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3.9 Friday is philosophy day

Every Friday afternoon I have one of what has been the most interesting and enjoyable series of lectures of my entire course, supposedly a study of the origins of various architectural theories and styles, but really just a run through of modern philosophy. I thought, why not share all of this with the world, after all, that is what a blog is for. Of course, you have missed the first four lectures so far, so I will start at the begining again and that should leave me enough to last all the way through Christmas as well.

Personally I think it gets more interesting later on, but for now, Cartesian Rationalism. So, during the middle ages, in Europe at least, people were intent on doing what they were told, the noble families owned the land and those that worked it, the guild system controlled all production and technology and the church told people how to think and act. Change was pretty much forbidden because the people in charge knew it would reduce their authority, or just simply didn’t think about it. Anyway, along comes the renaissance, a sudden inpouring of old art and books from the east and people start to realise how far they are behind the ancient Romans and Greeks, and the Arabs of their own time, successful businessmen start to buy up old works of art, which were better than the modern, and to collect old books, full of unusual ideas different to those indoctrinated by their society. Then, they start arranging for new works of art to be created, for themselves where before most art had been religious rather than personal, new styles were developed, and the importance and skill of the individual artist was recognised rather than them being seen as any other craftsman doing the job they were paid to do.

And along comes Rene Descartes, a French man who for some strange reason decided that books were not good enough and that as a part of the universe, he should be able to understand it as of himself or itself, without having to read anything else anyone else had written. Quite soon he came to realise that there was no absolute evidence that the things around him actually were as they seemed, that his senses were not playing tricks on him, that he was not living in some imaginary dream world or some such, and that therefore only ideas in his own mind could be trusted. In order to work out a proper single theory of philosophy, then, he turned to the new ideas of science and maths, the analysis of evidence and the careful arranging of known facts to deduce new ideas. He realised that if he could find one fact on which he could be absolutely certain, he could use that as the basis of the entire rest of his theory. But, how to find something so reliable when there was every chance all he saw and felt and knew was part of a dream world?
Eventually he realised that there was one thing that just by thinking he could be sure of, and that was simply that he was thinking. That, he could not be imagining, and so from that, he could deduce his own existance, hence the famous ‘cogito ergo sum’, I think, therefore I am. And from there, he developed the principles of logical rationalism, where every idea has to be built upon preceding ideas, with good reasons and evidence, and that no other thoughts or possibilities were worth entertaining. This theory proved quite popular in his native France and surrounding areas, where it led to ideas of the simple functionality of things that were being made, and even more so of the use of simple shapes, straight lines, squares, circles, nothing too complex or organic, because what would be the point? No, aesthetic perfection could be found in the use of clear simple shapes arranged in ways that could be calculated from careful thought and study, in as far as anything that came to us through our imperfect and unreliable senses mattered at all.

Except, over in England, and even more so in Scotland, ideas were being worked on that countered this in every way, and that would have unexpected consequences throughout society…

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