AN EPISTEMOLOGICAL UNDERTAKING From Plato to Descartes
After the extraordinary creativity that reigned at the early beginnings of the Academy, the scientific and philosophical disciplines of Europe fossilized themselves around the work of Plato and Aristotle. The existence of the soul, like so many other notions, became dogma. The fable was transformed into belief. The Renaissance is called renaissance precisely because some European intellectuals want the spirit of Plato’s Academy to be reborn: the desire to seek and develop, with all of the material that is available, a better knowledge of self and what surrounds us.
I am going to follow a common practice in epistemology. Having discussed Plato’s Idealism, I will leap right over 2,000 years of discussions to land alongside Rene Descartes (1596-1650). This practice was already recommended by Descartes, as he thought that those that came after Plato and Aristotle laid more store on following their opinions than on seeking something betterâ (Descartes, 1644, p. 177). Descartes’s message is not that he is the greatest intellectual since Plato, but that, the science developing in Europe since the sixteenth century finally permits one to go further than what had been written in Europe about human nature up until then.