Whatever should we do with Cartesian method? Reclaiming descartes for the History of Science



Publication Details

Schuster, J. A. (2011). Whatever should we do with Cartesian method? Reclaiming descartes for the History of Science. Essays on the Philosophy and Science of René Descartes (pp. 195-223). United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.


This chapter describes the discovery, perfection, and application of the scientific method as the Scientific Revolution happens. Bacon, Galileo, Harvey, Huygens, and Newton were singularly successful in persuading posterity that they contributed to the invention of a single, transferable, and efficacious scientific method. The treatment of Descartes' method by historians of science and historians of philosophy has been no exception to this pattern. The Discours de la methode has been seen as one of the most important methodological treatises in the Western intellectual tradition, and the Cartesian method has been viewed as doubly successful and significant within that tradition. First, Descartes' method has been taken to mark an early stage in that long maturation of the scientific method resulting from interaction between application of method in scientific work and critical reflection about method carried out by great methodologists, from Bacon and Descartes down to Popper and Lakatos. Second, Descartes' considerable achievements in the sciences and in mathematics during a crucial stage of the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century have been taken to have depended upon his method. This chapter discusses the tendency of historians and philosophers to create a cult of the thoughts of thinkers and revive the link between theorizing about the purported scientific method and requiring a method-centric history of science. It explains further that in all cults, there is a doctrine of truth and it informs us of what we already know and that there is an open ended set of rules.

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