Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

Descartes, René

Born: 31 March 1596 (La Haye en Touraine, France)
Died: 11 February 1650 (Stockholm, Sweden)
  • Fabrizio BaldassarriEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_645-1


Scholars generally consider René Descartes to be the father of early modern philosophy insofar he rejected scholasticism, Aristotelianism, but also Renaissance philosophies and grounded a new system of knowledge whose roots lie solely in the mind and not in previous assumptions. This defines a modern self that achieves the knowledge of nature and shapes the modern universe. In the Discours de la Méthode (1637) and the Meditationes de prima philosophia (1641), after rejecting earlier education, doctrines, and scientiæ, Descartes isolates the powers of the mind (i.e., clear and distinct ideas) as the beginning of any certainty. Yet, having considered Descartes’ system as dismissing all doctrines and beliefs, in this entry I will first examine some relations between the French philosopher and those contexts and then discuss the novelties of his system. After a short biography, in the second section, I will briefly explore the interrelations between Descartes and Renaissance scholars, whom he reproached for their precipitate conclusions. Third, I will unearth his criticism of Aristotelian-scholastic philosophy (which he reproached for its preconceptions), while highlighting his attention to a few Aristotelian texts. Fourth, I will investigate a few innovative aspects of his methodology; this consists of novel combination of intellectual cognition and experimentation. As a result, Descartes’ entire natural philosophy consists of a theoretical framework that defines the principles of knowledge and the architecture of science, while the body of all disciplines and the knowledge of particular issues are methodologically and experientially constructed. Despite several limitations, Descartes’ system is remarkably innovative.

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Primary Literature

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ICUB-HumanitiesUniversity of BucharestBucharestRomania

Section editors and affiliations

  • Violaine Giacomotto-Charra
    • 1
  • Marco Sgarbi
    • 2
  1. 1.Université Bordeaux MontaignePessacFrance
  2. 2.University Ca' Foscari VeniceVeniceItaly