like one walk who excel them in the power did not advance far, I of discriminating between ffrages is no guarantee of truth where it is at all of difions that had crept in and error, and whom xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx cult discovery, truth as in such cases it isby much more likely that fully to satisfy myse they be by instructed, oughthowever, select xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx will be found by onemay than many. I could, arrive at the knowled rather to content themselves om the crowd no one whose opinions seemed worthy of prefAmong the branch themyself opinions of such as it were, to use ence, and thus Iwith found constrained, the mathematics to geo than trust for more correct own reason in the conduct of my life. ute something to my d their own reason. But like one to walking alone and in the dark, I resolved precepts are of availForwith my own I proceed so slowly and suchpart, circumspection, that if I without judgment of t should doubtless have bed not advance far, I would at least guard against falling. I contains indeed a num longed to thesummarily latter class, d not even choose to dismiss any of the opinions injurious or superflu had I received instruction at had crept into my belief without having been introduced from the false as it i from but one master, or had I reason, but first of all took sufficient time carefully to cients and the algebr known the diversities tisfy myself of never the general nature of the task I was setuse, the former is so of opinion that from time ng myself, and ascertain the true method by which to arrive on condition of great immemorial prevailed the knowledge of whatever have lay within the compass of my and formulas, that th among men of the greatest wers. fitted to cultivate th learning. But I had become Among the branches of philosophy, I had, at an earlier advantages of the thr even to so logic, early and as durriod, given someaware, attention among those of the a state is best govern ing my college life, that no thematics to geometrical analysis and algebra, -- three of precepts of which l opinion, however absurd andto contribute ts or sciences which ought, as I conceived, vided I took the firm incredible, canexamination, be imagined,I found that, as mething to my design. But, on The first was ne which has not been maintained r logic, its syllogisms and the majority of its other preprecipitancy avoid to by rather some oninofthe thecommunication philosopts are of availof what we clearly and distinctl phers; and afterwards in ready know, or even as the art of Lully, in speaking withThe second, to di the course of my I xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx t judgment of things of which wetravels are ignorant, than in essary for its adequa remarked that all those whose e investigation of the unknown; and although this science are decidedly ntains indeed a opinions number of correct and repugvery excellent prenant to ours are not that and these eipts, there are, nevertheless, so many in others, barbarians andwith savager injurious or account superfluous, mingled the former, that on the to contrary that is almost quitees, as but difficult effect a severance of the many nations amake an or a Minerva ue from the false as of it these is to extract Diana equally good,Then if not om a rough block of marble. as better, to the analysis of the use of their reason thanbesides we cients and the algebra of the moderns, that they emdo.highly I tookabstract, into account ace only matters and, also to appearance, of no very different charac-to the considerae, the former isthe so exclusively restricted ter which person brought on of figures, that it canaexercise the understanding only up fromfatiguing infancy in or condition of greatly theFrance imagination; and, in Germany exhibits, from that e latter, there is so complete a subjection to certain rules which, the an same mind d formulas, that therewith results art full of confusion and originally, this individual scurity calculated to embarrass, instead of a science fitted wouldBy have possessed had he I was induced cultivate the mind. these considerations always Chi- the advanseek some otherlived method whichamong wouldthe comprise nese or with savages, and ges of the three and be exempt from theirthe defects. And as a that in justice, dress so that a state ltitude of lawscircumstance often only hampers itself the fashion which


Chapter 2 rmany, attracted thither by the wars in that country, which have not yet been brought to a returning to the army from the coronation of the emperor, the setting in of winter arrested found no society to interest me, and was besides fortunately undisturbed by any cares or pa Of the own thoughts. my attention to occupy full opportunity with seclusion, day is in best govis they are in my judgedivide to consider each towith thosemyobmerations to consider so tcomposed, tthat hethat ion fmany of contrary on the greaaccount had butjects savages, and I barbarians o intruth the on who has been with respect ll are not r t occmours ti t it erned when, I m legitimately believed ment than of them the one diffiwhich complete, them indiand the e st w omen o r dif very the k also account into took , I do. we than a reason t their a of d use any particuinstructed to the sum of , he if not better, s good,few llywith acone and and what was re that applicable. culties by unin their own vidually, reviews so well one the by erthe same with in whis in presented that from re exhibits, adithat Germany infancy matu lar point in elenumbers brought rson rethe mo laws, theseup from four Perceivder sometimes examinanature dowhich,the general, I should ich France or to precifollowc a t i the c and savages, n with or Chinese the p g among g always lived he i in had possessed one whoever ments of before him, have t f (be would vidual e a r ag are rigidly ing would ncy my mind so tion into only to bear as not stand in Immight view them be om and fury be m received a perhaps, i again, may me which n and n ago, ti years ten us t d pleased at which apprehends arithmetic, and thatthat in icithe fashionther, th in itself a at administered; prove that perclearly and many them parts mind, a relation of as assured ll pa thled tious esubsistto einstance I was thus rr n sufand tyridiculous. moment extravagant enmade iat to truth, and has this owas tw appears gone, manntothis distinctly have ninfer bu ein like fectly in as tpossible, or embrace antecedence nothing ing between jthe o udorder u s g opini such m although finalllly,is And,sequence. en d knowledge. any certain an and all a within t example e), more custom is far ns ner, reas ons thparticuinstead ficient understand asthan to exclude and them inmight the and omitted. straight wknows ere m for his adreach of d at it where I guarantee uthan nodnecest I of truth is lar ostthat suffrages of rs p all plurality a that on addition, the fi I remarked ns, of toof ha the great that me, these provided reall ground be aggregate, And lines, The t o be dre t h a t howeve could, I many. m by than one by a found be o will it em that d likely m more l point can according to human gemuch is it e cases al e such d n of number of Iotook the lations I, I of doubt. sary forthat, the last, in acwhich thought long I t th ceptechains ght worthy wer as constrained, myself ch I found thus and mu dfind beuknown. rule, may be nius. Now, , ait ed t opinions e whose hat of preference, ploy precepts of Iseemed firm should someThe its in order adequate every case to bycould of simple s in oughtand a m a ssing me ti n The child, assured that conclusion, of my life. my conduct o of t which logic unwavertimes have second, to solution. the better make enuand no objects easy to app varie y of n, th so ara- and with such circumspectio odark, ep ach I resolved to proceed ther example, he found, the tmethod prslowly king alone and infor inhas any of th summarily dismiss to choose even not did I I would at least guard against falling. sufficient of all by reason, introduced reasonings more simple,without ing resolutrue the memory which The but first bycould I little bor-tookimagine that tim having been my belief nto ts tosetting i by method experience to which teachcertitude exercising true the n ascertain and myself, i was I by or capable means of of tion never I or did embrace not third, to and row little, all that all things, task the of elf of the general nature skill n.of oknow maes the my in to the atiof my powers. crules which being more gein within a singlethe acompass clearly conduct my and,reason was best as itboth lay whatever ofadherdgeafford pliaggregate pan those for ence to the arithmetic. all matters, and among of to logic, knowledge someinattention given period, ometers distinctly are instance to be of many, such; I thoughts were, in geometristep I had, at an earlier of philosophy, hesterials my reasontrue order, But if not with as I conceived, sciences accustomed represented to and failalgebra, in that should is extoarts or such order which byought, cal step, analyto which mantoiscon -- three analysis ometrical ings, and by examination, and an exact the absolute majority of it and logic, that, to my reach imagithe observing I found say, chief press carefulthemas forthat, by its syllogisms the and sis knowlin thecompetent, on But, design. in spea continually enumeraground of my perfection, Lully, of art the as even or know, already we what conclusions nation and them. ly by certain to avoid commencing edge algebra, of the and are mutually of n - rather in the communicatio although thi exercising tion of and all with and unknown; theleast of their senses; most we areThe precipitancy characters with objects of at more correct complex; all connected than in the investigation ignorant,satisfaction which of things and the myself in the condiwith thus the greatothers, so many in nevertheless, there difficult on the other first was andprecepts, the briefest prejuthe are, simplest assigning the defects the same excellent very and correct of mber of t my chosen severance tions of the method, est attaineffect toone as difficult quite almost iswas itand demonstrahand, that in to ac- that dice, possible. In and easiest in the of thought by a way, and the former, withnever mingled uous, with thing .sought the assurable by as to the Then from tions, order to had re-a Diana cept or anyto comprise this way aI roughtoblock know,of I marble. a certain help of me: the thatanalysis there of a Minerva to extract is method appearance toall includes ance I had besides, I and, abstract, highly matters only embrace led tain me them to in thing forthat they nothing believed more that might ascend order other. even is to nothing so besides moderns, the ofview ra a increased that gives restricted to the consideration of thereby of figures, that it was conscious exercise the understandi can exclusively tly fatiguing the imagination; and, in the latter, there is so complete a subjection to certai far removed thefull true, And, determining know,all ling and, the any demontigations. did I reach of a sci instead to embarrass, calculated and obscurity confusion ofand an art results here thpoint at byprenot having it ose of th asthesein always ofs sthe objects considering questions strations, I resolved solutions of compris to would method which some other seek to induced was I consideration mind.usBy hefrom use my I restricted a. justice, mi br nd ge to be beyond serve fact, the in our with which that embraced of all in that is, any to questions commence, al hampers only often laws of multitude a as And defects. their from ree and be exempt wa s becomi t, grea no this ld ng are ou reach, thoughts accurate the it rigidly was necesthosemethod these two who in like certain andinstead therefore, I had sh the of formanner, administered; these laws, with few when, nedour gr ad on uanecesto any par- prove lly r, wevethe or so order sary to comhave sciences, hithevident rea- sufficient with merly deemed exfor m ho perfectly would following four the that believed I composed,observance ishidden logic habi tu ated ticular matis acthatunwavering we can- of sary these for few the mence, I erto sought that in the I did amination exceedingly of th them. in observing to failsons, instance single in afor never resolution m and to clearegave ve car ter, toin apply ttohasay, rof un nottodiscover deduction precepts was already truth two or three the doubt the difficult co is simplest such; that to be know not clearly not did I which true for accept anything ever an d Itruth at motake re it to judgement the urednot it, provided one me, sciences, I the but objects, but to my venteven what was presented thanthat my nothing more inmonths comprise persuaded prejudice, and y and di stto in the ct con- that it must difficulties on ce only we abfrom the liberty anothmathematidevoted to such must anticipatas regards on doubt. of ground ly as to exclude all ce ptsaying, n ions Iofhad be with the io of thealone other inat stain from er. of And cians their exing, questions however, of migh exam as and as possible, partsbeen as many have into under examination difficulties of theit each ivide s obease jedifsciences, cts; l the al accepting the little such simplest and have amination, been the rule of from the solution this of ate solution. an d unraveI hope with notfind less their invesiculti false for ficulty in ind easiest to ableonly not to any of which other I es diff also, from success than of the sciadvantage continued ichIto ces wh than ignorant, that en ted in en beesfound was enabled, pr lves seapem accustoming as it th rtome, , fo my me peared mind to to d wouland is the to determine love th been vemeans nourishment the ha to rary and of whereby, truth, cont orde and the to a rdisthe extent in ibed crfor taste to which aall pres , thod such solution reasonwas the me rvings possible; assewere but ob ing that the

unsound. But I had no intention on that account of attempting to master all the particular sciences commonly denominated mathematics:

but observresults atingwle tributable that, dge to kno however the circumdifis such of ferent stance their nt ndethat depe objects, I commenced they princion all agree with the borples in considsimplest m ed froand row ering most general only phy, philoso the truths, various I chand in whi relations that or nothfoundthus proportions each truth ain, ing cert subsisting discovered I thought it neces-

among those objects, I thought it best for my purpose to consider these proportions in the most general form possible, without

was a rule referring sary first them to any available in of all to objects the dis-in endeavor to particular, covery of establish its except such subsequent principles. as would ones Nor in .And because most perthis faI observed, cilitate haps shall the besides, that knowledge I appear too an inquiry of them, vain, if it and of this kind without be considby was of all any means ered that, as others of

restricting them to these, that afterwards I might thus be the better able to apply them to every other class of objects to which


exercising myself in my chosen method with a view to increased skill in its application.

Discourse on the method - Rene Descartes  

a graphic interpretation of a 2nd chapter

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