Page:A Brief History of Modern Philosophy.djvu/48

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45
DESCARTES

Descartes was the son of a French nobleman, and his economic independence furnished him the opportunity of devoting himself wholly to meditation and scientific research. His Discours de la methode (1637) is an interesting philosophical autobiography. He received his education at a Jesuit College, but, notwithstanding the fact that he had among his tutors the best teachers of his age, he was very much dissatisfied with his acquirements when he had finished his studies. He knew many things, but a consistent system and clear fundamental principles were lacking. He was particularly fond of mathematics but it seemed to be nothing more than a fiction of the human brain. He finally plunged into public life, trying one thing after another, but was invariably driven back to his solitude by his insatiable thirst for knowledge. He finally resolved to make a first hand study of practical life in the army and the courts of the nobility. But at every venture he returned again to quiet meditation. During the winter of 1619, while in camp with the army of the Elector of Bavaria, he experienced a scientific awakening. In a moment of intellectual enthusiasm a plain way of escape from his doubt appeared to him. If we begin with the simplest and clearest ideas and pass step by step to the more complex problems, the confusing multiplicity of our ideas will vanish. We can then arrange our thoughts in such an orderly manner that the successive steps can always be deduced from their antecedents. He followed this principle both in his mathematical and in his philosophical investigations. After several years of study in Paris he returned to Holland, where he believed he could pursue his investigations with less danger of disturbance. There is no doubt however that the severe injunctions against antischolastic theory formed part of his motive