Descartes: An Intellectual Biography

Clarendon Press
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René Descartes (1596-1650) is the father of modern philosophy, and one of the greatest of all thinkers. This is the first intellectual biography of Descartes in English; it offers a fundamental reassessment of all aspects of his life and work. Stephen Gaukroger, a leading authority on Descartes, traces his intellectual development from childhood, showing the connections between his intellectual and personal life and placing these in the cultural context of seventeenth century Europe. Descartes' early work in mathematics and science produced ground breaking theories, methods, and tools still in use today. This book gives the first full account of how this work informed and influenced the later philosophical studies for which, above all, Descartes is renowned. Not only were philosophy and science intertwined in Descartes' life; so were philosophy and religion. The Church of Rome found Galileo guilty of heresy in 1633; two decades earlier, Copernicus' theories about the universe had been denounced as blasphemous. To avoid such accusations, Descartes clothed his views about the relation between God and humanity, and about the nature of the universe, in a philosophical garb acceptable to the Church. His most famous project was the exploration of the foundations of human knowledge, starting from the proof of one's own existence offered in the formula Cogito ergo sum, `I am thinking therefore I exist'. Stephen Gaukroger argues that this was not intended as an exercise in philosophical scepticism, but rather to provide Descartes' scientific theories, influenced as they were by Copernicus and Galileo, with metaphysical legitimation. This book offers for the first time a full understanding of how Descartes developed his revolutionary ideas. It will be welcomed by all readers interested in the origins of modern thought.
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About the author

Stephen Gaukroger is Reader in Philosophy at the University of Sydney. He is Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities, and President of the Australian Society for the History of Philosophy.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Clarendon Press
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Published on
Mar 30, 1995
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Pages
520
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ISBN
9780191519543
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Religious
Philosophy / History & Surveys / General
Philosophy / History & Surveys / Modern
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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This biography of Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) tells the story of a Jewish boy from Algiers, excluded from school at the age of twelve, who went on to become the most widely translated French philosopher in the world – a vulnerable, tormented man who, throughout his life, continued to see himself as unwelcome in the French university system. We are plunged into the different worlds in which Derrida lived and worked: pre-independence Algeria, the microcosm of the École Normale Supérieure, the cluster of structuralist thinkers, and the turbulent events of 1968 and after. We meet the remarkable series of leading writers and philosophers with whom Derrida struck up a friendship: Louis Althusser, Emmanuel Levinas, Jean Genet, and Hélène Cixous, among others. We also witness an equally long series of often brutal polemics fought over crucial issues with thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, John R. Searle, and Jürgen Habermas, as well as several controversies that went far beyond academia, the best known of which concerned Heidegger and Paul de Man. We follow a series of courageous political commitments in support of Nelson Mandela, illegal immigrants, and gay marriage. And we watch as a concept – deconstruction – takes wing and exerts an extraordinary influence way beyond the philosophical world, on literary studies, architecture, law, theology, feminism, queer theory, and postcolonial studies.

In writing this compelling and authoritative biography, Benoît Peeters talked to over a hundred individuals who knew and worked with Derrida. He is also the first person to make use of the huge personal archive built up by Derrida throughout his life and of his extensive correspondence. Peeters’ book gives us a new and deeper understanding of the man who will perhaps be seen as the major philosopher of the second half of the twentieth century.

In the Louvre museum hangs a portrait that is considered the iconic image of René Descartes, the great seventeenth-century French philosopher. And the painter of the work? The Dutch master Frans Hals--or so it was long believed, until the work was downgraded to a copy of an original. But where is the authentic version, and who painted it? Is the man in the painting--and in its original--really Descartes?

A unique combination of philosophy, biography, and art history, The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter investigates the remarkable individuals and circumstances behind a small portrait. Through this image--and the intersecting lives of a brilliant philosopher, a Catholic priest, and a gifted painter--Steven Nadler opens a fascinating portal into Descartes's life and times, skillfully presenting an accessible introduction to Descartes's philosophical and scientific ideas, and an illuminating tour of the volatile political and religious environment of the Dutch Golden Age. As Nadler shows, Descartes's innovative ideas about the world, about human nature and knowledge, and about philosophy itself, stirred great controversy. Philosophical and theological critics vigorously opposed his views, and civil and ecclesiastic authorities condemned his writings. Nevertheless, Descartes's thought came to dominate the philosophical world of the period, and can rightly be called the philosophy of the seventeenth century.


Shedding light on a well-known image, The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter offers an engaging exploration of a celebrated philosopher's world and work.

‘Jürgen Habermas’, wrote the American philosopher Ronald Dworkin on the occasion of the great European thinker’s eightieth birthday, ‘is not only the world’s most famous living philosopher. Even his fame is famous.’ Now, after many years of intensive research and in-depth conversations with contemporaries, colleagues and Habermas himself, Stefan Müller-Doohm presents the first comprehensive biography of one of the most important public intellectuals of our time. From his political and philosophical awakening in West Germany to the formative relationships with Adorno and Horkheimer, Müller-Doohm masterfully traces the major forces that shaped Habermas’s intellectual development. He shows how Habermas’s life and work were conditioned by the possibilities offered to his generation in the unique circumstances of regained freedom that characterized postwar Germany. And yet Habermas’s career is fascinating precisely because it amounts to more than a corpus of scholarly work, however original and influential that may be. For here is someone who continually left the protective space of the university in order to assume the role of a participant in controversial public debates Ð from the significance of the Holocaust to the future of Europe Ð and in this way sought to influence the development of social and political life in an arena much broader than the academy. The significance and virtuosity of Habermas’s many writings over the years are also fully and expertly documented, ranging from his early work on the public sphere to his more recent writings on communicative action, cosmopolitanism and the postnational condition. What emerges from this biography is a vivid portrait of one of the great public intellectuals of our time Ð a unique thinker who has made an immense and lasting philosophical contribution but who, when he perceives that society is not living up to its potential for creating free and just conditions for all, becomes one of its most rigorous and persistent critics.
- Is objectivity possible? - Can there be objectivity in matters of morals, or tastes? - What would a truly objective account of the world be like? - Is everything subjective, or relative? - Are moral judgments objective or culturally relative? Objectivity is both an essential and elusive philosophical concept. An account is generally considered to be objective if it attempts to capture the nature of the object studied without judgement of a conscious entity or subject. Objectivity stands in contrast to subjectivity: an objective account is impartial, one which could ideally be accepted by any subject, because it does not draw on any assumptions, prejudices, or values of particular subjects. Stephen Gaukroger shows that it is far from clear that we can resolve moral or aesthetic disputes in this way and it has often been argued that such an approach is not always appropriate for disciplines that deal with human, rather than natural, phenomena. Moreover, even in those cases where we seek to be objective, it may be difficult to judge what a truly objective account would look like, and whether it is achievable. This Very Short Introduction demonstrates that there are a number of common misunderstandings about what objectivity is, and explores the theoretical and practical problems of objectivity by assessing the basic questions raised by it. As well as considering the core philosophical issues, Gaukroger also deals with the way in which particular understandings of objectivity impinge on social research, science, and art. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
Exactly four hundred years after the birth of René Descartes (1596-1650), the present volume now makes available, for the first time in a bilingual, philosophical edition prepared especially for English-speaking readers, his Regulae ad directionem ingenii / Rules for the Direction of the Natural Intelligence (1619-1628), the Cartesian treatise on method. This unique edition contains an improved version of the original Latin text, a new English translation intended to be as literal as possible and as liberal as necessary, an interpretive essay contextualizing the text historically, philologically, and philosophically, a com-prehensive index of Latin terms, a key glossary of English equivalents, and an extensive bibliography covering all aspects of Descartes' methodology. Stephen Gaukroger has shown, in his authoritative Descartes: An Intellectual Biography (1995), that one cannot understand Descartes without understanding the early Descartes. But one also cannot understand the early Descartes without understanding the Regulae / Rules. Nor can one understand the Regulae / Rules without understanding a philosophical edition thereof. Therein lies the justification for this project. The edition is intended, not only for students and teachers of philosophy as well as of related disciplines such as literary and cultural criticism, but also for anyone interested in seriously reflecting on the nature, expression, and exercise of human intelligence: What is it? How does it manifest itself? How does it function? How can one make the most of what one has of it? Is it equally distributed in all human beings? What is natural about it, and what, not? In the Regulae / Rules Descartes tries to provide, from a distinctively early modern perspective, answers both to these and to many other questions about what he refers to as ingenium.
Why did science emerge in the West and how did scientific values come to be regarded as the yardstick for all other forms of knowledge? Stephen Gaukroger shows just how bitterly the cognitive and cultural standing of science was contested in its early development. Rejecting the traditional picture of secularization, he argues that science in the seventeenth century emerged not in opposition to religion but rather was in many respects driven by it. Moreover, science did not present a unified picture of nature but was an unstable field of different, often locally successful but just as often incompatible, programmes. To complicate matters, much depended on attempts to reshape the persona of the natural philosopher, and distinctive new notions of objectivity and impartiality were imported into natural philosophy, changing its character radically by redefining the qualities of its practitioners. The West's sense of itself, its relation to its past, and its sense of its future, have been profoundly altered since the seventeenth century, as cognitive values generally have gradually come to be shaped around scientific ones. Science has not merely brought a new set of such values to the task of understanding the world and our place in it, but rather has completely transformed the task, redefining the goals of enquiry. This distinctive feature of the development of a scientific culture in the West marks it out from other scientifically productive cultures. In The Emergence of a Scientific Culture, Stephen Gaukroger offers a detailed and comprehensive account of the formative stages of this development—-and one which challenges the received wisdom that science was seen to be self-evidently the correct path to knowledge and that the benefits of science were immediately obvious to the disinterested observer.
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