René descartes

21st September 2020


René Descartes on Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

He attended the college of La Flèche in France, where he studied a lot of Aristotle. Understanding the new currents of thought, he graduated in law at the university of Poitier, he then enrolled in the army of Maurice of Nassau. He spent a lot of time in Holland. He started the thirty years war in the protestant army, then, after one year, he moved to Germany.

In 1628 he started to work on several treaties, first among them The rules for the Direction of the Mind, which remained incomplete because he started writing The World.

The World

Descartes decided not to publish The World after the condemnation of Galileo by the Italian Inquisition in 1633, since it uses Corpuscularianism to explain heliocentrism.

In the treatise Descartes imagines a purely mechanical interpretation according to which God had created the world but by using an indefinite amount of matter which had only one characteristic: extension. Qualities, such as smell, are not material. Sensible properties result from the interaction of our mind with the world.

Discourse on the Method

The Discourse on the Method is the preface of Dioptrics, Metereology and Geometry, and it was written in French so that anyone could understand it. He received a lot of criticisms for it.

Other writings

In 1644 he published Principles of Philosophy, a handbook he wanted to become a textbook for universities and schools of Philosophy instead of Aristotelian writings. It wasn’t exactly a guide, but a presentation of Descartes’ personal research.

The Passions of the Soul, written in Sweden, where there was Queen Cristine, an intellectual interested in new doctrines and sciences. Invited by her, and after a long time he decided to accept. After two months, because of the strong cold of the place, he got pneumonia and died.

The tree of knowledge

The roots are metaphysics, the trunk is physics, and the branches emerging from the trunk are all the other sciences, which may be reduced to three principal ones, namely medicine, mechanics and morals

The Tree of Knowledge

Metaphysics has a fundamental role.
The aim of Descartes (as of the other philosophers of the scientific revolution) is to criticize the form of previous Philosophy, specifically medieval and Aristotelian Philosophy, an din particular Saint Tommaso D’Acquino, who reinterpreted Aristotelian Philosophy from a Christian point of view.

See also Descartes and the Tree of Knowledge

Parenthesis on Aristotelian Philosophy

From an ontological point of view, we consider Aristoteles’ philosophy of being as hylomorphism


From the Greek hylē, “matter” and morphē, “form”: the idea that every being, living and non-living, is composed by two elements:

  • substantial form: a spiritual element which gives to a being all the conceptual properties which make it what it is.
  • primary matter: a material element, an indefinite amount of matter which is connected with its form.

Definition of hylomorphism on Encyclopædia Britannica

The correspondent theory of knowledge is empiricism:

when we know something, we first experience it with our senses and then we generalize it through our imagination, and we grasp the essence of that being, concluding what that being is.

The first step of knowledge is the interaction with the object, then we know it by diving deeper into the essence of that being.

!Meditations on First Philosophy



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