Cogito, Ergo Sum: The Life of Rene Descartes

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9781567921847: Cogito, Ergo Sum: The Life of Rene Descartes
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Rene Descartes is the philosophical architect of our modern world. In metaphysics, he established the view that mind and body are distinct substances, a position foundational for any belief that the human soul is immortal. In mathematics, he invented analytic geometry - the basis of calculus - which makes physics as we know it possible. Descartes perfected the method of proposing and testing hypotheses with experiments that anyone can repeat, which forms the basis of modern science. In optics, he discovered and described laws of refraction and reflection. In medicine, he was a pioneer in vivisection and anatomical description for understanding the human body. In physiology, his analysis of the relations among the sense organs, nerves, and the brain is still taught today. In psychology, he discovered conditioned reflexes and investigated the role of the emotions in human behavior. Descartes said there was no point in trying to refute Aristotelian Scholasticism; rather, he would simply show a better way. Some 350 years after his death, our twenty-first-century world - from mind-body dualism to heart pumps, from pop psychology to personal computers - is thoroughly Cartesian. Nothing in the modern world would alarm or surprise him were he alive today.

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About the Author:

Richard Watson is a distinguished Cartesian scholar and a professor of philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis.

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*Starred Review* In four decades of probing, Watson has uncovered more than a few piquant secrets in the life of Rene Descartes--here shared with a marvelous and endearing irreverence. In the first biography of the thinker ever written for general readers, Watson recovers the life of a man too irascible and high-spirited to fit within academe's sanitized iconography. To be sure, the Descartes we meet in these pages has rightfully earned his place in the pantheon through rare feats in mathematics, psychology, and philosophy. But the keepers of the pantheon have somehow neglected to let the public know about the episodes Watson recounts with relish: how a mathematical genius smoked pot, gambled at cards, and slept in the nude; how an intellectual giant fathered a child out of wedlock and entangled himself in the defense of a murderer. To ferret out such episodes, while discrediting the pious myths that have long hidden them, Watson has retraced Descartes' circuitous path through much of Europe, and no false modesty keeps him from weaving his own story of tireless travel and shrewd sleuthing into this richly textured tale. Yet for all of his puckish delight in a juicy anecdote, Watson recognizes and carefully explicates the cultural centrality of Descartes' intellectual legacy. That legacy ensures numerous readers sure to praise a biographer who delivers both the philosopher's cerebral doctrines and his unmistakably human conduct. Bryce Christensen
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