Grant: NWO Open Competition SSH
Project name: Decoding Decartes
Researcher: prof. Han van Ruler
Project timeline: 2018-2023
Still immensely studied today, the philosopher and scientist René Descartes (1596–1650) is an iconic figure who paradoxically appears to have gone out of fashion. Decoding Descartes aims to show why this contradiction is only apparent: Descartes is indisputably the father of modern philosophy and a pivotal figure in the rise of modern science, even though much of his own scientific views were considered outdated 50 years after his death. This project will redefine Descartes’ role in modern philosophical thought and contribute to our understanding of modernity itself by highlighting the emergence of the idea of a clash between science and common sense. Descartes considered natural truths to be encoded in the human mind and scientific investigation to offer the code with which to read human experience. Decoding Descartes will present his contribution to the development of the modern worldview in terms of a proposal to substitute the pre-modern practice of reading causal agents into nature with a new epistemology that sharply distinguishes between natural processes (the world of science) and experience itself (the world of common sense). The project is highly innovative for the way in which it will integrate a comprehensive study of Descartes’ works and correspondence with a new approach to some of today’s most pressing issues in neuroscience, artificial intelligence and philosophy.