Reading about Descartes and Spinoza was very interesting to me. They were both rationalists, meaning they believed reason was the foundation of certainty in knowledge. Descartes was, also, the first philosopher since the Renaissance to build a whole philosophical system. He is probably mostly known for his phrase “cogito, ergo sum”, which I totally believe in. Thinking makes your mind work altogether, and what you come up with is who you are. If one does not think and simply accepts, without questioning, what someone else says, that makes them very less of a person. About his theory on the two substances and his dualism, I do not agree with him, but rather prefer Spinoza’s monist take on the subject. His basic Substance, which he occasionally calls God or nature, and the modes it assumes are simple enough to explain what the world is.
By the way, the way the book is written makes it difficult to extract a philosopher’s thinking in essence and elaborate on it. Everything is so scattered between Sophie’s comments (which seem to be asking just the right question every time) and Alberto’s explanations. Also, Hilde’s father’s interference with their lives kind of disturbs me. What also disturbs me is how it is continuously Hilde’s birthday, every time the father writes something. I want the whole mysterious story to be over as soon as possible.
I remember studying Descartes in French literature last year. I really related to the four rules of his “Method”:
- Never accept anything for true that you are not sure is such;
- Divide the problem into as many parts as possible;
- Solve simple problems first, then move to more complex ones;
- Calculate, organize, and present in general, so that you don’t miss anything in the solution.
I was never a fan of Math and Geometry tests and exams, but I loved the logic required for them. I was in the ninth grade when I first started solving geometrical problems, and I remember my teacher being extremely strict about our final exposition of the solution; I learned to phrase my steps, explain even the smallest one of them, and I took a lot of pride in it. I even used my nice pen. I had always been an organized person, and growing up knowing that what I considered a need for order was not a crazy thing but a real thing, with a whole philosophy to back it up, gave me tranquility.
As for Spinoza’s thinking, I recently discovered that there are historicocritical studies about the writing of the Bible, and I actually am really interested to know more about them. I never think about it when I first read a book that was written decades or centuries ago, but the reasons for and the context in which the books are written matter a lot. If those studies were taught (if not in churches, at least at school), some of our major societal rules would shift and change. Probably for the better.
This time, I didn’t really enjoy reading about the Middle Ages. It has never interested me as a historical period itself, and the overall line of thought is, in my regards, almost plain and unexciting. Probably my past experiences influence me to the point where I particularly despise St. Augustine’s philosophy, in which he rearranges Platonic ideas in a Christian world. I have always been fond of Plato and his reasoning, but I don’t like comparing his world of Ideas to a god’s divine mind. Moreover, St. Augustine’s division between good (God’s work) and evil (falling away from God’s work) is rather extreme; I guess in the Middle Ages this separation was normal, in a simplistic type of society it’s easier to reduce the world to black and white. However, I generally think there is way more than that. On the other hand, Thomas Aquinas’ philosophy and his proof of God’s existence are, to me, shallow and unsatisfying. His four cosmological arguments don’t prove any god’s existence in a definite way, however logical it could be, and his teleological argument still doesn’t provide actual evidence: analogy only works up to a certain degree.
But maybe it’s just me, I am rather sensitive to religious matters and faith in general, I can’t give in to something that can’t be cleared by logic.
I love Renaissance. Perhaps it’s because I live in Italy and I take pride in my country’s historical achievements, perhaps it’s just because Renaissance it’s one of my favorite historical periods. I love the concept of rebirth, and what happens during the Renaissance is exactly that: they went back to glorious past eras and rebuilt the world on that ancient magnificence. But they didn’t stop there. They worked to start over, and go on. The incredible discoveries they found are what allowed us to reach this point in technology, and physics, and arts.
I see a lot of “let us go back to our former glory, we deserve it” in our lives today. Statements like these have two major fallacies in them. First of all, one can’t go back a former glory if there was no glory to begin with. Where we are now is glory (in many regards, not all yet), and many times the past just pales in comparison. We live in a world that is the most inclusive and diverse world we have ever lived in, this is what glory is now; it’s sad to think that there still are people who don’t think this is glorious and want to return to the time where they had glory, but it was all for themselves. Second of all, if there was a former glory, then let’s bring it back, we need it. But then, let us move on. We need change, we need to adapt, new generations on the rise are going to bring it anyway, so why fight it? Compromise.There is no way the world will ever stay the same for more than a couple of generations (these days, not even one), so: compromise with the future. The future is necessary, the past is only there to teach us what did not work so that we don’t make the same mistakes again.