Descartes: A Biography

Cambridge University Press
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René Descartes is best remembered today for writing 'I think, therefore I am', but his main contribution to the history of ideas was his effort to construct a philosophy that would be sympathetic to the new sciences that emerged in the seventeenth century. To a great extent he was the midwife to the Scientific Revolution and a significant contributor to its key concepts. In four major publications, he fashioned a philosophical system that accommodated the needs of these new sciences and thereby earned the unrelenting hostility of both Catholic and Calvinist theologians, who relied on the scholastic philosophy that Descartes hoped to replace. His contemporaries claimed that his proofs of God's existence in the Meditations were so unsuccessful that he must have been a cryptic atheist and that his discussion of skepticism served merely to fan the flames of libertinism. This is the first biography in English that addresses the full range of Descartes' interest in theology, philosophy and the sciences and that traces his intellectual development through his entire career.
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About the author

Desmond Clarke is Professor of Philosophy at University College Cork. He received a DLitt from the National University of Ireland, was Jean Monnet Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence, and has been elected to the Royal Irish Academy. He is the author of a number of books on Descartes and the seventeenth century, most recently Descartes' Theory of Mind (2005).

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Additional Information

Publisher
Cambridge University Press
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Published on
Mar 6, 2006
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Pages
521
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ISBN
9781139449847
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Social History
Philosophy / History & Surveys / General
Philosophy / History & Surveys / Modern
Science / Philosophy & Social Aspects
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This content is DRM protected.
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Desmond M. Clarke presents new translations of three of the first feminist tracts to support explicitly the equality of the sexes. The alleged inferiority of women's nature and the corresponding roles that women were (in)capable of exercising in society were debated in Western culture from the civilization of ancient Greece to the establishment of early Christian churches. There had also been some proponents of women's superiority (in comparison with men) prior to the early modern period. In contrast with both of these claims, the seventeenth century witnessed the first publications that argued for the equality of men and women. Among the most articulate and original defenders of that view were Marie le Jars de Gournay, Anna Maria van Schurman, and François Poulain de la Barre. Gournay published The Equality of Men and Women in Paris in 1622, while one of her Dutch correspondents, Van Schurman, published in Latin her Dissertation in support of women's education in 1641. Poulain wrote a radical Physical and Moral Discourse concerning the Equality of Both Sexes in 1673, which he also published in Paris. These three feminist tracts transformed the language and conceptual framework in which questions about women's equality or otherwise were subsequently discussed. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, anonymous plagiarized editions and pirated translations of Poulain's work appeared in English, as 'vindications' of the rights of women. This edition includes new translations, from French and Latin, of these three key texts, and excerpts from the authors' related writings, together with an extensive introduction to the religious and philosophical context within which they argued against the traditional view of women's natural inferiority to men.
Desmond M. Clarke presents a thematic history of French philosophy from the middle of the sixteenth century to the beginning of Louis XIV's reign. While the traditional philosophy of the schools was taught throughout this period by authors who have faded into permanent obscurity, a whole generation of writers who were not professional philosophers—some of whom never even attended a school or college—addressed issues that were prominent in French public life. Clarke explores such topics as the novel political theory espoused by monarchomachs, such as Bèze and Hotman, against Bodin's account of absolute sovereignty; the scepticism of Montaigne, Charron, and Sanches; the ethical discussions of Du Vair, Gassendi, and Pascal; innovations in natural philosophy that were inspired by Mersenne and Descartes and implemened by members of the Académie royale des sciences; theories of the human mind from Jean de Silhon to Cureau de la Chambre and Descartes; and the novel arguments in support of women's education and equality that were launched by De Gournay, Du Bosc, Van Schurman and Poulain de la Barre. The writers involved were lawyers, political leaders, theologians, and independent scholars and they acknowledged, almost unanimously, the authority of the Bible as a source of knowledge that was claimed to be more reliable than the fragile powers of human understanding. Since they could not agree, however, on which books of the Bible were canonical or how that should be understood, their discussions raised questions about faith and reason that mirrored those involved in the infamous Galileo affair.
Hailed as “lucid and magisterial” by The Observer, this book is universally acclaimed as the outstanding one-volume work on the subject of Western philosophy.

Considered to be one of the most important philosophical works of all time, the History of Western Philosophy is a dazzlingly unique exploration of the ideologies of significant philosophers throughout the ages—from Plato and Aristotle through to Spinoza, Kant and the twentieth century. Written by a man who changed the history of philosophy himself, this is an account that has never been rivaled since its first publication over sixty years ago.

Since its first publication in 1945, Lord Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy is still unparalleled in its comprehensiveness, its clarity, its erudition, its grace, and its wit. In seventy-six chapters he traces philosophy from the rise of Greek civilization to the emergence of logical analysis in the twentieth century.

Among the philosophers considered are: Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, the Atomists, Protagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Cynics, the Sceptics, the Epicureans, the Stoics, Plotinus, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Benedict, Gregory the Great, John the Scot, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William of Occam, Machiavelli, Erasmus, More, Bacon, Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, the Utilitarians, Marx, Bergson, James, Dewey, and lastly the philosophers with whom Lord Russell himself is most closely associated—Cantor, Frege, and Whitehead, coauthor with Russell of the monumental Principia Mathematica.
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