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Descartes: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) [Paperback]

Tom Sorrell
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 Oct 2000 Very Short Introductions (Book 30)
Rene Descartes (1596-1650) had a remarkably short working life, and his output was small, yet his contributions to philosophy and science have endured to the present day. He is perhaps best known for his statement 'Cogito, ergo sum'. By a mixture of 'intuition' and 'deduction' Descartes derived from the 'cogito' principle first the existence of a material world. But Descartes did not intend the metaphysics to stand apart from his scientific work, which included important investigations into physics, mathematics, psychology, and optics. In this book Tom Sorrell shows that Descartes was, above all, an advocate and practitioner of a new mathematical approach to physics, and that he developed his metaphysics to support his programme in the sciences. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; New Ed edition (12 Oct 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192854097
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192854094
  • Product Dimensions: 17.7 x 11.5 x 0.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 223,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Sorell's account well portrays the intensely personal character of Descartes's thought, and in doing so tells us much about the thinker himself. The pages ... devoted to the Meditations surely constitute the best available introductory sketch of Descartes's classic. Times Higher Education Supplement concise and lucid ... it radiates authority J. V. Field, Mathematical Reviews

About the Author

Tom Sorell is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex. He is the author of Hobbes (1986), Moral Theory and Capital Punishment (1987), Scientism (1991), and editor of The Rise of Modern Philosophy (1993) and The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes (1995).

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Rene Descartes had a short working life and it began late. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Steve
Format:Paperback
This is a stimulating introduction to the life and work of Descartes which successfully interweaves an historical account of his life with clear and concise explanations of his philosophical work. Sorrel manages to squeeze a lot into the book, covering not only Descartes' obvious philosophical output - the Discourse and Meditations - but also his scientific and mathematical work - and presenting these in the context of the political and ideological background of the time.

Some of Descartes' arguments can be quite abstract (e.g. the argument for the existence of material objects) but Sorell does an impressive job of summarising these for the newcomer. The book is well-organized - more-or-less chronologically to his life - and with a mere 100 odd pages split into 20 very short chapters, this is an easily manageable and enjoyable read that should keep the interest of the beginner. Some of the books in this series can be a bit hit-and-miss, but if you want to know more about Descartes and his ideas, I would recommend this one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ghost of Descartes is still with us 6 April 2011
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Descartes is one of the most influential Western philosophers, and this book is a useful first introduction to his life and ideas. The strength of the book is in positioning Descartes' writing primarily within the political and ideological currents of his time, and showing how exactly he's been forced to edit and finesse his writings in order to please the censorship and his critics. This helps explain why some of his works were not as straightforwardly written as one might have liked. The other reason has probably to do with the sheer ambition of Descartes' chief enterprise, to discover one sure method of arriving at explanations and solutions of the most pressing scientific and philosophical problems of the time. The enormity of this scope meant that some of these methods would necessarily be to vague to be of any practical use in mathematics or physics, and within a generation after Descartes' death Newtonian gravitation completely prevailed. However, in the realm of philosophy, Descarts' thought managed to be of interest until the present day.

This book is very well written, and if you are interested in finding out more about Descartes, it would be a worthwhile first read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great 16 May 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very quick delivery and the item was in prime condition. Brilliant seller. Wanted this book because of Descartes used to live in Holland and had some interesting stuff to say about my country.
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14 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Recommended as an introduction 11 Oct 2001
Format:Paperback
This book is both short and easy to read. Its a good starting point for those who are trying to grasp a framework about Descartes and what he did.
The author has put a lot of effort into breaking down the book into short chapters - this makes the book manageable and keeps you interested. Each chapter covers a new area.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Useful for novices and advanced students alike. 13 Feb 2003
By Mark I. Vuletic - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Those who have not yet studied Descartes will enjoy this clearly written introduction to Descartes' life and thought. However, even seasoned philosophy students are also liable to find much of interest in Sorell's DESCARTES. For most philosophy students, Descartes is more or less synonymous with the DISCOURSE ON METHOD and the MEDITATIONS ON FIRST PHILOSOPHY, and Descartes' scientific and mathematical work tend to be regarded as almost irrelevant and disconnected afterthoughts. The brilliance of Sorell's book is to show how Descartes' work constitutes an integrated whole, where the DISCOURSE and the MEDITATIONS are more a preliminary step in Descartes' project than the endpoint of his philosophy that we often take it to be.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear, Informative Introduction to Descartes 17 Aug 2007
By Ray - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is an enjoyable and informative introduction to Descartes, his work, and his philosophy. Some may hesitate to delve into Descartes work because of its complexity and denseness of thought, but this "very short introduction" comes to the rescue, orienting us to Descartes' major ideas, their developmental history, and the context in which he developed them. The book is greatly interesting to read, and even the discourses on some of Descartes' more conceptual thought are treated with exceptional clarity. Although the book focuses on the developmental history of Descartes' investigation into the sciences (particularly in optics), the book also discusses his contributions to mathematical geometry, as well as some of his thoughts on faith and reason. If you are looking for an introduction to Descartes, it is hard to go wrong with this well-written and enjoyable pocket volume.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An adequate and balanced if somewhat bland introduction to Descartes 6 Dec 2009
By Robert Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I previously had read Tom Sorrell's book on Hobbes and had very much enjoyed that. I learned a great deal from it and was impressed by its depth and range. I did not learn nearly as much from this book. It is not that the book is misconceived or poorly informed. It is simply not as well executed as his Hobbes book. It isn't a question of length. There is an absolutely outstanding introductory book on Descartes by John Cottingham, perhaps the top English language Descartes scholar of our time, Descartes, that is both enormously informative and exceptionally well written. I found this short book by Sorrell to be wide-ranging but opaque, and less illuminating on various ideas and concepts than I would have liked. If it weren't for the hefty price of the Cottingham book, I would strongly recommend it over this one.

The strong point of this book is that it takes a balanced approach to Descartes's philosophy. Many books on Descartes emphasize the philosophy over the scientific to such a degree that it drops out of consideration as an issue. Some undergraduates, having read the MEDITATIONS in a freshmen philosophy class, are unaware of Descartes's importance as a mathematician or physicist. Sorrell does an excellent job of placing all of Descartes's though within his scientific agenda. Descartes was not a philosopher who dabbled with science, but a scientific theoretician who was forced to metaphysical reflections. Though Sorrell is clear on noting that physicists and scientists did not exist as such; what we would call scientists were at the time known as natural philosophers. The problem with the book is not the breadth; that is actually its strength. The problem is the lack of clarity in the details. Too many concepts are mentioned in their contexts, without fully explaining that context. Because I've read a good deal on Descartes (actually, two graduate level courses on his work), I kept thinking that this was missing here or that lacking there.

The one thing that I found did regret in setting the overall context of Descartes work was the degree to which it was driven by theological concerns. Descartes was, as Sorrell points out, a critic of the Scholastic school that dominated Catholic education at the time. Descartes saw himself as opposing the Aristotelianism embedded in Scholastic (Thomist) thought by resurrecting Augustinian (hence, Platonic) thought. So when I say that Sorrell is good as setting the context of Descartes's thought, it was in terms of his scientific goals. Like many Decartes scholars, Sorrell neglects the theological side of his work, though it has been dealt with more thoroughly in the past couple of decades by several French and a few English-language scholars. Still, it is a book worth reading, though if you have the money or access via a library to the Cottingham book I noted above, I would recommend that instead.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ghost of Descartes is still with us 25 Sep 2006
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Descartes is one of the most influential Western philosophers, and this book is a useful first introduction to his life and ideas. The strength of the book is in positioning Descartes' writing primarily within the political and ideological currents of his time, and showing how exactly he's been forced to edit and finesse his writings in order to please the censorship and his critics. This helps explain why some of his works were not as straightforwardly written as one might have liked. The other reason has probably to do with the sheer ambition of Descartes' chief enterprise, to discover one sure method of arriving at explanations and solutions of the most pressing scientific and philosophical problems of the time. The enormity of this scope meant that some of these methods would necessarily be to vague to be of any practical use in mathematics or physics, and within a generation after Descartes' death Newtonian gravitation completely prevailed. However, in the realm of philosophy, Descarts' thought managed to be of interest until the present day.

This book is very well written, and if you are interested in finding out more about Descartes, it would be a worthwhile first read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brief, clear and non-technical. 10 Dec 2013
By Husky Dawg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Brief, clear and non-technical introduction to Descartes and current literature about his multiple contributions to our modern world. Lays out contributions without worship and notes some of the shifts in scholarship about Descartes. Great Biblio. included.
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