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René Descartes: The Father of Modern Philosophy
Throughout history, philosophy has shaped culture in pivotal ways. From the ancients to the postmoderns, great philosophers have spoken powerfully 1 within there respective contexts. For modern Western culture, one philosopher’s formative impact surpassed his contemporaries: France’s René Descartes. Called “the father of modern philosophy,” Descartes crucially influenced Western perspectives on knowledge and rationality.
This 17th-century philosopher ushered Western thought through an era of great public doubt and upheaval and into the age of self-reliant rationalism. Political and religious tradition and authority—the 2 obvious premodern sources of truth and knowledge—were being questioned and rejected as new ideas identified potential inconsistencies. 3 Because foundations of truth seemed to be crumbling, Descartes’s writings proposed an alternative foundation: individual reason.
4 An expert in many fields, including algebra, anatomy, meteorology, and metaphysics, Descartes’s work would on many levels serve to establish foundations for modern culture and science. 5 This emphasis on reason, as opposed to traditional or authoritative bases for certainty, would become the modern mechanism for determining truth and knowledge.
 Modern culture would come to cherish this as an intellectual ideal. In his famous project, Descartes sought certainty by mentally stripping away every layer of knowledge that was remotely possible to doubt.  Descartes arrived at his memorable 6 conclusion, “I think, therefore I am,” he could only be certain of the fact that he was thinking.  Building from there, he could work toward rational certainty in other areas of knowledge.7 8
Emphasizing the importance of building knowledge on certain evidence, Descartes modeled a reversal of the reigning scientific processes (which typically worked backward from observation to explanation). Descartes founded the modern scientific method, in which research and study could be reliably conducted based on certain evidence. Scientific method, and the emphasis on human reason, would become standard elements of modern thought. Though reimagined by ensuing culture and philosophy, 9 these changes propelled by Descartes’s initial contributions to that conversation.
10 Some people may argue that it is impossible to separate what Descartes accomplished from the things his contemporaries did. Certainly, most scientists and philosophers influence and build from each other’s work. But Descartes was the crucial voice in early modern dialogue. His expertise drew trusted readership, and his well-read ideas pointed culture down the road to modern understanding—a road paved with reason, modernism’s great intellectual virtue. Shifts 11 begun by Descartes’s work would influence the very structure of ideas and systems in the modern world, from research methods to public processes like government and health systems.
5. Which sentence, if added here, would offer the strongest support for the central claim of the paragraph?
7. Which sentence should be added in front of sentence 1 to clarify the topic of the paragraph?
8. Which sentence should be added in front of sentence 3 to support the information in the paragraph?
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