Rene Descartes and Lao Tzu

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 11 January 2017

Rene Descartes and Lao Tzu

Rene Descartes remains one of the most significant philosophers of the West in the past few centuries. In his lifetime, the fame and popularity of Descartes is just like that of a mathematician or a physicist. But today, he is considered as an original philosopher and his ideas and thought are one of the most studied in philosophy. Descartes made attempts to bring philosophy to a new direction. His school of though has rejected the thoughts of Aristotle and scholastic traditions that had dominion on the whole of philosophical thought during the medieval period.

It instead made attempts to integrate fully his philosophy of with sciences that were considered at that time to be new. Descartes altered the relationship between theology and philosophy. These new directions that Descartes had initiated made him a philosopher that is revolutionary, The most famous of his ideas are those that employ a method of hyperbolic doubt. Hi argument consist of the possibility that he may doubt but he cannot doubt that he exists. An essential aspect of this philosophical method is on the first of is ideas. In searching for the foundation of philosophy, whatever that has the possibility to be doubted must be rejected.

He resolves the argument by saying that we must only trust what is clearly and distinctively seen that is free from doubt. It is in this way that Descartes peels or takes away the layers of beliefs and ideas that would only obstruct his perspective of the truth. His next philosophical thought is reconstructing knowledge little by little and by piece in such a way that the there will be no instance that doubt will be back. Descartes has proven th he himself should have the basic ability of thinking. This thinking mind is separate from the body, the existence of God, nature and the outside world.

Descartes has shown that knowledge is truly possible and that a scientific knowledge of the material world is possible that is based on mathematics. Descartes also speaks about innate ideas. If exterior objects are known to have any clarity and that they really are, then there must be the existence of innate ideas. These ideas do not come from imagination or from the senses. These ideas came from the operation of the mind on its own. Only innate ideas have features of necessity or even universality. Ideas that are experienced are only contingent.

He said that ideas do not have any similarity to the objects that they represent. Because of this statement, the mind is essentially a thinking entity and the body is just a substance that is extended and therefore essentially different. There is no idea of extension that can be formed in the mind using the senses. To have a thought of an extended substance, the idea of an extension must be innate or should first belong to the mind. The theory of innate ideas basically speaks about certain pieces of knowledge that are known to exist in man even before birth and not acquired from experiencing the outside world.

Descartes used this in his claim that man has innate idea of God’s existence and basic nature. These innate ideas are not immediately made known to man but require reason in their discovery. The knowledge of God is innate because it is a product of the faculty of faith (Kenny 1997). Lao Tzu, a famous Chinese philosopher, treats the acquisition of knowledge is dictated because it is based on language and socialization. The composition of knowledge is of arbitrary, historically, accidental social systems of creating differences, guiding desires and acting.

Lao Tzu justifies the abandoning of knowledge as a method of recovering the natural, genuine and spontaneous impulses of humanity. Society will mold the desires through the use of words and differences. The acquisition of a sophisticated taste will shape the desires of man and also actions and choices that man will take. Man will not desire things naturally because they are just simple and few. Lao Tzu accepts the idea of having pre-social desires. If man will forget or abandon the learned desires that rose from language socialization, then man cam return to nature.

The social analysis of knowledge come with the conceptualization of the natural or innate knowledge (Henricks 1989). Although the teachings of Lao Tzu cannot be considered as part of dualism, his ideas will seem to support the primary idea of Descartes as evident in his book, Tao Te Ching. The book talks about the way of Tao that does not vary and compared it to something like a bellow that is inexhaustible but empty. In spite of this unchanging way that makes the world to what it is, everything relies on this unchanging way because it completes everything. There are some similarities to the philosophy of Lao Tzu and Descartes on knowledge.

Descartes believed on the innate knowledge of things that man has before he was ever born. Lao Tzu also believed on knowledge that is acquired before pre-socialization wherein man has knowledge before he is immersed in the context of a social world and language. They also have similarities in ideas of dualism. Tao is not extensive and to the world’s order, it has a spiritual entity as a factor by affecting it by using the mind. Te will become the tool that the unvarying way will utilize to show the effects in the body or the natural world. Tao is the one controlling Te and Te follows what Tao says.

Tao is being depicted here as God. The real Tao cannot be defined for when it can defined then it is not the real Tao. The Tao that cannot be named is the one who created heaven and earth. It is in reference of something that nothing greater can be thought of. Tao already existed before all the other beings. For Descartes, the knowledge of God’s existence is innate because it is the result of the faculty of faith. In man, there is this idea that lies of a perfect being that Descartes is incapable of creating this idea on his own. This kind of idea must have a cause or a formal reality.

This cause cold not have come from a less than perfect being or reality. The attributes of God were of being independent, supremely intelligent and powerful and created everything else in this world. God exists necessarily. Note the similarities of Lao Tzu and Descartes of a supreme being. The only difference is that Lao Tzu did not call it a God. Descartes called it a God, being that it is something that cannot be explained or defined and one that existed before the world was created and the One who created everything else that is found in the world. Lao Tzu did not identify with the being as a personal creator.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 11 January 2017

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