Study Guide

René Descartes Files

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Shmoop Exclusive! Shmoop has learned that Descartes has for many years been writing a blog under the pseudonym FatherOfModernPhilosophyGuy. Here is an excerpt:

Do you ever have the feeling that you are the most brilliant person who ever lived, and that your mind is so developed that no one else can even begin to comprehend your ideas, let alone offer useful feedback on them? Me too—daily.

So, just the other day, I was sharing some of my thoughts with my friend. Actually, I should say with my former friend. After our discussion, I happened to look at some papers this friend of mine had published. And I noticed that some of the ideas expressed looked awfully familiar, almost as if I had seen them before.

Now, why, oh why could that be? I don't know, maybe it was because they were MY ideas! My "friend" had stolen them! And to add insult to injury, he didn't even get it right. If you want to try to claim the ideas of René Descartes as your own, you could at least have the decency to try to understand them first.

But, anyhow, I digress. Before I discovered the truth about my plagiarist buddy, I made the mistake of telling him one of my other ideas. As I explained to him, I have discovered that there are two kinds of substances in the world: minds and bodies. Or, as I like to call them in Latin, res extensa and res cogitans—extended things and thinking things. But I think even this imbecile knew that much about René Descartes's discoveries.

However, I went on to inform him that from this it follows that material bodies, both animate and inanimate, could be thoroughly known by the new science (the same science that, I didn't have to tell him, I personally have played a key role in developing). Physics and physiology tell us the essence of the physical realm. The mental realm, meanwhile, falls outside the domain of scientific laws. The distinction between body and mind thus makes clear the proper concern of science.

Now those are exciting, earth-shattering ideas. So what is this idiot's reaction? He says, and I quote: "I don't know. It seems to me that the mind could ultimately be shown to be a material entity. And therefore it could someday be explained by the physical sciences."

Can you believe the stupidity? The suffering of the true genius is unimaginable.


Isaac Beeckman: About your friend "plagiarizing" your ideas: sounds awfully familiar, René. I have not forgotten how you made the same accusation against me, after I had generously taught you mathematics for all those years. And what a ridiculous accusation. As I told you then, René, you did not invent the concept of addition.

FatherOfModernPhilosophyGuy: Hey, wait, how do you know who this is?

Isaac Beeckman: Well, it's not that difficult when you keep referring to yourself in the third person.

FatherOfModernPhilosophyGuy: Whatever. Thief!

PhilosophyFan: I no just how you feel!! Im really smart to and noone apreciates me.

Thomas Hobbes: Why do you think your friend is such an idiot? He doesn't seem that way to me. In fact, I agree with his viewpoint entirely.

FatherOfModernPhilosophyGuy: You would, Hobbes; you would. That's all I have to say.

Aristotelian Church Father: How dare you, Descartes? How dare you? We know what your true purpose is here: it is to deny God and make science the king. You are an atheist.

FatherOfModernPhilosophyGuy: Descartes? Never heard of him! I'm a different father of modern philosophy—yeah, that's right. Just a nobody, really, out here on my own, throwing out a few ideas.

Aristotelian Church Father: It's too late now, Descartes. We know it's you. And we will make sure pay the price for your sinful claims.

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