René Descartes (1596 -1650)
French philosopher who attempted to integrate philosophy with the ‘new’ sciences – moving away from the traditional reliance on the ‘revealed truth’ of theology. He championed the method of doubting anything that cannot be proved, which led him to the only indubitable fact: that he existed. Proof of his existence was his thinking – “I think therefore I am”. On this foundation he built his philosophy. Descartes is hugely influential and is often called the “father” of modern philosophy. His most famous book is ‘Meditations on First Philosophy’. He was also an accomplished mathematician.
Descartes was born in Tours and educated at a Jesuit college. Later he studied law, and enlisted in the Dutch and Bavarian militaries. By 1619 he had begun his mathematical studies of natural phenomena as well as his philosophical writings, spending time over the next decade in Paris, or traveling. In 1629 he moved to Holland to spend the next 20 years in seclusion whilst he wrote. The Discourse on the Method was published in 1637, the Meditations on First Philosophy in 1641. In 1649, Descartes moved to Stockholm to work as philosophy tutor to Queen Christina of Sweden. The harsh climate affected his already fragile health and he died there in 1650. Descartes had become very famous. He was even thought by some to be a candidate for sainthood, and as his body was transported back to France from Sweden, hopefuls removed parts of his body to keep as relics. He was much reduced by the time he arrived in France!