Philosophy of René Descartes
Considered the founder of modern philosophy, the Frenchman René Descartes towered over intellectual thought in the 17th century, heavily influencing the fields of philosophy, mathematics, and science. Descartes is considered one of the fathers and prime examples of modern thought in the European Enlightenment. Creating a system that united mathematical principles and practices of algebra and geometry, Descartes’ influence on mathematical theory can still be seen today, studied in most schools around the world as Cartesian geometry. His most famous philosophical maxim, “I think, therefore, I am,” concisely summarizes his rational, cognitive approach to the world.
Although a practicing Catholic throughout his life, Descartes developed a system of philosophical thought that broke with many traditions. He was against scholasticism and instead advocated rational thought as the only true path to knowledge, the only certainty. He developed different processes for using this rational thought to examine the natural world, the knowledge already collected by humanity, and the systems that function in human society. He believed that empirical evidence should be collected from the natural world to support rational thought, but reason must determine the theory that supports the evidence, not develop a theory and force the evidence through unsupported suppositions. Because of his far-reaching ability to analyze and critique, he contributed to the spread of the importance of rational thought and the scientific method in academia thereafter.
Descartes’ most famous texts include Passions of the Soul, Principles of Philosophy, Geometry, Discourse of the Method, and The Search for Truth. A prolific writer, Descartes contributed thousands of pages of text to the discourses of his time. While written mostly in French, some of his texts also contained Latin; today, Descartes has been translated into multiple languages to be studied in institutions around the world.
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