Talk:René Descartes

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Former good article nominee René Descartes was a Philosophy and religion good articles nominee, but did not meet the good article criteria at the time. There are suggestions below for improving the article. Once these issues have been addressed, the article can be renominated. Editors may also seek a reassessment of the decision if they believe there was a mistake.
December 2, 2012 Good article nominee Not listed

Animals as soulless machines[edit]

This article is seriously incomplete. Descartes (along with others at the time) believed that animals did not have souls and therefore were beast machines. He thought that not having a soul meant no higher mental experiences. So when a dog had its paws nailed to a board and it yelped, it was not actually in pain, just exhibiting the external mechanical response that we perceive to be signs of pain. See Nicolaas Rupke, "Vivisection in Historical Perspective", London, Routledge, 1990. I'm not a vegetarian dog-loving, cruelty hating hippy who is complaining that Descartes needs to be portrayed as an ass. I'm just saying that it was an important part of Descartes' work. -elliot

Mechanical theory of the human body, brain, and nervous system: elliot is right that Descartes' mechanical theory of the biological body, not so much the animal body, as the human body, as set out primarily in his Treatise of Man (and briefly in other works) is an immensely important and influential aspect of Descartes thought that ought to be covered much more fully in this entry, and that has had a huge (and, in some respects, still continuing) influence on the development of the science of physiology, and particularly on neurophysiology, neuroscience, and cognitive science. It is true that he regarded the human body as conjoined to and, in some (limited) respects, controlled by an immaterial and immortal soul, but this was supposed to be responsible only for pure consciousness, reason and will, and he gave mechanical (speculatively neurophysiological) explanations of other aspects of mind, including emotion, imagination, and most aspects of perception. He does not, in fact, discuss animal bodies at length, but what he says about humans does seem to imply that animal bodies are machines of a similar sort, but that are not conjoined with souls. Some of his followers (I think Malebranche may have been a key player, but I am not sure) developed this explicitly into the beast-machine theory, and some may have used this theory to rationalize being cruel to animals, but it is unfair to blame Descartes himself for that, and the issue is a huge red-herring as regards Descartes’ own ideas and motivations, and his historical influence. (I do not believe there is any sound evidence that he himself was notably cruel to animals, or, indeed, that animals have suffered significantly more since his time than would have otherwise.) By contrast, his mechanical theory of the human body was of immense influence (both on his own philosophy, and on scientists of later generations) and really ought to be much more prominently discussed in the article. (I have added references to the Treatise on Man to the bibliographic sections, but I do not currently have the time or energy to devote to adding the relevant material to the body of the entry (and to engage in the edit wars that would probably ensue). If another editor wants to use this comment as the basis for an addition to the entry, I am OK with that. Treharne (talk) 10:47, 21 October 2014 (UTC)
Yeah. I don't hate cruelty either. - R_Lee_E Flag of the United States.svg (talk, contribs) 03:50, 17 October 2006 (UTC)

I love cruelty. ninjabulous 22:16, 17 October 2006 (UTC)

I agree with elliot about the importance of the beast-machine theory in Descartes' thinking - considering also the long dispute which followed! If the other editors agree, I will insert a paragraph and improve the bibliography. Benio76 02:14, 29 December 2006 (UTC)
I was just looking for this information myself. I've read the article some time ago and I'm sure it was there, along with the picture of the duck as an automata... Something's fishy here, I'll have a look in the history and try to find out what's happened.
And goodness my friend above, I sure do hope you hate cruelty!Richard001 07:23, 25 January 2007 (UTC)
After a look through the history I think my memory has played tricks on me. It was some time ago that I read this and but the article hasn't changed all that much. It must have been elsewhere that I read about his views on animals/the soul, or perhaps I just thought the section had been a little longer. The subject is covered in the article, though rather briefly. The article as a whole could probably be a little longer. It covers the subject well, but Descartes was such an important figure in both philosophy and mathematics/science that an in depth article on him would be perfectly justified.Richard001 07:49, 25 January 2007 (UTC)
You are probably thinking of the mechanical duck constructed by Jacques de Vaucanson, that seemed to eat and shit. This had no real connection with Descartes. Treharne (talk) 10:52, 21 October 2014 (UTC)

I would venture to say that the average dog has more of a soul than some of the contributors to this section.Lestrade (talk) 03:43, 21 January 2010 (UTC)Lestrade

It's not quite as "cruel" as it sounds; Descartes thought the animal spirits themselves in non-human animals still acted similarly to humans'--so although they don't feel pain per se, they did have an unpleasant sub-cognitive response that you could call dog-pain or something. Descartes was interested in the cognitive aspect of "feeling pain", not the physiological aspect. Mijelliott (talk) 02:18, 12 December 2011 (UTC)

Cultural depictions of René Descartes[edit]

I've started an approach that may apply to Wikipedia's Core Biography articles: creating a branching list page based on in popular culture information. I started that last year while I raised Joan of Arc to featured article when I created Cultural depictions of Joan of Arc, which has become a featured list. Recently I also created Cultural depictions of Alexander the Great out of material that had been deleted from the biography article. Since cultural references sometimes get deleted without discussion, I'd like to suggest this approach as a model for the editors here. Regards, Durova 17:35, 18 October 2006 (UTC)

Renatus Cartesius or Renato Cartesio (latinized form)[edit]

In Adolf Fredriks kyrka in Stockholm, where he was first buried (he was actually buried in "St Olofs Chapel", which was there before the church) there is a monument (se link for picture) which says Renato Cartesio - not Renatus Cartesius. The full text on the monument is:

Gustavas Pr. Haer. R. S.

Renato Cartesio

Nat. in Gallia MDXCVI

Mort. in Svecia MDCL

Monumentum erexit



Which latinized form is correct? Did they misspell on the stone monument? Kricke 20:47, 28 January 2007 (UTC)

I would hazard a guess that Renato Cartesio is Italian and not Latin. --ChrisSteinbach 05:01, 29 January 2007 (UTC)
Perhaps [1]. However, the rest of the text is in Latin, not Italian - at least not modern Italian. I'm no specialist though. Why would they write his name in Italian, in a Swedish church? Kricke 19:20, 29 January 2007 (UTC)
Hi! The text is in latin indeed, and "Renato Cartesio" is a declension of "Renatus Cartesius": it is probably a dative (to René Descartes) and if I am right the text means that Gustavas built the monument to René Descartes, i.e. to his memory, etc. (Gustavas was probably Gustav III of Sweden, who became king two years later and was at the time prince: so "pr. hær. would possibly mean "hereditary prince").
And yes, "Renato Cartesio" is also the Italian form of the name: but there is no declension in Italian, so it doesn't change! Ciao! Benio76 20:47, 3 February 2007 (UTC)
Would you believe I took a hike down to Adolf Fredriks kyrka and the Stockholm stadsbibliotek today to see if I could find the Italian Connection. Just goes to show a little knowledge is a dangerous thing! Thanks for clearing things up. --ChrisSteinbach 21:29, 3 February 2007 (UTC)
Aha, thanks for clearing that up. :) Kricke 20:36, 4 February 2007 (UTC)

Skull separated from body?[edit]

I found an article (in old style Swedish from 1876) that says his skull was separated from his body when it was moved to France in 1666, by someone named Planström. And that it remained in Stockholm in (amongst others) Celsius and Stiernemans posession. When Carl Löwenhielm moved it to Paris in 1821, it sparked a debate between François Arago and Jean Pierre Flourens about its authenticity (it only says Arago and Flourens, but I think it must have been them). It also contains a portrait of him (by François Hals - is that Frans Hals?) that must be in the public domain and can perhaps be used in this article. Kricke 20:39, 28 January 2007 (UTC)

« François Hals » is Franz Hals indeed. He also painted a less-known portrait of the young Descartes. About the skull : this information is confirmed in a French biography of Descartes, but I can't remember which one. :-( 20:14, 4 February 2007 (UTC)
Should "the skull story" be added to the article, or is it trivia? By the way, the text under the portrait, in the old Swedish article above, says "After a portrait by François Hals". The signature under the sketch is actually someone else's. Kricke 20:50, 4 February 2007 (UTC)
In my humble opinion, it should be added. Russell Shorto even wrote a book about this (Descartes' Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason, ISBN 978-0-385-51753-9, New York, Random House, October 14th, 2008), in which he explains the history of Descartes bones/skull and his legacy and how they interwined. -- fdewaele, 11 May 2011, 10:33 (CET).


Question: Many credit Descartes's "I think therefore I am" to be the back bone of the movie the Matrix. However, it would seem that empiricism is more akin to what the Matrix is about, i.e., you can be a brain in a jar somewhere and not even know it because all you an know is what you perceive through your senses. It would seem that Descartes's saying should really be "I experience, therefore I am" since one cannot think without outside point of reference, at least initially. If there was no environmental perceptions, you could not think in the first place, and there would be no "I am." Thoughts? (RossF18 04:01, 7 February 2007 (UTC))

  • Descartes eventually relies on God to be confident in his senses (that is, there is no demon). The Matrix is such a demon. --Gwern (contribs) 02:34 13 March 2007 (GMT)
    • Forgive my ignorance, but what demon? Please elaborate. (RossF18 03:26, 16 March 2007 (UTC))
      • Descartes CLAIMS that he relies on God, but a careful reading of Descartes and Bacon suggest that neither believe in God. Rugbyhelp 07:07, 26 April 2007 (UTC)
        • I have read Descartes (english translation) carefully, and I read him as saying that he does believe in God, and he equates him with the Universe. A bit like Spinoza and Einstein, who also believe in God, but of course not the kind of God that many think of. Certainly not an old man with a beard. DanielDemaret 13:02, 8 May 2007 (UTC)
      • The demon is the evil genius. Uncle G 03:20, 8 May 2007 (UTC)
      • Descartes suggests that he might be fooled by illusions induced by a super-demon as a start to doubting all his senses. DanielDemaret 13:03, 8 May 2007 (UTC)
    • But the evil genius seems to correlate more to empiricist thoughts of Hume, than to the rationalism of Descartes. How do people accept Descartes' seeming contradictory thoughts of "I think therefore I am" and "evil genius?" (RossF18)

a phil student once told me that when descarte wrote the work in which he speaks of his demon, that many of the christians who read his work were ironically turned away from christianity. I want to know if there is evidence for this interpretation of history? if so it would be an interesting result. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 05:51, 23 June 2008 (UTC)

day cart[edit]

Everone who pronounces descartes in English pronounces it day-cart, but I'm sure this wouldn't be how the French pronounce it. Can anyone enlighten me?Musungu jim 17:16, 12 March 2007 (UTC)

The French don't pronounce the hard 't' but apart from that the pronunciation would seem to be correct. Nev1 17:18, 12 March 2007 (UTC)

I speak (very) basic french, but i'm sure they would pronounce it de'scar, if anyone has ever heard a french speaker pronouncing it that would settle it Musungu jim 21:48, 12 March 2007 (UTC)

I am French. Descartes is pronounced with "di" instead of "day" and would pronounce the "t" but not either of the "s"s. --RaphaelBriand 01:04, 2 December 2007 (UTC)

The origin of the name comes from des Cartes. I think that the *original* pronounciation may therefore have been "de kart". DanielDemaret (talk) 11:07, 10 January 2008 (UTC)

This page (Forvo) has the spoken name, with French pronunciation, if that would help. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Jarnex (talkcontribs) 20:30, 15 October 2008 (UTC)

Biography Section[edit]

Is not the fact that Decartes was a)in the army, b)on drugs worth mentioning? These are hardly minor points of anyone's life, even a mathematician's. Nev1 16:32, 13 March 2007 (UTC)

Army, certainly. Were those drugs, whatever they were illegal at the time? DanielDemaret 12:56, 8 May 2007 (UTC)

Berkeley was a rationalist[edit]

Paragraph 3 states "Descartes was a major figure in 17th century continental rationalism, later advocated by Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz, and opposed by the empiricist school of thought, consisting of Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume."

Berkeley was a rationalist, not an empiricist b real 00:38, 15 March 2007 (UTC)

Berkeley was an empiricist. He believed the world existed through his perceptions. He uses a reason to find God to ensure the existence of a world outside his perception. Thus God for him was an omnipresent perceiver. I think the confusion might arise from his rejection of Lockeian empiricism. He does believe that the qualities that we atribute to an object are ideas in our own mind, but he does not reject the fact objects exist outside of the mind.

Berkeley was an empiricist. He taught that the only thing that we really know is what we directly and immediately experience in our head, that is, ideas or mental images.Lestrade (talk) 03:46, 21 January 2010 (UTC)Lestrade

Who dare to say Berkeley wasn't an empiricist????????????? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:10, 26 July 2011 (UTC)

Biography: year of death?[edit]

From the paragraph about his daughter: Much to Descartes' distress, she died in 1640 at the age of 5. His father died a month later, aged 78.

And elsewhere in the article it is said he was born in 1596 and died in 1650. And where did this 78 come from? Gligi 15:51, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

I think the 'his father' refers to Descartes' father, not his daughter's father (Descartes); it doesn't parse right otherwise. And Descartes died at 54 or something like that. --Gwern (contribs) 18:21 25 March 2007 (GMT)

Descartes was born on March 31, 1596 and he died on February 11, 1650. He was 53 years old. LCraft —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:45, 9 November 2010 (UTC)

Algebra named for Descartes?[edit]

To my knowledge the name Algebra is derived from Arabic origins; Someone needs to correct this.


Yes, the word algebra has arabic roots, of course. The article refers to "cartesian coordinates ... used in algebra". Perhaps you could suggest some way to make the distinction it clearer? DanielDemaret (talk) 11:01, 10 January 2008 (UTC)

The section on his philosophy doesn't distinguish his works[edit]

This section starts out talking of Discourse on Method and mentions Principles of Philosophy and then, unannounced, shifts to a blow-by-blow of Meditations. If I had not read a good deal of his work, I would have thought the entire section was about Discourse. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Shaolinpat (talkcontribs) 03:53, 23 October 2007 (UTC)

AC Grayling - Descarte was a spy[edit]

AC Grayling's biography on Descartes suggest that Descarte worked as a spy for the Jesuit order; keeping tabs on the Rosicrucians and their 'occult' knowledge. I think that this should be mentioned. msp4realmf (talk) 19:58, 18 November 2007 (UTC)

Was Grayling merely speculating? DanielDemaret (talk) 10:58, 10 January 2008 (UTC)

Grayling was speculating, but speculating with an eye to finding the actual truth. Grayling's very tentative claim is that Descarte's bizarre travels and seemingly inexplicable movements are best explained if Descartes was working in some secret capacity during his military years and perhaps well afterwards. Why would an extremely devout Catholic Jesuit go and join the Prince of Orange's Protestant army after standing for is legal exams? This should DEFINITELY be mentioned in the article. Hexag1 (talk) 03:59, 12 November 2010 (UTC)

Theory of Fallacies?[edit]

Could somebody confirm the "Theory of Fallacies" information? Sounds a bit like a gullibility spoof... I've never heard of it and can't find supporting evidence -- but I'm far from an expert on these matters. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 02:04, 29 January 2008 (UTC)

Descartes' / Descartes's[edit]

At present the article uses both forms of the possessive - it talks about "young Descartes's life", but says "In Descartes' system, knowledge takes the form of ideas ...". I believe the more common possessive form is Descartes' - see [2], [3], [4], [5], [6]. Would anyone object if I changed Descartes's to Descartes' throughout the article ? Gandalf61 (talk) 17:23, 5 February 2008 (UTC)

2 days later, no objections, so I have changed Descartes's to Descartes' throughout the article, except in the links to two on-line references, where the linked page uses Descartes's. Gandalf61 (talk) 16:13, 7 February 2008 (UTC)

I disagree with " Descartes' " as the " s " is silent. Therefore, the " 's " of "Descartes's" adds a possessive [s] where there was none before. Sure it doesn't look as nice, but I asked my linguistics professor and he confirmed that it should be " Descartes's ". Mlvand2 (talk) 02:47, 12 October 2013 (UTC)

I agree with you, it has to be Descartes's. People who like Descartes' are using the rule that words ending in -s add only an apostrophe for possessive, and not -'s. But that works only for English words, where all final esses are sounded. The bigger picture is that in some languages, and French is the classic example, some final esses are silent. Hence, the big picture rule ought to be: when forming the possessive of a noun ending in s, add -'s if the final s is silent, but an apostrophe only if it's sounded. That way, we get the spelling to conform to how we actually pronounce these words, viz. we'd always pronounce the possessive of Descartes as "DAY-CARTS", not "DAY-CART". The existing -s doesn't give us an sss sound because it's silent, hence we need an -'s.
Louis's would be another case. Unless you're talking about an American Louis (like Satchmo) who was pronounced like "Lewis". Hence, if we were comparing Louis Armstrong with Louis Pasteur, we could say "Louis' experience of the trumpet was greater than Louis's". Easy. (That reminds me: my high school principal's name was Louis Lewis, but that's another story.) -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 03:10, 12 October 2013 (UTC)

Oxford Dictionary agrees that it should be Descartes's instead of Descartes', but just for consistency, there is still a rogue "Descartes's" in the article that should be edited if the article is going to use Descartes'. (talk) 05:54, 8 January 2015 (UTC)

René Descartes and the barman[edit]

Descarte walks into a bar. The barman asks "would you like a drink?" Descarte replys "I think not!" and swiftly disapears —Preceding unsigned comment added by Urgeblind (talkcontribs) 09:52, 18 February 2008 (UTC)

Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" is easily mocked. To understand it is not so easy. That is because it requires deep thinking, an ability that most people lack, to be understood.Lestrade (talk) 22:48, 15 March 2008 (UTC)Lestrade
Something similar could be said of humor. <w> - dcljr (talk) 07:10, 14 July 2008 (UTC)

Biography again[edit]

The description for this image [7] suggests that he graduated from the Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand in 1616, yet the article says that he got his Baccalauréat and License from the University of Poitiers in 1616. Surely one of these dates is wrong (as is the age at which he started school, according to the French wikipedia and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy bio, which say that he started at the age of ten or eleven and graduated from it in 1614). What are our sources for his bio? LeighvsOptimvsMaximvs (talk) 19:59, 27 April 2008 (UTC)

Latin Name[edit]

In the first paragraph, the beginning sentence reads:
René Descartes (French IPA: [ʁəne de'kaʁt] Latin:Renatus Cartesius) (March 31, 1596 – February 11, 1650), also known as Renatus Cartesius (latinized form)
I think it would be appropriate to remove one of these? I'd prefer to keep the second entry myself. (talk) 18:59, 4 June 2008 (UTC)

Date of birth[edit]

All the sources I can find give a bald "11 February". Sweden was still using the Julian calendar in 1650, so it's not clear to me whether this date is the Old Style date (that's equivalent to the Gregorian calendar's 21 February), or the New Style date (that's equivalent to the Julian's 1 February). Anyone have any clue? I would guess that it's the date that applied in Sweden, and had he died in France on the same day we'd be saying he died on 21 February. But my guess is not good enough. -- JackofOz (talk) 07:07, 1 July 2008 (UTC)

(Dubito, ergo) cogito, ergo sum[edit]

This article and the main article on cogito ergo sum disagree on whether Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum is "more precise" or a misquotation. That's rather unfortunate. Please correct. Oyst1 (talk) 16:47, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

fetish for cross-eyed women[edit]

According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, Descartes had a fetish for cross-eyed women.

Is Encyclopedia Brittanica a valid source for Wikipedia? If so, may we incorporate this interesting biogrpahical fact? —Esotropic Flautist (talk) 19:24, 3 October 2008 (UTC)

It is a valid source. I also found this mentioned in an 2000 Atlantic article by Carl Elliott A New Way to Be Mad. Not sure if it belongs in the article but it is interesting. Jason Quinn (talk) 22:49, 7 August 2012 (UTC)
The Atlantic article says "Descartes was partial to cross-eyed woman". This mention is in a context of talk that includes fetishism, nevertheless I think that to assert this is a fetish is going too far.--Auró (talk) 06:28, 9 August 2012 (UTC)

Christian criticism[edit]

It has recently came to my attention that Descartes made the "top 10 list" of some evangelical Christian author's idea of the worst books ever (or top 10 reasons the world is messed up today), because Descartes allegedly "made the existence of God subject to the ego of man" (or something to that effect). Should that be included in the article, or is it even worth consideration? The fact that something like this made it onto [what I assume to be] a mainstream audiobook "best sellers list" gravely disturbs me. Shanoman (talk) 03:51, 17 October 2008 (UTC)

As an evangelical (gospel believing) Christian, my main criticism would be that he calls on 'God' (or his conception of same) only as a last resort to buck up a failing argument. Our starting point would be with God's existence as a beginning point and be at the center of any discussion. Reliance is in all cases on the Bible as the arbiter of all questions and considerations. DennisDA2010 (talk) 19:25, 11 March 2012 (UTC)

He calls on "god" to avoid being burned at the stake, by religious idiots, like all other thinking people of his and the entire Dark Ages were. The bible is a joke. How can you ignore Descartes's Dubito (Doubting religious dogma) as he preceded Cogito Ergo Sum with it? "DUBITO ERGO COGITO, COGITO ERGO SUM." "I doubt therefore I think, I think therefore I exist." That is "exist" as opposed to predestination as your bible says everyone is. 3 bible examples: 1)Only two people existed on earth (so says your book), but the two sons found "wives." How odd. Were the wives monkeys? 2)What about dinosaurs and fossils? 3)The bible says that Unicorns exist. Try thinking for yourself as Descartes did. (talk) 19:46, 9 June 2014 (UTC) Randy C Hamilton

Internment Issue[edit]

It is stated in the biography section that his remains were moved to the Pantheon. I believe this is incorrect, as the action was never carried out due to more pressing political matters of the revolution. Also, his current tomb is under much speculation and it has been proposed that his remains were indeed lost or plundered during the revolution. The journey of his skull was also an important part of his story. The book titled "Descartes Bones" delves into the matter further, and perhaps would be worth citing. 06:12, 18 November 2008 (UTC) —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)

It's still incorrect. His remains are neither in the Pantheon nor, as the article states, in St. Genevieve-du-Mont. The link in the article, furthermore, doesn't go to the Gothic church of st. Genevieve-du-Mont, which certainly still exists and is just off Rue Descartes, but to the Abbey of St Genevieve, which has been torn down. While people have seen the grave of Descartes with their own eyes elsewhere, I can't find any citations, so I believe the sentence should be struck unless this is one occasion where a wiki-editor can just use what is common knowledge of Paris. Descartes is in Saint Germain des Pres, in a side chapel where his tomb is relatively unmarked, the side chapel/alcove is called St. Benoit's chapel, it's a wing of the larger St Germain-des-Pres cathedral.Levalley (talk) 02:15, 17 May 2009 (UTC)

Citations needed[edit]

The page is very low on citations Martin48535 (talk) 08:31, 20 November 2008 (UTC) i do accept... —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 07:57, 25 October 2009 (UTC)

In the "Religious beliefs" section there is a quote from Pascal. It was taken from a website called However, there is no indication where, in Pascal's writings, the quote exists. I would like to know where Pascal wrote the words that are quoted.Lestrade (talk) 03:39, 21 January 2010 (UTC)Lestrade
In the "Biography" section, it is claimed that Descartes sold everything to invest in bonds. A.C. Grayling gives another hypothesis that he was a spy for the Catholic church, which gave him his income. Contra the article here, he sold his property to attain a position in government as the lieutenant-general of Chatellerault (p. 97 of Descartes: The Life and Times of a Genius). This is not to say that either one is correct, but it does serve to show that there is speculation, and thus a citation needed for this particular inference. Mhammond08 (talk) 21:29, 5 March 2013 (UTC)


I was just reading the intro now and it seems it could be condensed considerably. For example, the end of para 1 mentions Descartes founded analytic geometry, then para 3 repeats the same point. Given that this is just the intro, this probably need be said only once and then it can be discussed more fully in the body of the article. I would think a 2 paragraph intro would probably suffice with some editing. Anthony Mohen (talk) 21:24, 25 January 2009 (UTC)

No mention of his experience in southern germany[edit]

I can not understand why the most poignant event in his life and possible the last four hundred years (certainly in the context of science) has been completed ommited from this article. I am refering to his experience in Uolm when he had a dream in which an angel came to him and told him that the conquest of nature will be found in measure and number. Considering this was the spark of his interest in the matter and the birth of modern science it seems like an odd thing to omit from the article. (talk) 23:10, 12 November 2009 (UTC)

This has now been added to the article, however, the narrative may need either additional verification or correction. According to Terrence McKenna in a famous lecture, "Unfolding the Stone" (Los Angeles, ca. 1992, time: at the very end of the recording), this event is detailed in Descartes' own journal, and far from reading in a book the prophecy relating to number and measure is departed to him by an angel. __meco (talk) 11:52, 7 February 2011 (UTC)

This is an exact transcript of the relevant portion of the 1991 Unfolding the Stone lecture that I have made for your reference. One must be careful with Mckenna as a source [as much as I loved the old man] especially when he is speaking live to an audience, he does occasionally make errors of fact when he is 'on a role', I am thinking particularly of a time he misattributed a famous alchemical woodcut of Hienrich Khunrath from Amphitheater of Eternal Wisdom to Athanasius Kircher. Mckenna was well enough read to know the correct attribution, but may have had a slip of the tongue in the heat of the moment. In this case I would consider his dates as suspect.

Terrence McKenna:
I think somewhere in the body of my talk I got a dig in at Cartesian logic or Cartesian rationalism. As you know modern scientific rationalism was founded by René Descartes, French philosopher of the 17th century, but what the historians of science have been at great pains to keep from view is the following story, which is attested to in Descartes' own journal.
When he was a young man of about 22 years old he decided to go soldiering and wenching around Europe, which was something young men of that era did, and he joined a Hapsburg army which was on a mission to lay siege to the city of Prague in Bohemia to suppress what was essentially an alchemical revival, I won't go into the details, but a young prince of the Northern League and his queen who was the daughter of James of England and was named Elizabeth after her grandmother had managed to gain control of the Empire, had been elected in fact, he was called Frederick the Elector Palatine. And this Hapsburg army was sent to destroy this Protestant alchemical reformation, and it did so, it laid siege to the city, killed this young man and his queen fled to the Hague. And, then they retreated across Germany, and on [Mckenna straining to remember] I believe it was on the 17th of August that year which was 1619, the beginning year of the Thirty Years War, they made camp at Ulm in southern Germany - and, just as an aside, Ulm was later the birthplace of Albert Einstein - but on that night Descartes had a dream, and in the dream a radiant angel appeared to him and said, "The conquest of nature is to be accomplished through number and measure," and in that moment René Descartes went from being a nobody to being the founder of modern science. Modern science was founded at the direction of an angel, and the angel showed how it was, and to this day modern science has made all of its strides through the application of number - mathematical analysis and measure. That is the secret of the scientific conquest of nature, and it was a secret that was imparted to René Descartes by an angelic entity. So, I would like you leave this evening wondering, 'who do we work for?' [applause]

By the way, I do not understand the source of the change of the location of the 'visitation of Ulm' made by user on 23:57 11Mar2011 from "Neuburg (near Ulm), Germany)" to "Neuburg an der Donau, Germany". Neuburg an der Donau is actually 120km+ from Ulm. Perhaps this is a mapping error due to disagreement between contemporary [17th century] and modern maps [google?]? Is there an authoritative source for this? Most internet sources outside of Wikipedia reference Ulm, the modern Neu-Ulm may be correct. Expert source anyone? Atani (talk) 18:41, 22 February 2012 (UTC)

Typo in Philosophical work section?[edit]

"he rejects any ideas that can be doubted" – should it not sound as "can't be doubted"? mingis —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 08:00, 13 March 2010 (UTC)

Unusual phrasing and grammar[edit]

In the section, "Mathematical Legacy", it is written, "He also 'invented', the notation which uses superscripts to show the powers or exponents, for example the 4 used in x4 to indicate squaring of squaring." The quotes around invented and the comma following are unusual grammar and have implications that are not explained or cited. This needs citation. (talk) 11:53, 20 May 2010 (UTC)

I agree it needs re-phrasing. I found this source: which details the history of operational symbols in mathematics, in the exponents section the web article states "In 1637 exponents in the modern notation (although with positive integers only) were used by Rene Descartes (1596-1650) in Geometrie." So I guess this webpage and Descartes Geomertrie should both be cited for this. Polyamorph (talk) 18:48, 20 May 2010 (UTC)

Questionable lede?[edit]

Does anyone who has followed the history of this article, better than I, know why its lede has three overly long paragraphs and includes repetitions of the same items?

Seems to me that it might be important to WP that a bio on a person of this importance to world history might make a better impression on a new reader than I got from wading through all that stuff, to try get a handle on him that I wanted to pass on to others. SergeWoodzing (talk) 14:58, 5 June 2010 (UTC)

Mathematical Legacy Section[edit]

The section begins with the sentence: "Descartes's theory provided the basis for the calculus of Newton and Leibniz, by applying infinitesimal calculus to the tangent line problem, thus permitting the evolution of that branch of modern mathematics." Perhaps it is my lack of mathematical education, but beginning a section in this way seems strange. I have no idea what "Descartes's theory" refers to and the links do not particularly contribute to an understanding. Apparently something needs to be added. Also, the section asserts Descartes invented analytical geometry and then quite some space later mentions Descartes inventing Cartesian geometry. Aside from the redundancy of Descartes inventing something Cartesian, aren't analytical and Cartesian geometry the same thing? Why are they separated by a paragraph about rainbows? Does optics even belong in this section? Is there any logic at all to how these paragraphs are arranged? Someone more knowledgeable than I could surely make quick work of these somewhat minor changes. At some point however, I think this section will need some major expansion. I think a more in depth explanation of exactly how he contributed to the formation of calculus is justified especially because it does not seem to exist elsewhere on Wikipedia. The Cartesian coordinate system is not even mentioned; surly that is important? PatxiG (talk) 08:39, 13 February 2011 (UTC)


The article states, "He also 'invented', the notation that uses superscripts to show the powers or exponents, for example the 4 used in x4 to indicate squaring of squaring." I thought Diophantus used a superscript in the development of syncopated algebra (Burton, D.M., The History of Mathematics: An Introduction (7th ed.), 2011, p. 219).MstoneMTH314 (talk) 04:11, 4 May 2011 (UTC)

Comment: MTH314 That is a curious fact to point out. I believe the situation is that on Wikipedia it states that Diophantus had a lemma which "states that the difference of the cubes of two rational numbers is equal to the sum of the cubes of two other rational numbers, i.e. given any a and b, with a > b, there exist c and d, all positive and rational, such that a^3 - b^3 = c^3 + d^3." While Diophantus figured this out, it does not necessaryly mean he knew the notation of superscripts and subscripts, or the notation that Descartes found, unless there was something that I might have missed, or researched incorrectly? (talk) 18:21, 4 May 2011 (UTC) —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:22, 4 May 2011 (UTC)

Thinking in bed[edit]

Apparently as a kid who was always sick, he developed a habit to do everything while in bed and not getting up until he was ready to do so. Much of his great works of philosophy and math were thought up while he was laying in bed. Apparently its a good place to think and meditate. Gottfried Liebniz apparently had the same practice.

Morgantw —Preceding unsigned comment added by Morgantw (talkcontribs) 16:21, 4 May 2011 (UTC)


This article has a good philosophical exposition, but misses completely the fundamental role that Descartes' contribution played in the evolution of geometry and mathematics. The whole article should be re-conceived in order to show how important Cartesio's oeuvre was for the development of mathematics in '700. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:14, 26 July 2011 (UTC)

His conception of philosophy[edit]

Why does the article need the recently added "His conception of philosophy" section?

It is very useful to know what Descartes thought about philosophy, especially considering that he was very helpful and didactic concerning this. His ideas about the philosophical work were expressed in the preface to the French edition of his Principles of Philosophy. First he considers that the philosophical activity is not well regarded by people, due to the bad use to which it has been subjected. [....]

The content of this section doesn't seem very notable (apparently drawing entirely from a single short preface -- to only a translated copy rather than a main text, and it is an historic primary source at any rate). Even if it were appropriate enough to warrant inclusion, shouldn't it be incorporated into the pre-existing "Philosophical work" section (rather than a separate major section higher in the article)? It also obviously isn't written in the most encyclopedic tone. I kind of suspect original research being used as a vehicle here to push a POV regarding the general field of philosophy (and by an editor with a recent history of heterodox views regarding Descartes). Cesiumfrog (talk) 03:54, 12 December 2011 (UTC)

Is this information useful for Wikipedia readers that address to Descartes article? I think it is, and this is the reason I have done it. It is a "present" that Descartes made us, in which he used his good didactic abilities to explain what his concept of philosophy was, and how he had approached his whole work.
The source is absolutely relevant. Descartes wrote his Principles of Philosophy in Latin. In a later date he asked a friend, Abbé (Abbot) Claude Picot, to translate it into French. For the edition of this translation, Descartes wrote a "preface", that he disguised in the form of a letter to Picot. This preface is to be found in any subsequent edition of the Principles, in whatever language it is. I personally red it in a French edition, because it was the available copy at the University of Barcelona library. As a reference in Wikipedia I looked for an English version of the preface that was available by the web, and this is what I have used, considering that the source was sound, as it seems to be.
It is an "original" source, and do not see any problem for being so. The reason is, it does not involve any interpretation or further elaboration of any Descartes ideas. It is not about any philosophical concepts, and contains only a condensation of Descartes own words.
Is it better placed in a new section? I think it is, because it is a kind of guide for the reader, that subsequently will find the Descartes works. He is informed that Descartes considered Meditations on First Philosophy to be the core (the roots of the tree) of his work, but also considered that the useful sciences for the men, were the ones to be found in the outer branches of the tree. Also that he considered the "morals" to be a science, and the last level of wisdom.
There are some comments directed to my humble person, that if I were in the mood, may be I could take as personal attack. I prefer to consider otherwise, mainly because this kind of things do not benefit Wikipedia. I will try to continue to direct my efforts to Wikipedia improvement, as I have done since I started here about a year and a half ago, and have demonstrated in this same Descartes article, were my 15 contributions are recorded to be seen.--Auró (talk) 08:47, 13 December 2011 (UTC)
Put it this way: do other general encyclopedias agree the preface to one of Descartes' translated works (consisting of metadiscussion of philosophy) warrants a treatment in greater depth than all of his contribution to mathematics, or than the whole of his dualism theory?
If they do then fine (and we will no longer need to rely on our own interpretation of a single primary source), but if not then WP:DUE weight is not being done by allowing the article to randomly be cluttered with essays on various selected portions of minor significance from Descartes' work.
For now, I suggest moving your essay to the article that actually focusses on the one textbook to which that prefatory letter is attached. (It would be less inappropriate there.) Cesiumfrog (talk) 00:36, 14 December 2011 (UTC)
I see that the argument for the need of a secondary source conferring high relevance to this preface is worth considering. It is possible that it exists, but I suspect it dose not. We all use to skip most of prefaces, and go to the main text.
I resignedly agree to move this section to the Principles of Philosophy article, that on the other hand is a quite meager one.
I will also consider incorporating some of the material into the appropriate place in the main body of Descartes article.--Auró (talk) 17:43, 14 December 2011 (UTC)

Edit request on 11 March 2012[edit]

== End of life in Sweden==
In September 1649, he agrees to become the tutor of Queen Christina to Sweden in Stockholm where he lived in France's ambassador Pierre Chanut. From this period comes the rumor that she has an affair with the philosopher, even if this link is very credible. The harsh climate and the morning hours of talks with the Queen before 5 am the thinker are unusual and would have been correct, according to the official version of his health. He plans to leave the return of spring, but died 11 February 1650, officially of pneumonia.

A whole mythology about the circumstances of his death is born from death. The most common hypothesis articulated from this period is that of an arsenic poisoning. This thesis will again be developed by Eike Pies in his book "Der Mordfall Descartes" ("L'Affaire Descartes"), published in 1996 and then in ("Der Tod rätselhafte of René Descartes", "The Mysterious death of Rene Descartes" of Theodor Ebert. According to this version, it would have been poisoned by a wafer containing a lethal dose of arsenic, given by Chaplain Francis Viogué (Catholic father and apostolic missionary of the Propaganda Fide, attached to the Embassy of France in Stockholm ), which would have feared that the influence Cartesian. Including (as the Protestants) his refusal of the dogma of transubstantiation) will discourage Queen Christina Lutheran convert to Catholicism: Christina of Sweden sends bedside philosophy Van Wüllen the doctor who notes the following symtoms in his report: colic, chills, vomiting, blood in urine. Descartes had prepared an emetic (antidote) based on wine and tobacco, suggesting that he himself suspected poisoning. But as has happened several times elsewhere, people have died accidentally poisoned with arsenic, which is prevalent at the time, including dyeing the hangings in a beautiful dark green ... (talk) 16:18, 11 March 2012 (UTC) From the french article on Descartes.

Not done: please provide reliable sources that support the change you want to be made. Thanks, Celestra (talk) 21:03, 11 March 2012 (UTC)

Nous as the foundation of modern psychology[edit]

Decartes is also called the 'father of psychology' due to his work on the subject of mind/soul or nous. This discussion could be a new template and added to the main article that way. DennisDA2010 (talk) 19:13, 11 March 2012 (UTC)


Can someone expand the section regarding his influence on math?

So far it's just a stub and seems in inadequate for someone like Descartes.-- (talk) 15:51, 15 March 2012 (UTC)

Edit request on 2 May 2012[edit]

The final statement under the heading Religious Beliefs which reads, "[...]who was her personal tutor." requires a citation (next citation after citation number 16). The page from Stanford University's philosophy encyclopaedia contains information to fulfil this citation at part 5, para 2. The address for this is Thanks! (talk) 21:13, 2 May 2012 (UTC)

Done. --MuZemike 19:52, 6 May 2012 (UTC)


The section #2.1 Dualism, contains the claim that Descartes practiced vivisection on animals, but there is not a valid reference to support this. Should not this be improved, I will proceed to suppress that claim.Auró (talk) 22:00, 19 May 2012 (UTC)

Seriously, Auro?
  • Whether or not Descartes himself practiced vivisection (his own words indicate that he did), the mechanists who followed him used Descartes' denial of reason and a soul to animals as a rationale for their belief that live animals felt nothing under their knives. Stanford encyc. of philosophy
  • Descartes and his followers practiced vivisection in their psychological researches. This was intensely repugnant to [his contemporary] Dr. More, who did not hesitate to describe Descartes' opinions and methods as "murderous and barbarous."
..first google hits Cesiumfrog (talk) 08:15, 20 May 2012 (UTC)
I am not discussing if Descartes practised or not vivisection, only asking to use proper citatation reference in the article.Auró (talk) 21:36, 20 May 2012 (UTC)
I have been reading some material on the web about vivisection/Descartes. I realize that vivisection is a subject of present controversy, and Descartes is a historical reference in this controversy. I see that there are two main basic opinions regarding Descartes thought. One says that Descartes denied that animals could feel pain. I have selected Richard Dawkins as a representative of this position. There is another opinion saying that Descartes only denied reason or intelligence to animals, but not feeling or sensation. I have taken Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as a representative of this. So, I propose the following writing:
In present day discussions on the practice of animal vivisection, it is normal to consider Descartes as an advocate of this practice, as a result of his dualistic philosophy. Some of the sources say that Descartes denied the animals could feel pain, and therefore could be used without concern[1]. Other sources consider that Descartes denied that animal had reason or intelligence, but did not lack sensations or perceptions, but these could be explained mechanistically[2].--Auró (talk) 17:23, 2 July 2012 (UTC)
  1. ^ Richard Dawkins (June 2012). "Richard Dawkins on vivisection: "But can they suffer?". Boingboing. Retrieved 2012-07-02. 
  2. ^ "Animal Consciousness, #2. Historical background". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Dec 1995/rev Oct 2010. Retrieved 2012-07-02.  Unknown parameter |Revision= ignored (help); Check date values in: |date= (help)

Vortex Theory[edit]

Article seems to be missing subject's notable Vortex Theory: (talk) 20:45, 29 May 2012 (UTC)

Notable how? It didn't have any impact on science, nor mathematics, nor philosophy. At most it may have been preminiscent of subsequent fringe/crackpottery. Not saying it shouldn't be referenced somewhere in the article (possible just a link in the see also section) but there is just so much far more notable content missing from this article which needs to be addressed first (per due weight policy). Cesiumfrog (talk) 06:54, 30 May 2012 (UTC)
On the contrary, Descartes' vortex theory, and his corpuscular account of physical reality as a whole, had a huge influence on the development of science in the 17th and 18th centuries. (You will find this confirmed in any comprehensive scholarly history or textbook of the scientific revolution written in the last fifty years or so.) It played a large role in the spread of the acceptance of heliocentrism, and on the spread of mechanical physical explanations in general, and was a huge influence on Issac Newton, in particular. Newton's Principia is, in large part, written as a reply to and refutation of Descartes' vortex theory and other aspects of his mechanics, and Newton's first law is pretty much lifted directly from Descartes' Principles of Philosophy (which is largely a scientific rather than a philosophical work, in the modern senses of those words, and is completely misrepresented in the current version of the entry). Without Descartes' science, Newton' science would not have happened, and, even after Newton's work, Descartes' mechanistic scientific theories remained influential in physics, astronomy, and chemistry for many years, and in physiology, even longer. (Indeed, much of neuroscience remains deeply Cartesian in its fundamental assumptions, even today.) The fact that this entry almost completely ignores the scientific aspects of Descartes thought (and does not say nearly enough about the major advances in mathematics that he was responsible for, either), is quite scandalous, and gives a radically distorted picture of his historical importance and influence. For a good century after his death, the purely philosophical (epistemological and metaphysical) aspects of his work were probably the least influential and significant. The fact that most of his scientific (though not his mathematical) theories have since been superseded does diminish their immense (and mostly positive) importance to the development of modern science. By leaving this aspect of his thought out, this article gives a completely misleading picture of Descartes' historical importance, and of his own thinking. Treharne (talk) 09:03, 21 October 2014 (UTC)

Edit request on 13 June 2012[edit]

Descartes was 6"3 (talk) 08:07, 13 June 2012 (UTC)

6 inches 3 what? Dru of Id (talk) 08:16, 13 June 2012 (UTC)
Not done: please provide reliable sources that support the change you want to be made. Mdann52 (talk) 10:12, 13 June 2012 (UTC)

Edit request on 9 October 2012[edit]

Argouarch (talk) 20:43, 9 October 2012 (UTC)

Not done: There is no request here. —KuyaBriBriTalk 21:33, 9 October 2012 (UTC)
Turns out it was hidden in the edit summary: "His father Joachim was a member in the provincial parliament" should be changed to "His father Joachim was a member in the provincial parliament of Rennes in Brittany." I've made the correction with a few added details and a reference. Favonian (talk) 21:40, 18 October 2012 (UTC)

Edit request on 8 March 2013[edit]

Regarding Aristotle opinion that happiness depends on the goods of fortune, Descartes does not deny that this goods contribute to happiness, but remarks that they are in great proportion outside our control, whereas our mind is under our complete control.

This sentence contains three grammatical errors, and should read:

Regarding Aristotle's opinion that happiness depends on the goods of fortune, Descartes does not deny that this good contributes to happiness, but remarks that they are in great proportion outside our control, whereas our mind is under our complete control.

corrections: Aristotle's good contributes Bpanhuyzen (talk) 16:33, 8 March 2013 (UTC)

Done except I replaced "our" with "one's" in all three instances, as first-person should generally not be used on Wikipedia unless part of a direct quote or proper name. —KuyaBriBriTalk 17:01, 8 March 2013 (UTC)

Edit request on 8 March 2013[edit]

The first two of his Meditations on First Philosophy, those that formulate the famous methodic doubt, are the portion of Descartes writings that most influenced modern thinking.

"Descartes" is missing the apostrophe to indicate the possessive.

I would also use the phrase, "represent the portion" rather than "are the portion" Bpanhuyzen (talk) 16:41, 8 March 2013 (UTC)

Done First request is a minor edit; second request is a sound re-wording. —KuyaBriBriTalk 17:03, 8 March 2013 (UTC)

Edit request on 8 March 2013[edit]

This was a revolutionary step that posed the basis of modernity (whose repercussion are still ongoing)...

"modernity" is not a person, so "whose" is incorrect

Bpanhuyzen (talk) 16:44, 8 March 2013 (UTC)

I disagree, but see no harm in a minor copy edit of this sentence. —KuyaBriBriTalk 17:05, 8 March 2013 (UTC)

Edit request on 8 March 2013[edit]

Descartes philosophical revolution is sometimes said to have sparked modern...

"Descartes" is again missing the possessive apostrophe

Bpanhuyzen (talk) 16:49, 8 March 2013 (UTC)

Done Minor edit only. —KuyaBriBriTalk 17:06, 8 March 2013 (UTC)

Does anyone have (library?) access to the revised AT?[edit]

If so, could you please post the revised (1963 or later) rendition of the "je pens, donc je suis" para here? (Google Books offers only the 1902 edition and I don't currently have library access to the later editions.) Also, if it's not too much trouble, could you include any front matter or other material describing changes from the 1902 version (AT VI 32)? Thanks in advance, humanengr (talk) 22:59, 18 June 2013 (UTC)

Need edit : illustration[edit]

DescartesGraduationRegistry.JPG The black and white image of Descartes's graduation refers to his graduation from the University of Poitiers (Bachelor and License) in utroque jure (Civil and Canon Law) in 1616 and not his graduation from the Jesuit College of La Flèche. The text reads : Nobilis Vir dominus Renatus Descartes, diocesis Pictavensis, creatus fuit baccalaureatus in utroque jure die nona et licentiatus in ejusdem canonico et civili juribus die decima mensis novembris anno domini millesimo sexcentesimo decimo sexto, wich means "The Noble Lord René Descarte, from the diocese of Poitiers, was created Bachelor of both Laws the 9th and Licensed of the same Canon and Civil Laws the 10th of November, Year of the Lord 1616". (talk) 15:06, 29 August 2013 (UTC)

I think this is original research, which is not appropriate for wikipedia edition. There are a lot of authoritative Descartes' biographies, in which editions should be based.--Auró (talk) 20:33, 29 August 2013 (UTC)
this information is not related to the article, but to its illustration. Therefore it is not subject to the ban of original research. If an illustration is wrongly titled, do we need an authoritative source to correct it ? (talk) 18:51, 2 September 2013 (UTC)
An illustration is part of an article, it is a visual aid to it and can not be contradictory to the text, particularly if it consists in a text.--Auró (talk) 06:04, 3 September 2013 (UTC)

Law of Inertia[edit]

I think this needs to be included in the article, as it is a major development in the history of science. From Herbert Butterfield's book The Origins of Modern Science: "Descartes himself achieved the modern formulation of the law of inertia-the view that motion continues in a straight line until interrupted by something-working it out by a natural deduction from his theory of the conservation of momentum, his theory that the amount of motion in the universe always remains the same. It was he rather than Galileo who fully grasped the principle of inertia in all its clarity." (p. 178)


{edit request} By leaving off Dubito you change Descartes message. Dubito ergo cogito, cogito ergo sum. Means "I doubt therefore I think, I think therefore I exist." (NOT I am). His doubting of religious dogma lead him to realize that that was thinking and because he could think he existed as opposed to being a cog in the wheel of religion's absolute control of people (ie The Dark Ages) and their predestination as expounded in their much-edited book. This also needs to go under Teleology as the refutation to "Ends" as professed by some philosophers. (talk) 19:16, 9 June 2014 (UTC) (talk) 19:55, 9 June 2014 (UTC) Randy C Hamilton

The above is nonsense. Descartes' doubt was not, primarily, religious doubt, and, in fact, he was lifelong devout Catholic. Furthermore, in the Meditations, after the cogito, he goes on to prove, at some length (and to his own satisfaction, at least), that God exists, and is good, and only via doing that is he able to prove to himself that the physical world of his senses really exists (on the grounds that God, being completely good, would not allow him to be systematically deceived). Treharne (talk) 09:59, 21 October 2014 (UTC)

Vision section[edit]

Is the Vision subsection really worth including in the main article? It's a speculation at best, and it paints a totally different picture from the man scientist. Besides it's not coming from Descartes himself. Inorout (talk) 12:55, 16 March 2015 (UTC)

"Yes, keep it" would be my vote – it may give insights into the wellsprings of Descartes' inspiration. There is only one paragraph on his visions. I found that it was followed by a paragraph which was just a continuation of his life story, which prompted me to re-section the whole biographical part of the article. See what you think. The changes look drastic on a "Difference between revisions", but are not in reality. Please feel free to criticise or reverse what I have done. AWhiteC (talk) 20:20, 16 March 2015 (UTC)