René Descartes

René Descartes

René Descartes was a highly influential French philosopher, scientist and mathematician, who is widely considered to be one of the celebrated geniuses of the 17th century. His legendary experiment of presenting a geometrical point using a pair of ordered numbers (now called coordinate geometry) almost kickstarted modern mathematics.

The famous skepticism of Descartes, that distrusted every belief but his own conscious thinking, is usually credited as the terminus a quo for modern philosophy. He is also known as the “Father of Modern Philosophy”.


Early Life and Education:

Born in Indre-et-Loire, France in 1596 to a parliamentarian, Descartes graduated from the Jesuit Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand. He later acquired a degree in law from the University of Poitiers in 1616.

He was recruited in the army of Maurice of Nassau in the Dutch Republic, where he managed to make some time to study mathematics, physics and philosophy nonetheless.

Contributions and Achievements:

Descartes was one of the most influential persons in the Scientific Revolution. He virtually condensed the range and variety in the World by his well-known phrase; “matter in motion”. He wrote various books and papers about optics, and examined the rainbows. He declared there was no vacuum, but supported momentum conservation. Descartes also devised the principle of inertia. A supporter of the wave theory of light and vortex theory for planets, he thought of the universe and the human body as a giant machine. He is also described as the father of analytical geometry.

His most significant philosophical position was connected with the mind-body dichotomy. Descartes explained that mind was external to the physical body into which it entered through the pineal gland. He thought that science is an activity of the observing mind (res cogitans) to perceive an observed objective reality (ref extensa). Using one concise phrase, “cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am), he changed the whole direction of Western philosophy. Descartes is credited as the first thinker to offer a philosophical framework for the natural sciences. His theological beliefs became controversial at the time and faced direct opposition from the Pope.

The theories and treatises of Descartes immensely influenced countless aspects of the physical and scientific world.

Later Life and Death:

René Descartes died of pneumonia on 11 February 1650 in Stockholm, Sweden, where he was invited there to teach Queen Christina.