chapter  9
16 Pages

DESCARTES, OR THE CULTIVATION OF THE INTELLECT

ByDaniel Garber

René Descartes (1596-1650) aimed to sweep away the past, and start philosophy anew. Much of what made Descartes important for his contemporaries, and for us as well, concerns the contents of his philosophy. Descartes’s philosophy was directed squarely against the Aristotelian philosophy taught in the schools of his day. For the Aristotelians, all cognition begins in sensation: everything in the intellect comes first through the senses. Descartes’s philosophy, on the other hand, emphasizes the priority of reason over the senses. Furthermore, Descartes substitutes a purely mechanical world of geometric bodies governed by laws of motion for an almost animistic world of Aristotelian substances with innate tendencies to different kinds of behavior. These original doctrines, together with his work in metaphysics, optics, mathematics, the theory of the passions, among other areas, made Descartes a central figure in his age.1