Rene Descartes was a philosopher, mathematician and a writer. A graduate from University of Poitiers and an alumnus of Prytanée National Militaire, Descartes is known as the ‘Father of Modern Philosophy’.
1. The First Modern Philosopher Who Said, ‘I Think, Therefore I Am’
Rene Descartes is known for more than nine published works. But the most prominent of all Rene Descartes major accomplishments is his contribution to the world of philosophy. He helped us understand who we are or what we think and that we should think. He had several takes on philosophy and the human mind but one statement stands out in particular. ‘Je pense, donc je suis’ or ‘I think, therefore I am’ is still considered to be one of the most prolific and enlightening quotes in philosophy to be ever said or written. The statement can be found in the book ‘Discourse on the Method’.
2. ‘Discourse on the Method’
‘Discours de la methode’ or ‘Discourse on the Method’ was an autobiographical and philosophical treatise written by René Descartes. Published as ‘Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences’ in English and ‘Discours de la méthode pour bien conduire sa raison, et chercher la vérité dans les sciences’ in French, the book is one of the finest takes on modern philosophy. Descartes wrote about natural sciences, how our understanding of natural sciences should influence who we are and how we think, how we must develop our knowledge pertaining to natural sciences and thus evolve as a species. Descartes was perhaps the first man, also philosopher, who started to think without any perceptions or notions. He had iterated that doubting everything or trusting nothing and thus not taking anything at face value or as it is would be the right way to truly explore the world. Most people, even today, accept things as they are. To question everything is the kind of inquisitiveness that can truly empower someone to have a better understanding of oneself. The book is divided into six parts shedding light on the considerations to understand natural sciences, the rules that defined the method used by the author, the maxims and morals accepted to be the basis of the method, proof of soul and god, the understanding of physics, the human heart and soul of all living objects.
3. Evolution of Cartesianism
The book made him popular immediately and he had intended to delve deeper and ‘Discourse on the Method’ became the first of a series that included ‘Meditationes de Prima Philosophia’ or ‘Meditations on First Philosophy’, ‘Principia philosophiae’ or ‘Principles of Philosophy’ and ‘Regulae ad directionem ingenii’ or ‘Rules for the Direction of the Mind’. These would become the foundation of Cartesianism. The school of thought including the methods used by Rene Descartes that became popular as Cartesianism was expansively explored throughout the seventeenth century and is still evolving today. Cartesianism was not an approach perfected by Descartes alone. It also influenced notable philosophers Nicolas Malebranche and Baruch Spinoza among others.
4. Contribution to Education
The education system has certainly evolved since the seventeenth century and major revelations over the centuries have formed the basic knowledgebase that is used to impart modern education. Descartes’ works are included in several philosophy courses for undergrads and post grads in universities across the world. Many of his books form the basis of modern philosophy education and there is sufficient interest in aspiring philosophers or students of philosophy to master Cartesianism.
5. Father of Analytical Geometry
Rene Descartes combined algebra and geometry, which is analytical geometry, and championed its basics. He obviously could not further analytical geometry the way we do today with the help of computing machines but his approach to finding a point in reference to other points using distance and the points of origins was a hallmark at the time.
6. Published Works
Rene Descartes had penned several essays that would shake the then existing beliefs. Just as the Catholic Church censored the works of Galileo, he chose to not publish ‘Treatise on the World’. He later published La Géométrie, Les Météores and La Dioptrique. His major published works are Meditations on First Philosophy and Principles of Philosophy, both dealing in metaphysics. He penned ‘Passions of the Soul’ documenting his correspondence with Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and thus essaying his thoughts on morality and psychology. ‘The Description of the Human Body’ as well as ‘Passions of the Soul’ explored the correlation of the body and the mind and that the two works in tandem and cannot be seen in an isolated manner. Descartes propagated the idea that the body is like a machine and that it is thus material. The mind is not. Although many of his books were banned by the Church, his works did find a place in history and are still very popular. His other major works are Compendium Musicae, Regulae ad directionem ingenii, Le Monde and L’Homme, Les passions de l’âme- Passions of the Soul and Musicae Compendium.