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Jesse Mbu



René Descartes

René Descartes (1596-1650) was a French philosopher who was also a rationalist who wanted

find purposes of life through reasons and not from thoughts. He is the first philosopher to study the

process of thinking itself. He was also a scientist, mathematician and he was regarded as the founder of

modern philosophy because he challenged and questions all of the traditional. He was one of the key

figures in the Scientific Revolution. He is commonly known for his statement in his philosophy, “I think
therefore I am” (originally from Latin: Cogito, ergo sum) he is one of my favorite philosophers and I will

explain why in the following paragraphs.

René Descartes was born in March 31 1596 in La Haye en Touraine, province in France which is now

named Descartes, Indre-et Loire after him. His mother, Jeanne Brochard died a year later due to

tuberculosis from childbirth, so he was not expected to survive since he already had a physical weakness

and was frail . René believed that he inherited the frail from his mother. He also suffered from Asthma

through all his life. His father, Joachim was a member of a Parlement of Brittany, a court of justice at

Rennes and he later remarried, and Descartes was raised by his greatparents. He and his family were

Roman Catholic despite living in a Protestant city.

(the house where Descartes was born in La Haye en Touraine)

He studied at the Jesuit College at La Flèche through mathematics, physics, Latin, history, liberty

arts, science and philosophy, in addition of music, dancing and fencing. And at the University of

Pointiers, he earned degrees in civil law and canon. After his studies, surprisingly healthy and strong,

Descartes enlisted in the army during the Thirty Years’ War while advancing his knowledge in


During his traveling in northern and southern Europe, he invented a geometric method of solving

problems algebraically and geometrically and after the army, he moved in Paris 1622 where he gambled,

rode, fenced and the theatre. He also wrote his first philosophical work titled “Rules for the Direction

Mind” in 1628 but not published until 1701. It consisted four rules: (1) accept nothing as true that is not

self-evident, (2) divide problems into their simplest parts, (3) solve problems by proceeding from simple

to complex, and (4) recheck the reasoning. These rules are a direct application of mathematical


Descartes lived alone most of his life, he was a solitary intellect and very secretive, he was not a

social person. He preferred to avoid any kind of distraction from city life to devout all his energy in his

work or study. He didn’t even want his friends to know what he was doing or working. He resided in

Amsterdam, Netherlands to be all his own.

He never got married but he had an illegitimate daughter named Francine Descartes with a

servant named Helena Jans van der Strom. René wanted to bring his daughter to France, to be educated

but tragically she died at 5 years of scarlet fever in 1640.

As he worked on his studies, he wrote one of his most important modern philosophical work

“Discourse on Method” which he explained his method of utilizing reason in the search of truth to find

purpose in life and it’s called, Rationalism.

His written work on “Discourse on Method” caught the attention of Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia

also known as Elisabeth of Palatinate who read it and became a philosopher as well. She is known for

her correspondence with René Descartes for 6 years as Descartes became her teacher in philosophy and


René Descartes had became famous throughout Europe that the Queen Christina of Sweden invited

him to teach her in her country. He accepted and moved to Sweden in the middle of winter in 1649.

(René Descartes on the right with

Queen Christina of Sweden on the left)

In Sweden, Descartes gave private philosophy lessons to the Queen. But he didn’t enjoy his time

there. He didn’t have a nice relationship with the Queen as she forced him to break his routine. It was

very cold in Sweden and Descartes got the cold and was diagnosed of pneumonia. He died from the

illness in 11 February 1650 at age of 53.

Now let’s talk about his philosophy. Like I said earlier in the beginning, Descartes was a convinced

rationalist. Rationalism is a belief in which reason is said to be the primary source of knowledge,

distinguishing reality from illusion and give meaning to experience searching for the ultimate truth. It

can be discovered from experiences, observation and experiment. They are called à priori (before

experience) and à posteriori (after experience). That explains the 4th rules of his philosophical work,
“Rules for the Direction of the Mind” from earlier, “Recheck the reasoning” because to be 100% sure of

our knowledge, we must check it again so that it can be truth.

Descartes lived during the skeptical period before science was accepted in the church and in

society. As a math teacher, he found ways to reason his beliefs and find evidence in his own senses. He

outlined rules for himself in thinking which help him write his epochal “Discourse on Method” in 1637

and expanded in the “Meditations on First Philosophy” of 1641, to write about skepticism and to find

the ultimate truth.

Descartes also explained that skepticism is part of finding the truth and that it’s okay for people

to express doubt. It’s called “The Method of Doubt” . Descartes attacked and rejected earlier philosophy

including Aristotle’s since it did not demand rational comprehension. It neither did not see through the

clear light of natural reason. Descartes hoped that people would use skepticism to establish complete


The most famous quote” Cogito, ergo sum” (I think therefore I am) is a statement or proportion

Descartes used in his philosophical works. The Latin word originally appeared in French as “Je pense,

donc je suis” in his Discourse on the Method. The statement’s point is that we humans, identify, know

everything from the body and material things through our mind. It helps us understand that we are alive

or living in the real world by being able to think about anything. This insight marked the beginning of the

modern worldview that Descartes did what other philosophers couldn’t do.
In his work, he used “I” since the philosophy must be understood as the first person. He didn’t

write the work in Latin since it was, back in the day the “Universal Language of scholars” but in French to

reach a wider audience of intellectuals.

Descartes also explained that even though we are intelligent, we know everything, but we could

also be tricked as himself also said that his thoughts could be tricked and deceived by the evil genius.

This is one of the reasons Descartes wanted to be sure of what is true knowledge. Being tricked by the

evil genius is natural because it helps us being moral and make better choices or decisions.

Also, the epistemology of the philosophy “Cogito, ergo sum”, Descartes thought there are two

different altitudes in a human body. There is a “thinker” and an “actor”. And he explained the thinker is

more important than the actor. His point is very accurate because everything we do come from our

thoughts and if we want to do things, we must think about wherever it’s positive or negative. The mind

is stronger than the body. From my perspective, it’s important to think twice before we act.

One of the most important things, Descartes did that he wanted to show that Philosophy is no

threat to religion and it is important for people to find a purpose and a meaningful life. Descartes was
himself a devout Catholic but there was moment he expressed doubts about religion and the way it was

influencing people’s live. For examples, one of the former philosophers he idolized, Galileo, was

condemned by the Roman Catholic Church for his scientific works that the Earth moves around the sun.

So Descartes, with his philosophy, he opened a bridge between the new science and religion by showing

the mind is different in kind from the body.

Descartes wanted to also prove or establish the Existence of God rationally, he explained that if

God is not an evil deceiver, he will create the reasoning mind to seek and know the truth. He also argued

that God is the perfection being in the universe and he is infinity and that we humans, are not perfect,

we have flaws and that we are limited.

In my opinion, René Descartes is one of the greatest philosophers in all time because he is the

only one who stressed that everything we do and how to find the meaningful life are based upon our

experiences and reflection. His teaching advocated that human beings are capable of achieving more by

tapping or listening to the power of mind. He is the Father of Modern Philosophy.

Honestly, there are ways I can personally relate to Descartes, I was born in France just like him.

Descartes wanted to focus on his work, he wasn’t collaborating with others, he wanted avoid

distraction. I, also like to do study, do my work solitary and I am not really that social. I also suffer from

asthma and I won’t let that illness stop me from reaching my goals. I run about three times a week.

In conclusion, Descartes changed how philosophy can be studied by people’s personal

experience and how to live a better life. As a rationalist, he wanted to find definite conclusion in

philosophy by using method of doubt and to find answers not based on evidence but by reasons.

Descartes opened my eyes about how to lead a life based on our mind and intelligence because it is

stronger than our body.