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René Descartes

René Descartes

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Published by dan mihalache
Descartes has been heralded as the first modern philosopher. He is famous for having made an important connection between geometry and algebra, which allowed for the solving of geometrical problems by way of algebraic equations. He is also famous for having promoted a new conception of matter, which allowed for the accounting of physical phenomena by way of mechanical explanations. However, he is most famous for having written a relatively short work, Meditationes de Prima Philosophia (Meditations On First Philosophy), published in 1641, in which he provides a philosophical groundwork for the possibility of the sciences.

1. Early Years
Descartes was born in La Haye on March 31, 1596 of Joachim Descartes and Jeanne Brochard. He was one of a number of surviving children (two siblings and two half-siblings). His father was a lawyer and magistrate, which apparently left little time for family. Descartes's mother died in May of the year following his birth, and he, his full brother and sister, Pierre and Jeanne, were left to be raised by their grandmother in La Haye. At around ten years of age, in 1606, he was sent to the Jesuit college of La Fleche. He studied there until 1614, and in 1615 entered the University of Poitiers, where a year later he received his Baccalaureate and License in Canon & Civil Law. For the history and the text of his thesis, see the following supplementary document:
Descartes' Law Thesis
In 1618, at the age of twenty-two, he enlisted in the army of Prince Maurice of Nassau. It is not known what his duties were exactly, though Baillet suggests that he would have very likely been drawn to what would now be called the Corps of Engineers (Baillet, Livre 1, Chapitre 9, p. 41). This division would have engaged in applied mathematics, designing a variety of structures and machines aimed at protecting and assisting soldiers in battle. Sorell, on the other hand, notes that in Breda, where Descartes was stationed, the army "doubled as military academy for young noblemen on the Continent" (Sorell, p. 6). And, Gaukroger notes that the education of the young noblemen was structured around the educational model of Lipsius (1547-1606), a highly respected Dutch political theorist who received a Jesuit education at Cologne (Gaukroger, pp. 65-6). It is likely that the military environment (that is, the academy) at Breda would have reminded Descartes of La Fleche. Though there are reasons for thinking that he may have been a soldier, the majority of biographers argue that it is more likely that his duties were oriented more towards education or engineering.
While stationed at Breda, Descartes met the mathematician Isaac Beeckman (1588-1637). Notes that Descartes kept related to his correspondence reveal that he and Beeckman had become more than simple acquaintances-their relationship was more one of teacher and student (Descartes being the latter). This relationship would rekindle in Descartes an intense interest in the sciences. In addition to discussions about a wide variety of topics in natural science, a direct result of certain questions posed by Beeckman compelled Descartes to write the Compendium Musicae. Among other things, the Compendium attempted to work out a theory of harmony, rooted in the concepts of proportion or ratio, which (along the lines of the ancients) attempted to express the notion of harmony in mathematical terms. It would not be published during Descartes's lifetime. As for Beeckman, Descartes would later downplay his influence.
2. The World and Discourse
After Descartes left the army, in 1619, his whereabouts for the next few years are unknown. Based on what he says in the Discours de la Methode (Discourse on the Method), published in 1637, there is speculation that he spent time near Ulm (Descartes apparently attended the coronation of Ferdinand II in Frankfurt in 1619). There is some evidence that would suggest that he was in France in 1622, for it was at this time that property he had inherited
Descartes has been heralded as the first modern philosopher. He is famous for having made an important connection between geometry and algebra, which allowed for the solving of geometrical problems by way of algebraic equations. He is also famous for having promoted a new conception of matter, which allowed for the accounting of physical phenomena by way of mechanical explanations. However, he is most famous for having written a relatively short work, Meditationes de Prima Philosophia (Meditations On First Philosophy), published in 1641, in which he provides a philosophical groundwork for the possibility of the sciences.

1. Early Years
Descartes was born in La Haye on March 31, 1596 of Joachim Descartes and Jeanne Brochard. He was one of a number of surviving children (two siblings and two half-siblings). His father was a lawyer and magistrate, which apparently left little time for family. Descartes's mother died in May of the year following his birth, and he, his full brother and sister, Pierre and Jeanne, were left to be raised by their grandmother in La Haye. At around ten years of age, in 1606, he was sent to the Jesuit college of La Fleche. He studied there until 1614, and in 1615 entered the University of Poitiers, where a year later he received his Baccalaureate and License in Canon & Civil Law. For the history and the text of his thesis, see the following supplementary document:
Descartes' Law Thesis
In 1618, at the age of twenty-two, he enlisted in the army of Prince Maurice of Nassau. It is not known what his duties were exactly, though Baillet suggests that he would have very likely been drawn to what would now be called the Corps of Engineers (Baillet, Livre 1, Chapitre 9, p. 41). This division would have engaged in applied mathematics, designing a variety of structures and machines aimed at protecting and assisting soldiers in battle. Sorell, on the other hand, notes that in Breda, where Descartes was stationed, the army "doubled as military academy for young noblemen on the Continent" (Sorell, p. 6). And, Gaukroger notes that the education of the young noblemen was structured around the educational model of Lipsius (1547-1606), a highly respected Dutch political theorist who received a Jesuit education at Cologne (Gaukroger, pp. 65-6). It is likely that the military environment (that is, the academy) at Breda would have reminded Descartes of La Fleche. Though there are reasons for thinking that he may have been a soldier, the majority of biographers argue that it is more likely that his duties were oriented more towards education or engineering.
While stationed at Breda, Descartes met the mathematician Isaac Beeckman (1588-1637). Notes that Descartes kept related to his correspondence reveal that he and Beeckman had become more than simple acquaintances-their relationship was more one of teacher and student (Descartes being the latter). This relationship would rekindle in Descartes an intense interest in the sciences. In addition to discussions about a wide variety of topics in natural science, a direct result of certain questions posed by Beeckman compelled Descartes to write the Compendium Musicae. Among other things, the Compendium attempted to work out a theory of harmony, rooted in the concepts of proportion or ratio, which (along the lines of the ancients) attempted to express the notion of harmony in mathematical terms. It would not be published during Descartes's lifetime. As for Beeckman, Descartes would later downplay his influence.
2. The World and Discourse
After Descartes left the army, in 1619, his whereabouts for the next few years are unknown. Based on what he says in the Discours de la Methode (Discourse on the Method), published in 1637, there is speculation that he spent time near Ulm (Descartes apparently attended the coronation of Ferdinand II in Frankfurt in 1619). There is some evidence that would suggest that he was in France in 1622, for it was at this time that property he had inherited

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Published by: dan mihalache on May 28, 2010
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René Descartes
 
French philosopher and mathematician(1596-1650)
 
RENE DESCARTES
, was born at La Haye, in Touriane, on the 31st of March 1596,and died at Stockholm on the 11th of February 1650. The small town of La Haye lieson the right bank of the Creuse, about midway between Tours and Poitiers. The houseis still shown where he was born, and a Metairie about three miles off still retains thename of Les Cartes. His family on both sides was of Poitevin descent, and had itshead-quarters in the neighboring town of Chatellerault, where his grandfather hadbeen a physician. Joachim Descartes, his father, having purchased a commission ascounselor in the parliament of Rennes, introduced the family into that demi-noblesseof the robe, which, is stately isolation between the bourgeoisie and the high nobility,maintained a lofty rank in the hierarchy of France. For the one half of each yearrequired for residence the elder Descartes removed with his wife, Jeanne Brochard, toRennes. Three children, all of whom first saw the light at La Haye, sprung from theunion – a son who afterwards succeeded to his father in the parlement, a daughter whomarried a M. du Crevis, and a second son Rene. His mother, who had been ailingbeforehand, never recovered from her third confinement; and the motherless infantwas entrusted to a nurse whose care Descartes in after years remembered by a smallpension.
Réné Descartes
 Descartes, who in the family circle was known as Du Perron, from a small estatedestined for his inheritance, soon showed, say the chronicles, an inquisitive mind,which made his father style him his philosopher. He was sent off at the age of eight tothe school of la Fleche, which Henry IV. had lately founded and endowed for theJesuits, and there he continued from 1604 to 1612. Of the education there given, of the equality maintained among the pupils, and of their free intercourse, Descartes at alater period spoke in terms of high praise. He himself enjoyed exceptional privileges;his feeble health excused him from the morning duties, and thus early he acquired thehabit of matutinal reflection in bed, which clung to him through out life. Even then hehad begun to distrust the authority of tradition and his teachers.
 
Two years before he left schools he was selected as one of the twenty-four gentlemenwho went forth to receive the heart of the murdered king as it was borne to its resting-place at la Fleche. At the age of sixteen he went home to his father, who was nowsettled at Rennes, and had taken a second wife from Brittany. During the winter of 1612 he completed his preparations for the world by lessons in horsemanship andfencing; and then in the spring of 1613, he started as his own master to taste thepleasures of Parisian life. Fortunately the spirit of dissipation does not seem to havecarried him any perilous lengths; the worst we hear of is a passion for gaming. Here,too, he made the acquaintance of Claude Mydroge, one of the foremostmathematicians of France, and renewed an early intimacy with Marin Mersenne, anold fellow-student, senior by some years, at La Fleche, and now become FatherMersenne, of the order of Minim Friars. The withdrawal of the latter in 1614 to a postin the provinces was the signal for Descrates to abandon social life and shut himself up for nearly two years in a secluded house of the Faubourg St Germain. Accident,however, betrayed the secret of his retirement; he was compelled to leave hismathematical investigations, and to take part in entertainments, where the only thingthat chimed in with his theorizing reveries was the music. The scenes of horror andintrigue which marked the struggle for supremacy between the various leaders whoaimed at guiding the politics of France made Paris no fit place for a student, and heldout little honorable prospect for a soldier. Accordingly, in May 1617, Descartes, nowtwenty-one years of age, set out for the Nethelands and took service in the army of Prince Maurice of orange, one of the greatest generals of the age, who had beenengaged for some time in war with the Spanish forces in Belgium. At Breda heenlisted as a volunteer, and the first and only pay which he accepted he kept as acuriosity through life. There was a lull in the war; and the Netherlands were distractedby the quarrels of Gomarists and Arminians. During the leisure thus arising, Descartesone day, as he roved through breda, had his attention drawn to a placard in the Dutchtongue; and as the language, of which he never became perfectly master, was thenstrange to him, he asked a bystander to interpret it into either French or Latin. Thestranger, who happened to be Isaac Beeckman, principal of the college of Dort,offered with some surprise to do so into Latin, if the inquirer would bring him asolution of the problem, - for the advertisement was one of those challenges which themathematicians of the age, in the spirit of the tournaments of chivalry, wereaccustomed to throw down to all comers, daring them to discover a geometricalmystery known as they fancied to themselves alone. Descartes promised and fulfilled;and a friendship grew up between him and Beeckman – broken only by the literarydishonesty of the latter, who in later years took credit for the novelty contained in asmall essay on music (Compendium Musicoe) which Descartes wrote at this periodand intrusted to Beeckman.After thus spending two years in Holland as a soldier in a period of peace, Descraes,in July 1619, attracted by the news of the impending struggle between the house of Austria and the Protestant princes, consequent upon the election of he palatine of theRhine to the kingdom of Bohemia, set out for Upper Germany, and volunteered intothe Bavarian service. The winter of 1619, spent in quarters at Neuburg on the Danube,was the critical period in his life. Here, in his warm room (dans un poele), he indulgedthose meditations which afterwards led to the Discourse of Method. It was there that,on the eve of St Martin’s day. he " was filled with enthusiasm, and discovered thefoundations of a marvelous science." He retired to rest with anxious thoughts of hisfuture career, which haunted him through the night in three dreams, that left a deep
 
impression on his mind. "Next day," he continues, "I began to understand the firstprinciples of my marvelous discovery." The date of his philosophical conversion isthus fixed to a day. But the light was as yet him; he had only glimpses of a methodwhich should invigorate the syllogism by the co-operation of ancient geometry andmodern algebra. For during the year that elapsed before he left Swabia (and whilst hesojourned at Neuburg and Ulm), and amidst his geometrical studies, he would fainhave gathered some knowledge of the mystical wisdom attributed to the Rosicrucians;but the Invisibles, as they called themselves, kept their secret, and he found them not.His restlessness of spirit is well shown by a vow (which he himself records with thedate of September 23, 1620), to make a pilgrimage to Loretto – "if possible, on footfrom Venice; if not, in the most devout manner he could." Soon after the Bavariantroops were ordered into active service. He was present at the battle of Prague, wherethe hopes of the elector palatine were blasted (9th November 1620), passed the winterwith the army in Southern Bohemia, and next year served under Count Boucquoi inHungary. On the death of this general Descrates quitted the imperial service, and inJuly 1621 began a peaceful tour through Moravia, the borders of Poland, Pomerania,Brandenburg, Holstein, and Friesland, from which he re-appeared in February 1622 inBelgium, and betook himself directly to his father’s home in Brittany. The soleincident recorded of this excursion is his danger, when crossing in a small boat toDutch Friesland, from the cupidity of the crew, who had taken him for a richmerchant, but at once abandoned their murderous designs when they saw him risewith drawn sword, in all the dignity of a French gentleman.At Rennes, where the young family of his stepmother was growing up, Descartesprobably found little to interest him; and, after he had visited the maternal estatewhich his father now put him in possession of, he took the opportunity of running upto Paris, where he found the Rosicrucians the topic of the hour, and heard himself credited with partnership in their secrets. A short visit to Brittany enabled him, withhis father’s consent, to arrange for the sale of his property in Poitou. The proceedswere invested in such a way at Paris as to bring him in a yearly income of between6000 and 7000 francs, a sum probably equal to more than 500 pounds at the presentday. Towards the end of the year Descartes was on his way to Italy. The naturalphenomena of Switzerland, and the political complications in the Valtellina, wherethe Catholic inhabitants had thrown off the yoke of the Grisons and called in the Papaland Spanish troops to their assistance, delayed him some time; but he reached Venicein time to see the ceremony of the doge’s wedlock with the Adriatic. After paying hisvows at Loretto, he came to Rome, which was then on the eve of a year of jubilee- anoccasion which Descartes seized to observe the variety of men and manners which thecity then embraced within its walls. In the spring of 1625 he returned home by MountCenis, observing the avalanches, instead of, as his relatives hoped, securing a post inthe French army in Piedmont.For an instant Descartes seems to have concurred in the plan of purchasing a post atChatellerault, but easily gave up the idea, and settled in Paris (June 1625), in thequarter where he had sought seclusion before. by this time he had ceased to devotehimself to pure mathematics, and in company with his friends Mersenne and Mydrogewas deeply interested in the theory of the refraction of light, and in the practical work of grinding glasses of the best shape suitable for optical instruments. But all the whilehis aim was fixed on something beyond either mathematics or physics; he wasengaged with reflections on the nature of man, of the soul, and of God; and it need

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