Descartes: An Intellectual Biography / Edition 1

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Rene Descartes 1596-1650 is the father of modern philosophy, and one of the greatest of all thinkers. This is the first intellectual biography of Descartes in English; it offers a fundamental reassessment of all aspects of his life and work. Stephen Gaukroger, a leading authority on Descartes, traces his intellectual development from childhood, showing the connections between his intellectual and personal life and placing these in the cultural context of seventeenth-century Europe. Descartes' early work in mathematics and science produced ground-breaking theories, methods, and tools still in use today. This book gives the first full account of how this work informed and influenced the later philosophical studies for which, above all, Descartes is renowned. Not only were philosophy and science intertwined in Descartes' life; so were philosophy and religion. The Church of Rome found Galileo guilty of heresy in 1633; two decades earlier, Copernicus' theories about the universe had been denounced as blasphemous. To avoid such accusations, Descartes clothed his views about the relation between God and humanity, and about the nature of the universe, in a philosophical garb acceptable to the Church. His most famous project was the exploration of the foundations of human knowledge, starting from the proof of one's own existence offered in the formula Cogito ergo sum, 'I am thinking therefore I exist'. Stephen Gaukroger argues that this was not intended as an exercise in philosophical scepticism, but rather to provide Descartes' scientific theories, influenced as they were by Copernicus and Galileo, with metaphysical legitimation. This book offers for the first time a full understanding of how Descartes developed his revolutionary ideas. It will be a landmark publication, welcomed by all readers interested in the origins of modern thought.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Gaukroger's book is not so much a personal portrait of Descartes as it is an extraordinary perambulation around the spiritual and intellectual life of the seventeenth century. It tells the tale of Descartes's recasting of the concerns of his contemporaries into a world that we find utterly familiar.... An extraordinary book. It is a never-ending source of astonishment that Descartes can still be so absolutely strange and so absolutely familiar.... Gaukroger has united the strange and the familiar in Descartes, teaching us something fundamental about the early conception of our world."—The New Republic

"Stephen Gaukroger's demanding intellectual biography explores every aspect of Descartes...and does so with considerable acumen and great scholarly thoroughness."—The Washington Post

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780198239949
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/25/1995
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 520
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.35 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Gaukroger is Fellow the Australian Academy of Humanities and President of the Australian Society for the History of Philosophy.

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Table of Contents

Chronological Table
1 'A Learned and Eloquent Piety'
2 An Education in Propriety, 1606-1618
3 The Apprenticeship with Beeckman, 1618-1619
4 The Search for Method, 1619-1625
5 The Paris Years, 1625-1628
6 A New Beginning, 1629-1630
7 A New System of the World, 1630-1633
8 The Years of Consolidation, 1634-1640
9 The Defence of Natural Philosophy, 1640-1644
10 Melancholia and the Passions, 1643-1650
Biographical Sketches
Select Bibliography
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