René Descartes

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René Descartes

René Descartes. Portrait by Frans Hals, 1648.
Full name René Descartes
Era 17th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Cartesianism, Rationalism, Foundationalism
Main interests Metaphysics, Epistemology, Science, Mathematics
Notable ideas Cogito ergo sum, Methodic Doubt, Cartesian coordinate system, Cartesian dualism, ontological argument for existence of God; regarded as a founder of Modern philosophy

René Descartes (31 March 159611 February 1650) was a famous French philosopher and physicist. He wrote books that are very important in the fields of maths, physics and especially philosophy. His dualism statement combined soul, mind, body theories, elements into one concept; a dualistic theory of mind and matter;

Descartes and physics (the study of the world)[change | change source]

In his Rules for the Direction of the Mind (1628) and his Discourse on Method (1637) Descartes wrote about the scientific method that deals with scientific approach, thinking, a method which he had invented. He also wrote about shapes (Geometry), light (Dioptrics), and the weather (Meteorology). He then came up with a way of describing shapes now known as the Cartesian coordinate system, and a theory of what a rainbow is. Descartes' physics was important for a later famous thinker, Sir Isaac Newton, who said about him and so did James Hook: "If I have seen further it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants!"

Descartes and philosophy (the study of abstract ideas)[change | change source]

In his Meditations on First Philosophy (1641) Descartes used his scientific method to look at philosophical questions. He argued against skepticism (the view that the world was not real, and did not exist).

He found that he himself must be real (exist), because he felt that he was thinking; and if he was thinking, then he must be real. This is because if he were not real, then how would he have this feeling that he was thinking. He shortened this view, saying in Latin, "Cogito ergo sum," meaning "I think, therefore I am."

He also thought he could show that God exists, in the same way that he felt that he was thinking. Descartes said that God was the same as infinity and that he could clearly see infinity because he could think of every larger object but no largest object. Descartes said that if God exists then the world must exist as well, as God was good and would not let us think the world is real (exists) if it did not.

Finally, Descartes thought that because he knew he was thinking, but could only know anything else about himself (for example that he had two arms and two legs) because he knew that God exists, then he must in fact be made up of two things: the mind that thinks and the body that is independent of thought process but united. This is called "Cartesian Dualism".

Descartes used a lot of ideas related to Plato, while most people at that time used ideas related to Aristotle. He is often called a rationalist, because he looked inside his mind for answers to his questions. Although Descartes wanted to fight skepticism, his description of it in the meditations has become very famous and is often called Cartesian Skepticism after him.