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René Descartes

René Descartes

La Haye 1596 -
Stockholm 1650


The philosopher, mathematician and natural scientist René Descartes, Du Perron (Latin: Cartesius Renatus), was born in La Haye near Tours Touraine in France on March 31, 1596. He stemmed from an old French aristocratic family. His mother died one year after his birth, so René Descartes grew up with a nurse and his grandmother. From the age of eight, René Descartes attended the Jesuit college in La Flèche as a boarder. At 16, René Descartes successfully completed his education. He studied law in Poitiers. In 1616 he graduated with a degree in law. That same year Descartes worked under the famous general Moritz von Nassau in the Dutch town of Breda, where he met the doctor and natural scientist Isaac Beekman. He awakened René Descartes' interest in physics and was also the person, to whom Descartes dedicated his first work on mathematics and physics "Musicae compendium", which was published in 1618.
Between 1619 and 1620 Descartes entered into the service of Duke Maximilian of Bavaria. He was a soldier in the Thirty Years' War and participated in the siege of Prague on the side of the emperor and the Catholics. In 1625 Descartes settled in Paris, having received a considerable inheritance. There, he soon came in contact with intellectuals and members of the wealthy society. In 1628 he wrote "Regulae ad directionem ingenii" ("Rules for the Direction of the Mind"), with which he earned significant acclaim and recognition. One year later René Descartes moved to Holland, where he spent the next 18 years of his life.
In Holland he worked on a treatise on metaphysics, which he left unfinished, to write another natural scientific piece, namely a work entitled "Traité du Monde", which he also left incomplete, when he found out about the fate of Galileo Galilei. In 1637 René Descartes published his most important popular scientific work "Discours de la méthode", he wrote on very intricate subjects but still in a style that "even women" were able to understand. In his works he incorporated epistemology, ethics, metaphysics and the general laws of physics. His "Mediations on First Philosophy", which provide proof for the existence of God and the eternity of the soul, were first printed in Latin in 1641 and later also in French, his Principles of Philosophy were published in 1844.
These works by Descartes lead to such aggressive attacks by Dutch theologists, that in 1645 Descartes considered moving to England. It might have been this experience that inspired Descartes to write a treatise on the "Passions of the Soul" in 1649, a work on human emotions. In 1649 René Descartes followed the invitation of his long-term penpal Queen Christine of Sweden and visited Stockholm. There, he fell ill with pneumonia in early 1650 and died.
Some theories, however, say that René Descartes might not have died of natural causes but might have been poisoned with arsenic.

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