René Déscartes Biography

(French Philosopher, Mathematician and Inventor of ‘Analytic Geometry’)

Birthday: March 31, 1596 (Aries)

Born In: Descartes, France

Rene Descartes was a French scientist, mathematician and philosopher known as the father of modern philosophy. He was born to a politician father and became interested in science, philosophy and mathematics when he was in school. After earning a law degree, Rene spent most of his time travelling around Europe, studying the scientific, philosophical and mathematical works of the greats. He also got in touch with some of the greatest intellectuals of his time and kept spreading his canvas of knowledge. In the world of mathematics, he is best known for inventing analytic geometry, where he established that algebra and geometry can be studied together. He has written a number of books on his philosophical ideas, which played a big role in replacing Aristotlist methods with more modern ones. He is known as the father of modern philosophy as his theories on rationalism, mechanism and conceptualism shaped the philosophical landscape of the western world. Some of the best books written by Rene are Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Discourse on the Method, Meditations on Philosophy and Principles of Philosophy.

Quick Facts

French Celebrities Born In March

Also Known As: Renatus Cartesius

Died At Age: 53


father: Joachim Descartes

mother: Jeanne Brochard

siblings: Anne Descartes, Jeanne Descartes, Joachim Descartes, Pierre Descartes

Born Country: France

Quotes By René Déscartes Philosophers

Died on: February 11, 1650

place of death: Stockholm, Sweden

Notable Alumni: University Of Poitiers, University Of Franeker, Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand

Personality: INTP

Cause of Death: Pneumonia

Ancestry: French Dutch

discoveries/inventions: Law Of Conservation Of Mechanical Momentum

More Facts

education: Leiden University, University Of Franeker, University Of Poitiers, Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand

Childhood & Early Life

Rene Descartes was born on March 31, 1596, in La Haye, France, to Joachim Descartes and Jeanne Brochard. His mother passed away a year after Rene was born. He was not expected to survive either. However, he did survive.

Following his mother’s death, his father remarried while Rene was taken care of by his maternal grandmother and later by his great-uncle. Rene’s father was a member of the Parlement of Brittany. Hence, he was a small-time politician with some influence.

Rene was born as a weak child and struggled with many diseases while he was growing up. He attended the Jesuit Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand, a local government school. It was a military school that trained young French kids in military training and government administration. However, enrolling in the school changed his life. He was introduced to mathematics and science for the first time, which were additional subjects.

Rere remained in school until 1615 and studied metaphysics, atomic science, philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and stoics among others and became interested in all the subjects such as science, mathematics, metaphysics and philosophy.

He later became a boarder at the school. Due to his poor health, he was allowed to stay in bed until 11 AM while other kids had to reach the school a few hours earlier. He was also brilliant in academics, which led his teachers to go easy on him.

He left the school in 1615 and spent the next few years in Paris. Not a lot is known about this period of his life. However, it has been documented that he attended the University of Poitiers and earned a law degree there. He did that to fulfil his father’s wishes. But his true interested lay in mathematics, which he believed had the answer to all-natural phenomena.

He later moved to Breda, Netherlands, where he continued his studies in science and mathematics with Isaac Beeckman. In 1618, he dedicated his first publication titled Compendium of Music, which was dedicated to Isaac.

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From 1619 to the next few years, Rene spent a lot of his time travelling around southern and northern Europe. He described this time in life as reading ‘the book of the world’ as he later explained in one of his writings. While he lived in Bohemia in 1619, he invented what was later known as analytical geometry. Before it, it was thought that algebra and geometry were two separate subjects. However, he proved how the geometrical problems could be solved algebraically and vice versa.

In addition, he also devised a method called deductive reasoning, which could be applied to both mathematics and all sciences. He explained these techniques more in detail in his books titled Discourse on Method and Rules for the Direction of the Mind.

Rene moved to Paris in 1622 and made friends with revolutionary poets such as Jean Louis Balzac and Theophile de Viau, Both had faced punishments for writing poems that ridiculed the religious themes. It greatly impacted Rene as the lack of freedom of speech and religious intolerance in France was getting to him.

He also kept in touch with the intellectual world of Europe, mostly through his friend Marine Mersenne, who regularly talked with a lot of mathematicians, philosophers, writers and scholars. He became the medium of Rene’s connection with the intellectual world at large. Rene was exploring all different facets of the world and he spent a lot of his time by himself. He hid from his friends and wrote treatises on metals and random sheets, which are now lost. However, it can be said for certain that even before he wrote any pathbreaking work, Rene was already a reputed thinker.

In the late 1620s, or early 1630s, he wrote the book titled The World. This happens to be one of the most popular books by Rene and talks about all the philosophical ideas that he had by then. The book touched upon subjects such as metaphysics, physics and biology.

Around the same time, he also wrote a book titled The Search for Truth by Natural Light, which was a series of dialogues that takes place between three men. One of them is a very ordinary man while the other two are intelligent men who have read everything there is to read. Now regarded as one of the greatest philosophical works by Rene, the book wasn’t published until 1701. The book was originally written in French but was later translated to Dutch, Latin and English.

Rene had a curious mind and his range of interests was wide. One of the most important works in mathematics, titled Le Geometre is also attributed to Rene. Published in 1637, the book discusses Rene’s greatest mathematical discovery of combining algebra and geometry, the theory called analytic geometry. Although it is a normal study material now, at that time, it was a pathbreaking book. Newton also took help from this book to develop his own mathematical ideas. This work is considered to be instrumental in the development of calculus.

However, among all his books, Meditations on Philosophy remains one of his well-known books. In the book which is made up of six meditations in total, Rene asks the readers to discard all their beliefs as nothing in the world is certain. He then carefully mentions ideas and things that can be taken as a certainty. The book was highly revered among the philosophical circles and was a subject of debate for years to come. It also served as a spiritual companion to his other major work titled Principles of Philosophy.

In Principles of Philosophy, Rene wrote this book to alter the Aristotelian methods that were being taught in French and British schools at that time. The book offered a clear mechanistic way to look at the universe and touched upon themes such as metaphysics and natural philosophy.

In the later years, Rene wrote a few more books, such as The Description of the Human Body, Passions of the Soul and Correspondance.

Rene, along with a few other philosophers of his time, helped shape the current philosophical ideas of the western world. He is also known as the father of modern philosophy as his writings adhered to rationalism, which is known as the dominant philosophy adopted by most western universities and general life.

Along with this, Rene is also known as one of the few people who laid the foundation of Scientific Revolution.

Personal Life & Death

Rene Descartes never married and remained single throughout his life. However, he had a child with Helena Jans van der Strom in 1635. Their son passed away at the age of 5 due to scarlet fever.

On February 1, 1650, Rene caught pneumonia. He passed away a few days later on February 11, at the age of 53. He was in Sweden at that time, teaching mechanical philosophy to Queen Christina of Sweden.

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