Sunday, March 24, 2013

Descartes' Dictum: The basic flaw in Western civilization?

A photoshop creation meaging a raven from Pt Reyes, CA
with sand dunes at sunset on Cape Cod   CC Jean Stimmell

We all grew up lauding Rene Descartes, the acknowledged father of modern philosophy, whose famous dictum, "I think therefore I am," has become the rallying cry and iconic mantra of Western Civilization since the Enlightenment.

We have somehow been oblivious to the fact that his privileging of mind over body has spawned a horrifying lack of empathy by those in power who have been able to position themselves as "the head of society" while the rest of us subsist as the body.

This lack of empathy for us human hoi polloi extends to animals who, in Descartes dismissive view, “eat without pleasure, cry without pain, grow without knowing it; they desire nothing, fear nothing, know nothing.”

Descartes lack of empathy or understanding of the emotional ties of compassion and love that connect us all is utterly amazing. Certainly, it is the root flaw in his philosophy and, by extension, perhaps the root flaw in Western civilization itself.

After all how can an animal, a human, or a social organism exist as a head without a heart?

[1] This quote on Descartes view on animals is taken from a superb article by John J. Sullivan in http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/essays/one-of-us.php?page=all 




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