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René Descartes (March 31, 1596 – February 11, 1650) was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. Descartes is also widely regarded as one of the founders of modern philosophy. He made numerous discoveries and argued for ideas that people still talk about today.
See the fact file below for more information on the René Descartes or alternatively, you can download our 20-page René Descartes worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
- On March 31, 1596, René Descartes was born in La Haye en Touraine (now Descartes, Indre-et-Loire), France. His mother, Jeanne Brochard, died soon after giving birth to him. His father, Joachim, was a member of the Parlement of Brittany at Rennes. René lived with his grandmother and his great-uncle.
- Late because of his fragile health in 1607, he entered the Jesuit Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand at La Flèche, where he was introduced to mathematics and physics.
- He suffered poor health and had a permanent cough. His father employed a nurse who devoted herself to René’s care.
- In 1614, he studied for two years at the University of Poitiers, entitled a Baccalauréat and Licence in canon and civil law in 1616.
- It was his father’s wish for him to become a lawyer.
- In 1618, given his ambition to become a professional military officer, Descartes joined the army as a mercenary and undertook formal studies of military engineering, as established by Simon Stevin.
- Descartes left the army in 1620. He visited Basilica della Santa Casa in Loreto, where he wrote his first essay on method: Regulae ad Directionem Ingenii (Rules for the Direction of the Mind).
- Descartes received much encouragement to advance his knowledge of mathematics. In this way, he became familiarized with Isaac Beeckman. Together they worked on free fall, catenary, conic section, and fluid statics.
- He had a relationship with a servant in Amsterdam, Helena Jans van der Strom. They had a daughter named Francine, who was born in 1635 in Deventer. She died of scarlet fever at the age of 5.
- Descartes had become one of Europe’s most famous philosophers and scientists by 1649. That year, Queen Christina of Sweden invited Descartes to her court to arrange a new scientific academy and tutor her in his ideas about love.
- In 1637, Descartes brought out his ideas in Discours de la méthode (Discussion of the Method), La Géométrie (Geometry), Les Météores (Meteorology), and La Dioptrique (Optics). The first two contain his most significant contributions.
- In Discussion of the Method, Descartes showed his framework for doing science. One of his main lines of thought was skepticism – that everything should be doubted until it could be proved.
- Descartes made the complete discovery that he could solve problems in geometry by converting them into problems in algebra.
- He then showed in La Géométrie that curves could be expressed in terms of x and y on a two-dimensional plane.
- One of Descartes’ continuing legacies was his development of the Cartesian system, which uses algebra to describe geometry.
- Descartes invented the convention of representing unknowns in equations by x, y, and z, and knowns by a, b, and c. He also developed the standard notation that uses superscripts to show the powers or exponents.
- The basis of Descartes’ interest in physics is attributed to the amateur scientist and mathematician Isaac Beeckman, who was at the forefront of a new school of thought known as mechanical philosophy.
- With this foundation of reasoning, Descartes formulated many of his theories on mechanical and geometrical physics.
- Descartes also studied optics. He showed, by using geometric construction and the law of refraction, that the angular radius of a rainbow is 42 degrees. This law is also known as Descartes’ law, or more commonly Snell’s law.
- He also independently discovered the law of reflection. His essay on optics was the first published mention of this law.
- At the age of 53, René Descartes died from pneumonia in Stockholm on February 11, 1650. He was buried in the Adolf Fredriks Church in Stockholm.
- His remains were moved and buried in the Saint-Étienne-du-Mont church in Paris, France, 16 years after his first burial.
- In 1819, his remains, minus skull and finger, were moved again, this time to the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Près in Paris, where he now rests.
René Descartes Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the René Descartes across 20 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use René Descartes worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about René Descartes (March 31, 1596 – February 11, 1650) who was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. Descartes is also widely regarded as one of the founders of modern philosophy. He made numerous discoveries and argued for ideas that people still talk about today.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- René Descartes Facts
- RD’s Profile
- Periods of History
- Seeking the Truth
- I Think, Therefore…
- His Thoughts
- The Cartesian
- Refraction vs. Reflection
- Greatest Minds
- In the World
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