This log was inspired by "How to Read Wittgenstein" and "Ludwig Wittgenstein: the duty of genius" by Ray Monk. It is based on reading Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein translated by D. F. Pears & B. F. McGuinness (Routledge and Kegan Paul:1963)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Comments on Method

A word of advice by René Descartes on how to read his work.

1. At first, go over the whole of it, as if it were a novel, without paying too much attention or spending time on difficult passages. Simply get to know in general what it is about.
2. Afterwards, if it merits more care, read it a second time, in order to get the reasonings. But there is no cause to give up just because the proof does not immediately convince or not all the reasonings seem understandable. Just mark the places where the difficulties occur, and continue to read without interruption to the end.
3. Then, if the book is worth taking up a third time, a fresh perusal will resolve of most of the difficulties that were marked before.
4. If any still remain, their solution will in the end be found in a fourth reading.

In the normal range of different minds, there are hardly any so dull or slow as to be incapable of following a valid argument, or even of learning science, with appropriate guidance. And this stands to reason; for when the principles are clearly stated, and only straightforward reasoning is asked for, anyone can comprehend the conclusions that flow from them. But no one is entirely exempt from prejudices, and those who are most committed to thinking that turns out to be wrong are most distracted by them.

It also happens that people of ordinary capacity neglect to study from lack of confidence, while others, who are more aggressive, go too fast. Both tend to jump to conclusions. For this reason, I assure those who doubt their ability that there is nothing in my writings which they may not entirely understand, if they only give themselves a chance. I also wish, at the same time, to warn those of an opposite tendency that even the most superior minds will have to take their time and work at it.

And now, I wish to explain the order one ought to follow in self instruction.
• In the first place, adopt a conventionally acceptable code of morals. This does not admit delay because it ought to be our first care to live well.
• Second, study Logic. But avoid the academic approach taught in school. That is only, properly speaking, a dialectic which teaches the mode of expounding to others what we already know, or even to speak much, without judgment, about what we do not know. That corrupts rather than increases good sense. Proper logic teaches valid reasoning so one can discover truths not known before.
• Because logic is a difficult skill, it is desirable to exercise for a length of time in practicing its rules on easy and simple questions, like those of mathematics.
• Then, when one has acquired some skill, start with philosophy in earnest.

René Descartes now outlines philosophy with a view toward agreeing with the Holy Office.
• The first part is Metaphysics, containing the principles of knowledge, among which is the explication of the principal attributes of God, of the immateriality of the soul, and of all the clear and simple notions that are in us.
• The second is Physics, in which, after finding the true principles of material things, we examine, in general, how the whole universe has been framed. In the next place it is necessary also to examine singly the nature of plants, of animals, and above all of man, in order that we may thereafter be able to discover the other sciences that are useful to us.
• Thus, all Philosophy is like a tree, of which Metaphysics is the root, Physics the trunk, and all the other sciences the branches that grow out of this trunk. By the science of Morals, I understand the highest and most perfect which, presupposing an entire knowledge of the other sciences, is the last degree of wisdom.

In the present day, one can divide the matters at issue in philosophy into three rough classes:
• matters of fact, which are studied by the natural sciences.
• matters of law, which are studied by the social sciences.
• matters of taste, the realm of art.

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