Rene Descartes was born March 31, 1596 in La Haye, Touraine. Descartes was the son of a minor nobleman and belonged to a family that had produced a number of learned men. At the age of eight, he was enrolled in the Jesuit school of La Fleche in Anjou, where he remained for eight years. Besides the usual classical studies, he received instruction in math and in Scholastic philosophy. Roman Catholicism exerted a strong influence on Descartes throughout his life. Upon graduation from school, he studied law at the University of Poitiers, graduating in 1616. He never practiced law, however--in 1618 he entered the service of Prince Maurice of Nassau at Breda, Netherlands, with the intention of following a military career. In succeeding years Descartes served in other armies, but his attention had already been attracted to the problems of mathematics and philosophy to which he was to devote the rest of his life. He made a pilgrimage to Italy in 1623-24, and spent the years from 1624 to 1628 in France. While in France, he devoted himself to the study of philosophy and also experimented in optics. In 1628, having sold his properties in France, he moved to the Netherlands, where he spent most of the rest of his life. He lived for varying periods in a number of different cities in the Netherlands, including Amsterdam, Deventer, Utrecht, and Leiden.
It was probably during the first years of his residence in the Netherlands that Descartes wrote his first major work, Essais philosophiques, published in 1637. The work contained four parts: an essay on geometry, another on optics, a third on meteors, and Discours de la methode (Discourse on Method), which described his philosophical theories. This was followed by other philosophical works, among them Meditationes de Prima Philosophia (Meditations on First Philosophy, 1641) and Principia Philosophiae (The Principles of Philosophy, 1644). The latter volume was dedicated to Princess...
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