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Descartes, René (1596–1650)

  1. Gregory E. Ganssle

Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470670606.wbecc0413

The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

How to Cite

Ganssle, G. E. 2011. Descartes, René (1596–1650). The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 25 NOV 2011


René Descartes was an influential French thinker who made contributions in mathematics, optics, physics, and especially, philosophy. He was educated in mathematics and physics at the Jesuit college of La Flèche. He left La Flèche in 1614 and in 1618 he met Isaac Beeckman, who kindled Descartes' interest in the sciences. He began to see mathematics as the key to unifying all knowledge. In 1633 he completed a work called The World but withdrew it from publication after hearing about Galileo's troubles with the church. In 1637 he published Discourse on Method. It was not until 1641 that his first wholly philosophical piece was published, Meditations on First Philosophy. He published this book with six sets of objections from various intellectual leaders and his replies. The objections and replies are five times the length of the original work. The Principles of Philosophy followed in 1644. Descartes accepted a job tutoring Queen Christina of Sweden. For this he had to get up at five in the morning. Soon he caught pneumonia and died in 1650.


  • Descartes, René (1596–1650);
  • influential French thinker;
  • seeing mathematics, as the key to unifying all knowledge;
  • work in philosophy, for which Descartes was famous;
  • arguing that God must exist;
  • Descartes' metaphysical claims;
  • epistemology, metaphysics of Descartes' project, a great influence;
  • Descartes' quest for certainty, for all of modern philosophy, theology