The Cartesian Method is the philosophical and scientific system of René Descartes and its subsequent development by other seventeenth century thinkers, most notably François Poullain de la Barre, Nicolas Malebranche and Baruch Spinoza.[1] Descartes is often regarded as the first thinker to emphasize the use of reason to develop the natural sciences.[2] For him, the philosophy was a thinking system that embodied all knowledge, and expressed it in this way:[3]

Aristotle and St. Augusta’s work influenced Descartes's cogito argument and there can be little doubt that they were epistemologists[4].  Additionally, there is a remarkable similarity between Descartes’s work and that of the Scottish philosopher, George Campbell’s 1776 publication, titled Philosophy of Rhetoric. [5] In his Meditations on First Philosophy he writes, “[b]ut what then am I? A thing which thinks. What is a thing which thinks? It is a thing which doubts, understands, [conceives], affirms, denies, wills, refuses, which also imagines and feels."[6]

Cartesians view the mind as being wholly separate from the corporeal body. Sensation and the perception of reality are thought to be the source of untruth and illusions, with the only reliable truths to be had in the existence of a metaphysical mind. Such a mind can perhaps interact with a physical body, but it does not exist in the body, nor even in the same physical plane as the body. The question of how mind and body interact would be a persistent difficulty for Descartes and his followers, with different Cartesians providing different answers.[7] To this point Descartes wrote, "we should conclude from all this, that those things which we conceive clearly and distinctly as being diverse substances; as we regard mind and body to be, are really substances essentially distinct one from the other; and this is the conclusion of the Sixth Meditation."[6] Therefore, we can see that, while mind and body are indeed separate, because they can be separated from each other, but, Descartes realizes, the mind is a whole, inseparable from itself, while the body can become separated from itself to some extent, as in when one loses an arm or a leg.


Descartes held that all existence consists in three distinct substances, each with its own essence:[7]

  • matter, possessing extension in three dimensions
  • mind, possessing self-conscious thought
  • God, possessing necessary existence


Descartes brought the question of how reliable knowledge may be obtained (epistemology) to the fore of philosophical enquiry. Many consider this to be Descartes' most lasting influence on the history of philosophy.[8]

Cartesianism is a form of rationalism because it holds that scientific knowledge can be derived a priori from 'innate ideas' through deductive reasoning. Thus Cartesianism is opposed to both Aristotelianism and empiricism, with their emphasis on sensory experience as the source of all knowledge of the world.[7]

For Descartes, the faculty of deductive reason is supplied by God and may therefore be trusted because God would not deceive us.[7][9][10]

Geographical dispersal

In the Netherlands, where Descartes had lived for a long time, Cartesianism was a doctrine popular mainly among university professors and lecturers. In Germany the influence of this doctrine was not relevant and followers of Cartesianism in the German-speaking border regions between these countries (e.g., the iatromathematician Yvo Gaukes from East Frisia) frequently chose to publish their works in the Netherlands. In France, it was very popular, and gained influence also among Jansenists such as Antoine Arnauld, though there also, as in Italy, it became opposed by the Church. In Italy, the doctrine failed to make inroads, probably since Descartes' works were placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1663.[11]

In England, because of religious and other reasons, Cartesianism was not widely accepted.[11] Though Henry More was initially attracted to the doctrine, his own changing attitudes toward Descartes mirrored those of the country: "quick acceptance, serious examination with accumulating ambivalence, final rejection."[12]

Notable Cartesians

Principia philosophiae
Principia philosophiae, 1685

See also


  1. ^ Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cartesianism" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^ Grosholz, Emily (1991). Cartesian method and the problem of reduction. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-824250-6. But contemporary debate has tended to...understand [Cartesian method] merely as the 'method of doubt'...I want to define Descartes's method in broader trace its impact on the domains of mathematics and physics as well as metaphysics.
  3. ^ Descartes, René; Translator John Veitch. "Letter of the Author to the French Translator of the Principles of Philosophy serving for a preface". Retrieved August 2013. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  4. ^ Steup, Matthias (2018), Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), "Epistemology", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 17 April 2019
  5. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time, Cogito Ergo Sum". BBC. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
  6. ^ a b Descartes, Rene (1996). Meditations on First Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. p. 10.
  7. ^ a b c d "Cartesianism | philosophy". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
  8. ^ Ree, Jonathan (1991). The Concise Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy and Philosophers. London: Routledge. p. 78. ISBN 0415078830.
  9. ^ Ree, Jonathan (1991). The Concise Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy and Philosophers. London: Routledge. p. 75. ISBN 0415078830.
  10. ^ Kelly, Anthony (2006). The Rise of Modern Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 123. ISBN 9780198752769.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Copleston, Frederick Charles (2003). A History of Philosophy, Volume 4. Continuum International. p. 174. ISBN 978-0-8264-6898-7.
  12. ^ Lennon, Thomas M.; John M. Nicholas; John Whitney Davis (1982). Problems of Cartesianism. McGill-Queen's Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-7735-1000-5.
  13. ^ Cristofolini, Paul; "Campailla, Thomas" in Biographical Dictionary of Italians - Volume 17 (1974), Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana. Retrieved 30 September 2015


  • Francisque Bouillier, Histoire de la philosophie cartésienne (2 volumes) Paris: Durand 1854 (reprint: BiblioBazaar 2010).
  • Eduard Jan Dijksterhuis, Descartes et le cartésianisme hollandais. Études et documents Paris: PUF 1951.
  • Tad M. Schmaltz (ed.), Receptions of Descartes. Cartesianism and Anti-Cartesianism in Early Modern Europe New York: Routledge 2005.
  • Richard A. Watson, The Downfall of Cartesianism 1673–1712. A Study of Epistemological Issues in Late 17th Century Cartesianism The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff 1966.
Abraham Heidanus

Abraham van Heyden or van Heiden (Latin: Abraham Heidanus or Heydanus; 1597–1678) was a Dutch Calvinist minister and controversialist, sympathetic to Cartesianism.

Cartesian Meditations

Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology (French: Méditations cartésiennes: Introduction à la phénoménologie) is a book by the philosopher Edmund Husserl, based on four lectures he gave at the Sorbonne, in the Amphithéatre Descartes on February 23 and 25, 1929. Over the next two years, he and his assistant Eugen Fink expanded and elaborated on the text of these lectures. These expanded lectures were first published in a 1931 French translation by Gabrielle Peiffer and Emmanuel Levinas with advice from Alexandre Koyré. They were published in German, along with the original Pariser Vortrage, in 1950, and again in an English translation by Dorion Cairns in 1960, based on a typescript of the text (Typescript C) which Husserl had designated for Cairns in 1933.

The Cartesian Meditations were never published in German during Husserl's lifetime, a fact which has led some commentators to conclude that Husserl had become dissatisfied with the work in relation to its aim, namely an introduction to transcendental phenomenology. The text introduces the main features of Husserl's mature transcendental phenomenology, including (not exhaustively) the transcendental reduction, the epoché, static and genetic phenomenology, eidetic reduction, and eidetic phenomenology. In the Fourth Meditation, Husserl argues that transcendental phenomenology is nothing other than transcendental idealism.

The name Cartesian Meditations refers to René Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy. Thus Husserl wrote:

France's greatest thinker, René Descartes, gave transcendental phenomenology new Impulses through his Meditations; their study acted quite directly on the transformation of an already developing phenomenology into a new kind of transcendental philosophy. Accordingly one might almost call transcendental phenomenology a neo-Cartesianism, even though It Is obliged — and precisely by its radical development of Cartesian motifs — to reject nearly all the well-known doctrinal content of the Cartesian philosophy.

Cogito, ergo sum

Cogito, ergo sum is a Latin philosophical proposition by René Descartes usually translated into English as "I think, therefore I am". The phrase originally appeared in French as je pense, donc je suis in his Discourse on the Method, so as to reach a wider audience than Latin would have allowed. It appeared in Latin in his later Principles of Philosophy. As Descartes explained, "we cannot doubt of our existence while we doubt...." A fuller version, articulated by Antoine Léonard Thomas, aptly captures Descartes's intent: dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum ("I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am"). The concept is also sometimes known as the cogito.This proposition became a fundamental element of Western philosophy, as it purported to form a secure foundation for knowledge in the face of radical doubt. While other knowledge could be a figment of imagination, deception, or mistake, Descartes asserted that the very act of doubting one's own existence served—at minimum—as proof of the reality of one's own mind; there must be a thinking entity—in this case the self—for there to be a thought.

The critique against the proposition is the presupposition of an "I" doing the thinking, so that the most Descartes was entitled to say was: "thinking is occurring".

Danish philosophy

Danish philosophy has a long tradition as part of Western philosophy.

Perhaps the most influential Danish philosopher was Søren Kierkegaard, the creator of Christian existentialism, which inspired the philosophical movement of Existentialism. Kierkegaard had a few Danish followers, including Harald Høffding, who later in his life moved on to join the movement of positivism. Among Kierkegaard's other followers include Jean-Paul Sartre who was impressed with Kierkegaard's views on the individual, and Rollo May, who helped create humanistic psychology.

Edmond Pourchot

Edmond Pourchot (1651, Poilly – 1734, Paris) was a university professor noted for his controversial advocacy of Cartesianism (and the Cartesian theory of mechanics) in place of Aristotelianism. The change within the University of Paris from Aristotelianism to Cartesianism during the 1690s was important in the history of the development of natural philosophy in France and continental Europe.Pourchot was named Professor of Philosophy in 1677, and he was a long-standing vice-chancellor/rector of the University of Paris, where he taught for 26 years. He authored a popular multi-volume Latin text entitled Institutiones philosophicae ad faciliorem veterum, ac recentiorum philosophorum lectionem comparatae (Paris, 1695; Paris, 1700; Lyon, 1711; Venice, 1715; Lyon, 1716–1717; Venice, 1730 [standard edition]; Paris & Lyon & Padua, 1733; Padua, 1751; Venice, 1755). This text was well regarded among eminent French intellectuals, and gained followers for Cartesianism in many other countries including Turkey and Poland. He was also a scholar of the Hebrew language. The Latin form of his name was Edmundus Purchotius (Edmundi Purchotii).

Volume 1 - Logic and metaphysics

Volume 2 - Geometry and general physics (including optics, hydrodynamics, simple machines, thermodynamics, and dynamics featuring projectiles, pendulums, etc.)

Volume 3 - Cosmology (heliocentric and geocentric), botany, zoology, human anatomy, meteorology, astronomy, magnetism, metallurgy, and geographyincluding a world map showing Terra Australis, the Prime Meridian passing through El Hierro, and the Island of California (Table 24)

including a presentation of heliocentric Cartesian ethereal vortices in/around the solar system (Table 20)... this theory was supported by many notable scientists (for example Christiaan Huygens and Johann Bernoulli) prior to being supplanted by Newtonian mechanics (published 1686)

including an armillary sphere showing the plane of the ecliptic on the celestial sphere (Table 16)

including an illustration of magnetic field lines which were not fully understood for another 150 years until Faraday and Maxwell (Table 26)Volume 4 - Ethics

Volume 5 - Philosophy (including metaphysics and ontology)

Elements of the Philosophy of Newton

Elements of the Philosophy of Newton (French: Éléments de la philosophie de Newton) is a book written by the philosopher Voltaire in 1738 that helped to popularize the theories and thought of Isaac Newton. This book, coupled with Letters on the English, written in 1733, demonstrated that Voltaire had moved beyond the simple poetry and plays he had written previously.

A new and definitive edition was published in 1745 that contained an initial section on Newton's metaphysics, originally published separately in 1740.

By 1745, when the definitive edition of Voltaire's Éléments was published, the tides of thought were turning his way, and by 1750 the perception had become widespread that France had been converted from backward, erroneous Cartesianism to modern, Enlightened Newtonianism thanks to the heroic intellectual efforts of figures like Voltaire.

François Poullain de la Barre

François Poullain de la Barre (July 1647- May 4, 1723) was an author and a Cartesian philosopher.

Giuseppa Barbapiccola

Giuseppa Eleonora Barbapiccola (1702 – ca 1740) was an Italian natural philosopher, poet and translator. She is best known for her translation of René Descartes' Principles of Philosophy to Italian in 1722. In her preface to her translation of Principles of Philosophy, Barbapiccola claimed that women, in contrast to the belief of her contemporaries, were not intellectually inferior out of nature, but because of their lack of education. Neapolitan scholars credited Barbapiccola as the individual who brought Cartesianism thought to Italy.

Jacques Rohault

Jacques Rohault (French: [ʁɔ.o]; 1618–1672) was a French philosopher, physicist and mathematician, and a follower of Cartesianism.

List of philosophies

Philosophical schools of thought and philosophical movements.

Louis de La Forge

Louis de La Forge (1632–1666) was a French philosopher who in his Tractatus de mente humana (Traité de l'esprit de l'homme, 1664; in English, "Treatise on the Human Mind") expounded a doctrine of occasionalism. He was born in La Flèche and died in Saumur. He was a friend of Descartes, and one of the most able interpreters of Cartesianism.

Mind–body dualism

Mind–body dualism, or mind–body duality, is a theory in the philosophy of mind that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical, or that the mind and body are distinct and separable. Thus, it encompasses a set of theories about the relationship between mind and matter, and between subject and object, and is contrasted with other positions, such as physicalism and enactivism, in the mind–body problem.Aristotle shared Plato's belief in multiple souls and further elaborated a hierarchical arrangement, corresponding to the distinctive functions of plants, animals, and people: a nutritive soul of growth and metabolism that all three share; a perceptive soul of pain, pleasure, and desire that only people and other animals share; and the faculty of reason that is unique to people only. In this view, a soul is the hylomorphic form of a viable organism, wherein each level of the hierarchy formally supervenes upon the substance of the preceding level. Thus, for Aristotle, all three souls perish when the living organism dies. For Plato however, the soul was not dependent on the physical body; he believed in metempsychosis, the migration of the soul to a new physical body.Dualism is closely associated with the thought of René Descartes (1641), which holds that the mind is a nonphysical—and therefore, non-spatial—substance. Descartes clearly identified the mind with consciousness and self-awareness and distinguished this from the brain as the seat of intelligence. Hence, he was the first to formulate the mind–body problem in the form in which it exists today. Dualism is contrasted with various kinds of monism. Substance dualism is contrasted with all forms of materialism, but property dualism may be considered a form of emergent materialism or non-reductive physicalism in some sense.

Nicolas Malebranche

Nicolas Malebranche, Oratory of Jesus (; French: [nikɔlɑ malbrɑ̃ʃ]; 6 August 1638 – 13 October 1715), was a French Oratorian priest and rationalist philosopher. In his works, he sought to synthesize the thought of St. Augustine and Descartes, in order to demonstrate the active role of God in every aspect of the world. Malebranche is best known for his doctrines of vision in God, occasionalism and ontologism.


Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that began in the United States around 1870. Its origins are often attributed to the philosophers Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. Peirce later described it in his pragmatic maxim: "Consider the practical effects of the objects of your conception. Then, your conception of those effects is the whole of your conception of the object."Pragmatism considers words and thought as tools and instruments for prediction, problem solving and action, and rejects the idea that the function of thought is to describe, represent, or mirror reality. Pragmatists contend that most philosophical topics—such as the nature of knowledge, language, concepts, meaning, belief, and science—are all best viewed in terms of their practical uses and successes. The philosophy of pragmatism "emphasizes the practical application of ideas by acting on them to actually test them in human experiences". Pragmatism focuses on a "changing universe rather than an unchanging one as the idealists, realists and Thomists had claimed".


In philosophy, rationalism is the epistemological view that "regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge" or "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification". More formally, rationalism is defined as a methodology or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive".In an old controversy, rationalism was opposed to empiricism, where the rationalists believed that reality has an intrinsically logical structure. Because of this, the rationalists argued that certain truths exist and that the intellect can directly grasp these truths. That is to say, rationalists asserted that certain rational principles exist in logic, mathematics, ethics, and metaphysics that are so fundamentally true that denying them causes one to fall into contradiction. The rationalists had such a high confidence in reason that empirical proof and physical evidence were regarded as unnecessary to ascertain certain truths – in other words, "there are significant ways in which our concepts and knowledge are gained independently of sense experience".Different degrees of emphasis on this method or theory lead to a range of rationalist standpoints, from the moderate position "that reason has precedence over other ways of acquiring knowledge" to the more extreme position that reason is "the unique path to knowledge". Given a pre-modern understanding of reason, rationalism is identical to philosophy, the Socratic life of inquiry, or the zetetic (skeptical) clear interpretation of authority (open to the underlying or essential cause of things as they appear to our sense of certainty). In recent decades, Leo Strauss sought to revive "Classical Political Rationalism" as a discipline that understands the task of reasoning, not as foundational, but as maieutic.

In the 17th-century Dutch Republic, the rise of early modern-period rationalism — as a highly systematic school of philosophy in its own right for the first time in history — exerted an immense and profound influence on modern Western thought in general, with the birth of two highly influential rationalistic philosophical systems of Descartes (who spent most of his adult life in the Netherlands in the period 1628–1649) and Spinoza — namely Cartesianism and Spinozism. It was the 17th-century arch-rationalists like Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz who have given the "Age of Reason" its name and place in history.In politics, rationalism, since the Enlightenment, historically emphasized a "politics of reason" centered upon rational choice, utilitarianism, secularism, and irreligion – the latter aspect's antitheism was later softened by the adoption of pluralistic methods practicable regardless of religious or irreligious ideology. In this regard, the philosopher John Cottingham noted how rationalism, a methodology, became socially conflated with atheism, a worldview:

In the past, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, the term 'rationalist' was often used to refer to free thinkers of an anti-clerical and anti-religious outlook, and for a time the word acquired a distinctly pejorative force (thus in 1670 Sanderson spoke disparagingly of 'a mere rationalist, that is to say in plain English an atheist of the late edition...'). The use of the label 'rationalist' to characterize a world outlook which has no place for the supernatural is becoming less popular today; terms like 'humanist' or 'materialist' seem largely to have taken its place. But the old usage still survives.

René Descartes

René Descartes (US: , UK: , French: [ʁəne dekaʁt]; Latinized: Renatus Cartesius; adjectival form: Cartesian; 31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650) was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. A native of the Kingdom of France, he spent about 20 years (1629–1649) of his life in the Dutch Republic after serving for a while in the Dutch States Army of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange and the Stadtholder of the United Provinces. One of the most notable intellectual figures of the Dutch Golden Age, Descartes is also widely regarded as one of the founders of modern philosophy.

Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy (1641) continues to be a standard text at most university philosophy departments. Descartes' influence in mathematics is equally apparent; the Cartesian coordinate system (see below) was named after him. He is credited as the father of analytical geometry, the bridge between algebra and geometry, used in the discovery of infinitesimal calculus and analysis. Descartes was also one of the key figures in the Scientific Revolution.

Descartes refused to accept the authority of previous philosophers. He frequently set his views apart from those of his predecessors. In the opening section of the Passions of the Soul, an early modern treatise on emotions, Descartes goes so far as to assert that he will write on this topic "as if no one had written on these matters before". His best known philosophical statement is "I think, therefore I am" (French: Je pense, donc je suis; Latin: Ego cogito, ergo sum), found in Discourse on the Method (1637; written in French and Latin) and Principles of Philosophy (1644; written in Latin).Many elements of his philosophy have precedents in late Aristotelianism, the revived Stoicism of the 16th century, or in earlier philosophers like Augustine. In his natural philosophy, he differed from the schools on two major points: first, he rejected the splitting of corporeal substance into matter and form; second, he rejected any appeal to final ends, divine or natural, in explaining natural phenomena. In his theology, he insists on the absolute freedom of God's act of creation.

Descartes laid the foundation for 17th-century continental rationalism, later advocated by Spinoza and Leibniz, and was later opposed by the empiricist school of thought consisting of Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. Leibniz, Spinoza, and Descartes were all well-versed in mathematics as well as philosophy, and Descartes and Leibniz contributed greatly to science as well.

Tad Schmaltz

Tad M. Schmaltz (born 1960) is a professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Prior to that, he was a professor of philosophy at Duke University, where he began his teaching career in 1989. He graduated magna cum laude with a BA in philosophy from Kalamazoo College in 1983, received his doctorate in 1988 from the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Malebranche's Theory of the Soul (Oxford University Press, 1996) and Radical Cartesianism (Cambridge University Press, 2002). He is editor of the Journal of the History of Philosophy.

Schmaltz spent his early childhood in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, before moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he attended St. Paul Lutheran School on Earhart Road.

Étienne de Courcelles

Étienne de Courcelles (Latin: Stephanus Curcellaeus; Geneva 2 May 1586 – Amsterdam 20 May 1659) was an Arminian Greek scholar and translator.He studied from 1609 in Zurich, and after that he was French Protestant minister of Amiens, translator of Grotius, and successor of Simon Episcopius at the Remonstrant seminary in Amsterdam. He is credited with introducing Cartesianism into Dutch Arminian circles. Courcelles was a personal friend of Descartes, and translated the Discours de la méthode and Les Météores into Latin, but he was only superficially influenced by Descartes.

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