What are the successes of Rene Descartes

Summary of On the method of the correct use of reason and scientific research

Europe in the 17th century

The first half of the 17th century was a tremendous time for Europe. Over half of the continent's population was affected by the turmoil of the Thirty Years' War as a result of the religious division. This led to a pronounced awareness of the impermanence of all things and put an abrupt end to the optimistic worldview of the Renaissance. Spiritual Europe was also considerably mixed up: Around 100 years earlier, Nicolaus Copernicus had replaced the geocentric with the heliocentric worldview, which was confirmed by Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei at the beginning of the 17th century. The Catholic Church reacted with intolerance, inquisition and heretic burnings. The philosophy of this time is inseparable from mathematics. The latter provided a very successful method of deriving many details from a very few principles. This method was now used everywhere, including philosophy. Some of the great philosophers of this period, such as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz or Blaise Pascal, were mathematical geniuses. Descartes himself is z. B. also a pioneer of infinitesimal calculus and the inventor of coordinate geometry. Mathematical thinking thus served as a model in the 17th century (and up to the present day). The goal was to make philosophy a kind of universal mathematics from which everything could be derived.


An entry in his diary shows that Descartes wrote down his first thoughts on his method as early as November 10, 1619. Since his youth he was concerned with rules that would lead him to knowledge. He no longer wanted to be satisfied with the principles of traditional logic. Rather, the author strove for rules that led him to find new things. A first attempt failed: in 1628 Descartes broke off work on the Regulae ad directionem ingenii (rules for the alignment of the power of knowledge). Nine years later, Von der Methode was finally published. However, he refrained from integrating his studies in mathematics and natural philosophy into the publication. The charges against Galileo had intimidated him too much. However, friends advised him to publish the work anyway, which then happened in 1637 - albeit anonymously and with an extensive discussion of the reasons that had prompted the author to publish it. A few months before publication, Descartes managed to borrow Galileo's work Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi, which confirmed the heliocentric image of Copernicus. Descartes tried to avoid careless formulations such as those that led the Church to accuse Galileo. In vain: Von der Methode was also later placed on the index.

Impact history

Although Descartes had already settled in the Netherlands in 1628 in order to live in a more tolerant climate, Von the method was attacked immediately after its appearance. Utrecht theologians claimed that Descartes’s understanding of God was not in line with official theology. It was only because of the intervention of the French envoy in The Hague that Descartes was not expelled. The diplomat also managed to ensure that the book was not burned. Still, Descartes was deeply concerned. He saw himself as a sincere Catholic and had never denied his Jesuit education in his youth. Therefore, and to show his goodwill, he later dedicated his work to Meditations on the First Philosophy of the theological faculty of the University of Paris. Without success, of course: in 1663 all of Descartes’s writings were placed on the Church’s index. Today Descartes is credited with emancipating philosophy from theology.

It is thanks to Descartes that the 17th century went down in the history of philosophy as the century of method. The movement he initiated, Cartesianism, was soon joined by philosophers from all over Europe. When Descartes placed the thinking ego at the center of philosophy, the scientific method consciousness and the modern philosophy of reason and subject began. Immanuel Kant explicitly referred to him in his philosophy of reason. G. W. F. Hegel and Karl Marx observed in Descartes the attempt to free people from relationships of power and dependency.

Descartes' separation of body and soul met with little acceptance in the occidental philosophy. Since the 19th century at the latest, this view has given rise to a popular materialism that only recognizes the world of the body as reality. The doctrine of evolution later filled in the rift opened by Descartes between humans and animals. In the opinion of many French people, Von der Methode shaped the French national character in the sense of the "esprit cartésien", which is concerned with logic and order. The empiricism prevailing in England at the same time has dealt all the more with experience. This difference can still be observed today: in France rationalism, which is focused on order and clarity, in England empiricism, which focuses on practicality.