What were Descartess' religious views

Rene Descartes: The great thinker

The French philosopher Rene Descartes strove for complete certainty. To find her, he questioned everything: his own existence, that of the world, and even that of God. He didn't just make friends with his doubts. Which is why Descartes sometimes wished he had kept quiet better. But his ideas are still preoccupying the philosophers today, 300 years later

Rene Descartes: a profile

  • Surname: RenĂ© Descartes
  • Life dates: March 31, 1596 to February 11, 1650
  • nationality: French
  • Quote: "Cogito ergo sum: I think therefore I am!"

Whether mathematics, astronomy or philosophy - Rene Descartes was a versatile researcher. A coordinate system with right-angled axes is still called "Cartesian" after the great scholar.

How Rene Descartes lived

Lessons only start at ten o'clock? Some people get jealous! In any case, when Rene enters his class, the math lesson is almost over. As always. No wonder the other students in the Jesuit college in the French town of La Fleche mumble angrily. "Why is this guy never punished?" Hissed one. "That's unfair!" Rene turns to the critic. "I was so sick as a baby that the doctors thought I was going to die," he says calmly. "Since then, I've had to take it easy and sleep a lot."

Rene Descartes (pronounced: De-kart) remained ailing all his life. And yet hardly any other modern thinker has changed philosophy as much as he has. Even today he is considered a universal genius because he was thoroughly familiar with a wide variety of sciences; and as a rebel who was persecuted for years by church princes for his views.

After finishing school and studying law, Rene first wants to get to know the world. The military offers the best options for this. For several years he traveled through Europe as an officer, seeing Germany, Holland, Austria and Hungary. Until, in the winter of 1619, at the age of 23, his life turned: when his company was frozen in near Ulm, one night he dreamed that he was called to be a philosopher. "The light of a wonderful insight has dawned on me," he writes.

How Rene Descartes changed the world

From now on Descartes throws himself into his research. In a few years, the talented young man absorbs a vast amount of knowledge. He publishes papers on medicine and meteorology, physics and mathematics. In his honor, every coordinate system with axes perpendicular to one another is still called the "Cartesian coordinate system" today.

But his favorite area is and remains philosophy. Here he is primarily concerned with one question: What is real? Do the things even exist that we see, hear or smell? Other people, trees or houses? Maybe none of this is safe at all. All of life could just be a dream.

Is there possibly nothing really at all?

A harrowing thought. But after pondering for a long time, Descartes finds an answer that satisfies him: If I have doubts, then I think, he thinks. And because I think I can be sure that I am there. It doesn't matter whether it happens while you are awake or asleep. After all, we couldn't dream if we weren't there. "So I think I am!" Or in Latin: "Cogito ergo sum." This realization of Rene Descartes becomes famous worldwide like few other doctrines of philosophy.

As with a mathematical proof, the philosopher now draws further conclusions: Because we humans think of God, he concludes, for example, there must be God. A creature as stupid as man could not possibly come up with something so perfect by himself!

Descartes also believes that the world of tangible things is almost completely separate from the world of thought and soul. He considers the whole universe to be a kind of giant clockwork that automatically keeps on running. So the stars pass forever across the sky; rain clouds clump together; even living beings function as little cogs in the world's gears. Only we humans can influence our body through a gland in the brain and thereby create a connection between the world of the spirit and the tangible world, the philosopher teaches. For example, if we wish - or, better said, our minds - to lift the left leg, then the gland push a portion of "spirit of life" towards the leg muscles - and the leg is already lifted.

Descartes lives withdrawn and initially writes on his works in secret. Because he suspects that he will make enemies with his radical ideas.

And that's exactly how it happens: no sooner have the first writings appeared than public outrage breaks out. Many clergymen insult him as a doubter and as an unbeliever. Such an accusation can have dangerous consequences in the 17th century. The Catholic and Protestant Churches and some universities forbid his books. "If I had just kept quiet," he often thinks, "then I would have my peace." However, that doesn't stop him from further developing his philosophy.

After all, Descartes no longer feels comfortable even in the less strict Holland, where he has lived since 1628. At the age of 53, the philosopher accepted an invitation from the Swedish Queen Christine to Stockholm. A serious mistake, as he soon realizes.

Because there the habitual late riser has to get up very early: the queen wishes to philosophize with him at five in the morning. And the nasty cold of the north attacks the health of the sensitive genius. The philosopher does not endure that for long. In February 1650 Rene Descartes died of pneumonia.

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