Analects of the Core: Descartes on plausible philosophy

Je ne dirai rien de la philosophie, sinon que, voyant qu’elle a été cultivée par les plus excellents esprits qui aient vécu depuis plusieurs siècles, et que néanmoins il ne s’y trouve encore aucune chose dont on ne dispute, et par conséquent qui ne soit douteuse, je n’avois point assez de présomption pour espérer d’y rencontrer mieux que les autres; et que, considérant combien il peut y avoir de diverses opinions touchant une même matière, qui soient soutenues par des gens doctes, sans qu’il y en puisse avoir jamais plus d’une seule qui soit vraie, je réputois presque pour faux tout ce qui n’étoit que vraisemblable.

I will say nothing of philosophy except that it has been studied for many centuries by the most outstanding minds without having produced anything which is not in dispute and consequently doubtful ‘and uncertain’. I did not have enough presumption to hope to succeed better than the others; and when I noticed how many different opinions learned men may hold on the same subject, despite the fact that no more than one of them can ever be right, I resolved to consider almost as false any opinion which was merely plausible.

René Descartes, in his Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences, 1637. The English text above — suggested for today’s analect by Kalani Ho McDaniel (Core ’10, CAS ’12) — is taken from the translation by Laurence Lafleur used in CC201. The French text may be found online at Project Gutenberg.

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