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Descartes: A Biography by Desmond M. (University College Cork) Clarke


Descartes: A Biography by Desmond M. (University College Cork) Clarke

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.


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

About the Author

Desmond Clarke is Professor of Philosophy at University College Cork. He received a DLitt from the National University of Ireland, was Jean Monnet Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence, and has been elected to the Royal Irish Academy. He is the author of a number of books on Descartes and the seventeenth century, most recently Descartes' Theory of Mind (2005).

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Book Info

Publication date

16th April 2012


Desmond M. (University College Cork) Clarke

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Cambridge University Press


520 pages


Biography: historical, political & military
Western philosophy: c 1600 to c 1900
History of ideas



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