Rene’ Descartes (1596 – 1650) was born in Touraine, France. He was one of the most important and influential thinkers in human history and is sometimes called the founder of modern philosophy. In addition to his accomplishments as a philosopher Descartes was an outstanding mathematician, inventing analytic geometry and attempting to devise the simple universal laws that governed all physical change.
Descartes published his major philosophical work, “Meditations on First Philosophy” in 1641, the year before Galileo died and Isaac Newton was born. Because he lived at a time when traditional ideas were being questioned, he sought to devise a method for reaching the truth. This concern and his method of systematic doubt had an enormous impact on the subsequent development of philosophy. Descartes introduced the now famous Latin phrase “cogito ergo sum,” or in English “I think, therefore I am.”
In Descartes’ view, the universe was created by God on whose power everything depends. He thought of God as resembling the human mind in that both the mind and God think, but have no physical being. But he believed that God is unlike the human mind in that God is infinite and does not depend on a creator for His existence.
“An optimist may see a light where there is none, but why must the pessimist always run to blow it out?”
“Common sense is the most fairly distributed thing in the world, for each one thinks he is so well-endowed with it that even those who are hardest to satisfy in all other matters are not in the habit of desiring more of it than they already have.”
“It is only prudent never to place complete confidence in that by which we have even once been deceived.”
“Each problem that I solved became a rule, which served afterwards to solve other problems.”
“To know what people really think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say.”
“I think; therefore I am.”
“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.”
“Whenever anyone has offended me, I try to raise my soul so high that the offense cannot reach it.”
“It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.”
“Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it.”
“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries.”
“When it is not in our power to follow what is true, we ought to follow what is most probable.”