The 4 Ways of Getting Wisdom
9 minutes • 1724 words
Table of contents
People find it hard to assenting to these doctrines when they see philosophers being less wise and reasonable than those who never studied philosophy.
All the wisdom we ordinarily possess is acquired only in these 4 ways:
- Through notions so clear that they can be acquired without meditation
- Through sensory experience
- Through the conversation of other men
- Through the reading of books written by proper teachers
Divine revelation is not one of these. This is because divine revelation does not conduct us by degrees, but elevates us at once to an infallible faith.
In all ages, great minds, properly called philosophers, have tried to find a 5th road to wisdom, more sure and elevated than the other four. They wrote about the search of first causes and true principles, from which we could derive all that can be known by man.
But none of them have succeeded.
The first and chief whose writings we possess are Plato and Aristotle.
Plato followed his master, Socrates.
Socrates, ingenuously confessed that:
he could never find anything certain
he wrote about certain principles to account for the other things
Aristotle was the disciple of Plato for 20 years.
- He had less candour.
- He had no principles of his own.
Instead, he completely reversed Plato’s principles.
- He proposed as true and certain what it is probable he himself never esteemed as such.
But Plato and Aristotle had acquired much judgment and wisdom by the 4 means.
- This raised their authority very high.
- Those who came after them were willing to acquiesce in their opinions, than to seek better ones.
Their chief question was: Should we doubt all things? Or should we hold some as certain?
The Middle Way
Truth is the mean between the 2 opinions.
Most disputes have this problem: each disputant departs from the middle truth in proportion to his spirit of contradiction. This causes errors in both sides.
- Favor Doubt
Those who favored doubt extended it even to the actions of life, to the neglect of the most ordinary rules required for its conduct. Their error was not followed for a long time.
- Favor No Doubt
Those who maintained the doctrine of certainty supposed that it depends on the senses and trusted entirely to them.
This was adopted by Epicurus. He affirmed, contrary to all the reasonings of the astronomers, that the sun is no larger than it appears.
Their error has been corrected to some extent by the doctrine that the senses are often deceitful.
Certitude is not in the senses, but in the understanding alone when it has clear perceptions.
- not doubt the things that appear to be true in what regards life.
- esteem those things as so certain that we cannot change our opinions about them, even though constrained by the evidence of reason.
Because of the ignorance of this truth, the majority of later philosophers blindly followed Aristotle.
- They frequently corrupted the sense of his writings.
- They attributed to him various ideas which were not from him.
These ideas were then taught in the schools.
- Even those who did not follow Aristotle were imbued with these ideas in their youth.
- This made them believe that they could not rise to the knowledge of true principles.
Most philosophers laid down principles on things that they did not perfectly know.
For example, they knew that there was gravity in terrestrial bodies from seeing heavy bodies descend towards the center of the earth.
- But they do not know the nature of gravity, that is, the cause or principle in virtue of why bodies descend.
- We must derive our knowledge of it from some other source.
The same may be said of:
- a vacuum and atoms
- heat and cold
- dryness and humidity
- salt, sulphur, and mercury
But an unclear principle cannot lead to conclusions even if the deduction is formally valid.
Hence, it follows that no reasonings based on such principles could;
- lead them to the certain knowledge of any one thing, nor
- consequently advance them in the search for wisdom.
If they did discover any truth, this was due to one or other of the 4 means above mentioned.
This does not mean I want to reduce the honour of those philosophers.
In travelling, when sometimes choose the wrong way to reach our destination.
- This would make us go farther from our destination with each step, even if we think that each step gets us closer to it.
- In such a case, it would have been better to not have taken any more steps.
Likewise in philosophy, when we use false principles, we actually go farther from our destination of knowing truth and wisdom.
- We think that we are cultivating wisdom when we deduce the diverse consequences from false principles.
- We think that we are philosophizing well, when in reality, we are only departing the farther from the truth.
- In this case, the most unlearned are ironically the most fitted to apprehend the truth.
How do we get to the true principles that can help us reach that highest degree of wisdom?
This is what my work is for.
Only 2 conditions are required in true principles:
- These principles are very clear
- We can deduce all other truths from them
I easily prove that they are very clear
- By rejecting all propositions that were in the least doubtful
Propositions cannot be rejected by this test when they are attentively considered. This is how I found those true principles.
A person who doubts all will doubt all, but will be unable to doubt his own existence. The reasoning thing will not be able to doubt itself. It cam doubt its body, but not its mind.
This mind is the first principle. This principle necessarily leads to following truths:
- there is a God who is the author of all that is in the world
- he is the source of all truth
- he cannot deceive us*
*Superphysics Note: Here, Descartes’ God matches the Positive Force in Superphysics. It is not the Supreme Being or Brahma.
Those are all the principles touching immaterial or metaphysical objects. From these principles, I most clearly deduce the principles of physical or corporeal things:
- There are bodies extended in length, width, and heigth
These are of diverse shapes and are moved in a variety of ways.
- By the fact that they have been known in all ages
They have been received as true and indubitable by all men. Only the existence of God has been doubted by some because they attributed too much to the perceptions of the senses, and God can neither be seen nor touched.
But no one, so far as I know, has adopted my principles as principles of philosophy.
Do my principles apply to the real world?
This can be proven by the test of experience – by inviting readers to use my work.
I have applied my principles on as many matters as I could. I hope that my readers will find it unnecessary to seek for any other principles to arrive at a complete knowledge that man is capable of.
I arranged it in a question format so that they will see how their diverse questions are answered by my principles, but not by the principles of others.
People who are imbued with my doctrines will comprehend the writings of others easier.
This is precisely the opposite of those who accept the principles of ancient philosophy. Those who have studied ancient philosophy more are less fit for rightly apprehending the truth.
The reader should first go thorugh the whole of it, as he would a romance. He should not greatly strain his attention at the difficulties he might meet.
If he wants to know their causes, he may read it a second time to discover the connection of my reasonings.
He should mark with a pen the places where the difficulties occur. He should continue to read without interruption to the end.
If he reads the entire work for a 3rd time, he will discover the solution to those difficulties by himself*.
*Superphysics Note: In this way, Descartes’ work is like organized training data and the reader is like a machine learning algorithm that makes multiple passes on that data.
If any still remain, their solution will be found by reading the work completely again.
There are hardly any minds dull or slow of understanding as to be incapable of apprehending good opinions.
This can also be proved by reason.
The principles are clear. Only the most manifest inferences should be deduced from them. Everyone with intelligence can comprehend the conclusions that flow from them.
Everyone is entangled by prejudices. The most ardent students of the false sciences receive the greatest detriment from them because they press on too rapidly using the wrong principles.
This is why I want to assure people that my writing are understandable only if they take the trouble to examine them.
I published this work in order to explain how a person should teach himself.
- A person should first create a personal code of morals
This code then regulates the actions of his life and makes him live well.
- A person should study Logic
He should not study the Logic of the schools. Their logic uses Aristotlean dialectics which expounds to others what we already know. It tends to corrupt instead of increasing good sense.
The proper logic:
- aims to discover the truths.
- greatly depends on usage
He should exercise and practise its rules on easy and simple questions, as those of the mathematics, for some time.
Then, when he has acquired some skill in discovering the truth in these questions, he should apply himself in earnest to true philosophy which has the following parts.
This is the first part is philosophy. It contains the principles of knowledge which includes the explication of:
- the principal attributes of God
- the immateriality of the soul
- all the clear and simple notions that are in us
After finding the true principles of material things, we examine:
- in general, how the whole universe has been framed
- in particular, the nature of the earth, and of all the bodies that on it, as air, water, fire, the loadstone and other minerals.
- singly, the nature of plants, animals, and above all of man so that we may thereafter discover the other useful sciences