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Published: 17 July 1997

520 Pages | 67 figures, 4 illus.

ISBN: 9780198237242

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Bookseller Code (06)


An Intellectual Biography

Stephen Gaukroger

A Clarendon Press Publication

This is the first comprehensive intellectual biography of Descartes in English, offering a fundamental reassessment of all aspects of his life and work. Modern philosophy is generally taken to begin with Descartes, and his unique contribution to Western thought covers not only philosophy but also science and mathematics. His studies in mechanics, optics, and cosmology have provided modern science with tools still used and work still built on today. In Descartes, author Stephen Gaukroger traces the philosopher's intellectual development from childhood, establishing the connections between his intellectual and personal life, and placing these in the context of the cultural environment of the time. It is usually assumed that there is little development in Descartes's thought, but this biography shows evidence of very significant changes of view and a general shift in his concern away from natural philosophy following the condemnation of Galileo by the Church in 1633. Starting with a full account of Descartes's early scientific work, Gaukroger shows how it informed and influenced his later philosophical studies. In Gaukroger's original argument, Descartes's philosophical work was meant not as an exercise in epistemology and scepticism, but rather as a defence of his physical doctrines against a hostile Church.