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DESCARTES

When Aquinas sought for a unification of faith and reason in thirteenth century Christian thought he believed he was opening up the minds of Christians, in a sense strengthening the basis of his religion. The Church leaders of his day knew better and many condemned his writings. To little avail, however, because reason was the thought of the day and no amount of dogmatism was going to keep it out. Because Aquinas could not believe that it was possible for reason to contradict revelation, he could not see the danger in it. But it was not contradiction that led to the downfall of the schoolmen, it was their endless and futile harangues, and the irrelevance of their ideas in the newly developing western world, that led Descartes in the seventeenth century to attempt to cleanse his religion of these useless arguments. Like Thomas before him Descartes did not believe that reason could contradict revelation and thus he believed that what he was attempting to do was the right thing to do as a Christian. The Church fathers of his day knew better and many condemned his writings.

There is no other way to approach Descartes thought. It is Christianity first and science second that he was trying to further in his revolt against scholasticism. But it was more than a simple revolt. It was an attempt to keep his Catholic beliefs from being overcome by the force of the new scientific natural laws. This is true in spite of the fact that he never considered for a moment that there was any conflict between science, reason, and revelation. Any other point of view will miss important and relevant points in Descartes philosophy. At the same time we can say without contradicting what I just stated, that Descartes represents both a culmination of the past, the very scholastic philosophy he condemned, and the seeds of the future, the assimilation of natural law into western culture. His approach to knowledge was to lead philosophy into new realms, realms that he would never have thought possible.

What I want to stress is that though Descartes search for indubitable truth had more to do with three centuries of scholastic wrangling than it had to do with the furthering of science, his method formed a cornerstone of both modern science and modern philosophy. That although he complained that Galileo was spending too much time looking at individual events and not enough analyzing the reasoning behind them, he was still the first philosopher to reject the Greek approach of searching for the explanation of things in their reason for being. Though he never gave Galileo credit for this advance in thinking, his method parallels Galileo. While Galileo found his path to truth through conjecture and experimentation, and Descartes through pure reasoning, both followed Galileo's lead and started from the beginning, to efficient causes. Descartes faulted Galileo for not searching reasoning to determine why such laws as he discovered should hold.