Rene Descartes’s "Discourse on the Method"


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Rene Descartes’s “Discourse on the Method” highlights several strong beliefs–including that the human mind is a malleable, thinking machine, and that our distinctive thoughts are the foundation for the functioning of our immortal souls, although there are certain concrete laws of nature (Descartes, 29). As such, he would agree with Rumsfeld’s belief that “known knowns” exist that form our basic understanding of the world, such as proven mathematical and scientific principles. He would also at least partially agree with the idea of difficult “unknown unknowns”, albeit with the addition that a partial acquisition of these unknown ideas into our perception of knowledge is a natural process for the constantly developing mind (Rumsfeld, Tuma seminar 09/21).

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Descartes often enjoys reveling in a discussion of doubt and even argues that his “second maxim was to be as firm and decisive. . . and to follow even the most doubtful opinions, once [he] had adopted them, with no less constancy than if they had been quite certain” (32). In this instance, he highlights that the “unknown unknowns”–ideas he thought he had about particular areas of knowledge– ought to be given at least an attempt of interpretation (Rumsfeld). Although a method of exploring the dark without guide may not necessarily be expected, he suggests it is nevertheless a very positive experience that allows a person to grow (Descartes, 32).

As such, acquiring knowledge from these “doubtful opinions” or “unknown unknowns” may or may not be difficult, but is regardless a naturally-occurring step towards growth (Descartes, 32, Rumsfeld, Tuma, 09/21). Thus, Descartes’s claims suggest that the “unknown unknowns” are subtle, subconscious forces affecting our malleable minds with a remarkable amount of influence–despite their increased acquisitional difficulty–as “known knowns”, and would thus likely side with the major premise of Rumsfeld’s argument (Rumsfeld).

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