SAT Writing and Language Practice Test: René Descartes: The Father of Modern Philosophy

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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.

[1] 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. [2] Descartes arrived at his memorable 6 conclusion, “I think, therefore I am,” he could only be certain of the fact that he was thinking. [3] 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.

1.

  • A. NO CHANGE
  • B. their
  • C. its
  • D. it's

2.

  • A. NO CHANGE
  • B. makeshift
  • C. innovative
  • D. reigning

3.

  • A. NO CHANGE
  • B. In a time when foundations of truth seemed to be crumbling, Descartes's writings proposed an alternative foundation: individual reason.
  • C. Despite the fact that foundations of truth seemed to be crumbling, Descartes's writings proposed an alternative foundation: individual reason.
  • D. Although foundations of truth seemed to be crumbling, Descartes's writings proposed an alternative foundation: individual reason.

4.

  • A. NO CHANGE
  • B. Expertise in many fields, including algebra, anatomy, meteorology, and metaphysics, Descartes created work that
  • C. An expert in many fields, including algebra, anatomy, meteorology, and metaphysics, Descartes would create work that
  • D. With his expertise in many fields, including algebra, anatomy, meteorology, and metaphysics, Descartes's work

5. Which sentence, if added here, would offer the strongest support for the central claim of the paragraph?

  • A. But his most impressive contribution was his advocacy for the individual's rationality.
  • B. Unlike Descartes, other philosophers argued that reason alone could not provide the basis for knowledge.
  • C. The idea known as Cartesian dualism posited that in the world there exists only mind and matter.
  • D. His work on philosophy has proven to have more importance than his ideas about anatomy, many of which have since been disproven.

6.

  • A. NO CHANGE
  • B. conclusion "I think, therefore I am," he could only be certain of the fact that he was thinking.
  • C. conclusion, "I think, therefore I am;" he could only be certain of the fact that he was thinking.
  • D. conclusion, "I think, therefore I am"; he could only be certain of the fact that he was thinking.

7. Which sentence should be added in front of sentence 1 to clarify the topic of the paragraph?

  • A. Descartes's contributions to philosophy were seen as threatening to religion.
  • B. Descartes focused his work on the pursuit of fact-based certainty.
  • C. The foundation for the ideas of many other philosophers is Descartes's work.
  • D. Descartes's ideas were rooted in his Jesuit training.

8. Which sentence should be added in front of sentence 3 to support the information in the paragraph?

  • A. This revelation came as a shock to many people.
  • B. However, he believed that certainty offered evidence to confirm his existence.
  • C. Still, it was a place to start.
  • D. This was a radical new way to think about thinking.

9.

  • A. NO CHANGE
  • B. these changes being propelled by
  • C. these changes having been propelled by
  • D. these changes were propelled by

10.

  • A. NO CHANGE
  • B. Some may argue that it is impossible to separate Descartes's accomplishments from those of his contemporaries.
  • C. Some people may argue that it is impossible to separate Descartes from his contemporaries.
  • D. Some may argue that what Descartes accomplished is no different from what his contemporaries did.

11.

  • A. NO CHANGE
  • B. foreseen
  • C. initiated
  • D. evolved