Top Interesting Facts about Descartes

Rene Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician and scientist. He is usually known as the “Father of Modern Philosophy” and was the first prominent figure in the philosophical movement known as rationalism.

Rationalism is defined as “a method of understanding the world based on the use of reason as the means to attain knowledge.” This concept was one of the main intellectual movements of the Enlightenment period which occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is a very important historical period which ultimately led to the revolutionary concepts of the the Western world.

As opposed to John Locke’s empiricism, which claims that knowledge derives from experience, rationalism is the doctrine that knowledge is acquired by reason without resort to experience.

Most people know Descartes’s most famous quote, “I think, therefore I am”,  meaning that  philosophical proof of existence is based on being able to form thought. Here are some interesting facts about the famous mathematician and philosopher:

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  • Besides being one of the leading philosophers, he also played a key role in the development of mathematics by being a pioneer of analytic geometry, combining algebra to solve geometric problems.
  • Descartes was born in minor French nobility. His mother died soon after giving birth to him, his father remarried and he was raised by his maternal grandmother.
  • Nobody actually called him Rene. Descartes went by a nickname, and he introduced himself as “Poitevin”. He also signed letters as “du Perron.” He even sometimes called himself Lord of Perron” because he had inherited a farm from his mother’s family in Poitou, in western France.
  • There is a theory that Descartes was a Jesuit spy.
  • His religious views are still debated, as he claimed to have been a Catholic but was accused of actually having atheist beliefs.
  • His father wanted him to be a Lawyer. He studied law at the University of Poitiers  earning a law degree in 1616, though he never ended up the practicing. Instead, at 22 years old, Descartes enlisted in the Dutch States Army instead, where he would study military engineering and later became fascinated with the study of math and physics.
  • Descartes changed career paths based on a series of prophetic dreams. On the night of November 10, 1619, Rene Descartes was stationed in Germany. To keep warm, he shut himself in a room with a hot oven. It was then when he had three dreams, which according to him, allowed him to discover his life’s purpose. It is said that he took from them the message that he should set out to reform all knowledge.
  • In his famous work Discourses on the Method, he came up with one of his most popular sayings,”I think, therefore I am”. To put it in more simply, if some one is skeptical of  existence, the very fact that they thought about it, is proof of their existence.
  • His philosophy on rationalism was opposed by the empiricist school of thought, founded by major philosophers Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume.
  • Who says you have to wake up early to be successful? Descartes regularly slept until noon, and usually got 12 hours of sleep a night. He stated that sleep was nourishment for the brain and often did work from his bed.

Photo from Lostpedia

  • Descartes philosophy has actually influenced some of Hollywood’s most creative and celebrated television, with subtle references in highly philosophical shows such as Lost, Westworld, and The Good Place.
  • He had a daughter named Francine with a servant woman in 1635, but she died in 1640.
  • Animal rights activists most likely don’t love Descartes. He claimed that animals cannot reason and do not feel pain. Descartes stated that humans are conscious, have minds and souls, can learn and have language and therefore only humans are deserving of compassion.

Photo from Musee de l’homme

 

  • Descartes’s skeleton has been moved several times. His head now rests in in a collection at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.
  • There is a theory that Descartes was actually assassinated. He died on February 11th in Stockholm at age 53  from pneumonia. However, German scholar Theodor Ebert believes that Descartes’s death was not due to natural causes but that he was poisoned by a Catholic priest due to his radical ideas.

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