Rene Descartes-A Biography

Authors: Aatmesh and Qutub, Learners

This is a collaborative project by two learners. As part of the project, each learner initially works independently to research on the person assigned and prepare a biography. The two learners subsequently analyze each others documents and then prepare a combined Biography. As part of the learning, they look at differences in how each learner “sees” the information on same person, different sources and interpretations of information, and then to decide which differences can be resolved, integrated or ignored. 

Rene Descartes was a French philosopher and mathematician. He is regarded as the father of modern day philosophy. His home town had its name changed to “Descartes” in honour of Rene.

Early life :

Rene Descartes was born on March 31st 1596, in La Haye France. He had three brothers of which he was the youngest. His father was a member of the provincial parliament. Rene’s mother passed away when he was young. As a result, Rene was sent to live with his maternal grandmother. Rene’s father was concerned with his son’s education and did not interact with him much.

At the age of eight, Rene was sent to a renowned learning academy, the Jesuit college for 7 years. Young men sent there were trained to become military engineers, judicial officials, government officials or masters at the classical art (the classical arts were sciences, mathematics, music etc.).

At this school, Descartes studied theology (the study of the nature of God and religious belief), medicine, mathematical arts (music and astronomy), ethics and philosophy. Rene spent most of his childhood studying these topics (amongst many others). These subjects set the foundation for his philosophical pursuits.

Adulthood and Philosophy :

After graduating from his college, Rene joined the army for a brief period. On one of his expeditions, Rene met a dutch scientist Isaac Beeckman who would become his mentor. At this time, Rene began receiving powerful dreams and he had 3 dreams that determined his course of study.

Rene began his philosophical pursuits by starting anew so to speak. He cleared all past information (regarding philosophy) off the table and began. He started with his famous statement “I think. Therefore I am”. Rene began questioning all existing theories and coming up with his own on the basis of logic and science. He used experiments to prove his theories and was considered (due to his modern methods) the father of modern philosophy. He was the first person to use matter and motion to explain the universe. He developed an understanding of rainbows.

One of Rene’s most revolutionary theories is that “There are two things in the universe, matter and spirit.” Matter being everything tangible and physical and spirit being the mind.

He never got married but he had a daughter named Francine. She died at 5. He became a philosophy teacher for the queen and due to the queen wanting 5 am lessons he got pneumonia.

All across the world, Rene was receiving accolades and recognition for his works (books or ideas). At this time, Rene decided it would be wise for him to move to a quiet peaceful place, in order to be able to concentrate. Rene lived the rest of his life out in a small village (in Stockholm).

Legacy :

Rene has authored numerous books on his theories,. He has inspired many future generations, with his unusual and unique style of approaching the physical (and spiritual) world. Rene also had a big impact on mathematics. He began the using of XYZ to represent variables, and started analytical geometry (with the use of variables to solve). Future scientists used Descartes’ work to build theories. Newton himself developed the law of conservation of momentum largely based on Rene’s work.

What made Rene influential :

The primary reason that Rene is revered as the father of modern philosophy is his new approach. Rene revolutionized a new method of thinking. He did not accept everything unless and until he had proved it himself. Not relying on old theories, but creating his own. This is why I think he was an influential figure.

Influences on Rene :

Rene was influenced lightly and inspired by past scientists such as Galileo. Rene thought of Aristotle’s work as something “old” and “obsolete”.He sought to prove his own theories and regarded Aristotelianism theories as “incomplete” or simply “incorrect”. Rene sought to remove Aristotle’s theories and urged people to adopt his own (in church).

Rene was very inspired by his teacher, the Dutch man named Isaac Beeckman. Isaac provided Rene with questions, in order to stimulate his brain. Isaac himself was a philosopher and mathematician whom Rene met while he was in the army.

Descartes and I:

We have almost no similarities with Descartes. He was a sickly youth who didn’t participate in any physical activity. The only work of Descartes that interests us, at this point of time, is his analytic geometry. The greatest quality that Rene possessed (and which inspires us) is him not taking anything for granted and proving something himself. Also not being in awe, having the guts to oppose a great thinker (Aristotle) not just for the sake of it, but with reasoning. No one is too clever to make mistakes and to question or doubt is to be human (said by Rene himself).

A project by Aatmesh and Qutub