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A Very Short Introduction - Descartes

A Very Short Introduction - Descartes
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René Descartes had a short working life and it began late. He did not
get down to sustained research in philosophy and the natural sciences
until 1628, when he was thirty-two; it took him a further nine years to
publish anything, and the last of his works to appear in his lifetime
came out only twelve years after the first, in 1649. His output was not
large. Yet he made fundamental contributions to physics,
mathematics, and optics, and he reported useful observations in other
fields, notably meteorology and physiology. Had he confined himself to
the natural sciences his achievement would have been remarkable
enough. But his range was in fact considerably wider.
He is best known, perhaps, as the man who said ‘Cogito, ergo sum’ – ‘I
am thinking, therefore I am’. This little piece of reasoning is the first
principle of his metaphysics or first philosophy, his theory of what has
to be known for stable and exact science to be possible at all. The
metaphysical theory is extremely subtle, and its influence on philosophy
down to the present day has been profound. Probably it is the most
enduring of his intellectual achievements. But it was not intended to
stand apart from his scientific work, let alone overshadow it. When
Descartes turned to metaphysics at the beginning and towards the
middle of his productive period, he developed a theory that was only
supposed to clear the ground for the statement of his mathematical
physics. By a complicated and very abstract argument, Descartes tried
to prove that only properties well understood in geometry, namely
length, depth, and breadth, were essential to matter, and that no
properties but these geometrical ones and motion were needed to
explain natural phenomena.

Contents
Texts and Translations ix
List of Illustrations xi
1 Matter and Metaphysics 1
2 The Discovery of a Vocation 6
3 One Science, One Method 10
4 ‘Absolutes’, Simple Natures, and Problems 13
5 Roaming about in the World 20
6 Paris 25
7 The Suppressed Physics 30
8 Three Specimens of a Method 37
9 A New ‘Logic’ 45
10 The Need for Metaphysics 51
11 The Meditations 56
12 Doubt without Scepticism? 61
13 The Theologians and the God of Physics 65
14 Ideas 71
15 The Mind 77
16 Body 82
17 The Physics made Public 88
18 The ‘Other Sciences’ 94
19 Last Days 97
20 Descartes’s Ghost 101
Further Reading 107
Index 111
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