Philosopher and mathematician René Descartes (1596-1650), known as the Founder of Modern Philosophy, was born in France, but lived, worked, and studied in the Netherlands, Germany, and Sweden. He died in Stockholm where he had been serving as the tutor of Queen Christina of Sweden.

Ren� Descartes
Ren� Descartes

Descartes wrote in French and in Latin. His most famous philosophical statement is translated into English as I think, therefore I am. In his original writings, the statement is rendered in both Latin, Cogito ergo sum, and in French, Je pense, donc je suis.

Descartes revolutionized philosophy by doubting everything he’d ever been taught and starting over from scratch. The fact that he could doubt proved his existence as a thinking creature. Hence, cogito ergo sum.

I read several articles about Descartes and his thought, intending to summarize some of his more important accomplishments, but had to give up on the idea since I want to keep these litcaps short. He was a remarkable man.

One thing I read that didn’t much impress me is that his deductions about mind, spirit, and soul (all expressed in French by the one word ame) led him to believe that animals don’t feel pain.

According to Descartes, only human beings possess minds, so only they are able to feel pain. This belief led him to practice vivisection (cutting up living animals) and encouraged other scientists to do the same.

When I accidentally step on my cat’s tail, she lets me know quite clearly that it was a painful experience for her. As smart as he was, I wonder how Descartes failed to understand the significance of all the squeaks and howls that must have accompanied his experiments.

2 Responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.