From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
René Descartes (March 31, 1596 – February 11, 1650) was a French philosopher, scientist, and writer. he has been dubbed the "Father of Modern Philosophy" and the "Father of Modern Mathematics," and much of subsequent Western philosophy is a reaction to his writings, which have been closely studied from his time down to the present day. He was one of the key figures in the Scientific Revolution.
Descartes in his Passions of the Soul and The Description of the Human Body suggested that the body works like a machine, that it has the material properties of extension and motion, and that it follows the laws of physics. The mind (or soul), on the other hand, was described as a nonmaterial entity that lacks extension and motion, and does not follow the laws of physics. Descartes argued that only humans have minds, and that the mind interacts with the body at the pineal gland. This form of dualism or duality proposes that the mind controls the body, but that the body can also influence the otherwise rational mind, such as when people act out of passion. Most of the previous accounts of the relationship between mind and body had been uni-directional.
Descartes suggested that the pineal gland is "the seat of the soul" for several reasons. First, the soul is unitary, and unlike many areas of the brain the pineal gland appeared to be unitary (though subsequent microscopic inspection has revealed it is formed of two hemispheres). Second, Descartes observed that the pineal gland was located near the ventricles. He believed the cerebrospinal fluid of the ventricles acted through the nerves to control the body, and that the pineal gland influenced this process. Finally, although Descartes realized that both humans and animals have pineal glands (see Passions of the Soul Part One, Section 50, AT 369), he believed that only humans have minds. This led him to the belief that animals cannot feel pain, and Descartes' practice of vivisection (the dissection of live animals) became widely used throughout Europe until the Enlightenment. Cartesian dualism set the agenda for philosophical discussion of the mind-body problem for many years after Descartes' death. The question of how a nonmaterial mind could influence a material body, without invoking supernatural explanations, remains controversial to this day.
Later in correspondence with Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, he admitted he had no idea how the mind interacted with the body, abandoning the concept of the pineal glands as connection.
- 1618. Compendium Musicae. A treatise on music theory and the aesthetics of music written for Descartes's early collaborator, Isaac Beeckman.
- 1626–1628. Regulae ad directionem ingenii (Rules for the Direction of the Mind). Incomplete. First published posthumously in 1684. The best critical edition, which includes an early Dutch translation, is edited by Giovanni Crapulli (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966).
- 1630–1633. Le Monde (The World) and L'Homme (Man). Descartes's first systematic presentation of his natural philosophy. Man was published posthumously in Latin translation in 1662; and The World posthumously in 1664.
- 1637. Discours de la méthode (Discourse on the Method). An introduction to the Essais, which include the Dioptrique, the Météores and the Géométrie.
- 1637. La Géométrie (Geometry). Descartes's major work in mathematics. There is an English translation by Michael Mahoney (New York: Dover, 1979).
- 1641. Meditationes de prima philosophia (Meditations on First Philosophy), also known as Metaphysical Meditations. In Latin; a French translation, probably done without Descartes's supervision, was published in 1647. Includes six Objections and Replies. A second edition, published the following year, included an additional objection and reply, and a Letter to Dinet.
- 1644. Principia philosophiae (Principles of Philosophy), a Latin textbook at first intended by Descartes to replace the Aristotelian textbooks then used in universities. A French translation, Principes de philosophie by Claude Picot, under the supervision of Descartes, appeared in 1647 with a letter-preface to Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia.
- 1647. Notae in programma (Comments on a Certain Broadsheet). A reply to Descartes's one-time disciple Henricus Regius.
- 1647. The Description of the Human Body. Published posthumously.
- 1648. Responsiones Renati Des Cartes... (Conversation with Burman). Notes on a Q&A session between Descartes and Frans Burman on 16 April 1648. Rediscovered in 1895 and published for the first time in 1896. An annotated bilingual edition (Latin with French translation), edited by Jean-Marie Beyssade, was published in 1981 (Paris: PUF).
- 1649. Les passions de l'âme (Passions of the Soul). Dedicated to Princess Elisabeth of the Palatinate.
- 1656. Musicae Compendium (Instruction in Music). Posth. Publ.: Johannes Janssonius jun., Amsterdam
- 1657. Correspondance. Published by Descartes's literary executor Claude Clerselier. The third edition, in 1667, was the most complete; Clerselier omitted, however, much of the material pertaining to mathematics.
In January 2010, a previously unknown letter from Descartes, dated 27 May 1641, was found by the Dutch philosopher Erik-Jan Bos when browsing through Google. Bos found the letter mentioned in a summary of autographs kept by Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania. The College was unaware that the letter had never been published. This was the third letter by Descartes found in the last 25 years.