96 René Descartes father of modern philosophy
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René Descartes

Father of Modern Philosophy

from cover sleeve of Descartes an Intellectual Biography by Stephen Gaukroger

René Descartes (1596-1650) is the father of modern philosophy, and one of the greatest of all thinkers. 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 on 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 a landmark publication, welcomed by all readers interested in the origins of modern thought.

Chronological table of Descartes' life and works
from Descartes Selected Philosophical Writings, Translated by Cottingham, Stoothoff, Murdoch

1596 born at La Haye near Tours on 31 March
1606-1614 attends Jesuit college of La Fleche in Anjou
1616 takes doctorate in law at University of Poitiers
1618 goes to Holland; joins army of Prince Maurice of Nassau; meets Isaac Beeckman; composes a short treatise on music, the Compendium Musicae
1619 travels in Germany; 10 November: has vision of new mathematical and scientific system
1622 retuns to France; during next few years spends time in Paris, but also travels in Europe
1628 composes Rules for the Direction of our Native Intelligence; leaves for Holland, which is to be his home until 1649, though with frequent changes of address
1629 begins working on The World
1633 condemnation of Galileo; abandons plans to publish The World
1635 birth of Descartes' natural daughter Francine, baptized 7 August (died 1640)
1637 publishes Discourse on the Method, with Optics, Meteorology and Geometry
1641 Meditations of First Philosophy published, together with Objections and Replies (first six sets)
1642 second edition of Meitations published, with all seven sets of Objections and Replies and Letter to Dinet
1643 Cartesian philosophy condemned at the University of Utrecht; Descartes' long correspondence with Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia begins
1644 visits France; Principles of Philosophy published
1647 awarded a pension by King of France; publishes Comments on a Certain Broadsheet; begins work on Description of the Human Body
1648 interviewed by Frans Burman at Egmond-Binnen (Conversation with Burman
1649 goes to Sweden on invitation of Queen Christina; The Passions of the Soul published
1650 dies at Stockholm on 11 February

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