If you are interested in family history or specifically if you are interested in how the scientific method (and critical thinking) can apply to family history research, read my father’s post entitled Moving Towards a Cartesian Genealogy on his family history blog. His is one of the better posts (yes, I’m biased) I’ve read about doing good family history research.
“Descartes was the originator of what has been termed, ‘Cartesian Doubt.’ It is not my intention to apply this in a philosophical sense, but more in the classic scientific methodological sense, that is, to doubt…automatically all knowledge and thereby ascertain what cannot be doubted. Application of this method to genealogy starts with only accepting as proven those facts that are beyond doubt or to put the concept into a legal terminology, accepting those facts that are proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Why is this necessary? It is a cliché in genealogy that we advance our knowledge of our family history by moving from the known to the unknown. Unfortunately, very often insufficient time and effort are spent in first ascertaining a knowledge of the known before proceeding to extending our investigations to the ‘unknown.’ In so doing, the researcher is often accepting as true that which is unproven and even wrong.
“Descartes’ method can be analyzed into four discrete steps: first, accepting only information you know to be true (beyond a reasonable doubt) or which is not clear and distinct; second, analyzing these truths into smaller more manageable units, that is, taking the information you do have and determining which, if any, of the facts needs further proof, part by part; thirdly, solving the more simple problems first and thereby understanding and thereby, by establishing an order of study (or as the genealogist would say, a to-do list), fourth; complete listing those things that are not yet known, without omission, that require further investigation. I do not go quite so far as Descartes in that I do not hold that proof is necessary not only beyond all reasonable doubt, but beyond all possible doubt.
“There is far too much acceptance of unproven information in the genealogical world today.”