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Descartes - An Intellectual Biography

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Ren� Descartes's insights into the nature of knowledge and the mind have inspired awe and debate through the centuries. But while philosophers have sought to understand the ramifications of his theories, they have paid much less attention to how, exactly, he arrived at his ideas. What twists and turns of his intellect brought him to his epochal conclusions? How did his pers Ren� Descartes's insights into the nature of knowledge and the mind have inspired awe and debate through the centuries. But while philosophers have sought to understand the ramifications of his theories, they have paid much less attention to how, exactly, he arrived at his ideas. What twists and turns of his intellect brought him to his epochal conclusions? How did his personal ambitions and the social conditions of his era shape his thought? These questions and more are masterfully answered in Stephen Gaukroger's Descartes, a fascinating look at this most influential of all Renaissance thinkers. In his quest to retrace Descartes's development as a scientist and philosopher, Gaukroger leaves no stone unturned. From the great man's first book on music theory (Compendium Musicae) to his masterworks Discours, Essais, Meditationes, and Principia, from his study of mathematics while attending a Jesuit college at age ten, through his dying days in the service of Christina, Queen of Sweden, Descartes brims with penetrating and often surprising insights into the philosopher's life and work. We discover, for example, that he wasn't as concerned with developing an all-encompassing theory of knowledge as he was with establishing a natural philosophy that supported the teachings of Copernicus, a man whose work he deeply admired. We also learn that Descartes was willing to alter his publicly stated views to accommodate church doctrine--especially after witnessing Galileo's condemnation in 1633. We observe how his personal triumphs and failures--from his rumored nervous breakdown in 1614, to his joy at the popular reception of Discours and Essais, to his protracted and very public dispute with the implacable professor Voetius--affected his intellectual development. Along the way, Gaukroger details how Descartes's theories of metaphysics, mechanics, cognition, and cosmology have been both championed and distorted by philosophers of all stripes for over three hundred years. Packed with helpful diagrams and in-depth interpretations of Descartes's most celebrated works, the book also includes a useful chronology that highlights his important accomplishments and personal milestones. Descartes is an exhaustively detailed, magisterial look at the dazzling intellectual achievements of the father of modern philosophy. Splendidly written by a renowned authority on the subject, it will serve as the definitive guide to Descartes's thoughts, works, and life for years to come.


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Ren� Descartes's insights into the nature of knowledge and the mind have inspired awe and debate through the centuries. But while philosophers have sought to understand the ramifications of his theories, they have paid much less attention to how, exactly, he arrived at his ideas. What twists and turns of his intellect brought him to his epochal conclusions? How did his pers Ren� Descartes's insights into the nature of knowledge and the mind have inspired awe and debate through the centuries. But while philosophers have sought to understand the ramifications of his theories, they have paid much less attention to how, exactly, he arrived at his ideas. What twists and turns of his intellect brought him to his epochal conclusions? How did his personal ambitions and the social conditions of his era shape his thought? These questions and more are masterfully answered in Stephen Gaukroger's Descartes, a fascinating look at this most influential of all Renaissance thinkers. In his quest to retrace Descartes's development as a scientist and philosopher, Gaukroger leaves no stone unturned. From the great man's first book on music theory (Compendium Musicae) to his masterworks Discours, Essais, Meditationes, and Principia, from his study of mathematics while attending a Jesuit college at age ten, through his dying days in the service of Christina, Queen of Sweden, Descartes brims with penetrating and often surprising insights into the philosopher's life and work. We discover, for example, that he wasn't as concerned with developing an all-encompassing theory of knowledge as he was with establishing a natural philosophy that supported the teachings of Copernicus, a man whose work he deeply admired. We also learn that Descartes was willing to alter his publicly stated views to accommodate church doctrine--especially after witnessing Galileo's condemnation in 1633. We observe how his personal triumphs and failures--from his rumored nervous breakdown in 1614, to his joy at the popular reception of Discours and Essais, to his protracted and very public dispute with the implacable professor Voetius--affected his intellectual development. Along the way, Gaukroger details how Descartes's theories of metaphysics, mechanics, cognition, and cosmology have been both championed and distorted by philosophers of all stripes for over three hundred years. Packed with helpful diagrams and in-depth interpretations of Descartes's most celebrated works, the book also includes a useful chronology that highlights his important accomplishments and personal milestones. Descartes is an exhaustively detailed, magisterial look at the dazzling intellectual achievements of the father of modern philosophy. Splendidly written by a renowned authority on the subject, it will serve as the definitive guide to Descartes's thoughts, works, and life for years to come.

48 review for Descartes - An Intellectual Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    russell

    Meant for those undertaking a serious study of Descartes. Gaukroger writes in a clear and distinct way (ha). It contains several hundred pages of defunct physics and geometry diagrams, but there are also some great historical insights and useful, nuanced discussion on Descartes' positions throughout. Meant for those undertaking a serious study of Descartes. Gaukroger writes in a clear and distinct way (ha). It contains several hundred pages of defunct physics and geometry diagrams, but there are also some great historical insights and useful, nuanced discussion on Descartes' positions throughout.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Daniel1974nlgmail.com

    As any of the books of Gaukroger this is an extremely well written book, though sometimes very technical and daunting. It is obvious that he knows his subject in and out and is as such providing us with more than enough insight into at one side Descartes personal life and at the other side his Philosophical ideas. I like the more or less three parts into which this book falls apart (although not explicitly specified) which are : Following the old - Doubts - A new Philosophy. This I think worked As any of the books of Gaukroger this is an extremely well written book, though sometimes very technical and daunting. It is obvious that he knows his subject in and out and is as such providing us with more than enough insight into at one side Descartes personal life and at the other side his Philosophical ideas. I like the more or less three parts into which this book falls apart (although not explicitly specified) which are : Following the old - Doubts - A new Philosophy. This I think worked extremely well in being able to follow the path Descartes took and how and why he eventually ended up where he ended up. It was always clear to me that Descartes is one of the most important philosophers that ever lived and basically the one that sets the stage for modern philosophy. This is especially true for the Netherlands (where Descartes worked most of his life) and the development of Radical Philosophy and the circle that was surrounding Spinoza. Too often and too long the Enlightenment has been explained from the departure of Bacon & Newton but one can see here is that (although Descartes never intended that and really tried his best not to provoke the Church) the Dutch branch of the Enlightenment (Branded by Jonathan Israel as: Radical Enlightenment) took the ideas of Descartes further. Highly recommend read, though again, might not be for the average reader. I also recommend to read the book preferable together with Gaugroger's first book on the Scientific Revolution : The Emergence Of A Scientific Culture because that book will provide you with a lot of background that is absolutely necessary to understand this book and Descartes's ideas.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

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  18. 4 out of 5

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