Why 17th Century French Philosopher Rene Descartes Had an Inaccurate View of Human Existence

By Claudia Carballal

October 25, 2020



In Western philosophy we learn about French philosopher Rene Descartes. He's credited as the founder of analytical geometry and with the discovery of infinitesimal calculus and analysis. He's considered one of the key figures in the modern Scientific Revolution.


Descartes studied the mind-body complex. He argued that the essence of matter is extension, and that the essence of mind is thought. His theory of mechanistic physiology proposed that the animal body is a mere machine made of material mechanisms, governed by the laws of matter alone.


There's no doubt that Descartes was a top scientist and mathematician, but his view of existence and his approach in understanding the mind-body complex, were incomplete. He possessed outstanding mathematical and analytical intelligence, but he lacked existential and intrapersonal intelligence to understand the nature of existence and the human soul, also called consciousness. He's provided the Western world with a purely materialist view of human existence.


What was the consequence of Descartes' incomplete theories about existence?


Descartes, perhaps unintentionally, set the Western world back hundreds of years in the evolution of human consciousness. As early as the 8th century, Hindu sages and philosophers, like the iconic Adi Shankaracharia, were already teaching about the human spirit and the divinity of human existence beyond mind and body. Years later, Descartes was reducing human beings to mere machines made of material mechanisms. Even though Descartes made some arguments about the existence of God as a supreme perfect being, his famous dictum "cogito ergo sum" is considered fundamentally inaccurate by Eastern standards.


Descartes dictum "cogito ergo sum," or "I think, therefore I am," became one of the main pillars of 17th century Western philosophy. In contrast, in Eastern philosophy we say: "I am, therefore I think," thus we learn that because we exist, therefore we think. The Self is not the thinking entity nor the mind or the body. The Self is the witness of every thought of our mind and every movement of our body.

Descartes is most famous for coining the phrase: "cogito ergo sum," or "I think, therefore I am." Descartes dictum became one of the main pillars of Western philosophy. The statement suggested that because we doubt our own existence through our thought process, we prove that we have a mind and this in turn justifies our existence. Descartes thought that the thinking entity was the Self.


In contrast, in Eastern philosophy we say: "I am, therefore I think." We learn that because we exist, therefore we think. The Self is not the thinking entity nor the mind or the body. The Self is the witness of every thought of our mind and every movement of our body. The Self is pure consciousness from which everything else derives its existence. Without consciousness (sometimes called soul in the West or spirit), there can be no mind, no thinking activity, and no physical body. The human body is not simply a machine made of material mechanisms, it is the sacred vehicle in which consciousness manifests itself in this life.


What would we do without the intellect?


In Eastern philosophy, the intellect is a limited form of intelligence because it is clouded by personal identity, cultural views, changing thought patterns, and personal bias. The mind can be your best friend, or your worst enemy. There's a higher intelligence that doesn't require the use of the mind, a higher intelligence that's not subject to time, change, or external influences. This understanding requires tremendous Self-knowledge, as well as existential and intra-personal intelligence, the two forms of intelligence which are vital for a clear understanding and evolution of human consciousness.



Claudia Carballal is a Yoga-Vedanta practitioner, modern day Vedic counselor, writer and speaker. She can be reached at innerwellbeing1@gmail.com



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