Sunday, June 1, 2008

Cartesian Jabs

Here's a bit of Descartes on the scholastics that I came across, again from the objections and replies (GB 31 p.169):

"For more credence should be attached to what one man ... says, if he alleges that he has seen or learned something, than one should give to a thousand others who deny it, for the mere reason that it was imossible for them to see it or become aware of it. Thus at the discovery of the Antipodes the report of a few sailors who had circumnavigated the earth was believed rather than the thousands of philosophers who had not believed the earth to be round. Further, though they here cite as confirmation the Elements of Euclid, saying that everyone finds them easy to apprehend, I beg my critics to consider that among those men who are counted the most learned in the Philosophy of the Schools, there is not one in a hundred who understands them, and that there is not one in ten thosand who understands all the demonstrations of Apollonius or Archimedes, though they are as evident and as certain as those of Euclid."

I didn't realize the idea that until the so-called age of discovery everyone, especially intellectuals, thought the world was flat actually goes back this far. Just to mention, Scotus, in a passage I didn't bother posting he used the roundness of the world in an example comparing the certainty of demonstrations when comparing sciences like astronomy and astrology. The jab about geometry is interesting as well; I remember Albert the Great did a commentary on Euclid, but have no idea how it was taught later and in Descartes day, or if his criticism is justified.

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