Rene Descartes


René Descartes Biography

René Descartes was a french philosopher and mathematician, born in la haye, touraine (france), on march 31, 1596. Rene would study at the jesuit school of la fléche a scholastic school. He would study law in poitiers and graduated in the year of 1616. However, he would never practice as a lawyer, and in 1618, he would enter the service of prince maurice i of nassau, with the intention of pursuing a military career.

When he renounced to his military life, rené descartes traveled through germany and the netherlands, returning to france in 1622 to sell his properties and secure his independent life. He passed through italy (1623-1625), then settled in paris, where he became associated with most of the scientists of the time.

In 1628, he would settle in the netherlands, a country where he devoted himself to scientific research, and where they were also favored by a relative freedom of thought. Descartes considered that this place was very suitable to develop the philosophical and scientific objectives he had planned.

“I would give everything i know for half of what i ignore.” René Descartes.

He would spend five years producing his own system of the world, his conception of man and the human body. In 1633, the text of metaphysics and physics entitled “treatise on light” had to be already advanced; but the news of galileo’s condemnation frightened him because in his work he supported the movement of the earth, an opinion that he did not believe was reprehensible from the theological point of view. Because he feared that the text in its content had condemnable theories, he renounced his publication, which would be released posthumously.

In 1637, rené descartes published the “Discourse on the method”, presented as a prologue to three scientific essays: geometry, dioptrica, and meteors. Descartes proposed a methodical doubt oriented to the search of principles on which to solidly build knowledge. This principle found him in the existence of his own conscience, which doubts in his famous phrase: “i think, therefore, i exist”.

The foundations of his mechanistic physics placed him in the metaphysics he exhibited in 1641, where he enunciated his demonstration of the existence of the perfection of god and the immortality of the soul. His philosophy became known, but this caused him threats of religious persecution on the part of academic and ecclesiastical authorities in the netherlands and france.

In 1649, queen cristina of sweden invited him to stockholm to teach the queen philosophy classes. However, descartes would die of pneumonia on february 11, 1650, at 53 years of age.

“Doubt is the origin of wisdom.” René Descartes.

In 1676, his remains were exhumed, placed in a copper coffin and transported to paris to be buried in the sainte-geneviéve-du-mont church. In the french revolution, his remains were moved and placed in the panthéon of the basilica dedicated to the great men of the french nation. In 1819, the remains of rené descartes were again moved to take them to the abbey of saint-germain-des-prés, where they are today, except for his skull that is preserved in the men’s museum in paris.

Nowadays, the cause of his death has been questioned, according to the german historian and physician eike pies, he found in the university of leiden, a secret letter from the court doctor johan van wullen in which he explains the agony of descartes and that curiously the symptoms presented (nausea, vomiting, and chills) were not pneumonia. Months after consulting with several pathologists, pies would conclude in his book “the murder of descartes”, that according to the documents, evidence, and evidence found, descartes’ death was from arsenic poisoning.

Curently, Descartes is considered “the father of analytical geometry” and “modern philosophy.”


  • 1628, rules for the direction of the mind
  • 1630, the world or treatise on the light
  • 1637, discourse on the method
  • 1641, meditations and other metaphysical writings
  • 1642, searching for truth
  • 1644, principles of philosophy
  • 1649, the passions of the soul

Some of his popular quotes:

I would give everything i know, for half of what i ignore.

To live without philosophizing is in truth the same as keeping the eyes closed without attempting to open them.

Mathematics is the science of order and measurement, of beautiful chains of reasoning, all simple and easy.

What little i have learned is worthless, compared to what i ignore and do not despair in learning.

To investigate the truth, it is necessary to doubt, as much as possible, all things.

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