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13. Descartes


Subject Philosophy

People Descartes, René

Key-Topics science

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631230205.2001.00016.x


Descartes has an unofficial, as well as an official, philosophy of science. The unofficial philosophy of science can be detected in his letters, in some of the essays that he presented as specimens of his method in 1637, in the closing pages of the Discourse on Method itself, in parts of the Principles of Philosophy , and in his physics treatise, The World. The official philosophy of science is to be found elsewhere: in the Meditations , for example, and in Parts 2 and 4 of the Discourse. There are also expressions of it in the 1647 preface to the Principles. The unofficial philosophy of science is that of a practicing scientist; the official one is that of a metaphysician trying to prepare the ground among theologians for the safe publication of his physics. The unofficial philosophy takes problem solving to be the leading kind of scientific activity. It allows for the legitimate use in science of hypotheses, experiments, and extensive observation. The official philosophy of science, on the other hand, is concerned with the conditions for the rigorous demonstration of a large number of effects from highly evident principles. While not ruling out a scientific use for observation and experiment, it stresses the importance of a certain kind of first principle in physics, the deduction of physical explanations of a very high order of generality, and the possibility of basing ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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