After he finished school, René Descartes was left with more doubts than certainties. His Jesuit education included some of the best teaching available in mathematics, physics, and letters, and yet Descartes found the foundations of his schooling hollow. Determined to discover for himself what was real, he spent the next nine years traveling through Europe, interacting with locals of all walks of life, including nobles, soldiers, and laborers, in search of the breadth of experience that would later inspire his greatest work: Discourse on Method. When it was first published, the book offered a remarkable new approach to gaining knowledge based on reason and skepticism, the steps for which Descartes lays out sequentially, from the deconstruction of all previously held beliefs to the slow and methodical rebuilding of fact anchored in the first and most innate truth: I think, therefore I am.
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Sir,—The version of my principles which you have been at pains to make, is so elegant and finished as to lead me to expect that the work will be more generally read in French than in Latin, and better understood. The only apprehension I entertain is lest the title should deter some who have not been brought up to letters, or with whom philosophy is in bad repute, because the kind they were taught has proved unsatisfactory; and this makes me think that it will be useful to add a preface to it for the purpose of showing what the MATTER of the work is, what END I had in view in writing it, and what UTILITY may be derived from it. But although it might be my part to write a preface of this nature, seeing I ought to know those particulars better than any other person, I cannot nevertheless prevail upon myself to do anything more than merely to give a summary of the chief points that fall, as I think, to be discussed in it: and I leave it to your discretion to present to the public such part of them as you shall judge proper.
I should have desired, in the first place, to explain in it what philosophy is, by commencing with the most common matters, as, for example, that the word PHILOSOPHY signifies the study of wisdom, and that by wisdom is to be understood not merely prudence in the management of affairs, but a perfect knowledge of all that man can know, as well for the conduct of his life as for the preservation of his health and the discovery of all the arts, and that knowledge to subserve these ends must necessarily be deduced from first causes; so that in order to study the acquisition of it (which is properly called philosophizing), we must commence with the investigation of those first causes which are called PRINCIPLES. Now these principles must possess TWO CONDITIONS: in the first place, they must be so clear and evident that the human mind, when it attentively considers them, cannot doubt of their truth; in the second place, the knowledge of other things must be so dependent on them as that though the principles themselves may indeed be known apart from what depends on them, the latter cannot nevertheless be known apart from the former. It will accordingly be necessary thereafter to endeavour so to deduce from those principles the knowledge of the things that depend on them, as that there may be nothing in the whole series of deductions which is not perfectly manifest. God is in truth the only being who is absolutely wise, that is, who possesses a perfect knowledge of all things; but we may say that men are more or less wise as their knowledge of the most important truths is greater or less. And I am confident that there is nothing, in what I have now said, in which all the learned do not concur.
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RULES FOR THE DIRECTION OF THE MIND
THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH
DISCOURSE ON THE METHOD
MEDITATIONS ON FIRST PHILOSOPHY
SELECTIONS FROM ‘THE PRINCIPLES OF PHILOSOPHY’
NOTES DIRECTED AGAINST A CERTAIN PROGRAMME
PASSIONS OF THE SOUL
RENÉ DESCARTES by William Wallace
BRIEF BIOGRAPHY: RENÉ DESCARTES by Clodius Piat
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Philosophers have long been familiar with Descartes’s side of the correspondence. Now Elisabeth’s letters—never before available in translation in their entirety—emerge this volume, adding much-needed context and depth both to Descartes’s ideas and the legacy of the princess. Lisa Shapiro’s annotated edition—which also includes Elisabeth’s correspondence with the Quakers William Penn and Robert Barclay—will be heralded by students of philosophy, feminist theorists, and historians of the early modern period.
Focus Philosophical Library translations are close to and are non-interpretative of the original text, with the notes and a glossary intending to provide the reader with some sense of the terms and the concepts as they were understood by Decartes' immediate audience.
The Focus Philosophical Library publishes clear, faithful editions enabling access for modern students to the essential ideas and wisdom of the world’s greatest thinkers.
René Descartes is often described as the first
modern philosopher, but much of the content of his Meditations on First Philosophy can be found in the medieval period
that had already existed for more than a thousand years. Does God exist? If so,
what is his nature? Is the human soul immortal? How does it differ from the
body? What role do sense experience and pure reason play in knowing? Descartes
stands out from his predecessors because of the method he developed to treat
these and other fundamental questions. Drawing on his study of mathematics, he
searches for a way to establish absolutely certain conclusions based on
indubitable premises. His importance in modern philosophy lies in the challenge
he offers to every subsequent thinker in philosophy and science.
The Discourse on the Method is one of the most influential works in the history of modern science. It is a method which gives a solid platform from which all modern natural sciences could evolve. In this work, Descartes tackles the problem of skepticism which had been revived from the ancients such as Sextus Empiricus by authors such as Al-Ghazali and Michel de Montaigne. Descartes modified it to account for a truth that he found to be incontrovertible. Descartes started his line of reasoning by doubting everything, so as to assess the world from a fresh perspective, clear of any preconceived notions.
The book was originally published in Leiden in French, together with his works "Dioptrique, Météores et Géométrie". Later, it was translated into Latin and published in 1656 in Amsterdam.
Together with Meditations on First Philosophy (Meditationes de Prima Philosophia), Principles of Philosophy (Principia philosophiae) and Rules for the Direction of the Mind (Regulae ad directionem ingenii), it forms the base of the Epistemology known as Cartesianism.
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