Superphysics Superphysics
Part 2

Changing of Beliefs

by Rene Descartes Icon
4 minutes  • 814 words
Table of contents

I went to Germany, attracted by its wars.

I was returning to the army from the coronation of the emperor. Winter stopped me in an uninteresting place where I could be with my thoughts.

I realized that there is seldom perfection in works that are:

  • made up of many separate parts
  • made by different hands

Those done by a single master is more perfect.

Thus, the buildings planned and built by a single architect are generally more elegant and commodious than those that have been renovated from the original. The latter use old walls for purposes that they were not originally built for.

Ancient cities which began as villages are usually have bad planning compared with the regularity constructed towns which a professional architect has freely planned on an open plain.

In the same way, those nations which gradually advanced from a semi-barbarous state have had their laws successively determined. Their insitutions are less perfect than those which, from the start had laws made by some wise legislator.

Thus, the constitution of the true religion must be incomparably superior.

I believe that the pre-eminence of Sparta came from a single person. It was not from its laws.

In the same way, the theoretical sciences are made up of the opinions of many people massed together. They are farther from truth than the man of good sense who uses simple inferences and his natural and unprejudiced judgment while respecting experience.

Our judgments would be correct and solid if we were guided by mature reason from the moment of our birth.

We do not usually tear down all the houses of a town so that we can rebuild the town better.

  • Instead, a private person tears down his own house and builds a better one.

Thus, it would be preposterous for a private individual to think of reforming a state by overhauling all of it.

This is also true for reforming the sciences or the system of education established in the schools.

I had embraced the opinions of others before. But now I want to sweep them wholly away, so that I could discover which opinions were correct and which ones were wrong.

I firmly believe that my life would be better in this way, instead of building only on old foundations and on principles which I trusted in my youth.

This would be very difficult, but not impossible. This is not the same as making the slightest change to the public affairs.

If large bodies are overthrown at once, they are rebuilt with great difficulty.

There are any imperfections in the constitutions of states. But custom has materially smoothed their inconveniences. The defects are almost always more tolerable than the need to remove them.

In the same way, mountain highways become gradually so smooth by being much travelled. It is better to go through them than to seek a straighter path by climbing over the tops of rocks and descending to the bottoms of precipices.

Hence, I reject those restless meddlers who call for reforms when they themselves are not worthy by birth nor fortune to manage the public affairs.

Those who are more genius will entertain more exalted new designs. But it would not be safe for ordinary people to make such changes. Not everyone should abandon all their past beliefs.

Two Kinds of People According to Ego

The majority of men are of 2 classes:

  1. The overconfident

These lack the patience needed for orderly and circumspect thinking. If they doubt their beliefs, they become lost.

  1. The modest

These know that others are better in discriminating between truth and error. They learn from such people are content with those opinions.

I am part of the latter class. I have been educated by only one master. I had never known the diversities of opinion among men of the greatest learning from time immemorial.

But I had become aware, even so early as during my college life, that the philosophers had all sorts of opinions, no matter how absurd and incredible.

Through my travels, I learned that some absurd opinions did not come from barbarians and savages, but from nations better than ours.

A French or German from birth would have a very different character from those who grew up among the Chinese or with savages.

Fashion which pleased us 10 years ago, might be seen as ridiculous 10 from now.

Thus, our opinions are more like customs instead of certain knowledge.

The plurality of opinion is no guarantee of the truth where truth is difficult to find. Most likely, the truth will be found one person than by many.

I could not select from the crowd an opinion worthy of preference. And so I used my own reason.

I was like one walking alone in the dark. I walked so slowly so that I would guard against falling. But it made me not advance far.

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