The Life of Rene Descartes. BH. By Peretz Eisenberg and James Langer. Early Life.
By Peretz Eisenberg
and James Langer
Rene Descartes was born on March 31st 1596, in La Haye en Touraine, Indre et-Loire, France. His mother Jean Bochard died of tuberculosis when he was one year old. His father, Joachim, was a judge in the French High Court of Justice. He was born to a wealthy family and was second of a family of two brothers and one sister. When Descartes was 8 years old he attended the Jesuit College Royal Henry-Le-Grand at La Fleche where he studied many subjects but excelled in mathematics. Descartes had bad health and was therefore treated differently, being allowed to sleep in late until he felt inclined to get up.
Upon graduation from Jesuit School, Descartes travelled to Paris and was there introduced to the world of fashion. There he met an old school friend, Mersenne, and together they spent two years (1915-1916) devoted entirely to the study of mathematics. At that point due to social stigma was forced to either join the church or the army. Descartes joined the army of Prince Maurice of Orange and was sent to Breda.
While roaming the streets in Breda he asked Beeckman, a complete stranger to him, to translate a placard from to Dutch to either French or Latin. Beeckman, who was the head of the Dutch College at Dort, agreed to translate the placard only if Descartes agreed to solve it; the placard in-fact being a challenge to the world to solve a certain geometrical problem. Descartes solved it in only a few hours and a good friendship began to develop between Beckman and Descartes. Although he did not want to be in the army any more, fancying himself as an intellectual, he remained a soldier, volunteering under Count de Bucqouy in the army of Bavaria at the commencement of the Thirty Years’ War. For the rest of his time in the army, Descartes managed to find time to continue his studies of mathematics.
He resigned from the army in the spring of 1621 and spent five years travelling and studying mathematics. In 1926 he settled in Paris; during the first two years he became more interested in general society. In 1628 Descartes met Cardinal de Berulle, founder of the Oratorians, who was much impressed by Descartes and his conversation about devoting his life to the examination of truth. Descartes agreed strongly and thus moved to Holland in order to prevent himself from interrupting his studies.
He lived in Holland for twenty years, every moment of which he spent studying mathematics and philosophy. He spend the first four years (1629-1633) in Holland writing Le Monde, which was an attempt to give a physical theory of the universe. However, due to his findings that the publication would most likely bring about hostility from the Church, he decided to abandon the idea (the incomplete manuscript was published in 1664). He then wrote a treatise on universal sciences, which was published at Leyden in 1637 titled Discours de la méthode pour bien conduire sa raison et chercher la vérité dans les sciences. The treatisewasaccompaniedby three appendices entitled La Dioptrique, Les Meteoresand La Geometrie. It is from these three appendices that the invention of analytical geometry dates. Then in 1641, he published a work called Meditatones, which was an explanation of his views on philosophy as sketched out in the Discours. In 1644 Descartes issued the Principia Philosophiae, most of what is about physical science, mostly the laws of motion and the theory of vortices.
In 1647 Descartes received a pension from the French court in honour of the contributions he made to society through his discoveries. We was invited by the Queen of Sweden to come and visit, and died months later from inflammation of the lungs.