chapter  5
16 Pages

Selling the picture

Descartes’ story of doubt and discovery

So far I have tried to show that Descartes had a wonderfully subtle and carefully thought-out account of Nature, God and Man, all of which had some continuities with, but were very importantly different from, what had been accepted before. His opinion of his predecessors, and of the contemporary authorities, was very low: he thought not only that their conclusions were wrong – they didn’t understand what the world was really like, and mistook appearance for reality – but that their methods actually prevented learning, and could only lead people to a negative and backwardlooking scepticism, because the fact that the so-called experts were so obviously mistaken, corrupt and stupid could only lend credence to the increasingly fashionable idea that human beings could know nothing of how the world really is, and should simply accept what they were told because they had no way of finding anything better (see Box 5.1).