Descartes: Philosophy in an Hour

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Philosophy for busy people. Read a succinct account of the philosophy of Descartes in just one hour. Descartes was the first modern philosopher. His scepticism led him to doubt all certainties, until finally he arrived at his famous maxim 'I think therefore I am'. He would also apply his rationalism with great effect in science and mathematics, conceiving a scheme for scien. He would also apply his rationalism with great effect in science and mathematics, conceiving a scheme for scientific method and inventing Cartesian co-ordinates in geometry.

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Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Preview — Descartes by Paul Strathern. Descartes: Philosophy in an Hour by Paul Strathern. He would also apply his rationalism with great effect in science and mathematics, conceiving a scheme for scien Philosophy for busy people. Get A Copy. More Details Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Descartes , please sign up.

Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Jun 04, Jim affleck rated it it was amazing. Another absolutely fabulous biography of Descartes in this series "Philosophy in an hour". This series is truly well worth reading, if you wish to find out more about this world's most celebrated thinkers. Another easy read. Highly recommend. Jun 10, Samuel rated it liked it. Very brief and easy read. Dec 11, Andrea Zuvich rated it really liked it Shelves: 17th-century-lady-bookshelf. So little notice did the family think it necessary to take of a brother who had sunk to the level of literature, that a letter of Ren to his father, affectionately excusing his long absence, reached Rennes only after that father was lying in the tomb.

The second brief visit, in , partly on literary, partly on family business, was signalized by the award of a pension of francs, obtained from the royal bounty by Cardinal Mazariu in consideration of the advantages which Descartes s investigations conferred upon mankind, and to aid him in continuing his experiments. The pension was punctually paid. The last visit in was less fortunate. A royal order summoned him to France for new honours an additional pension and a permanent post for his fame had by this time gone abroad, and it was the age when princes sought to attract genius and learning to their courts.

But when Descartes arrived, he found Paris rent asunder by the civil war of the Fronde. He paid the costs of his royal parchment, and left for his Dutch home without a word of reproach. The only other occasions on which he was out of the Netherlands were in , when he made a flying visit to England to observe for himself some alleged magnetic phenomena, and in , when he took an excursion to Denmark. During his residence in Holland he lived at thirteen different places, and changed his abode twenty-four times.

In the choice of these spots two motives seem to have in fluenced him the neighbourhood of a university or college, and the amenities of the situation. Amsterdam, where he often lodged, Leeuwarden in Friesland, and Dort were also residences. He once settled near Utrecht, as well as in the town; but the three spots which seem to have been most attractive were Endegeest, a country house more than a mile north-west of Leyden, of which Sorbiere has given a pleasing description in one of his letters, and the two villages of Egmond op den Hoef and Egmond the Abbey, situated between Zaandam and the ocean, in one of the prettiest localities of North Holland.

The time thus spent seems to have been on the whole happy, even allowing for some warm discussions with the mathematicians and metaphysicians of France, and for some harassing controversies in the Netherlands. During the first twenty years of his life his health had been weak 2 and his complexion pale. After that time the disease in his frame seems to have worked itself off, not without some effervescence. This is the period of his camp life due, as he himself says, to " heat in the liver " , 3 of his wanderings, enthusiasm, dreams, and vows.

It is touch ing to hear his delight in the freedom from intruders. New friends gathered round him who took a keen interest in his researches. Once only do we find him taking an interest in the affairs of his neigh bours, to ask pardon from the Government for a homicide. Sometimes from curiosity he went to the ministrations of anabaptists, 6 to hear the ranting of peasants and artisans.

He carried few books to Holland with him, but a Bitle and the Siimma of Thomas Aquinas were amongst them.


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At Franeker his house was a small chateau, " separated by a moat from the rest of the town, where the mass could be said in safety. The best account of Descartes s mental history during his life in Holland is contained in his letters, which extend 1 Euvr. The majority of them are addressed to Mersenne, and deal with problems of physics and musical theory in which he took a special interest.

Mathematical subjects are a common topic. Several letters between and are addressed to the Princess Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of the ejected elector palatine, who lived at the Hague, where her mother maintained the semblance of a royal court. The princess was obliged to quit Holland, but kept up a philosophical correspondence with Descartes. It is to her that the Principles of Philosophy were dedi cated; and in her alone, according to Descartes, were united those generally separated talents for metaphysics and for mathematics which are so characteristically co-operative in the Cartesian system.

Two Dutch friends, Zuylichem, the father of the more celebrated Huyghens, and Hoogheland, figure amongst the correspondents, not to mention various savants, professors, and churchmen particularly Jesuits. His residence in the Netherlands fell on the most pros perous and brilliant days of the Dutch state, under the stadtholdership of Frederick Henry And yet, though Rembrandt s Nightwatch is dated the very year after the publication of the Meditations, not a word in Descartes breathes of any work of art or historical learning. The contempt of aesthetics and erudition is characteristic of the most typical members of the Cartesian school, especially Malebranche.

Though Descartes probably read more than some of his admirers supposed he was not in any strict sense a reader.

Can you explain Cartesian Dualism and how Descartes' philosophical endeavors led him to dualism?

His wisdom grew mainly out of his own rellections and experiments, calmly yet ceaselessly pursued. Of mere learning and scholarship he had no esteem. The story of his disgust, when be found that Queen Christina devoted some time every day to the study of Greek under the tuition of Vossius, is at least true in substance. He was a spectator rather than an actor on the stage of the world. If he entered the army, it was merely bscause the position gave a vantage-grouud from which to make his obser vations.

In many ways Descartes is a type of that self-reliant, harsh, and abstract spirit of science to which erudition and all the heritage of the past seem but elegant and un worthy trifling. The science of Descartes was physics in all its branches, but especially as applied to physiology. His residence was generally divided into two parts one his workshop for 1 Euvr. Astronomical inquiries in connection with optics, meteorological phenomena, and, in a word, the whole field of natural laws, excited his desire to explain them.

Descartes: Philosophy in an Hour Audiobook by Paul Strathern

His own observation, and the reports of Mersenne, furnished his data. Shortly after his arrival he writes to Mersenne that it will probably be finished in , but meanwhile asks him not to disclose the secret to his Parisian friends. Already anxieties appear as to the theological verdict upon two of his fundamental views the infinitude of the universe, and the earth s lotation round the sun.

But I have just been at Leyden and Amsterdam to ask after Galileo s cosmical system, as I imagined I had heard of its being printed last year in Italy. I was told that it had been printed, but that every copy had been at the same time burnt at Rome, and that Galileo had been himself con demned to some penalty. B Euvr. In 1G36 Descartes had resolved to publish some speci mens of the fruits of his method, and some general observa tions on its nature which, under an appearance of simplicity, might sow the good seed of more adequate ideas on the world and man.

In it appeared in a Latin version, revised by Descartes, as Specimina Philosophies. A work so widely circulated by the author naturally attracted atten tion, but in France it was principally the mathematicians who took it up, and their criticisms were more pungent than complimentary. Fermat, Roberval, and Desargues took exception in their various ways to the methods employed in the geometry, and to the demonstrations of the laws of refraction given in the Dioptrics and the Meteors.

The dispute on the latter point between Fermat and Descartes was continued, even after the philosopher s death, as late as In the virgin soil of the youthful Dutch universities the effect of the Cartesian essays was greater. The first public teacher of Cartesian views was Henri Renery, a Belgian, who at Deventer and afterwards at Utrecht had introduced the new philosophy which he had learned from personal intercourse with Descartes. With more eloquence and vigour than judgment or prudence, he pro pounded and defended theses bringing into prominent relief the points in which the new doctrinos clashed with the old The attack was opened by Gisbert Voe t, foremost among the theological professors and clergy of Utrecht, a preacher of note and a stronghold of orthodoxy.

In he published a series of arguments against atheism, in which the Cartesian views were not obscurely indicated as perilous for the faith, though no name was mentioned. Next year he 1 CEuvr vi. The magisterial views seem to have prevailed in the pro fessoriate, which formally in March expressed its disapprobation of the new and pretended philosophy as well as of its expositors.

As yet Descartes was not directly attacked. Voe t now issued, through the medium and under the name of Martin Schoock, one of his pupils, a pamphlet with the title of Methodus nova? Descartes replied to Voe t directly in a long and vigorous letter, published at Amster dam in Yet notwithstanding, he was summoned before the magistrates of Utrecht to defend himself against charges of irreligion and slander. About the same time April Schoock was summoned before the university of Groningen, of which he was a member, and forthwith disavowed the more abusive passages in his book.

So did the effects of the odium theologicum, for the meanwhile at least, die away. In the Discourse of Method Descartes had sketched the main points in his new views, with a mental autobio graphy which might explain their origin, and with some suggestions as to their applications. His second great work, Meditations on the first Philosophy, which had been begun soon after his settlement in the Netherlands, expounded in more detail the foundations of his system, laying especial emphasis on the priority of mind to body, and on the absolute and ultimate dependence of mind as well as body on the existence of God.

In a copy of the work in manuscript was despatched to Paris, and Mersenne was requested to lay it before as many thinkers and scholars as he deemed desirable, with a view to getting their views upon its argument and doctrine. Mersenne was not slack in submitting the work to criticism, and Descartes soon had a formidable list of objections to reply to.

Accordingly, when the work was published at Paris in August , under the title of Meditationes de prima philosophia ubi de Dei existentia et Animce immortalitate though it was in fact not the immortality, but the immateriality of the mind, or, as the second edition described it, animce humancc a corpore distindio, which was maintained , the title went on to describe the larger part of the book as containing various objections of learned men, with the replies of the author.

In the third great work of Descartes, the Principia Philosophise, appeared at Amsterdam. This work exhibits some curious marks of caution. Un doubtedly, says Descartes, the world was in the begin ning created in all its perfection. In the difficulties that had arisen at Utrecht were repeated on a smaller scale at Leyden. There the Cartesian innovations had found a patron in Adrian Heerebord, and were openly discussed in theses and lectures. When Descartes complained to the authorities of this unfair treatment, 2 the only reply was an order by which all mention of the name of Cartesianism, whether favourable or adverse, was forbidden in the university.

This was scarcely what Descartes wanted, and again he had to apply to the prince of Orange, whereupon the theologians were asked to behave with civility, and the name of Descartes was no longer proscribed. But other annoyances were not wanting from unfaithful disciples and unsympathetic critics. The Instantice of Gassendi appeared at Amsterdam in as a reply to the reply which Descartes had published of his previous objections; and the publication by Regius of his work on Physical Philosophy gave the world to understand that he had ceased to be a thorough adherent of the philosophy which he had so enthusiastically adopted.

It was about that Descartes lost his friends Mersenne and Mydorge by death. The place of Mersenne as his Parisian representative was in the main taken by Claude Clerselier the French translator of the Objections and Responses , whom he had become acquainted with in Paris. Through Clerselier he came to know Pierre Chanut, who in was sent as French ambassador to the court of Sweden.

Queen Christina, the daughter of the great Gustavus, was not yet twenty, and took a lively, if a somewhat whimsical interest in literary and philosophical culture. Through Chanut, with whom she was on terms 1 Princip. The correspondence took an ethical tone. It was a draft of the work published in under the same title.

Philosophy, particularly that of Descartes, was becoming a fashionable divertissement for the queen and her courtiers, and it was felt that the presence of the sage himself was necessary to complete the good work of education. The position on which he entered at Stockholm was cer tainly no sinecure, and utterly uusuited for a man who had always tried to be his own master.

Descartes: Philosophy in an Hour

The young queen, full of plans and energy, wanted Descartes to draw up a code for a proposed academy of the sciences, and to give her an hour of philosophic instruction every morning at five. And in order to tie him down to the country she had already determined to create him a noble, and begun to look out an estate in the lately annexed possessions of Sweden on the Pomeranian coast. But these things were not to be. The ambassador recovered, but Descartes fell a victim to the same disease an inflammation of the lungs.

The last time he saw the queen was on the 1st of February , when he handed to her the statutes he had drawn up for the proposed academy. Ten days after he was dead.

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In , after being temporarily deposited in a stone sarcophagus in the court of the Louvre during the Revolutionary epoch, they were transferred to St Germain-des-Pres, where they now repose between Montfaucon and Mabillon. Descartes was never married, and probably had little of the amorous in his temperament. In person he was a little man, with large head, projecting brow, prominent nose, and eyes wide apart, with black hair coming down almost to his eyebrows. His voice was feeble. He usually dressed in black, with unobtrusive propriety. The mind is not for the sake of knowledge, but knowledge for the sake of the mind.

This is the re-assertion of a principle which the Middle Ages had lost sight of that knowledge, if it is to have any value, must be intelligence, and not erudition. But how is intelligence, as opposed to erudition, possible 1 The answer to that question is the method of Descartes.

That idea of a method grew up with his study of geometry and arithmetic, the only branches of know ledge which he would allow to be " made sciences," those which the Jesuits best taught, and which he himself cultivated most zealously in early life. But they did not satisfy his demand for intelligence. The ancient geometry, as we know it, is a wonderful monument of ingenuity a series of ours de force, in which each problem to all appearance stands alone, and, if solved, is solved by methods and principles peculiar to itself.

Here and there particular curves, for example, had been obliged to yield the secret of their tangent; but the ancient geometers apparently had no consciousness of the general bearings of the methods which they so successfully applied. When that was found, the solution of one problem would immediately entail the solution of all others which belonged to the same series as itself. The arithmetical half of mathematics, which had been gradually growing into algebra, and had decidedly established itself as such in the Logistica Spedosa of Vieta , supplied to some extent the means of generalizing geometry.

And the algebraists or arithmeti cians of the 16th century, such as Lucas de Borgo, Cardan, and Tartaglia, had used geometrical constructions to throw light on the solution of particular equations. But progress was "made difficult, in consequence of the clumsy and irregu lar nomenclature employed. The restriction of the early letters of the alphabet to known, and of the late letters to unknown quantities is also his work. In this and other details he crowns and completes, in a form henceforth to be dominant for the language of algebra, the work of numerous obscure pre decessors, such as Etienne de la Roche, Stiefel, and others.

Having thus perfected the instrument, his next step was to apply it in such a way as to bring uniformity of method into the isolated and independent operations of geometry. Thus Descartes gave to modern geometry that abstract and general character in which consists its superi ority to the geometry of the ancients. In another question connected with this, the problem of drawing tangents to any curve, Descartes was drawn into a controversy with Fermat , Roberval , and Desargues Both these methods, differing from that now employed, are interesting as preliminary steps towards the method of fluxions and the differential calculus.

In pure algebra Descartes expounded and illustrated the general methods of solving equations up to those of the fourth degree and believed that his method could go beyond , stated the law which connects the positive and negative roots of an equation with the changes of sign in the consecutive terms, and introduced the method of indeterminate coefficients for the solution of equations.

The Geometry of Descartes, unlike the other parts of his essays, is not easy reading. It dashes at once into the middle of the subject with the examination of a problem which had baffled the ancients, and seems as if it were tossed at the heads of the French geometers as a challenge. An edition of it appeared subsequently, with notes by his friend De Beaune, calculated to smooth the difficulties of the work. In every such series or group there is a dominant element, simple and irresoluble, the standard on which the rest of the series depends, and hence, so far as that group or series is concerned, absolute.

The other members of the group are relative and dependent, and only to be understood as in various degrees subordinate to the primi tive conception. In this way we, as it were, bring the causal or primal term and its remotest dependent immediately together, and raise a derivative knowledge into one which is primary and intuitive. The inquirer will find that the first thing to know is intellect, because on it depends the knowledge of all other things.

Examining next what immediately follows the knowledge of pure intellect, he will pass in review all the other means of knowledge, and will find that they are two or three , the imagination and the senses and the memory. The Discourse of Method and the Meditations apply what the Rides for the Direction of the Mind had regarded in particular instances to our conceptions of the world as a whole. They propose, that is, to find a simple and inde composable point, or absolute element, which gives to the world and thought their order and systematization.

The grandeur of this attempt is perhaps unequalled iu the annals of philosophy. The three main steps iu the argument are the veracity of our thought when that thought is true to itself, the inevitable uprising of thought from its fragmentary aspects in our habitual consciousness to the infinite and perfect existence which God is, and the ultimate reduction of the material universe tD extension and local movement.

These are the central dogmas of logic, metaphysics, and physics, from which start the subsequent inquiries of Locke, Leibnitz, and Newton. They are also 1 CEuvrcs, xi. Descartes laid down the lines on which modern philosophy and science were to build. But himself no trained metaphysician, and un susceptible to the lessons of history, he gives but fragments of a system which are held together, not by their intrinsic consistency, but by the vigour of his personal conviction transcending the weaknesses and collisions of his several arguments.

The very moment when we begin to think, says Descartes, when we cease to be merely receptive, when we draw back and fix our attention on any point whatever of our belief, that moment doubt begins. If we even stop for an instant to ask ourselves how a word ought to bo spelled, the deeper we ponder that one word by itself the more hopeless grows the hesitation. The doubts thus awakened must not be stifled, but pressed systematically on to the point, if such a point there be, where doubt con futes itself.

The remedy proposed by Descartes is while not neglecting our duties to others, ourselves, and God to let doubt range unchecked through the whole fabric of our customary convictions. Attacked in detail, they vanish one after another into as many teasing spectra of uncertainty. We are seeking from them what they cannot give.

But when we have done our worst in unsettling them, we come to an ultimate point in the fact that it is we who are doubting, we who are thinking. We are certain that we are think ing, and in so far as we are thinking we are. Je pense, done je suis. Of this we cannot doubt, and therefore this is true. In other words, the criterion of truth is a clear and distinct conception, excluding all possibility of doubt. The fundamental point thus established is the veracity of consciousness when it does not go beyond itself, or does not postulate something which is external to itself.

At this point Gassendi arrested Descartes and addressed his objections to him as pure intelligence, mcns I But even this mens, or mind, is but a point we have found no guarantee as yet for its continuous existence. The analysis must be carried deeper if we are to gain any further conclusions. We find that all our ideas of limits, sorrows, and weaknesses pre suppose an infinite, perfect, and ever-blessed something beyond them and including them, that all our ideas, in all their series, converge to one central idea, in which they find their explanation.

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We have therefore, says Descartes, the idea of an infinite, perfect, and all powerful being which cannot be the creation of ourselves, and must be given by some being who really possesses all that we in idea attribute to him. Such a being he identifies with God. But the ordinary idea of God can scarcely be identified with such a conception. To say that these truths are independent of him is to speak of God as a Jupiter or a Saturn, to subject him to Styx and the Fates.

Descartes establishes a philosophic monotheism, by which the mediaeval poly theism of substantial forms, essences, and eternal truths fades away before God, who is the ruler of the intellectual world no less than of the kingdom of nature and of grace. To attach a clear and definite meaning to the Cartesian doctrine of God, to show how much of it comes from the Christian theology and how much from the logic of idealism, how far the conception of a personal being as creator and preserver mingles with the pantheistic conception of an infinite and perfect something which is all in all, would be to go beyond Descartes and to ask for a solution of difficulties of which he was scarcely aware.

It seems impossible to deny that the tendency of his principles and his arguments is mainly in the line of a metaphysical absolute, as the necessary completion and foundation of all being and knowledge. Through the truthfulness of that God as the author of all truth he derives a guarantee for our perceptions in so far as these are clear and distinct. And it is in guaranteeing the veracity of our clear and distinct conceptions that the value of his deduction of God seems in his own estimate to rest.


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All conceptions which do not possess these two attributes of being vivid in themselves and discriminated from all others cannot be true. But the larger part of our conceptions are in such a predicament. We think of things not in the abstract elements of the things themselves, but in connection with, and in language which presupposes, other things.

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Our idea of body, e. But it would again be useless to ask how extension as the characteristic attribute of matter is related to mind which thinks, and how God is to be regarded in reference to extension. The force of the universe is swept up and gathered in God, who communicates motion to the parts of 1 Euvres, vi. Every moment one expects to find Descartes saying with Hobbes that man s thought has created God, or with Spinoza and Malebranche that it is God who really thinks in the apparent thought of man.

After all, the metaphysical theology of Descartes, however essential in his own eyes, serves chiefly as the ground for constructing his theory of man and of the universe. His fundamental hypothesis relegates to God all forces in their ultimate origin.

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Hence the world is left open for the free play of mechanics and geometry. Such explanation of physical phenomena is the main problem of Descartes, and it goes on encroaching upon territories once supposed proper to the mind. The physical theory, in its earlier form in the World, and in its later in the Principles of Philosophy which the present account follows , rests upon the metaphysical conclusions of the Meditations.

It proposes to set forth the genesis of the existing universe from principles which can be plainly understood, and according to the acknow ledged laws of the transmission of movement. The idea of force is one of those obscure conceptions which originate in an obscure region, in the sense of muscular power. The true physical conception is motion, the ultimate ground of which is to be sought in God s infinite power. Accordingly the quantity of movement in the universe, like its mover, can neither increase nor diminish.

The only circumstance which physics has to consider is the transference of move ment from one particle to another, and the change of its direction. Motion, in short, is strictly locomotion, and nothing else. Descartes has laid down three laws of nature, and seven secondary laws regarding impact. The latter are to a large extent incorrect. The infinite universe is infinitely full of matter. Empty space, as distinguished from material extension, is a fictitious abstraction. There is no such thing really as a vacuum, any more than there are atoms or ultimate indivisible particles.

In both these doctrines of a priori science Descartes has not been subverted, but, if anything, corroborated by the results of experimental physics for the so-called atoms of chemical theory already presuppose, from the Cartesian point of view, certain aggregations of the primitive particles of matter.



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