Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

In 1633, the year that Italian scientist Galileo was forced to recant by the Inquisition, René Descartes was just finishing his first major scientific treatise, Le Monde (The World, 1998). In the work, Descartes had used the Copernican theory for which, in part, Galileo had been condemned, so prudence dictated that the work be withheld from publication. However, a strong sense of the importance of his discoveries caused him to issue three token essays and to compose a kind of prospectus of his work to date for publication under the same cover. The latter is the Discourse on Method. Besides explaining the author’s method and reviewing his labors, it summarizes his metaphysical reasoning and sketches the plan of the larger, unpublished volume. Strangely, perhaps, for one whose declared intention was to set all human knowledge on impersonal foundations, the Discourse on Method is a highly personal communication. It begins with a biographical reminiscence.