It’s March and we are celebrating famous people born in this month! I’m joining other bloggers at iHomeschool Network who are creating fun posts.
Make sure to check out our other March birthday study – Kurt Russell!
Why were so many famous mathematicians also great philosophers!? Denna and I chose Rene Descartes to study because he fits in with our Kids Doing Philosophy project and he had a huge impact on not only philosophy, but mathematics and science.
Learn more about Rene Descartes
Descartes was born March 31, 1596 in La Haye, France. Regarding his philosophical work, he is probably most famous for his statement, “Cogito ergo sum” or, “I think, therefore I exist (am)”.
For a little background, Descartes lived in a time of great turmoil. The Protestant Reformation had rocked the theological world, causing people to question if there were any answers to foundational questions about God. Science was also advancing.
The scientists of the early Scientific Revolution knew that there were forces acting on the physical world that would explain the phenomena they observed, but they had no way to quantify these forces and apply them to the geometry of the physical world. – from Sparknotes
There was a lot of doubt going on, and global skepticism (the idea that nothing could really be known – it was all up to feeling and experience) was popular.
Descartes saw order however, through his studies of physics, math, music, astronomy, and even law.
And so , after three powerful dreams, he set out to show that some things could be known for certain.
Descartes is considered the Father of Modern Philosophy because of this way of thinking – that truths were linked by logic and reason. He determined to take every belief that he held off of the table (so to speak) and only put back what was certain.
His first belief was this: he was thinking. If something (called Rene Descartes) could think, it must exist. Because to even think about existence something had to exist. He didn’t yet have a body or mind or anything else on the table – but he could think.
I think, therefore I am
Articles to read:
- An in-depth biography
- Philosopher of the week at Kids Philosophy Slam
- A nice biography with timeline at Oregon State University
Videos to watch:
Cogito Ergo Sum – hear the famous argument for yourself. A reading of Descartes (obviously from the English translation).
Activities and discussion based on Descartes
I did order A Fly on the Ceiling from Amazon but we haven’t gotten it in the mail yet.
I had Denna draw a table on a blank piece of paper and think about what beliefs she could put on that she knew to be true. She chose these two beliefs:
- Animals are real
- Illusions are tricks
We discussed those two beliefs. I asked if all animals were real – even cartoon animals. We decided to revise her statement to say, “There are living physical objects called animals that exist. There are also representations of animals and derivatives that exist in creative works.”
It was fun to work through our beliefs and what we could know for certain.
Epistemology – the study of knowledge
Descartes raised questions about how we know what we know – or epistemology.
A very nice book to read on this subject is Epistemology: Kids Think About It – which also includes a fun interview with Descartes!
I have also created a very nice discussion on epistemology based on a children’s picture book: Epistemology With Aliens
Since we have already discussed aliens and knowledge in our house, we decided to talk about a moose instead. Teaching Children Philosophy has a great discussion guide for the book Morris the Moose, which I purchased on Kindle for the kids and I to read.