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Descartes - An Intellectual Biography Hardcover – 4 Mar 2002

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 520 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; First Edition edition (4 Mar. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198239947
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198239949
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 3.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,700,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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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'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)

Any future biographer of Descartes will have to contend with this study for the richness of its scientific analysis and the tremendous wealth of references presented in the notes. It is a well-printed, handsome volume ... Altoghether the celebration of the four-hundredth anniversary of Descarte's birth was well served by the publication of this study. (Desmond J. Fitzgerald, The Thomist)

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 writes well and his important book will certainly excite all students of 17th-century thought. (The 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. He offers reasoned argument against many conventional criticisms of Descartes. (Nature, Vol 374, April 1995)

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's book contains tons of analyses of Descartes' physical and mathematical works. (British Journal of the History of Philosophy, vol.5, no.1, 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)

Book Description

First intellectual biography in English of René Descartes

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Inside This Book

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Since the eighteenth century, there has been in circulation a curious story about Descartes. Read the first page
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Daniel Miller on 8 Dec. 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is clearly meant for the specialist and serious student of Descartes. It is by no means light reading, although the unexpectedly light and pleasant style Gaukroger possesses does make for a much more enjoyable experience for what could have been a profoudnly boring and tiresome work. I must admit to having skipped the sections on Descartes' physics as they make little sense to me, but the parts on metaphysics are often illuminatory, sometimes obfuscatory, however. Nevertheless this IS a worthwhile read for anyone with a serious interest in Descartes and does provide some (although not as many) useful insights into his work. I would have appreciated, for example, a section on Descartes' time spent in La Fleche, but we're not treated to one. I'm not sure whether this is due to lack of biographical information or omission on the part of the author, intentional or otherwise. Still, an entertaining read, recommended.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4 reviews
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Historical raisons d�être of Descartes� intellectual pursuit 18 Aug. 2001
By Albrecht Heeffer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Gaukroger ends his introduction with the words: "An intellectual biography forces one to think in very specific terms, hopefully yielding a kind of understanding which historians of philosophy of science have missed". This point of view marks one of the strengths as well as one of the weaknesses of this work on Descartes.
This intellectual biography offers a detailed exposition on the intellectual development and evolution of thought of René Descartes. The book strictly follows the chronology of events in Descartes' intellectual life and starts with his early childhood and education at La Flèche. This chapter excels in providing insight in 17th-century Jesuit education systems and the influence they had on Descartes' methodology and fields of study. Chapter 3 focuses on Descartes' apprenticeship with Isaac Beeckman in Holland and the decisive influence the latter's corpuscalarian thinking had on the natural philosophy of Descartes. Starting from this corpuscalar theory, Descartes developed an arithmetical account of consonance in music and alternative explanations for the kinematics of falling bodies and the problems of hydrostatics. During this period, Descartes discovered the proportional compass (mesolabe), which led him to the ambitious idea of a general theory of mathematics. In chapter 4 Gaukroger puts forward the interesting thesis that Descartes' search for a general theory of "method" was partly influenced by the contact he had with the Rosicrucians in Germany and he was to share in something like the generality and the delusions of grandeur of their vision of a universal language, generating all truths from basic premises. Later, on returning to France, Descartes had to defend himself against charges of being a Rosicrucian, which was considered to be a political threat. During these libertine Paris years, covered in chapter 5, Descartes pursued his interests in natural philosophy and mathematics in close contact with Mersenne, Mydorge and others. During these three years Descartes discovered the law of refraction in optics, lays the foundation of analytic geometry by the arithmetization of geometrical problems and develops a theory of perceptual cognition. In 1629 Descartes moved to Holland and stayed there for almost 20 years. During these years, discussed in chapters 6 to 8, Descartes worked on several publications: Le Monde, his most important work on natural philosophy, L'Homme, an exposition of a mechanist physiology, Geometry, a first account of analytic geometry, and Discourse of Method, a metaphysical foundation of his thinking, which established him as the best known philosopher of the 17th century. Gaukroger meticulously traces origins and dates of the respective chapters in these books and points them to specific periods of Descartes' intellectual life. Descartes' attempts to systematisation, his later publications and the critics these evoked, are discussed in the final chapters.
Gaukroger establishes a rationale for Descartes' intellectual pursuits both in terms of his motivations and in terms of the specific cultural context in which these motivations bear fruit and thus fulfils his goals for writing this intellectual biography. The book will appeal to students of philosophy and history of science that are already familiar with Descartes. A close reading of this book will guard them from the homogenization from thought in previous writing on Descartes and offer them a better understanding of the genesis of and significant changes in his doctrines. However, this biography fails in both precisely identifying many of the mathematical problems studied by Descartes, and in placing them within their correct historical context. A particular example is Descartes' solution for the problem of a depressed quartic equation, cited in every textbook on the history of mathematics. Gaukroger fails to provide an appreciation of the problem, to discuss previous solutions given by Viète and 16th-century Italian mathematicians and to explain Descartes' solution. Offering a better understanding of Descartes' study fields may indeed not have been Gaukroger's ambition but I am convinced that many readers will be missing this aspect in a scholarly biography of one of the most inspiring natural philosophers of the 17th century.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Great exposition of Descartes 7 Nov. 2000
By James S. - Published on
Format: Paperback
Anyone interested in the ideas of Rene Descartes would be mad to miss this book. As the title suggests, emphasis is placed on the development of his ideas, placing them in context and giving a clear exposition of the concepts involved, with only as much personal background as is interesting and necessary to this end. Gaukroger is justly regarded as one of the world's leading Descartes scholars. And I'm sure he is very kind to dogs.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Five Stars 8 Dec. 2014
By RAFAEL GONZALEZ - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
very good
4 of 64 people found the following review helpful
Well written book; have remarks though. 26 Aug. 1997
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
It was Descartes whose analysis that dogs don't have feelings led to the justification of all manner of cruelty towards animals. For anyone planning to read this book, also expand your horizons and read "The Intelligence of Dogs" by Stanley Coren, psychologist and dog trainer
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