René Descartes is known as the “Father of Modern Philosophy.” Born on March 31, 1956 in France, he finished school to become a lawyer. He decided to pursue another path though, one that focuses on contemplating the nature of knowledge and existence.
René Descartes Facts
1. René Descartes worked for the army.
When he was 22, Descartes enlisted under the service of Prince Maurice of Nassau. The nature of his job is not clear, historians, however, believe that he worked in a group that would become the Army Corps of Engineers. He would have improved his mathematical skills as Engineers would usually work on structures and fortifications for the army.
2. His works are influenced by Dutch philosopher Isaac Beeckman.
While he was stationed in Breda as an army man, he met the Dutch philosopher Isaac Beeckman. This meeting sparked Descartes’ renewed interest in science. More than just being friends, Beeckman became Beeckman’s willing mentee. His teacher’s questions inspired him to write the “Compendium Musicae,” a book about ratio and proportion. This book, however, remained unfinished.
3. Descartes’ dreams prodded him to pursue philosophy.
While stationed in Neuberg an der Donau in 1619, Descartes had three dreams that him “new philosophies.” Upon waking, he had the idea to utilize math in philosophy. An interesting fact about René Descartes is that it was also during this time when he thought of analytical geometry. With these dreams, he discovered that all things were indeed linked to each other.
4. His novel approach earned him the title “Father of Modern Philosophy.”
Before Descartes, Philosophy was usually based on ‘feelings.’ All that changed when he came along. While his tenets are not completely new, he approached concepts differently. He started with a clean slate and threw all the preconceived notions out the door. He believed all truths were linked to each other – so he approached them rationally with the use of math and science, an interesting René Descartes fact.
5. René Descartes popularized the saying “I think, therefore I am.”
It was originally written in French as “Je pense, donc je suis.” It was printed in his first published book entitled “Discourse on the Method,” which was published in 1637. The statement was later translated to Latin -“Cogito, ergo sum” – to fit his other book “Principles of Philosophy.” This statement – a vital component of Western philosophy – is said to create a foundation for knowledge in the face of doubt.
6. “Meditations” is Descartes’ most popular work.
Though this book did not become popular during his lifetime, “Meditations” is considered the foremost reference of many students today. When he wrote it, he wanted it to be a textbook for academics, though it did not pan out this way.
The book opens with questions regarding the likelihood of knowledge. His skeptical tone then forces the readers to discover such knowledge through philosophical questioning.
7. His book “The Principles” is dedicated to Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia.
Descartes and Princess Elisabeth’s correspondences started when the latter inquired about the implications of mind-body dualism. This bond deepened, and as he published “The Principles” he decided to dedicate it to the curious princess.
“The Principles” is a four-part book that deals with multiple subjects, with each part building on what was discussed in the previous chapter. While his thoughts on physics were found to be insubstantial, the book greatly inspired the works of Isaac Newton, Edmond Halley, and Robert Boyle.
8. Apart from being a philosopher, Descartes is a mathematician as well.
A multi-talented person, Descartes excelled in math as he did in philosophy. An interesting fact about René Descartes is that he promoted Cartesian geometry and the naturalistic manner by which the solar system was formed. He also introduced the laws of refraction, which helped describe the inner workings of rainbows.
While his findings were groundbreaking, he did not broadcast these for he feared suffering like Galileo, who was being questioned by the Catholic Church in the inquisition.
9. He moved to different places – and worked on several books while he did so.
In 1630, Descartes moved to the Netherlands, where he wrote “Dioptrique” (The Optics) and “Meteors” (the Meteorology.) Both of them were said to be inclusions in the book “Le Monde” (The World.) Two years later he relocated to Deventer, where he penned “Traite de l’homme” (Treatise on Man), which is also thought to be a chapter in the book “Le Monde.”
10. René Descartes was an unmarried father.
In 1635, his daughter Francine was born. The mother, who he did not marry, is a domestic servant named Helene. An interesting fact about René Descartes is that he often referred to Francine as his niece, in fears of being chastised as the girl was born out of wedlock. Despite these denials and cover-ups, it was obvious that he cared for Helene and Francine. He later brought her daughter and her mother to live with him in Holland.
Tragedy struck in 1940 when Francine contracted scarlet fever. She died at the tender age of 5, with her father deeply mournful about her untimely demise.
11. He was a sickly person.
Descartes’ ill health plagued him for the entirety of his life. As a young child, he started late in school because of health problems. When he worked as a tutor for the Swedish Queen Christina, he was forced to give lessons at 5 am daily. This proved to be too much for his body take, as he usually spent his mornings recuperating in his bed. He eventually succumbed from Pneumonia at age 53.
12. Rumors abound about Descartes’ final resting place.
Descartes died in Sweden, a protestant country. Being a Catholic, he ended up being buried in a plot of unbaptized babies. His remains were then transferred to Paris at the Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. For a while his body was removed from the church – it was re-interred later on after the end of the French revolution. Rumors, however, say that his heart is the only thing in the church – the rest of his body is said to be safely buried within the premises of the Pantheon.
As the “Father of Modern Philosophy,” Descartes’ helped shape the subject to how it is studied today. With his unique approach to seeking answers to age-old questions, his contributions to the field of philosophy and math remain to be unmatched.
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