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Descartes : An Intellectual Biography - Stephen Gaukroger

Descartes

An Intellectual Biography

Paperback Published: 1st June 1997
ISBN: 9780198237242
Number Of Pages: 520

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RenA(c) Descartes's insights into the nature of knowledge and the mind have inspired awe and debate through the centuries. But while philosophers have sought to understand the ramifications of his theories, they have paid much less attention to how, exactly, he arrived at his ideas. What twists and turns of his intellect brought him to his epochal conclusions? How did his personal ambitions and the social conditions of his era shape his thought? These questions and more are masterfully answered in Stephen Gaukroger's Descartes, a fascinating look at this most influential of all Renaissance thinkers.
In his quest to retrace Descartes's development as a scientist and philosopher, Gaukroger leaves no stone unturned. From the great man's first book on music theory (Compendium Musicae) to his masterworks Discours, Essais, Meditationes, and Principia, from his study of mathematics while attending a Jesuit college at age ten, through his dying days in the service of Christina, Queen of Sweden, Descartes brims with penetrating and often surprising insights into the philosopher's life and work. We discover, for example, that he wasn't as concerned with developing an all-encompassing theory of knowledge as he was with establishing a natural philosophy that supported the teachings of Copernicus, a man whose work he deeply admired. We also learn that Descartes was willing to alter his publicly stated views to accommodate church doctrine--especially after witnessing Galileo's condemnation in 1633. We observe how his personal triumphs and failures--from his rumored nervous breakdown in 1614, to his joy at the popular reception of Discours and Essais, to his protracted and very public dispute with the implacable professor Voetius--affected his intellectual development. Along the way, Gaukroger details how Descartes's theories of metaphysics, mechanics, cognition, and cosmology have been both championed and distorted by philosophers of all stripes for over three hundred years. Packed with helpful diagrams and in-depth interpretations of Descartes's most celebrated works, the book also includes a useful chronology that highlights his important accomplishments and personal milestones.
Descartes is an exhaustively detailed, magisterial look at the dazzling intellectual achievements of the father of modern philosophy. Splendidly written by a renowned authority on the subject, it will serve as the definitive guide to Descartes's thoughts, works, and life for years to come.

`Stephen Gaukroger has made an important contribution to Descartes scholarship with this unique, erudite and in many respects effective volume ... it is an exceedingly fine-grained study ... this is a work of exceptional scholarship, especially in the scientific dimension. Oxford has done a fine job of production, with many nice pictures and diagrams and a miraculously small number of typographical errors for such a large book.' Margaret D. Wilson, Philosophical Quarterly `Gaukroger writes well and his important book will certainly excite all students of 17th-century thought.' The Times `Gaukroger's exposition of the background, development, and content of Descarte's work is exemplary in detail and completeness. It constitutes a major interpretation of Descarte's works as a whole in which his metaphysics is properly placed as subsidiary to his natural philosophy.' International Studies in Philosophy `Gaukroger uses Descartes' extensive correspondence to sketch a touching portrait of the philosopher's personal life.' THES `Stephen Gaukroger is an experienced and erudite writer on Descartes. He has a comlete mastery of the recent literature, and is at home equally in metaphysics, epistemology and natural philosophy. He offers reasoned argument against many conventional criticisms on Descartes.' Nature `Gaukroger's book fills the philosophical and historical vacuum which has grown around Descartes, and is a good source to consult for those who wish to better understand why his methodology became so influential.' The American Rationalist `Gaukroger knows more about his subject than his subject would ever concede. The result is a clear and fabulously thorough portrait of the father of modern philosophy.' Washington Post `Gaukroger uses Descartes' extensive correspondence to sketch a touching portrait of the philosopher's personal life.' Times Higher Education Supplement `Stephen Gaukroger is an experienced and erudite writer on Descartes. He has a complete mastery of the recent literature, and is at home equally in metaphysics, epistemology and natural philosophy. He offers reasoned argument against many conventional criticisms of Descartes.' Nature `The book is a very fine achievement indeed. Gaukroger long ago proved himself to be one of the best guides to the philosophy of Descartes ... in this work he has surpassed even his own high standards, and surely demonstrated once and for all that Descartes cannot be understood unless he is seen as a natural philosopher. Furthermore, thanks to the superbly clear organisation of his text, it is possible to break into the densely packed narrative in order to use it as a handbook.' Metascience `Gaukroger's expert grasp of the seventeenth-century scientific and mathematical background is also used to masterful effect in his account of Descarte's subsequent studies of geometry, optics, the physics of light and the mechanics of motion ... those prepared ... follow the details of Gaukroger's analysis will gain a greatly enriched understanding of the complexity involved in Descarte's project of demolishing the Aristotelian framework for the study of natural phenomena.' Times Literary Supplement `A comprehensive biography ... Mr Gaukroger entitles his book: "Descartes: An Intellectual Biography", and that is precisely what the reader gets ... Mr Gaukroger has written a biography remarkable in its detail and its scholarly research ... What emerges is as complete a biography of Descartes' thinking and how he arrived at it as we are likely ever to have.' The Washington Times `Stephen Gaukroger is an experienced and erudite writer on Descartes. He has a complete mastery of the recent literature, and is at home equally in metaphysics, epistemology and natural philosophy ... Gaukroger is surely right to treat Descartes as the first unambiguously modern philosopher. He steers firmly ... through the complexities created by the pressures to which Descartes' thinking was subject.' Nature `This book goes far beyond the usual treatment of Descartes merely as an epistemologist ... Gaukroger creates a flesh-and-blood Descartes, a man of passion, actively engaged in the world and the concerns of his time. Highly recommended for academic collections in biography, intellectual history, philosophy, and science.' Library Journal `Gaukroger has immersed himself in Descartes' world ... we come away from the study of Descartes' life with a deeper insight into the problem of progress in the sciences.' The Christian Science Monitor `Gaukroger's book lives up to its subtitle: It does valuable research in analysing Descartes' work over his shifting career and in its proper context.' Kirkus Reviews `Gaukroger carries his scholarship lightly, but he never trivializes or caricatures the complex scientific and philosophical problems that Deescartes tackled in a bold and innovative way. ... Anyone interested in Descartes will read this book with pleasure and profit, and it should be made available in paperback.' American Historical Review, February 1997 `A useful collection of supplementary material is provided ... a series of valuable biographical sketches, a bibliography, and a good index ... the level of accuracy is high.' J. R. Milton, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, vol.48 no.2, 1997

Preface; Chronological Table; Introduction 1: `A Learned and Eloquent Piety' 2: An Education in Propriety, 1606-1618 3: The Apprenticeship with Beeckman, 1618-1619 4: The Search for Method, 1619-1625 5: The Paris Years, 1625-1628 6: A New Beginning, 1629-1630 7: A New System of the World, 1630-1633 8: The Years of Consolidation, 1634-1640 9: Natural Philosophy and Orthodoxy, 1640-1644 Biographical Sketches; Select Bibliography; Index

ISBN: 9780198237242
ISBN-10: 0198237243
Audience: Professional
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 520
Published: 1st June 1997
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 23.5 x 15.7  x 3.0
Weight (kg): 0.96