Biography (Encyclopedia of Psychology)
Bibliography (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Chappell, Vere, ed. Descartes’s Meditations: Critical Essays. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997. A significant collection of essays by scholars who carefully assess the perspectives and problems in one of Western philosophy’s most important texts.
Cottingham, John. Descartes. New York: Routledge, 1999. An excellent biographical introduction to the thoughts of the philosopher, clearly presented and requiring no special background. Includes a bibliography.
Cottingham, John, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Descartes. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. A helpful collection of essays focusing on a variety of topics in Descartes’s thought.
Foley, Richard. Working Without a Net: A Study of Egocentric Epistemology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. A careful exposition of Descartes’s analysis of skepticism and the prospects human beings have for obtaining knowledge.
Gaukroger, Stephen. Descartes: An Intellectual Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. A veteran interpreter of Descartes offers an important account of Descartes’s intellectual development and the times and places in which it took place. For a review of this work see Magill’s Literary Annual review.
Keeling, S. V. Descartes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. This analysis of the merits and defects of Descartes’s philosophy provides a good...
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Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 17th and 18th Centuries)
Article abstract: Descartes’ cardinal contribution is the extension of the mathematical method to all fields of knowledge. He is the father of analytic geometry and the author of the most universally appropriate version of mind-body dualism in the history of philosophy.
René Descartes was born to one of the most respected families among the French-speaking nobility in Touraine. His father, Joachim, held the post of counselor to the Parlement de Bordeaux. Descartes’ mother died of tuberculosis only a few days after giving birth to her son, leaving a frail child of chronically poor health to the sole care of his father. René’s physical condition remained delicate until he was in his twenties.
Joachim Descartes was a devoted and admiring father, determined to obtain the best education for “his philosopher.” When Descartes was ten, he was sent to the College of La Flèche, newly established by the Jesuits under the auspices of Henry IV.
Descartes was an exemplary student of the humanities and of mathematics. When, at the age of sixteen, he began his study of natural philosophy, he came to the insight which would later give rise to his revolutionary contributions to modern thought. Uncertainty and obscurity, he discovered, were hallmarks of physics and metaphysics. These disciplines seemed to attract a contradictory morass of opinions that yielded nothing uniform or definite. By contrast, Descartes’ studies in mathematics showed him something firm, solid, and lasting. He was astonished to find that while mathematical solutions had been applied to scientific problems, the method of mathematics had never been extended to important practical matters. At La Flèche, Descartes concluded that he would have to break with the traditions of the schools if he were to find knowledge of any worth.
Descartes left his college without regret, and his father subsequently sent him to Paris. Social life there failed to amuse him, and he formed his most intimate friendships with some of France’s leading scholars and teachers. When he was twenty-one, he joined the army but spent little time campaigning. In his spare time, he wrote a compendium of music and displayed his mathematical genius by instantaneously solving puzzles devised for him by soldiers in his company.
Descartes was housed with a German regiment in winter quarters at Ulm, waiting for active campaign, when the whole core of his subsequent thought suddenly took shape. On the night of November 10, 1619, after a day of intense and agitated reflection, Descartes went to bed and had three dreams. He interpreted these dreams as a divine sign that he was destined to found a unified science based on a new method for the correct management of human reason. Descartes’ sudden illumination and resolve on that night to take himself as the judge of all values and the source of all certainty in knowledge was momentous for the world of ideas.
Descartes spent the next ten years formulating his method while continuing scientific researches, and occupied himself with travel in order to study what he called “the great book of the world.” He had come to the view that systems of human thought, especially those of the sciences and philosophy, were better framed by one thinker than by many, so that systematizing a body of thought from the books of others was not the best method. Descartes wanted to be disabused of all the prejudices he had acquired from the books of others; thus, he sought to begin anew with his own clear and firm foundation. This view was codified in his first substantial work, Regulae ad Directionem Ingenii (1701; Rules for the Direction of the Mind, 1911). In this work, Descartes set forth the method of rational inquiry he thought requisite for scientific advance, but he advocated its use for the attainment of any sort of knowledge whatever.
Descartes completed a scientific work entitled La Monde in 1633, the same year that Galileo was condemned by the Inquisition. Upon hearing this news, Descartes immediately had his own book suppressed from publication, for it taught the same Copernican cosmology as did Galileo, and made the claim that indicted Galileo’s orthodoxy: that human beings could have knowledge as perfect as that of God. A few years later, Descartes published a compendium of treatises on mathematics and physical sciences which were written for the educated but nonacademic French community; this work obliquely recommended his unorthodox views to the common men of “good sense” from whom Descartes hoped to receive a fair hearing. This work was prefaced by his Discours de la méthode (1637; Discourse on Method, 1649) and contained the Geometry, the Dioptric, and the Meteors.
Discourse on Method provided the finest articulation of...
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Biography (World Philosophers and Their Works)
Article abstract: Descartes’s cardinal contribution is the extension of the mathematical method to all fields of knowledge. He is the father of analytic geometry and the author of the most universally appropriate version of mind-body dualism in the history of philosophy.
René Descartes was born to one of the most respected families among the French-speaking nobility in Touraine. His father, Joachim, held the post of counselor to the Parlement de Bordeaux. Descartes’s mother died of tuberculosis only a few days after giving birth to her son, leaving a frail child of chronically poor health to the sole care of his father. René’s physical condition remained delicate...
(The entire section is 2334 words.)
Descartes was an accomplished mathematician, scientist, and philosopher whose works include the Discourse on Method (1637), Meditations on the First Philosophy (1641), Principles of Philosophy (1644), and The Passions of the Soul (1649). Often considered the father of modern philosophy, he discarded the absolutist systems of the scholastic philosophers who had preceded him, and subjected all knowledge to universal doubt, through which he attempted to establish new foundations for knowledge of the physical world and of God. He was the victim of posthumous censorship, as various of his works were banned after his death by the Roman Catholic church and, much later, by the Soviet Union.
(The entire section is 507 words.)
Descartes was educated at the Jesuit College of La Flèche. In his influential works Discours de la méthode (1637; Discourse on Method, 1649) and Meditationes de Prima Philosophia (1641; Meditations on First Philosophy, 1680), Descartes moved toward epistemology, questioning what a person can know. This move was accompanied by a particular method that proceeded by systematically doubting everything that could be doubted. Only an “unshakable foundation” that was absolutely impregnable to doubt could serve as a reliable basis for a system of knowledge.
(The entire section is 211 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
René Descartes (day-kahrt), born on March 31, 1596, was the third child of Joachim Descartes, a fairly prosperous member of the minor noblesse de robe (nobility of the robe); he was a counselor in the Parlement (or law court) of Rennes. From 1604 to 1612, René Descartes studied at the College of La Fleche at Anjou, where he received from the Jesuits a firm grounding in every aspect of scholastic philosophy, which he subsequently challenged. After La Fleche, he continued his studies at the University of Poitier, where he sharpened his analytic and geometric methods. His brilliance was quickly recognized, and since he was of very frail health, he was granted relief from morning duties; it was during this time that he...
(The entire section is 761 words.)