Here are my notes on RenéDescartes (1596-1650).  Comments and criticisms are welcome.Please email them to KAGAN@maple.lemoyne.eduor mail them to me at the following address:

Rabbi Michael Kagan
Dept. of Philosophy
Le Moyne College
Syracuse, NY  13214-1399

René Descartes (1596-1650)


Renaissance--discuss rise of Platonism andadvances in sciences including the pressure brought through the reformationand counter reformation. The Copernican revolution (Copernicus, 1473-1543).Galileo (1564-1642) including his 1632 Dialogue on the two chief worldsystems. (1633 had to recant and remained under house arrest).

René Descartes (1596-1650). Studiedin Jesuit college of La Fl`eche, then law at Poitiers, graduating in 1616(From Flew). From noble and wealthy family; had fascinating relationshipswith royal ladies. Analytic geometry. ***Leisure and philosophy.Relate to the doing of philosophy by women after the Renaissance.
Bruno burned at the stake in 1600.
Galileo in trouble with inquisition in1634.
Descartes withheld his 1st book on theworld (Copernican) when heard about Galileo's adventures.
late 1620s Rules for the direction ofthe mind (published 1701)
1637. The Discourse on Method,his philosophical introduction to his work Dioptric, Meteors, and Geometry
1641 Meditations on First Philosophy
1644 Principles of Philosophy
Passions of the Soul (1649 out of hiscorrespondence with Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia
1649 Went to Queen Christina of Swedenin Stockholm; died 1650.

Method and Meditations

Here are online links to the text of the  Discourseon Method, and the
Meditations including Descartes' own  SYNOPSIS.
(These links are from: RutgersPhilosophy Resources - Electronic Texts)

Rules from Discourse on Method:

"The first was to accept nothing as true whichI did not clearly recognize to be so: that is to say, carefully to avoidprecipitation and prejudice in judgments, and to accept in them nothingmore than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly thatI could have no occasion to doubt it.
The second was to divide up each of thedifficulties which I examined into as many parts as possible, and as seemedrequisite in order that it might be resolved in the best manner possible.
The third was to carry on my reflectionsin due order, commencing with objects that were the most simple and easyto understand, in order to rise little by little, or by degrees, to knowledgeof the most complex, assuming an order, even of a fictitious one, amongthose which do not follow a natural sequence relatively to one another."
The last was in all cases to make enumerationsso complete and reviews so general that I should be certain of having omittednothing." (Matson, p. 280, citing Discourse on Method, Open Court, La Salle,edition)

Matson writes: 282: "Plato and Descarteshad much in common . . . . Both were mathematicians, both aimed to putknowledge on a firm foundation by generalizing mathematical methods, andboth believed that the indispensable first step for reconstructing knowledgeconsisted in clearing away rubble, by means of a searching critique ofhitherto receive opinions. "
Descartes' Criticism of knowledge andthe method of doubt.

Outline of the Meditations and aftermath

I. First MeditationII. Second MeditationIII. Third Meditation-Descartes' argumentfor God's existenceIV. Fourth MeditationV. Fifth MeditationVI. Sixth Meditation:


VII. the word ended up with is a world ofmind and body, where it is the business of science to figure out the lawsof bodies, but where theology still rules over the soul. Note parallelto Kantian position regarding the noumenal and phenomenal.
VIII. Responses to the mind-body problem.IX. The problem of changing the philosophyto suit the science in a world where the science changes

For some follow-up on these issue go to 1997Kagan notes on Kant
Back to 1997 Kagan Notes on I and Thou andMartin Buber (1878-1965)
Back to Kagan'shomepage on (
Back to other materials for PHL 201