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René Descartes

Portrait after Frans Hals, 1648.[1]
Full name René Descartes
Born March 31, 1596(1596-03-31)
La Haye en Touraine (renamed Descartes), Indre-et-Loire, France
Died February 11, 1650 (aged 53)
Stockholm, Sweden
Era 17th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Cartesianism, Rationalism, Foundationalism
Main interests Metaphysics, Epistemology, Science, Mathematics
Notable ideas Cogito ergo sum, method of doubt, Cartesian coordinate system, Cartesian dualism, ontological argument for the existence of God; regarded as a founder of Modern philosophy
Signature
Descartes-moncornet.jpg
Part of a series on
René Descartes
Cartesianism
Rationalism
Foundationalism
Doubt & Certainty
Dream argument
Cogito ergo sum
Trademark argument
Mind-body dichotomy
Analytic geometry
Coordinate system
Cartesian circle
Folium
Rule of signs
Cartesian diver
Balloonist theory
Works
The World
Discourse on the Method
La Géométrie
Meditations on First Philosophy
Principles of Philosophy
Passions of the Soul
Notable People
Christina of Sweden
Baruch Spinoza
Gottfried Leibniz

René Descartes (French pronunciation: [ʁəne dekaʁt]), (31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650), also known as Renatus Cartesius (Latinized form),[2] was a French philosopher, mathematician, physicist, and writer who spent most of his adult life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed the "Father of Modern Philosophy", and much of subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which continue to be studied closely to this day. In particular, his Meditations on First Philosophy continues to be a standard text at most university philosophy departments. Descartes' influence in mathematics is also apparent; the Cartesian coordinate system—allowing geometric shapes to be expressed in algebraic equations—was named after him. He is credited as the father of analytical geometry. Descartes was also one of the key figures in the Scientific Revolution.

Descartes frequently sets his views apart from those of his predecessors. In the opening section of the Passions of the Soul, a treatise on the Early Modern version of what are now commonly called emotions, Descartes goes so far as to assert that he will write on this topic "as if no one had written on these matters before". Many elements of his philosophy have precedents in late Aristotelianism, the revived Stoicism of the 16th century, or in earlier philosophers like St. Augustine. In his natural philosophy, he differs from the Schools on two major points: First, he rejects the analysis of corporeal substance into matter and form; second, he rejects any appeal to ends—divine or natural—in explaining natural phenomena.[3] In his theology, he insists on the absolute freedom of God’s act of creation.

Descartes was a major figure in 17th-century continental rationalism, later advocated by Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz, and opposed by the empiricist school of thought consisting of Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Hume. Leibniz, Spinoza and Descartes were all well versed in mathematics as well as philosophy, and Descartes and Leibniz contributed greatly to science as well. As the inventor of the Cartesian coordinate system, Descartes founded analytic geometry, the bridge between algebra and geometry, crucial to the discovery of infinitesimal calculus and analysis. He is best known for the philosophical statement "Cogito ergo sum" (French: Je pense, donc je suis; English: I think, therefore I am; or I am thinking, therefore I exist), found in part IV of Discourse on the Method (1637 - written in French but with inclusion of "Cogito ergo sum") and §7 of part I of Principles of Philosophy (1644 - written in Latin).

Contents

Biography

Graduation registry for Descartes at the Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand, La Flèche, 1616

Descartes was born in La Haye en Touraine (now Descartes), Indre-et-Loire, France. When he was one year old, his mother Jeanne Brochard died. His father Joachim was a member in the provincial parliament. Around the age of eleven, he entered the Jesuit Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand at La Flèche.[4] After graduation, he studied at the University of Poitiers, earning a Baccalauréat and Licence in law in 1616, in accordance with his father's wishes that he should become a lawyer.[5]

I entirely abandoned the study of letters. Resolving to seek no knowledge other than that of which could be found in myself or else in the great book of the world, I spent the rest of my youth traveling, visiting courts and armies, mixing with people of diverse temperaments and ranks, gathering various experiences, testing myself in the situations which fortune offered me, and at all times reflecting upon whatever came my way so as to derive some profit from it. (Descartes, Discourse on the Method)

In 1618 Descartes joined the International College of War of Maurice of Nassau in the Dutch Republic[6], what is a proof of his good health. On 10 November 1618, while walking through Breda, Descartes met Isaac Beeckman, who sparked his interest in mathematics and the new physics, particularly the problem of the fall of heavy bodies. While in the service of the Duke Maximilian of Bavaria, Descartes was present at the Battle of the White Mountain outside Prague, in November 1620.[7]

On the night of 10-11 November 1619, while stationed in Neuburg (near Ulm), Germany, Descartes experienced a series of three powerful dreams or visions which he later claimed as a profound influence upon his life. In the first of these three dreams, Descartes found himself buffeted and thrown down by a powerful whirlwind while walking near a college. In the second, he was awoken by an inexplicable thunder or explosion-like sound in his head to see sparks coming from the stove in his room. In the third dream, he finds a great dictionary and an anthology of ancient Latin poets on his bedside table. In the latter book, he reads a verse which begins, "What path shall I follow in life?" Descartes concluded from these visions that the pursuit of science would prove to be, for him, the pursuit of true wisdom and a central part of his life's work.[8]

In 1622 he returned to France, and during the next few years spent time in Paris and other parts of Europe. He arrived in La Haye in 1623, selling all of his property, investing this remuneration in bonds which provided Descartes with a comfortable income for the rest of his life. Descartes was present at the siege of La Rochelle by Cardinal Richelieu in 1627.

He returned to the Dutch Republic in 1628, where he lived until September 1649. In April 1629 he joined the University of Franeker and the next year, under the name "Poitevin", he enrolled at the Leiden University to study mathematics with Jacob Golius and astronomy with Martin Hortensius[9]. In October 1630 he had a falling out with Beeckman, whom he accused of plagiarizing some of his ideas. In Amsterdam, he had a relationship with a servant girl, Helène Jans, with whom he had a daughter, Francine, who was born in 1635 in Deventer, at which time Descartes taught at the Utrecht University. Francine Descartes died in 1640 in Amersfoort.

While in the Netherlands he changed his address frequently, living among other places in Dordrecht (1628), Franeker (1629), Amsterdam (1629–30), Leiden (1630), Amsterdam (1630–2), Deventer (1632–4), Amsterdam (1634-5), Utrecht (1635-6), Leiden (1636), Egmond (1636–8), Santpoort (1638–1640), Leiden (1640–1), Endegeest (a castle near Oegstgeest) (1641-3), and finally for an extended time in Egmond-Binnen (1643–9).

Despite these frequent moves he wrote all his major work during his 20 plus years in the Netherlands, where he managed to revolutionize mathematics and philosophy. In 1633, Galileo was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church, and Descartes abandoned plans to publish Treatise on the World, his work of the previous four years. "Discourse on the Method" was published in 1637. In it Descartes lays out four rules of thought, meant to ensure that our knowledge rests upon a firm foundation.

René Descartes with Queen Christina of Sweden

Descartes continued to publish works concerning both mathematics and philosophy for the rest of his life. In 1643, Cartesian philosophy was condemned at the University of Utrecht, and Descartes began his long correspondence with Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia. In 1647, he was awarded a pension by the King of France. Descartes was interviewed by Frans Burman at Egmond-Binnen in 1648.

René Descartes died on 11 February 1650 in Stockholm, Sweden, where he had been invited as a teacher for Queen Christina of Sweden. The cause of death was said to be pneumonia—accustomed to working in bed until noon, he may have suffered a detrimental effect on his health due to Christina's demands for early morning study (the lack of sleep could have severely compromised his immune system). Others believe that Descartes may have contracted pneumonia as a result of nursing a French ambassador, Dejion A. Nopeleen, ill with the aforementioned disease, back to health.[10] In his recent book, Der rätselhafte Tod des René Descartes (The Mysterious Death of René Descartes),[11] the German philosopher Theodor Ebert [12] asserts that Descartes died not through natural causes, but from an arsenic-laced communion wafer given to him by a Catholic priest. He believes that Jacques Viogué, a missionary working in Stockholm, administered the poison because he feared Descartes's radical theological ideas would derail an expected conversion to Catholicism by the monarch of protestant Sweden.[13]

In 1663, the Pope placed his works on the Index of Prohibited Books.

The tomb of Descartes (middle, with detail of the inscription), in the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris

As a Roman Catholic in a Protestant nation, he was interred in a graveyard mainly used for unbaptized infants in Adolf Fredriks kyrkan in Stockholm. Later, his remains were taken to France and buried in the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris. Although the National Convention in 1792 had planned to transfer his remains to the Panthéon, they are, two centuries later, still resting between two other graves—those of the scholarly monks Jean Mabillon and Bernard de Montfaucon—in a chapel of the abbey. His memorial, erected in the 18th century, remains in the Swedish church.

Philosophical work

Descartes is often regarded as the first thinker to provide a philosophical framework for the natural sciences as these began to develop. In his Discourse on the Method, he attempts to arrive at a fundamental set of principles that one can know as true without any doubt. To achieve this, he employs a method called hyperbolical/metaphysical doubt, also sometimes referred to as methodological skepticism: he rejects any ideas that can be doubted, and then reestablishes them in order to acquire a firm foundation for genuine knowledge.[14]

Initially, Descartes arrives at only a single principle: thought exists. Thought cannot be separated from me, therefore, I exist (Discourse on the Method and Principles of Philosophy). Most famously, this is known as cogito ergo sum (English: "I think, therefore I am"). Therefore, Descartes concluded, if he doubted, then something or someone must be doing the doubting, therefore the very fact that he doubted proved his existence. "The simple meaning of the phrase is that if one is skeptical of existence, that is in and of itself proof that he does exist." [15]

René Descartes at work.

Descartes concludes that he can be certain that he exists because he thinks. But in what form? He perceives his body through the use of the senses; however, these have previously been unreliable. So Descartes determines that the only indubitable knowledge is that he is a thinking thing. Thinking is his essence as it is the only thing about him that cannot be doubted. Descartes defines "thought" (cogitatio) as "what happens in me such that I am immediately conscious of it, insofar as I am conscious of it". Thinking is thus every activity of a person of which he is immediately conscious.[16]

To further demonstrate the limitations of the senses, Descartes proceeds with what is known as the Wax Argument. He considers a piece of wax; his senses inform him that it has certain characteristics, such as shape, texture, size, color, smell, and so forth. When he brings the wax towards a flame, these characteristics change completely. However, it seems that it is still the same thing: it is still a piece of wax, even though the data of the senses inform him that all of its characteristics are different. Therefore, in order to properly grasp the nature of the wax, he cannot use the senses. He must use his mind. Descartes concludes:

And so something which I thought I was seeing with my eyes is in fact grasped solely by the faculty of judgment which is in my mind.

In this manner, Descartes proceeds to construct a system of knowledge, discarding perception as unreliable and instead admitting only deduction as a method. In the third and fifth Meditation, he offers an ontological proof of a benevolent God (through both the ontological argument and trademark argument). Because God is benevolent, he can have some faith in the account of reality his senses provide him, for God has provided him with a working mind and sensory system and does not desire to deceive him. From this supposition, however, he finally establishes the possibility of acquiring knowledge about the world based on deduction and perception. In terms of epistemology therefore, he can be said to have contributed such ideas as a rigorous conception of foundationalism and the possibility that reason is the only reliable method of attaining knowledge.

In Descartes' system, knowledge takes the form of ideas, and philosophical investigation is the contemplation of these ideas. This concept would influence subsequent internalist movements as Descartes' epistemology requires that a connection made by conscious awareness will distinguish knowledge from falsity. As a result of his Cartesian doubt, he viewed rational knowledge as being "incapable of being destroyed" and sought to construct an unshakable ground upon which all other knowledge can be based. The first item of unshakable knowledge that Descartes argues for is the aforementioned cogito, or thinking thing.

Descartes also wrote a response to skepticism about the existence of the external world. He argues that sensory perceptions come to him involuntarily, and are not willed by him. They are external to his senses, and according to Descartes, this is evidence of the existence of something outside of his mind, and thus, an external world. Descartes goes on to show that the things in the external world are material by arguing that God would not deceive him as to the ideas that are being transmitted, and that God has given him the "propensity" to believe that such ideas are caused by material things.

Descartes was also known for his work in producing the Cartesian Theory of Fallacies. This can be most easily explored using the statement: "This statement is a lie." While it is most commonly referred to as a paradox, the Cartesian Theory of Fallacies states that at any given time a statement can be both true and false simultaneously because of its contradictory nature. The statement is true in its fallacy. Thus, Descartes developed the Cartesian Theory of Fallacies, which greatly influenced the thinking of the time. Many would-be philosophers were trying to develop inexplicable statements of seeming fact, however, this laid rumors of such a proposition impossible. Many philosophers believe that when Descartes formulated his Theory of Fallacies, he intended to be lying, which in and of itself embodies the theory.[citation needed]

Dualism

Descartes in his Passions of the Soul and The Description of the Human Body suggested that the body works like a machine, that it has the material properties of extension and motion, and that it follows the laws of physics. The mind (or soul), on the other hand, was described as a nonmaterial entity that lacks extension and motion, and does not follow the laws of physics. Descartes argued that only humans have minds, and that the mind interacts with the body at the pineal gland. This form of dualism or duality proposes that the mind controls the body, but that the body can also influence the otherwise rational mind, such as when people act out of passion. Most of the previous accounts of the relationship between mind and body had been uni-directional.

Descartes suggested that the pineal gland is "the seat of the soul" for several reasons. First, the soul is unitary, and unlike many areas of the brain the pineal gland appeared to be unitary (though subsequent microscopic inspection has revealed it is formed of two hemispheres). Second, Descartes observed that the pineal gland was located near the ventricles. He believed the cerebrospinal fluid of the ventricles acted through the nerves to control the body, and that the pineal gland influenced this process. Finally, although Descartes realized that both humans and animals have pineal glands (see Passions of the Soul Part One, Section 50, AT 369), he believed that only humans have minds. This led him to the belief that animals cannot feel pain, and Descartes' practice of vivisection (the dissection of live animals) became widely used throughout Europe until the Enlightenment. Cartesian dualism set the agenda for philosophical discussion of the mind-body problem for many years after Descartes' death. The question of how a nonmaterial mind could influence a material body, without invoking supernatural explanations, remains controversial to this day.

Later in correspondence with Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, he admitted he had no idea how the mind interacted with the body, abandoning the concept of the pineal glands as connection.[citation needed]

Mathematical legacy

Descartes' theory provided the basis for the calculus of Newton and Leibniz, by applying infinitesimal calculus to the tangent line problem, thus permitting the evolution of that branch of modern mathematics.[17] This appears even more astounding considering that the work was just intended as an example to his Discours de la méthode pour bien conduire sa raison, et chercher la verité dans les sciences (Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, and Searching for Truth in the Sciences, better known under the shortened title Discours de la méthode; English, Discourse on the Method).

Descartes' rule of signs is also a commonly used method to determine the number of positive and negative roots of a polynomial.

Rene Descartes created analytic geometry, and discovered an early form of the law of conservation of momentum (the term momentum refers to the momentum of a force). He outlined his views on the universe in his Principles of Philosophy.

Descartes also made contributions to the field of optics. He showed by using geometric construction and the law of refraction (also known as Descartes' law or more commonly Snell's law, who discovered it 16 years earlier) that the angular radius of a rainbow is 42 degrees (i.e., the angle subtended at the eye by the edge of the rainbow and the ray passing from the sun through the rainbow's centre is 42°).[18] He also independently discovered the law of reflection, and his essay on optics was the first published mention of this law.[19]

One of Descartes most enduring legacies was his development of Cartesian geometry which uses algebra to describe geometry. He also "invented", the notation which uses superscripts to show the powers or exponents, for example the 4 used in x4 to indicate squaring of squaring. The first notations of exponents were given by Franciscus Vieta in 1591, after whom the Scottish mathematician James Hume, wrote A{iv} and the French one Herigone : A4.

Contemporary reception

Although Descartes was well known in academic circles towards the end of his life, the teaching of his works in schools was controversial. Henri de Roy (Henricus Regius, 1598-1679), Professor of Medicine at the University of Utrecht, was condemned by the Rector of the University, Gijsbert Voet (Voetius), for teaching Descartes' physics.[20]

Religious beliefs

The religious beliefs of René Descartes have been rigorously debated within scholarly circles. He claimed to be a devout Roman Catholic, claiming that one of the purposes of the Meditations was to defend the Christian faith. However, in his own era, Descartes was accused of harboring secret deist or atheist beliefs. Contemporary Blaise Pascal said that "I cannot forgive Descartes; in all his philosophy, Descartes did his best to dispense with God. But Descartes could not avoid prodding God to set the world in motion with a snap of his lordly fingers; after that, he had no more use for God."[21]

Stephen Gaukroger's biography of Descartes reports that "he had a deep religious faith as a Catholic, which he retained to his dying day, along with a resolute, passionate desire to discover the truth."[22] After Descartes died in Sweden, Queen Christina abdicated her throne to convert to Roman Catholicism (Swedish law required a Protestant ruler.) The only Roman Catholic she had prolonged contact with was Descartes, who was her personal tutor.[citation needed]

Writings

Handwritten letter by Descartes, December 1638.
  • 1618. Compendium Musicae. A treatise on music theory and the aesthetics of music written for Descartes' early collaborator Isaac Beeckman.
  • 1626–1628. Regulae ad directionem ingenii (Rules for the Direction of the Mind). Incomplete. First published posthumously in 1684. The best critical edition, which includes an early Dutch translation, is edited by Giovanni Crapulli (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966).
  • 1630–1633. Le Monde (The World) and L'Homme (Man). Descartes' first systematic presentation of his natural philosophy. Man was published posthumously in Latin translation in 1662; and The World posthumously in 1664.
  • 1637. Discours de la méthode (Discourse on the Method). An introduction to the Essais, which include the Dioptrique, the Météores and the Géométrie.
  • 1637. La Géométrie (Geometry). Descartes' major work in mathematics. There is an English translation by Michael Mahoney (New York: Dover, 1979).
  • 1641. Meditationes de prima philosophia (Meditations on First Philosophy), also known as Metaphysical Meditations. In Latin; a French translation, probably done without Descartes' supervision, was published in 1647. Includes six Objections and Replies. A second edition, published the following year, included an additional objection and reply, and a Letter to Dinet.
  • 1644. Principia philosophiae (Principles of Philosophy), a Latin textbook at first intended by Descartes to replace the Aristotelian textbooks then used in universities. A French translation, Principes de philosophie by Claude Picot, under the supervision of Descartes, appeared in 1647 with a letter-preface to Queen Christina of Sweden.
  • 1647. Notae in programma (Comments on a Certain Broadsheet). A reply to Descartes' one-time disciple Henricus Regius.
  • 1647. The Description of the Human Body. Published posthumously.
  • 1648. Responsiones Renati Des Cartes… (Conversation with Burman). Notes on a Q&A session between Descartes and Frans Burman on 16 April 1648. Rediscovered in 1895 and published for the first time in 1896. An annotated bilingual edition (Latin with French translation), edited by Jean-Marie Beyssade, was published in 1981 (Paris: PUF).
  • 1649. Les passions de l'âme (Passions of the Soul). Dedicated to Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia.
  • 1656. Musicae Compendium (Instruction in Music). Posth. Publ.: Johannes Janssonius jun., Amsterdam
  • 1657. Correspondence. Published by Descartes' literary executor Claude Clerselier. The third edition, in 1667, was the most complete; Clerselier omitted, however, much of the material pertaining to mathematics.

In January 2010, a previously unknown letter from Descartes, dated May 27, 1641, was found by the Dutch philosopher Erik-Jan Bos when browsing through Google. Bos found the letter mentioned in a summary of autographs kept by Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania. This was the third letter by Descartes found in the last 25 years [23] [24].

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Russell Shorto. Descartes' Bones. (Doubleday, 2008) p. 218; see also The Louvre, Atlas Database, http://cartelen.louvre.fr
  2. ^ Colie, Rosalie L. (1957). Light and Enlightenment. Cambridge University Press. p. 58. 
  3. ^ Carlson, Neil R. (2001). Physiology of Behavior. Needham Heights, Massachusetts: Pearson: Allyn & Bacon. p. 8. ISBN 0-205-30840-6. 
  4. ^ Desmond, p. 24
  5. ^ Baird, Forrest E.; Walter Kaufmann (2008). From Plato to Derrida. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall. pp. 373–377. ISBN 0-13-158591-6. 
  6. ^ See “Descartes, Œuvres et lettres”, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, presented by A. Bridoux and reviewed by Charles Adam for this detail.
  7. ^ Battle of White Mountain, Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  8. ^ Clarke, Desmond (2006). Descartes: A biography, pp. 58-59. Cambridge U. Press. http://books.google.com/books?id=W3D9KGVyz6sC
  9. ^ A.C. Grayling, Descartes: The Life of Rene Descartes and Its Place in His Times, Simon and Schuster, 2006, pp 151-152
  10. ^ "Rene Descartes". Archived from the original on 2007-05-07. http://web.archive.org/web/20070522055107/http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/philosophers/descartes.html. Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  11. ^ Theodor Ebert, Der rätselhafte Tod des René Descartes, 235 p., Alibri, 2009. ISBN 9783865690487
  12. ^ Prof. Dr. Theodor Ebert, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität, Erlangen-Nürnberg.
  13. ^ Lizzy Davies, Descartes was 'poisoned by Catholic priest' , The Observer, Sunday, 14 February 2010.
  14. ^ Rebecca, Copenhaver. "Forms of skepticism". Archived from the original on 2005-01-08. http://web.archive.org/web/20050108095032/http://www.lclark.edu/~rebeccac/forms.html. Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  15. ^ "Ten books: Chosen by Raj Persaud". The British Journal of Psychiatry. http://bjp.rcpsych.org/cgi/content/full/181/3/258. 
  16. ^ Descartes, René (1644). The Principles of Philosophy (IX). 
  17. ^ Gullberg, Jan (1997). Mathematics From The Birth Of Numbers. W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-04002-X. 
  18. ^ Tipler, P. A. and G. Mosca (2004). Physics For Scientists And Engineers. W. H. Freeman. ISBN 0-7167-4389-2. 
  19. ^ "René Descartes". Encarta. Microsoft. 2008. http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761555262/Rene_Descartes.html#s3. Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  20. ^ Cottingham, John, Dugald Murdoch, and Robert Stoothof. The Philosophical Writings of Descartes.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985. 293.
  21. ^ Think Exist on Blaise Pascal. Retrieved Feb. 12, 2009.
  22. ^ The Religious Affiliation of philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes. Webpage last modified 5 October 2005.
  23. ^ "Unknown letter from Descartes found"
  24. ^ (Dutch)" Hoe Descartes in 1641 op andere gedachten kwam - Onbekende brief van Franse filosoof gevonden"

References

Collected works

  • 1983. Oeuvres de Descartes in 11 vols. Adam, Charles, and Tannery, Paul, eds. Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin.

Collected English translations

  • 1988. The Philosophical Writings Of Descartes in 3 vols. Cottingham, J., Stoothoff, R., Kenny, A., and Murdoch, D., trans. Cambridge University Press.

Single works

  • 1618. Compendium Musicae.
  • 1628. Rules for the Direction of the Mind.
  • 1637. Discourse on the Method ("Discours de la Methode"). An introduction to Dioptrique, Des Météores and La Géométrie. Original in French, because intended for a wider public.
  • 1637. La Géométrie. Smith, David E., and Lantham, M. L., trans., 1954. The Geometry of René Descartes. Dover.
  • 1641. Meditations on First Philosophy. Cottingham, J., trans., 1996. Cambridge University Press. Latin original. Alternative English title: Metaphysical Meditations. Includes six Objections and Replies. A second edition published the following year, includes an additional ‘’Objection and Reply’’ and a Letter to Dinet. HTML Online Latin-French-English Edition
  • 1644. Les Principes de la philosophie. Miller, V. R. and R. P., trans., 1983. Principles of Philosophy. Reidel.
  • 1647. Comments on a Certain Broadsheet.
  • 1647. The Description of the Human Body.
  • 1648. Conversation with Burman.
  • 1649. Passions of the Soul. Voss, S. H., trans., 1989. Indianapolis: Hackett. Dedicated to Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia.

Secondary literature

  • Boyer, Carl (1985). A History of Mathematics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02391-3. 
  • Clarke, Desmond (2006). Descartes: A Biography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-82301-3. 
  • Costabel, Pierre (1987). René Descartes - Exercices pour les éléments des solides. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. ISBN 2-13-040099-X. 
  • Cottingham, John (1992). The Cambridge Companion to Descartes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-36696-8. 
  • Duncan, Steven M. (2008). The Proof of the External World: Cartesian Theism and the Possibility of Knowledge. Cambridge: James Clarke & Co. ISBN 978-02271-7267-4 http://www.lutterworth.com/jamesclarke/jc/titles/proofew.htm. 
  • Farrell, John. “Demons of Descartes and Hobbes.” Paranoia and Modernity: Cervantes to Rousseau (Cornell UP, 2006), chapter 7.
  • Garber, Daniel (1992). Descartes' Metaphysical Physics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-28219-8. 
  • Garber, Daniel; Michael Ayers (1998). The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-53721-5. 
  • Gaukroger, Stephen (1995). Descartes: An Intellectual Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-823994-7. 
  • Giuseppe Leone, [Il quarto centenario dalla nascita di Cartesio (1596)], Una "ragione" per l'Europa Unita, in "Ricorditi di me...", su Lecco 2000, Aprile 1996.
  • Grayling, A.C. (2005). Descartes: The Life and times of a Genius. New York: Walker Publishing Co., Inc.. ISBN 0-8027-1501-X. 
  • Gillespie, A. (2006). Descartes’ demon: A dialogical analysis of ‘Meditations on First Philosophy.’[1] Theory & Psychology, 16, 761-781.
  • Keeling, S. V. (1968). Descartes. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN. 
  • Melchert, Norman (2002). The Great Conversation: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy. New York: McGraw Hill. ISBN 0-19-517510-7. 
  • Moreno Romo, Juan Carlos (Coord.), Descartes vivo. Ejercicios de hermenéutica cartesiana, Anthropos, Barcelona, 2007'
  • Ozaki, Makoto (1991). Kartenspiel, oder Kommentar zu den Meditationen des Herrn Descartes. Berlin: Klein Verlag.. ISBN 392719901X. 
  • Moreno Romo, Juan Carlos, Vindicación del cartesianismo radical, Anthropos, Barcelona, 2010.
  • Schäfer, Rainer (2006). Zweifel und Sein - Der Ursprung des modernen Selbstbewusstseins in Descartes' cogito. Wuerzburg: Koenigshausen&Neumann. ISBN 3-8260-3202-0. 
  • Serfati, M., 2005, "Geometria" in Ivor Grattan-Guinness, ed., Landmark Writings in Western Mathematics. Elsevier: 1-22.
  • Sorrell, Tom (1987). Descartes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.. ISBN 0-19-287636-8. 

External links

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It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well.

René Descartes (March 31, 1596February 11, 1650) was a highly influential French philosopher, mathematician, scientist, and writer. He has been dubbed the "Father of Modern Philosophy" and the "Father of Modern Mathematics." He is also known as Cartesius.

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  • Cogito, ergo sum.
    • Translation: I think, therefore I am.
    • Variant: I think therefore I exist.
    • Principia philosophiae (Principles of Philosophy) (1644)
  • Ex nihilo nihil fit.
    • Translation: Nothing comes out of nothing.
    • Principia philosophiae
  • Me tenant comme je suis, un pied dans un pays et l’autre en un autre, je trouve ma condition très heureuse, en ce qu’elle est libre.
    • Translation: Staying as I am, one foot in one country and the other in another, I find my condition very happy, in that it is free.
    • Letter to Elisabeth of Bohemia, Princess Palatine (Paris, June/July 1648)
  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.

Le Discours de la Méthode (1637)

Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, and Seeking Truth in the Sciences
  • Of all things, good sense is the most fairly distributed: everyone thinks he is so well supplied with it that even those who are the hardest to satisfy in every other respect never desire more of it than they already have. fr en
    • Pt. 1
    • Variants:
      • Good sense is of all things in the world the most equally distributed, for everybody thinks he is so well supplied with it, that even those most difficult to please in all other matters never desire more of it than they already possess.
      • Common sense is the most fairly distributed thing in the world, for each one thinks he is so well-endowed with it that even those who are hardest to satisfy in all other matters are not in the habit of desiring more of it than they already have.
      • Nothing is more fairly distributed than common sense: no one thinks he needs more of it than he already has.
  • It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well.
    • Pt. 1
  • The greatest minds are capable of the greatest vices as well as of the greatest virtues.
    • Pt. 1
  • The first precept was never to accept a thing as true until I knew it as such without a single doubt.
    • Pt. 2
  • Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it.
    • Pt. 2
  • The last rule was to make enumerations so complete, and reviews so comprehensive, that I should be certain of omitting nothing.
    • Pt. 2
  • The long chains of simple and easy reasonings by means of which geometers are accustomed to reach the conclusions of their most difficult demonstrations, had led me to imagine that all things, to the knowledge of which man is competent, are mutually connected in the same way, and that there is nothing so far removed from us as to be beyond our reach, or so hidden that we cannot discover it, provided only we abstain from accepting the false for the true, and always preserve in our thoughts the order necessary for the deduction of one truth from another.
    • Pt. 2
  • Each problem that I solved became a rule, which served afterwards to solve other problems.
    • Pt. 2
  • One cannot conceive anything so strange and so implausible that it has not already been said by one philosopher or another.
    • Variant: There is nothing so strange and so unbelievable that it has not been said by one philosopher or another.
    • Pt. 2
  • Je pense, donc je suis.
    • Translation: I think, therefore I am.
    • Pt. 4
  • So blind is the curiosity by which mortals are possessed, that they often conduct their minds along unexplored routes, having no reason to hope for success, but merely being willing to risk the experiment of finding whether the truth they seek lies there.

Misattributed

An optimist may see a light where there is none, but why must the pessimist always run to blow it out?

  • Michel de Saint Pierre

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Up to date as of January 14, 2010

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Historical Introduction to Philosophy

Rene’ Descartes France b.1596 d.1650

Biography According to the Stanford Philosophy Enclyapedia Renee Descartes was born on March 31, 1596 in La Haye France, to Juachim Descartes and Jeanne Brochard. He had two siblings and two half siblings. His father was a Lawyer and did not spend much time with his family. His mother died from tuberculosis when he was a year old. His grandmother raised him and his bother Pierre and sister Jeanne. The boy was susceptible to illness and coddled for example, allowed him to sleep until noon. He was sent to the Jesuit College at la Fleche in Anjou sometime between the ages of six to ten. Here, he again slept late most days. Descartes believed that he did his best thinking in bed and often to advantage of this time for reflection. He invented analytical geometry connecting algebra with geometry. The lines we use on maps are known as Cartesian coordinates. When he was 33, he relocated to Holland because of its religious tolerance. In 1649 he moved to Sweden to tutor the Queen. He died a year later from pneumonia.

Descartes was a leading figure in the scientific revolution of the 17th century. He helped shape the “new science” or the worldview that the universe was a heliocentric system, meaning that the sun not earth and humans were at the center of the universe. Also, that the world could be explained using reason and mathematical specifically geometric equations.

Descartes used a method of doubt to find undisputable truth and explain how the universe worked. In order to accomplish this he must define knowledge. He relates knowledge to a tree with the roots being the foundation, physics the trunk and the branches are ethics as well as the other sciences. He believed that, if he doubted something even once, it could not be 100% certain.

On the night of November 10, 1619, alone in a room with no distractions he sat in front of the fire to begin his famous search for the truth. He cast aside his beliefs by using a method of doubt. In order to get to the Truth he must cast doubt on his opinions and their foundations. This method had four rules. First, he suggested that the search proceed slowly and meticulously. This could be accomplished by breaking the parts of each supposed truth into small parts then rebuilding with 100% certain knowledge. He acknowledges that what he knows about the world before his great quest came from his senses. He was also aware of the fact that our senses can deceive us and give us false information. He argued that an evil demon must be the deceiver and this miline gienie can even chase us in our dreams.

The Meditations In the first meditation, Descartes refers to much of the information contained in his discourse of method. By way of self analysis he comes to the conclusion that he has a soul. He says “I will doubt not only what is obviously false, but what is even slightly doubtful.” He looks at his hands and realizes that they must be his and the he would be crazy not to think so. He admits that the fives senses can deceive man. He casts away his former onions and asserts that he will doubt anything and everything he knows.

Descartes’s famous cogito ergo sum argument is the main focus of the second meditation. He asserts that what he sees is not to be trusted, his memory is suspect, he has no body, and no senses. So, what is he? Descartes then asserts he must exist and that some heinous demon must be deceiving him by way of the senses. Enter the “I think therefore I am.” How can he doubt that he exists, after all, he does think. He explains the “I” by using wax as an example. He studies a candle noting its size, shape, sound… next he heats the candle in the fire observing then change after it melts. He concludes that the candle has changed but that the wax is the same. This knowledge he believes is innate, something we can only get to by intellect.

The third meditation contains his argument proving the existence of god. The argument is weak, but accepted by many. Descartes asserts that ideas are like atoms, they crash together when we are thinking. He proves god’s existence by saying that god is a perfect being, and that humans are imperfect. An imperfect being cannot create a perfect being therefore god is real. Descartes uses the next two meditation s to reaffirm this argument.

In the sixth meditation Descartes addresses the mind body problem. Asserting again, that the senses cannot be trusted with absolute certainty. He also concludes that he is a thinking being, and that his mind is not extended. He asserts that the body is extended, meaning that it takes up space thus separating the mind from the body. He reasons that there must be something outside of the mind and body that causes sense perception. This something Descartes concludes is god. For God is good and would not deceive poor little man. Descartes moves to explains true understanding. He does this, using mathematical examples. If a square has four sides humans can understand the concept of a square. On the other hand if 10,000 demons are standing in a room, humans must use imagination. Imagination is not an essential property of the mind so again god must have something to do with human perception. Descartes is to this day a great influence for many thinkers.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

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Descartes

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Descartes

  1. A French philosopher and mathematician, who lived from 1596 to 1650.

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