Descartes beyond transcendental phenomenology

Anthony Beavers
University of Evansville
Most students of philosophy, at one time or another, have worked through Descartes' Meditations and witnessed this reduction of the world to the res cogitans and consequent attempt to recover the real, or extra-mental, world through proofs for God's existence and divine veracity. Whatever our final assessment of the validity and soundness of these proofs may be, there can be no doubt that the judgment of history is that they fail, leaving Descartes' conception of the self forever confined to the horizons of thought. Without the proofs for God's existence, Descartes becomes an idealist. Indeed, Kant labels him a "problematic idealist" for whom "there is only one empirical assertion that is indubitably certain, namely that 'I am'", suggesting that, as far as Kant is concerned, Descartes' attempt to prove the real existence of anything outside of his mind, including God, does not work. And Schopenhauer, just before claiming that "true philosophy must at all costs be idealistic," praises Descartes for finding the "only correct starting point... of all philosophy". Husserl is so taken by this starting point that he will title one of his introductions to pure phenomenology, Cartesian Meditations, thus inviting his reader to repeat Descartes' Meditations, this time, without the proofs for God's existence and divine veracity. Due to the tradition in which he has been passed down to us, Descartes may be called not only the "father of modern philosophy," but also "the grandfather of transcendental phenomenology." Oddly enough, evidence for this claim is seen in the fact that, at least within contemporary continental circles, Heidegger's reworking of the Husserlian project gets conceived as a simultaneous reworking of the Cartesian project.
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