August 06, 2009

Putting Descartes before the horse


The horse.

El Cabrero just finished reading (more accurately, listening to) a fun book, Descartes' Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason by Russell Shorto.

I was a philosophy major as an undergraduate (does it show?) and remember having to do a report on ole Rene in my first class on modern philosophy. I was a bit surprised at the time that the 1600s counted as modern, but could see even then why Descartes was a new departure.

In an effort to gain certain knowledge, he practiced a method of systematic doubt in which he rejected anything that couldn't be seen as certain in the light of reason. Clear and distinct ideas and all that. As most people who've ever flirted with philosophy know, the bedrock on which he started was the cogito, as in "I think, therefore I am."

(Buddhists and others would be quick to point out that the fact of thinking does not necessarily imply a permanent "I" who is doing the thinking, but that's neither here nor there.)

One legacy that Descartes partly created and partly inherited was mind/body dualism. He tended to view the human body and animals generally as operating under natural and more or less mechanical laws. The human mind/soul however was believed to be somehow immaterial.

For some strange reason, he thought the soul connected with the body via the pineal gland, which raises the obvious question, what need would an immaterial soul have of that?

One unfortunate legacy of his thought was the tendency to view animals as essentially complex machines (which tells me among other things that he was a city boy) devoid of real feelings. In fact, most complex animals probably feel things as intensely as we do, although they don't talk or think about it as much. The parts of the brain associated with human emotions are those we share with other mammals.

Forget about the inner child and the ghost in the machine. I say embrace your inner animal!

HEALTH CARE. Here's a toolkit on health care reform for aimed at religious groups.

JUNK FOOD NATION. Here's another helping.

SPEAKING OF FOOD, WV Governor Joe Manchin declared yesterday to be "Eat Local Day." El Cabrero, a patriotic son of the Mountain State, did his part by eating garlic, tomatoes, eggplant and an egg from the farm.

CASH FOR CLUNKERS. Here's a look at this popular program by the Economic Policy Institute.


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