René Descartes was born on March 31, 1596 in La Haye, France. Descartes became one of the most influential thinkers in human history, and is sometimes called the founder of modern philosophy.
Descartes' parents were Joachim Descartes and Jeanne Brochard. His mother died the year following his birth. His father was a lawyer and magistrate, which left little time for raising a family. René and his brother and sister, Pierre and Jeanne, were raised by their grandmother.
From 1606 until 1614, Descartes attended La Fleche, a Jesuit college in Anjou. He spent the following two years in Paris studying mathematics, and being introduced to fashionable French society. In 1616, he began the study of law at University of Poitiers, but in 1617, set out for the Netherlands where he volunteered in the Dutch army. Over the following eleven years Descartes travelled throughout Europe, settling in the Netherlands in 1628. He completed two additional years of education in the Dutch cities of Franeker and Leyden. Descartes later claimed that his formal education provided little of substance, and that only mathematics, any real knowledge.
Descartes published his major philosophical work, "A Discourse on Method, Meditations on First Philosophy" in 1641, the year before Galileo died and Isaac Newton was born. Because he lived at a time when traditional ideas were being questioned, he sought to devise a method for reaching the truth. This concern and his method of systematic doubt had an enormous impact on the subsequent development of philosophy. Descartes introduced the now famous Latin phrase "cogito ergo sum," or in English "I think, therefore I am."
In Descartes' view, the universe was created by God on whose power everything depends. He thought of God as resembling the human mind in that both the mind and God think, but have no physical being. But he believed that God is unlike the human mind in that God is infinite and does not depend on a creator for His existence.
In addition to his accomplishments as a philosopher Descartes was an outstanding mathematician, inventing analytic geometry and attempting to devise the simple universal laws that governed all physical change.
In 1649, Queen Christina of Sweden persuaded Descartes to come to Stockholm. On February 11, 1650, after only a few months in that cold climate, he died of pneumonia.
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A Discourse on Method: Meditations and Principles
by René Descartes
By calling everything into doubt, Descartes laid the foundations of modern philosophy. In Discourse on Method he explains that human beings consist of minds and bodies; that these are totally distinct "substances"; that God exists and that He ensures we can trust the evidence of our senses. Ushering in the "scientific revolution" of Galileo and Newton, Descartes' ideas swept aside ancient and medieval traditions of philosophical methods and investigation.
The Passions of the Soul: Les Passions De Lame
by René Descartes
Descartes gives his account of what the passions are, and how they arise from the connection between the human body and the human mind. Descartes treats the passions 'only as a natural philosopher [en physicien], and not as a rhetorician or even as a moral philosopher'.
The Cambridge Companion to Descartes
by John Cottingham (Editor)
In this authoritative collection an international team of leading scholars in Cartesian studies present the full range of Descartes' extraordinary philosophical achievement. His life and the development of his thought, as well as the intellectual background to and reception of his work are treated at length.
Descartes: A Biography
by Desmond M. Clarke
This biography addresses the complete range of Descartes' interests in theology, philosophy, and the sciences, and traces his intellectual development throughout his entire career.
Descartes' Life and WorksStanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy