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A Discourse on the Method: of Correctly Conducting One's Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences (Oxford World's Classics) [Paperback]

René Descartes , Ian Maclean
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

17 April 2008 Oxford World's Classics
Descartes' Discourse marks a watershed in European thought; in it, the author sets out in brief his radical new philosophy, which begins with a proof of the existence of the self (the famous "cogito ergo sum") Next he deduces from it the existence and nature of God, and ends by offering a radical new account of the physical world and of human and animal nature. Written in everyday language and meant to be read by common people of the day, it swept away all previous philosophical traditions. This new translation is an ideal introduction to Descartes for the general reader. It is accompanied by a substantial introductory essay from Renaissance scholar Ian Maclean that is designed to provide in-depth historical and philosophical context. The essay draws on Descartes' correspondence to examine what brought him to write his great work, and the impact it had on his contemporaries. A detailed section of notes explain Descartes' philosophical terminology and ideas, as well as historical references and allusions. Any reader can feel comfortable diving in to this classic work of Renaissance philosophical thought.

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A Discourse on the Method: of Correctly Conducting One's Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences (Oxford World's Classics) + Meditations on First Philosophy: with Selections from the Objections and Replies (Oxford World's Classics) + An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (Oxford World's Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (17 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199540071
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199540075
  • Product Dimensions: 19.5 x 13 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 328,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


...what sets this edition apart is its substantial introduction...its copious explanatory notes...The translation is clean and clear. Overall the work is to be recommended. Roger Ariew, Modern Languages Review, vol 102, part 1 'The care and accuracy of Ian Maclean's new translation are immediately apparentThis edition is remarkable for the ample introductory material which will be of great use to beginners and specialists alike[it] displays impeccable erudition and exemplary clarity.' s

About the Author

Ian Maclean, Professor of Renaissance Studies, University of Oxford.

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4.0 out of 5 stars book 2 Jun 2014
By lee
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
i found the book to be rather less Descartes and more associated with the publishers point of view and love with Descartes theories, although the information contained was relevant i found the lack of content Regarding the actual statements of Descartes to be rather annoying. otherwise no comment.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars non-practical nor illustrating 28 April 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Descartes' reasoning is clearly 'gone the date'. The book is OK if one wants to get into the the philosopher's head as a figure the reader admires or follows but it's neither illustrating nor is the content applicable to life.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I did not doubt that I should begin as they [the mathematicians] had done" 10 Feb 2013
By Viktor Blasjo - Published on Amazon.com
This is quintessential Descartes, and a concise, eloquent and candid expression of the main themes of his philosophy.

In my review I wish to stress a particular aspect of Descartes's method which is neglected in most commentaries, including that of the present translator, namely the fact that it is directly modelled on the axiomatic method of Greek mathematics, and Euclid's Elements in particular. Descartes makes it quite clear that his intention is to widen the scope of the mathematical method to philosophy in general:

"I was most keen on mathematics, because of its certainty and the incontrovertibility of its proofs; but I did not yet see its true use. Believing as I did that its only application was to the mechanical arts, I was astonished that nothing more exalted had been built on such sure and solid foundations." (9 = AT 7)

Indeed, Descartes's definitive statement of his method is such an apt description of the Elements that it could easily have been written by Euclid himself as a preface to this work. Here I quote it in its entirety and point out the obvious parallels with Euclid.

"The first [principle of my method] was never to accept anything as true that I did not incontrovertibly know to be so; that is to say, carefully to avoid both prejudice and premature conclusions; and to include nothing in my judgements other than that which presented itself to my mind so clearly and distinctly, that I would have no occasion to doubt it." (17 = AT 18) This is of course a perfect description of the way Euclid bases his entire work on a few evident postulates and common notions.

"The second was to divide all the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible, and as many as was required to solve them in the best way." (17 = AT 18) Just as, e.g., Euclid's proof of the Pythagorean theorem relies on some 26 previous propositions, and so on for all other theorems.

"The third was to conduct my thoughts in a given order, beginning with the simplest and most easily understood objects, and gradually ascending, as it were step by step, to the knowledge of the most complex; and positing an order even on those which do not have a natural order or precedence." (17 = AT 18) Again it is hard to imagine how any work could fit this description more perfectly than Euclid's Elements. The last point in particular is something of a peculiarity of mathematics. In mathematics, when faced with two equivalent statements, one picks arbitrarily which to prove first and which to derive as a corollary, and this has nothing to do with any kind of causal hierarchy between them.

"The last was to undertake such complete enumerations and such general surveys that I would be sure to have left nothing out." (17 = AT 19) Cf., for example, Euclid's exhaustive and systematic treatments of "geometric algebra" in Book II and beyond, irrational magnitudes in Book X, and regular polyhedra in Book XIII.

Descartes immediately goes on the emphasise again that his method is modelled on mathematics:

"The long chains of reasonings, every one simple and easy, which geometers habitually employ to reach their most difficult proofs had given me cause to suppose that all those things which fall within the domain of human understanding follow on from each other in the same way, and that as long as one stops oneself taking anything to be true that is not true and sticks to the right order so as to deduce one thing from another, there can be nothing so remote that one cannot eventually reach it, nor so hidden that one cannot discover it. And I had little difficulty in determining those with which it was necessary to begin, for I already knew that I had to begin with the simplest and the easiest to understand; and considering that of all those who had up to now sought truth in the sphere of human knowledge, only mathematicians have been able to discover any proofs, that is, any certain and incontrovertible arguments, I did not doubt that I should begin as they had done." (17-18 = AT 19; cf. 16-19 generally)
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