Rene Descartes and Bertrand Russell are key philosophers, whose contributions in critical thinking have found immense relevance to date. It is however important to note that the works of these philosophers, though pointing to a similar concept, indicated variances. While Descartes indicate natural light of reason as the primary faculty of human beings that leads to enlightenment and growth in knowledge, Russell believed that virtues of intellectual and moral attitudes were decisive to knowledge and enlightenment. In Descartes idea of the sun’s kind of intuition acquisition he uses visual metaphors to explain the real and unreal objects. He further implied that natural light blinded people’s mental powers from further reasoning and visualizing about the real world, by imposing them with intuition.
On the other hand, Russell insisted on the significance of individuals' moral and intellectual obligations which liberates their thinking through their exposure to different skills, attitudes and dispositions. It becomes clear that both Russell and Descartes approached acquisition of knowledge and enlightenment in different perspectives, which then placed their conclusions on somewhat opposing grounds in that, for Descartes, human beings appear to be enslaved in their intuitions, while for Russell, human intuition signifies absolute liberty (Russell & William, 2006). Burnett (2005) expresses Descartes idea of the use of natural light of reason and argues that it enables one to formulate clear and distinct visions that are experienced through intuitions in the mind. In this regard, individuals have the role of configuring their mind to facilitate the realization of truth, which brings them to the fundamental acceptance of their intuition as the starting point of the truth, and an abstract of the existing relationship realization of clear and distinct ideas.
Russell’s conception of knowledge acquisition involves exposition to a wide range of dispositions, attitudes, and skills, which sum up to a virtue, based on moral and intellectual aspects. In his views, this pointed to importance of education, as it could offer students the ability to form reasonable judgment over controversial issues from which they were to act (Wahl, 1986). Furthermore, education has the role of empowering individuals with judicial habits of thought. It therefore evident that both Rene Descartes and Bertrand Russell approached knowledge acquisition process differently, and each found its disposition to individuals to be of varied consequences.
Notably, Descartes related human vision and the way optics facilitated vision. This he did, with the inference of a hyperbolic doubt observed in different glasses. Optics presented instantaneous light that enabled focusing to result in clear and distinct images often because of the interposition of a hyperbolic form. Descartes observed alignment of cognitive ability in the human mind and posed on it an effective analysis from which he noted that human mind distinguished real objects via the natural light of reason. He further explained why instantaneous, clear and distinct illumination was only realizable through any hyperbolic focusing device, in the case, assisted by the hyperbolic doubt. Descartes therefore asserted that the hyperbolic doubt concept could enable intellects to realize the value of reason in understanding reality. Still, whatever people conceive in their minds is exactly similar to what they anticipate in reality.
Although Descartes use of natural light contributes significantly to the understanding of human existence and some aspects of human nature, the dynamism of knowledge seems to reveal more of the human nature and existence. This apprises Russell’s reasoning in that, he argued for the importance of intellectual and moral development in human beings, which could ensure that they did not become passive receptors of knowledge from any source (Hare, n.d). On the contrary, Russell’s notion signifies mental liberty in making of judgments, as individuals are exposed in impartial supplies of knowledge. In other words, Russell believed that critical skills are important in knowledge development and key to his critical skills is the individuals’ ability to form their personal opinions. This begets questioning of Descartes observation that human beings knowledge is solely dependent on their visionary, as this places human beings as passive receptors of the wisdom brought their way by their visionary. Moreover the importance of moral and intellectual virtue in human beings is a crucial attribute that makes them incomparable with the optics phenomenon. Human beings have a capacity to judge their visionary, and therefore, their visionary does not necessarily rhyme with their knowledge.
It is arguable that Descartes’ rational attempt to prove the existence of the soul provides an insight into the understanding of human nature. In the first place, his ideologies regarding the subject may be uncertain. Rene Descartes, uses the reasoning ‘cogito, ergo sum’ under one of his meditation to discover the ‘being’ aspect. Could this meditation be in line with Russell’s ideas of questioning all sources of knowledge? To a great extent, this is true, but the approaches of the meditations are arguably varying. Descartes meditation started on his assumption that he had a body endowed with sensory organs, and he attempted to find out how such matters indicate the sense of existence (Descartes 1996). He perceived that his beliefs could be falsehood as he used the metaphysics concept. He became aware that he existed as he considered his thought of probably being deceived.
Following his assumptions, Descartes developed a hypothesis to work out his knowledge. He positioned his sources of knowledge as if they were oranges in a basket in which, some were rotten. Therefore, to remove the rotten oranges, he had to pour the whole content of the basket and test each orange at a time as placed the good ones back to the basket and throw off the bad ones. The oranges were the sources of his knowledge and he set off to test which sources had fallacies and which ones could be believed. In this pursuit, Russell and Descartes come into terms as they both recognized the importance of forming personal opinions in knowledge development (Wahl, 1986).
Furthermore, Descartes questioned if an evil demon could be deceiving him of his existence and implied that he must have been in existence to be deceived. The idea that he existed was fostered by the knowledge that every idea formed by his mind, attempting to prove whether he existed, implied that he existed for him to enquire about it. Repeatedly, his use of ‘I am’ and ‘I exist’ was necessary to indicate that he existed before challenging the concept. This concept is in line with Russell’s critical skill of the ability to find an impartial solution. Both Descartes and Russell point out that the truths behind all knowledge have to be based on impartial solution. Objectivity of individual’s activities comes out as a crucial aspect in the founding of the partial solution, as Descartes was aware of it following his declaration “I think, therefore, I am”. In regard to the subject of existence, Descartes’ discovered its existence, which portrayed its reality of existence, as an object and can act as an impartial solution from which all other knowledge of human beings can be based.
Although Descartes became aware of his thinking, he went ahead to question his existence as well as the existence of God, as these beings also existed in his thinking. Furthermore, his conclusion on his dream that ‘I think therefore I am’ (‘cogito ergo sum’) can be seen as degradation to the integrity of the human life since it reduces humans to mere rational animals. Likewise, He analyzed human beings as objects endowed with the ability to use language and reason thereby indicating that there exists no convincing idea regarding the concept of value attached to human beings. Although the perception of the human body and mind have implications of human beings as animals with only integrated souls and minds to think, in the light of Russell’s critical skill of the ability to identify and question assumptions as being fundamental in intellectual and moral virtue, the perception becomes important.
Obviously, the existence of God is a significant concept in philosophy. Both Russell and Descartes offer intuition in regard to the existence of God. According to Descartes meditation the existence of God as based on perfection. This places the existence of human beings to be virtually based on their ability to think and conform to God’s desires. Even though this assertion has received varied reactions, Russell seems to be in support of as he acknowledges constructive doubt in the pursuit of testing unexamined beliefs. To In this regard, he emphasized that every belief is neither true nor false unless we presume God’s existence. Russell actually stresses on the importance of such an assertion in by his comments "our most unquestioned convictions may be as mistaken as those of Galileo's opponents” (Hare, n.d). Therefore, by posing doubts over the issue of the existence of God, philosophers are not necessarily denying the fact that God exists, as many contenders of philosophy would think, but rather, it enhances individuals’ need to meditate over the issue, and the extent of God’s perfection and existence (Descartes 2002).
Bertrand Russell campaigned for the need of liberation of human mind through education, in which he termed as “the habit of impartial inquiry”. He placed the importance of such virtues in detaching individuals from taking one-sided opinions at face value. Furthermore, the liberation of education can enhance people’s knowledge and enlightenment that is not so much dependent on time and place of their education. At the same time, Russell recommended the habit of weighing evidence, which could emancipate people from giving full assent to baseless propositions. The said intellectual empowerments can be seen in Descartes pursuit of proving God’s existence, which seems similar to those used by other metaphysicians.
Therefore, Descartes’ meditation regarding the existence of God provides guidance on the principles of understanding God’s and human’s nature. Rene Descartes explanation of God’s existence was largely influenced by the Christianity teachings prevalent in his lifetime. A limiting factor over Descartes explanation of God’s existence could however have arisen from the fear of his condemnation if he contravened the biblical teachings during that era. Therefore, Descartes borrowed the concept of God’s supremacy to define the nature of man’s existence. This limitation I also subject to Russell’s idea of habit of impartial inquiry, as Descartes knowledge and enlightenment was influenced by the time and place of origin of his ‘education’ (Olson, 2011).
However, Descartes critical approach of the subject of the nature of human and God had its points of balancing. For instance, he concluded that the validity of the truth of the subject matter of the nature of human and God is based on one’s certainty (Descartes 1996). This conclusion gave room for the truth of clear and distinct ideas to remain subjective. Although this can be regarded as a point of his ideas pitfalls, Russell’s ideologies comes in handy in giving more ground to Descartes ideas. Education as a virtue incorporates intellectual and discipline, which necessitates for the habits ensuing from any subject matter to remain open for individuals to place their opinions. Therefore, on the critical thinking grounds, Descartes the subjectivity left by Descartes ideologies of truth and distinction of the nature of man and God remain valid.
Moreover, Descartes based his meditations on the grounds of certainty without proving the need of dilemma based certainty. This fact is portrayed by the ideas that he postulated through reasons such as God is perfect and the endowment of man with the ability to use language and thoughts. The idea of endowment of the ability of man to use language and thoughts is however a relative term as well. According to Russell, human beings need to possess critical skills (Hare, n.d). This is also reflected by Descartes work and critical skills brings with them other endowments, which are significant in the being of human and his relation or perception of God. For instance, according to Descartes, critical skills empower individuals with intellectual empathy and faith in reasoning.
As the mere possession of critical skills does not necessarily make an individual a critical thinker, the dispositions posited by Russell ensures that the critical skills are put into practice. Human beings show their possession or lack critical skills in their habits (Exposition, 2004). In Descartes ideology, this concept is evident in dualism meditation regarding the distinction of the human body and mind. Descartes clearly puts a distinction between the human body and mind. He accomplishes this by defining the mind as a non-material thing without any other expansion while the body is a material thing that lacks the ability to think. In this regard, each substantial subject has its own modes of functionality and behavior, and what connect these two concepts are the individuals’ habits. Descartes however expressed it in a different way: the human body and the mind interacted at the pineal gland to stimulate the body functions. In his meditation, he suggested that the pineal gland was the main point of the soul that influences on reasoning and creating human actions.
Descartes postulations regarding human body and mind raise some inconsistencies. For instance, there are instances when it became difficult to determine the extent of the role played by each being, whether the mind or the body, when individuals are responding to some situations. However, Russell conception goes beyond the skills and disposition to a specific set of attitudes in the outlook of a critical person. Human attitudes determine their readiness to act and respond in various ways. This follows after the individuals have gained awareness over the situation they are to act upon. Therefore, when an individual have a set of intellectual attitudes, he is empowered in his mind, and his body will react accordingly. Still, Descartes defended his assertion by claiming that the distinction between the human body and the mind need to be determined by solving the misunderstanding about the union that exists between them.
At this point, it becomes necessary to relate Russell’s, Descartes, and John Locke’s ideas on the human mind and body relationship. Locke’s contribution on the issue is crucial as it raises concern over the nature of human’s ideas. While Descartes argue that some ideas are innate, Locke argues that at birth, the human being mind is a tabula rasa or “blank slate” devoid of any ideas of self or God. In his view, Locke feels that innate ideas should be universally similar and prevalent in the mind without the need to activate them in any form (Locke 1959). Locke and Russell agree on the notion that education and disposition are important in development human knowledge by involving their natural faculties without any assistance of innate impressions.
In conclusion, the issue of individuals’ knowledge and enlightenment has raised significant concern from history up to date. The philosophical works of Rene Descartes and Bertrand Russell have shown that individuals need to be liberated in their thinking and acquire critical skills. Putting the acquired critical skills into use yields human habits, which help individuals’ in their judgment over the reality of the issue of human and God’s existence. Furthermore, as the being of the human mind and body are independent, their joining point is important as it influences individuals’ decision making and response.