Philosophical Essays and Correspondence

Philosophical Essays and Correspondence

Philosophical Essays and Correspondence

Philosophical Essays and Correspondence


This reader presents Rene Descarte's 1637 Discourse on Method and 1641 Meditations in their entirety. Also included are selections from Rules, The World, Objections and Replies, Principles, Notes Against a Program, Passions of the Soul, and Search After Truth. The intent of the volume is to provide a representation of the totality of Descartes's philosophical accomplishments and their relations to one another. Paper edition (unseen), $14.95. Annotation copyrighted by Book News, Inc., Portland, OR


René Descartes was born in Touraine on March 31, 1596, at La Haye (now known as Descartes), the son of Joachim Descartes (councilor to the parliament of Brittany) and Jeanne Brochard. His mother died the next year on May 13, as a result of the birth of another son who lived only three days; his father remarried around 1600. René spent his childhood at the home of his maternal grandmother, Jeanne Sain, together with his older siblings, Pierre and Jeanne. Pierre left in 1604 to study at the Jesuit college just established at La Flèche, in Anjou, and René later followed him there, probably in 1607, at Easter. The younger Descartes spent eight or nine years at La Flèche, until about 1615. Jesuit education at the time consisted of five years of French and Latin grammar, with a year of rhetoric from Greek and Roman authors, culminating in the last three years with the philosophy curriculum and some mathematics: logic and ethics; natural philosophy and mathematics; and metaphysics. In general, these studies followed the pattern of the textbooks written by Jesuits of the university of Coimbra (the Conimbricences) or Collegio Romano (Franciscus Toletus, for example). That is, they involved lectures and commentaries on the works of Aristotle, which were generally interpreted according to a Thomism that had itself weathered three centuries of commentary and criticism. After La Flèche, the younger Descartes studied law, like his father, his older brother, and his younger half-brother. He received an M.A. in canon and civil law from the University of Poitiers in November 1616.

1. For more details about René Descartes's life and times, see Stephen Gaukroger,
Descartes. An Intellectual Biography (Oxford: Clarendon, Press, 1995), and Genevieve
Rodis-Lewis, Descartes, His Life and Thought (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998).

2. The course in mathematics would have followed the textbooks written by the Collegio
Romano Jesuit Christopher Clavius. Descartes is reported to have said in 1646 that he had no
other instruction in algebra than his reading of Clavius more than thirty years before—that is,
before 1616, when he was a student at La Flèche (Oeuvres de Descartes, eds. Charles Adam
and Paul Tannery, vol. IV, pp. 730–1). Adam and Tannery's edition, just cited, is the standard
edition of Descartes's works; references to it are abbreviated as AT volume, page—in this
case: AT IV, 730–1. The numbers in the margins of this volume are also to this edition. This
enables the reader to cross-reference the original text and other translations.

3. For more information on 17th-century scholastic philosphy and its relation to
Descartes's, see Roger Ariew, Descartes and the Last Scholastics (Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1999). Samples of various philosophical essays, including portions of
relevant 17th-century scholastic texts forming the background to Descartes's philosophy,
may be consulted in Descartes' Meditations: Background Source Materials, Cambridge
Philosophical Texts in Context, eds. and trans. Roger Ariew, John Cottingham, and Tom
Sorell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

4. The dedication from Descartes's law theses was discovered at the city library of Poitier

in 1986.

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