Rene Descartes is best remembered today for writing 'I think, therefore I am', but his main contribution to the history of ideas was his effort to construct a philosophy that would be sympathetic to the new sciences that emerged in the seventeenth century. To a great extent he was the midwife to the Scientific Revolution and a significant contributor to its key concepts. In four major publications, he fashioned a philosophical system that accommodated the needs of these new sciences and thereby earned the unrelenting hostility of both Catholic and Calvinist theologians, who relied on the scholastic philosophy that Descartes hoped to replace. His contemporaries claimed that his proofs of God's existence in the Meditations were so unsuccessful that he must have been a cryptic atheist and that his discussion of skepticism served merely to fan the flames of libertinism. This is the first biography in English that addresses the full range of Descartes' interest in theology, philosophy and the sciences and that traces his intellectual development through his entire career.
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1. A lawyer's education; 2. In search of a career (1612-22); 3. Magic and mechanism: Paris (1622-8); 4. A fabulous world (1629-33); 5. The scientific essays and the Discourse on Method (1633-7); 6. Retreat and defence (1637-9); 7. Metaphysics in a hornet's nest (1639-42); 8. The French liar's monkey and the Utrecht crisis; 9. Descartes and Princess Elizabeth; 10. The Principles of Philosophy (1644); 11. The quarrel and final rift with Regius; 12. Once more into battle: the Leiden theologians (1647); 13. Thoughts of retirement; 14. Death in Sweden; Appendix 1. Descartes' principal works; Appendix 2. Places where Descartes lived; Bibliography.1. A lawyers education; 2. In search of a career (16121622); 3. Magic and mechanism: Paris 16221628; 4. A fabulous world (162933); 5. The scientific essays and the Discourse on Method (163337); 6. Retreat and defence (163739); 7. Metaphysics in a hornets nest (163942); 8. The French liars monkey and the Utrecht crisis; 9. Descartes and Princess Elizabeth; 10. The Principles of Philosophy (1644); 11. The quarrel and final rift with Regius; 12. Once more into battle: the Leiden theologians (1647); 13. Thoughts of retirement; 14. Death in Sweden; Appendix 1: Descartes principal works; Appendix 2: Places where Descartes lived; Bibliography.
Review of the hardback: 'Desmond Clarke ... does a very good job of tracing the details of Descartes's life - the many comings and goings, the exchanges with other thinkers. Clarke takes the often fragmentary testimony that we have from the letters, the accounts found in earlier biographies and the newly discovered facts, and works them into a convincing narrative ... the reader will be able to learn where its subject was then and what he was thinking about ... Clarke also supplements this factual information with summaries and interpretations of key questions in Descartes's thought ... such commentaries are essential in the biography of a figure important primarily for what he thought ... This book will be of great use to the scholar in the history of philosophy or the history of science who needs to know the complex details of Descartes's life ...' The Times Literary Supplement
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