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Descartes and Western Civilization Individualism
09-09-2013, 08:02 AM
Post: #1
Descartes and Western Civilization Individualism
http://batr.org/solitary/090913.html

The philosophical condemnation of the supremacy in individual liberty verses the reigning doctrine of collective dominance, is a primary cause for the destruction of Western Civilization principles.  Rene Descartes preferred to do his radical doubt thinking in solitude. In today’s society, thinking is about as foreign as rational behavior. In order to understand the timeless values and precepts that fostered the underpinnings of our Western thought and heritage, the significance of Descartes needs a close examination.

Jorn K. Bramann, PhD in The Educating Rita Workbook is the source reference for the Descartes: The Solitary Self essay. This excellent treatise deserves your full attention.
Quote:“There are two cultural legacies of lasting importance that Descartes’ radical separation of the mind from the physical world has left—two philosophical conceptions of reality that found expression in how Europeans related to their environment, and how they perceived their over-all existence in the world.

The one legacy fastens on the absolute sovereignty of the mind vis-à-vis everything that is not mind. While the external world, including the thinker's body, is subject to the laws of physics and other external contingencies, the mind is not. I, being pure mind, enjoy a supreme degree of independence from my body and everything physical.

The radical separation of mind and body--and of the mental and the physical in general--is known as "Cartesian Dualism." And by attributing to the mind something like sovereignty over the external physical world, it has prepared the way for a distinctly modern conception and experience of reality, a conception which replaced older ways of seeing the world in drastic ways.

The other important legacy that originates with Descartes’ radical separation of the mind from everything physical is the inherently solipsistic individualism that time and again emerged in the course of modern European philosophy. Solipsism is the extremist philosophical theory that I am the only being that exists. This theory is invariably perceived as either comical or crazy by anyone who discusses it, and most philosophers have assumed that there are convincing reasons for dismissing it without much ado. The way Descartes sets up and explains his procedure of radical doubt, however, makes it impossible to avoid the conclusion that the doubting self may indeed be the only being that exists. In spite of all efforts to refute it, Cartesianism remains haunted by the ghost of Solipsism . . . The decisive point of Cartesian doubt is the contention that I cannot go outside of myself, as it were, to check whether what I see is real or not. I am always and irremediably inside my mind, and that always keeps alive the theoretical possibility of the truth of Solipsism.”

The “ME” culture seems to be the social reflection of adopting a solipsist personal mindset. The unreality in which so many zombies live their existence, seems to be the extreme of the only perception of knowing within yourself.  When Tocqueville stated his famous comment that “Americans are Cartesians without having read Descartes”, we get an insight into the significance that Descartes had on the Enlightenment and the emerging scientific age.

In another segment from The Educating Rita Workbook, Doctor Bramann cites the reasons why Americans function within the social framework that came out of a philosophical departure from the Old Europe.

The social condition that makes Americans natural Cartesians are described by de Tocqueville as follows:
Quote:“In the midst of the continual movement which agitates a democratic community, the tie which unites one generation to another is relaxed or broken; every man readily loses the trace of the ideas of his forefathers or takes no care about them.

Nor can men living in this state of society derive their belief from the opinions of the class to which they belong; for, so to speak, there are no longer any classes, or those which still exist are composed of such mobile elements, that their body can never exercise a real control over its members.

As to the influence which the intelligence of one man has on that of another, it must necessarily be very limited in a country where the citizens, placed on a footing of a general similitude, are all closely seen by each other; and where, as no signs of incontestable greatness or superiority are perceived in any one of them, they are constantly brought back to their own reason as the most obvious and proximate source of truth.”

Relying on and coming back to your own reason seems to be relegated to past generations. Is the Descartes doctrine relevant in the technocratic and transnational, globalist interdependent and digital connected world of today and still the compelling intellectual system? Well, this begs the question of an analysis about current worldly conditions and the true criteria and standards that any successful society must adopt.

In The Underlying Soul, by Stephen Iacoboni, MD writes at Science vs Religion: Rene Descartes and the Cause of Spiritual Decline.
Quote:“Before Descartes, mind, body and soul were one — as described so eloquently by the greatest of the scholastics, Aquinas himself. The Cartesian legacy, which had driven Europe to its greatest heights of world exploration, colonization, and conquest, paradoxically has left the West in decline. Europe now is more a museum rather than anything resembling a world power.

Why? Because Descartes’ famous statement says that thought precedes self-awareness, i.e., soul. But, modern science now tells us that thought is simply a bodily function of the cerebral cortex. As such, there is no room in the medical model for Descartes’ separated soul to play any real role in our lives. Thus, the legacy of Descartes, after four centuries of material success, is spiritual collapse. For the first time in the history of Western civilization, many now believe we are soulless.”
That is the very point that needs to be deconstructed. The operative benchmark is not the fashionable belief that perception is everything. The trends and flows of popular culture are not superior to constraints of nature and the laws of the universe. A soulless society cannot respect the dignity of the individual or protect the natural rights of persons. Yet, the vast achievements of raising people out of poverty, social despair and private isolation are a central part of the legacy of Western Civilization.

When the Bramann assessment begins with the viewpoint:
Quote:“Individualism is one of the hallmarks of Western philosophy and civilization. No other intellectual tradition has been as intensively (some would say: excessively) preoccupied with singling out and defining the individual self than Western philosophy, and no other polity has made the presumed rights and prerogatives of the individual as central a concern as Western societies. Individualism is as defining a characteristic of our present civilization as capitalism, materialism, technology, and global expansion.”

He is really validating and concluding that Descartes helped set into motion a new wave of thinking that broke from the past and liberated the mind and practical accomplishment capacities of what is pejoratively called progress.
Is the triumph of the will a feat of institutional communal conscience? On the other hand, are the vast majority of initiative steps forward a product of individual inspiration and creative insights?

Rene Descartes did not originate the argument that the individuals are their own sole and ultimate arbitrator of perceiving reality, but he did contribute a singular vision that penetrated into the social fabric of Europe and America. Western political thought has always been a depository of philosophical building blocks that rest upon the pillars of the Greek notion of democratic rights, privileges and responsibilities.

The adoption of Roman edicts and precepts evolved into the admiralty law of equity relativism that passes today for jurisprudence. To the extent, that Descartes separated the soul from any real role in our lives, would not negate the factual truth that our soul is the essential being of our personhood and existence.

Civilization is not possible without a firm acceptance that individuals possess, by their very nature, Inalienable Rights as understood by Thomas Jefferson. John Locke influenced Jefferson and his prospective can be traced back to Descartes’ assertion that all individuals have the “natural light of reason.” Descartes’ belief that the world is essentially rational and comprehensible is certainly being tested by current world events. However, the awful actions that disrespect citizens have a direct correlation to the way that governments, corporatists and institutions mistreat human life.    

The refuge of one’s own mind may well be the last assertion of your own self worth and intrinsic value. With all the mental assaults and psyops targeting your intellect, the day of an independent and individualistic human species may well come to an end. At that point, the collective soul of humanity dies as well.

Those rugged individuals that Tocqueville observed in 19th century America would be in shock and horror to see the lack of critical thinking in this anti-intellectual society. For his part, do not blame Descartes, he knew who he was.

SARTRE – September 9, 2013
 
 

 

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