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History
IN OUR TIME'S GREATEST PHILOSOPHER VOTE
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GREATEST PHILOSOPHER

 
Rene Descartes (1596-1650)
advocated by Robert Kaplan

 Listen to Robert Kaplan say why you should vote for Rene Descartes

'I think, therefore I am.'

Rene Descartes. Rene Descartes is often called the father of modern philosophy because he rejected Aristotle's idea that knowledge is derived from the senses and promoted a 'new science' grounded in reason, observation and experiment.

His greatest works are his Discourse on Method (1637) and The Meditations (1641) in which he outlined a body of vastly influential ideas know as Cartesian ideas.

Descartes founded his thinking on a pungent scepticism. His famous declaration - "I think therefore I am" - was a result of his search to find a statement which could not be doubted.

Descartes argued that thinking about our own existence proves that we exist, for how could we have thoughts if we do not?

Descartes also developed the concept of dualism which separates mind and matter. Mind is responsible for thinking, feeling and reasoning. Matter is a physical entity, existing in the world and conforming to the laws of physics - like a machine.

However, Descartes struggled to explain how mind and body could interact in human beings if they were so utterly unrelated.

Much of Descartes's philosophy is rooted in mathematics and he invented analytic geometry which is the foundation of the calculus developed by Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716).

Works by Rene Descartes on Project Gutenberg including Discourse on Method and Selections from Principles of Philosophy

Read about Rene Descartes on Wikipedia

Read about Rene Descartes on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Read about Rene Descartes on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Please note: the BBC accepts no responsibility for the content of external websites.

 Listen to Robert Kaplan say why you should vote for Rene Descartes

Robert Kaplan

Robert Kaplan is co-founder of the Maths Circle at Harvard University. In the course of his career Robert has taught mathematics, philosophy, Greek, German, Sanskrit and Inspired Guessing. Together with his wife Ellen, he formed the Math Circle, a forum for the enjoyment of pure mathematics for people of all ages. He has written extensively on mathematics including The Nothing that is: A Natural History of Zero (1999) and The Art of the Infinite (2003).

 
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