Descartes’ zero-axiom system

May 30, 2011

Descartes’ zero-axiom system

I first properly encountered Descartes in European History class, where he was introduced as the great skeptic who had rejected everything he believed, leaving only the essential, irrefutable, true-in-all-conceivable-universes “I think, therefore I am” – cogito ergo sum. Magnificent.

I had always meant to read some Cartesian philosophy, but I guess it slipped my mind. Except that this system of assuming nothing kept coming up. Douglas Adams references it in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with Deep Thought, the super-computer which had been fed “I think therefore I am” and had deduced the existence of rice pudding and income tax in a blink of an eye.

Descartes’ fear of an “infinitely powerful demon” which sought to deceive mankind and which could only be defeated or circumvented by the “natural light of reason” is also referenced frequently in other writing, although less than respectfully.  Read the rest of this entry »