March 31, 1596, Le Haye, (now called, “Descartes”).
France, 2:00 AM, LMT (Source: Barbault who believes he had Capricorn
gives 2:15 AM, LMT.) A time of approximately 1:54 AM would appropriately
place his Sun in the third house, but there are other equally important
considerations which suggest a time slightly later than 2:00 am.. A
time of 2:04:48 chosen as suggested rectification. Died of pneumonia,
on February 11, 1650, Stockholm, Sweden.
Ascendant, Capricorn; MC, Scorpio; Sun in Aries, conjunct Uranus, Jupiter,
Pluto and the NN, all in Aries; Mercury also in Aries but not conjunct
the Aries stellium; Moon in Taurus conjunct Venus also in Taurus; Mars,
the orthodox ruler of the Sun sign is in the sign of acute thought,
Gemini; Saturn in Virgo; Neptune in Leo)
Descartes was one of the modern world’s great intellects. He was
principally a philosopher, mathematician and scientist, but he also
pursued a wide variety of other interests including metallurgy and fencing
(on which he wrote treatises—now lost). Working with the comprehensive
and acute energy of the third ray soul his philosophical approach advocated
a method of “systematic doubt” intended to lead to certainty
in all areas of thought which the human mind might explore.
is best known in philosophical circles for his dictum, “Cogito
ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”) and for proposing
a metaphysics which strictly divided mind from matter.
As a mathematician he is credited with inventing analytic geometry (presented
in his book Geometry) as well as number of important conventions
in mathematical notation which are still in use today. He also studied
a number of scientific subjects.
his Dioptrics, he presented the law of refraction, and in his
Meteorology he explained the rainbow. He was also a moral philosopher
and (although nominally a Catholic), was an outspoken (if wary) advocate
of religious tolerance. Descartes surely believed in God, but found
his calling in the glorification of reason. The conclusions he reached
when thinking about God, the universe and man (and especially his advocacy
of Copernicus’ astronomical theories) placed him on a collision
course with Church dogma, for which reason he was ever-vigilant about
the Astrological Chart of Rene Descartes By Physiognomy
A reasonable astrological chart based on a very approximate time
is offered by astrologers Andre Barbault and Marc Penfield, and apparently
supported by Maurice Wemyss. One can rest content on their authority
or seek confirmation oneself. Let us seek confirmation—firstly
If one studies the likenesses of Rene Descartes (as pictured
below) one witnesses a most extraordinary physiognomy. The face shows
great intelligence, detachment, wry humor held in reserve, a slightly
“arch” attitude seen especially in the arching of the left
eyebrow, and a mentally exacting attitude. Of course, one can “read
into an image” such qualities, and, no doubt, the analyzing of
faces is a very subjective/intuitive matter, yet the author thinks the
above mentioned qualities are to be seen in this face, both by the general
shape of the features and the nuances associated with these features.
We are certain that Descartes’ Sun is in Aries. The strength
of the eyebrows could show this to some degree. (When assessing the
eyebrows, however, a strong Taurean influence would be present through
the Venus and Moon placement in Taurus, and furthered by the influence
of the rising decanate of Capricorn—proposedly the Taurean decanate—which,
if correct, would contribute to the thickening of the eyebrows). The
most amazing feature of the face, however, is the nose, which should
be studied in relation to Aries and a number of other signs. On the
bridge of the nose many Aries people carry a slight flattening. Certain
likenesses of Descartes show this feature pronouncedly present.
As Capricorn is proposed as the hypothesized Ascendant, we search
the nose for related features and discover that the nose is both boney
and, yet, in some way, broad. The boniness is a characteristic of Capricorn.
For broadness we will have to search elsewhere.
The nose points strongly downwards. This is a characteristic
of both Capricorn and a strong Saturn. A downward-pointing nose is not
a quality of the sign Aries which, in itself, may give a slightly upward
pointing nose, in some cases slightly “pug”. Much will depend
upon the ray influence which often has a strong effect upon the appearance
of the nose.
The angle of the nose and its boniness, therefore, supports the
hypothesis of the presence of Capricorn, or at least of a very strong
Saturn. A strong Saturn in its own right is, however, either Saturn
in its own sign, Capricorn, or the sign of its exaltation, Libra, or
an angular Saturn. Since Saturn is in Virgo, it is not in one
of its own signs, and there is no way to bring it to the seventh or
tenth house cusp (thus making it angular) and still retain the Capricorn
In this case Saturn is strong because Capricorn is the
probable Ascendant, and not because Saturn is angular or in its own
sign. Perhaps if Saturn had been in the Capricorn decanate of Virgo
(the second) it would have been strengthened, but it is in the first
(or Virgo) decanate.
We notice that the nose is not only long (Mars the exoteric ruler
of the Aries Sun is placed in Gemini—increasing elongation of
the nose, and usually thinning it somewhat) and downward-pointing but,
also, rather broad. (There is also a flaring of the nostrils
which must be explained.) In this case we may attribute the broadening
to the fact that the Aries Sun is in the Leo decanate of Aries (also
ruled by the Sun). Leo often broadens the nose or produces the characteristic
bump high on the nose—a feature of the so-called “Roman
nose”. Capricorn can do this as well. The Leo “bump”
(proposedly strengthened by the presence of Capricorn) does indeed seem
to be noticeable, along with the flattening more than half-way from
the tip to the root (a flattening characteristic of Aries). Really,
the nose is not only large but irregular in its contours, displaying
many different ‘signatures’
Satisfied for physiognomical reasons that Capricorn may indeed
be present, we will use the decanates to see what part of the Capricorn
Ascendant may be rising. Taurus usually broadens the nose, especially
closer to the tip. (See the picture of Abraham Maslow whose exoteric
ruling planet of Aries, namely Mars, is placed in Taurus).
The Taurus influence with respect to the nose and the face in
general is very strong. The nose is considerably broader (especially
towards the lower part) than it might be strictly under the influence
of Capricorn, Aries and Gemini. Of course, Descartes has a powerful
conjunction of the Moon and Venus in Taurus, and this would be plenty
to give him the Taurean markings—one of the most prominent of
which is the dimple in the chin (frequently found when either Taurus
or Scorpio is active by sign or by decanate), and in general, the shape
of the chin. Capricorn almost always gives a prominent chin, as does
Taurus to a degree. Gemini elongates the chin, and Gemini is strong
because Mars (a ruling planet) in is Gemini.
But what about the Ascendant? If the time of birth is after
1:57:06 am, then the second or Taurus decanate of Capricorn
will, indeed, be rising. According to eminent astrologers who have thought
about Rene Descartes’ birth chart and for various other reasons
listed below, the Taurean decanate is, indeed, the most likely rising
decanate, and the markings of the nose seem to confirm this. The peculiar
flaring and arching of the nostrils is also a Taurean signature.
With respect to Capricorn, in general, its presence is likely
to produce an “underbite” of the jaw rather than an overbite
(as in Sagittarius). A close examination of these photographs of Descartes
definitely reveals the underbite. It is also recognized that a strong
presence of Taurus will contribute to such an underbite. (The “bulldog”
has an underbite!).
If we scan the prominent tip of the nose (often accentuated in
the case of Taurus, Capricorn or Cancer) we see, in some photographs
at least, that there is slight cleft. This is a signal of the presence
of strong Capricorn or Cancer.
We are thus seeing physiognomical markings which support zodiacal
signs known to be present and, also, signs which are hypothesized. Aries,
Taurus and Gemini, we realize, would be present as physiognomical indicators
now matter what might be the Ascendant. But the features of a proposed
Capricorn Ascendant are also very strong. These features support the
hypothesis of Capricorn rising.
Further, we are told that Descartes was a puny child with a weak
chest and not expected to live. Again these are Capricornian/Saturnian
indicators, both of which influences narrow the chest. In fact, it appears
that the chest and lungs were weak areas for Descartes who died
the Astrological Chart of Rene Descartes
By Sabian Degrees and Cycles
The chart has been rectified (from an approximate time of birth)
by Barbault who believed that Descartes had Capricorn rising. A time
of birth of 2:00 am is generally used, but should be considered an approximation,
though, probably, a good one.
Work with transits, progressions and directions show the time
to be very reasonable quite close to accurate. At least a very convincing
chart can be produced using this approximate time.
When attempting a rectification, the chart must be seen in overview
to determine whether its general configuration fits the life and character
of the individual being studied. This chart for Descartes words in that
We notice a tremendous conjunction of planets in the third house
of mind, which seems more than justifiable considering Descartes’
life and work in relation to the mental plane. This same heavy concentration
in the third house is to be found very justifiably in the charts of
Louis Pasteur and William James. We know, therefore, that we are on
the right track when considering the distribution of the planets in
the houses. If the same stellium of seven planets and the North Node
were found, for instance, in the fifth house or the seventh, for instance,
the overview of the chart would not be convincing (and of course, the
Ascendant would have changed).
We notice that the Sun is placed in late second house of the
chart. We learn that one must take the time of birth back to 1:57 am
to bring the Sun into the third house of mind (by the Placidian house
system) where, one would think, it belonged. However, even at the 2:00
am time, the Sun, though technically in the second house, is conjunct
the third house cusp. It can very reasonably be read ‘into’
the third house. It is close enough.
In cases such as these, it may be advisable to consult the symbolism
of the Sabian Symbol degrees. There are three symbols which are prime
possibilities for the time-sensitive Ascendant, for the Ascending degree
is changing every few minutes and the degrees of the other planets do
not change rapidly, not even the Moon. The three degrees which are probable
are the tenth, eleventh and twelfth degrees.
The tenth degree reads: “An Albatross Feeding from the
Hand of a Sailor”. It does not seem especially appropriate and suggests
dependency. This is the symbol for the degree which would be rising
if we attempted to place the Sun in the third house by using the time
of 1:57 am.
If we use the rounded off time of 2:00 am, the eleventh
degree of Capricorn would be rising and the symbol would read: “Pheasants
display their brilliant colors on a vast lawn”. Although it could
be said that Descartes did not hide the brilliance of his intellect,
his motivation was far other than this symbol suggests.
Sometimes it is not possible to find any Sabian Symbol which seems to
confirm what is known of the life (and in any case, the Sabian Symbols
must be used with caution until extensive research proves their overall
reliability), but fortunately, in this case, we have a very apt symbol.
At a birth time of 2:01:03 am (using the geocentric latitude correction
and the coordinates given for “Descartes”, France), the
twelfth degree of Capricorn begins to rise, and its symbol is as follows:
“A Student of Nature Lecturing”. Dane Rudhyar in his Astrological
Mandala, expands the symbol into the following: “An Illustrated
Lecture on Natural Science Reveals Little-Known Aspects of Life”.
Further: “The ability to explore unfamiliar realms and discover
the laws underlying the complex processes of nature”. The keyword
“Exploration” is given.j.
Given Descartes’ work in the sciences, the high value he placed
on empiricism when dealing with natural phenomena, and his explorations
into deep realms of thought, this symbol seems most appropriate, especially
given the inadequate symbolism of the neighboring degrees which would
be rising somewhat before and somewhat after 2:00 am.
The twelfth degree of Capricorn as a rising degree may be valuable
and we may wish to retain it. The Sabian Symbols are qualitative indicators
and have limited precision (even if all astrologers could agree on their
correct interpretation). For greater accuracy in rectification work,
we must refer to cycles.
We have one such cyclic indication which may help us become quite
accurate. In later November or early to middle December of 1628 (the
exact date is not given in the source material presently accessed by
the author) Descartes hastily (and, perhaps, fearfully) departed to
the Netherlands in search of freedom to express his thoughts. He sensed
danger in France and quickly departed after a high official of the Catholic
Church attempted to recruit him for the Catholic counter-reformatory
At this general time in Descartes’ life we note a very
important progression. At the approximate time of Descartes’ departure
for the Netherlands, the Sun is progressing through Taurus very near
to the IC or fourth house cusp (that part of the astrological chart
which indicates the “home” or one’s “country”).
If we use the earliest possible moment when the Capricorn Ascendant
moved into the twelfth degree, we find it produces an IC of 11°Taurus19’.
We find, however, that in late November or early December of
1628 when Descartes moved from France to the Netherlands, the progressing
Sun had already moved to about 12°Taurus20’ (give or date
a couple of minutes of arc depending on the date of departure. Thus
(as an ideal) if we wish the progressed Sun to reach the IC at
the time of this important move (he did stay there for sixteen years!)
the time of birth should be moved forward by about four minutes. At
2:05:04 am, the IC becomes 12°Taurus20’. A problem, however,
arises. The required Ascending degree, the twelfth degree of Capricorn
rising will not be preserved if we move the time of birth
forward a full four minutes of clock time; thus, we cannot move the
time of birth forward that far and still keep the most indicative Sabian
Symbol on the Ascendant. Advancing the time by about three minutes
would be more suitable. (We must pause to realize that we are not here
dealing with an exact science. The intuition is involved. It
is usually impossible to make the cycles of the astrological chart reflect
the events of life with perfectly-timed, mechanical exactitude)
While we do not know Descartes’ actual date of departure,
it was a few weeks after a lecture/debate he gave in Paris. If we wish
to preserve the twelfth degree as the ascending degree, the outside
limit for the time of birth would be about 2:04:52 am, some three minutes
and fifty one seconds after the time when the twelfth degree first appeared
on the Ascendant. We will, however, use a slightly earlier time, 2:04:48
to avoid the debated question, “When does a degree actually begin?”
For instance, would the twelfth degree begin at 11°Capricorn00’
or at 11°Capricorn01’ (or even at 11°Capricorn00’ 01”!)
We have another consideration and potential problem, however. (Here
is where rectification becomes like “catching a greased seal”
as Charles Jayne, a great rectifier, was wont to say). We should not
move too close to 2:04:52 am (or 2:04:48), because of certain
events (occurring later in Descartes’ life, in 1640) which focus
on the cusp of the fifth house of children. During September the year
1640 (the exact date is not given) when Descartes’ daughter died,
transiting Pluto can come to a conjunction of the fifth house cusp and
for some days was stationary at 2°Gemini21’. A planet is always powerful
when stationary, and the death may have occurred during this stationary
period which was in early September. The position of Pluto in Gemini
never reached beyond that position during the year 1640. Ideally then,
the fifth house cusp should not be too far beyond 2°Gemini21’ (Pluto’s stationary position).
But for a time of birth at 2:04:48 am the Placidus cusp of the fifth
house is 3°Gemini49’, about a degree and a half farther
than the most advanced position of transiting Pluto for that year.
In an ideal world, transiting Pluto would
have reached the fifth house cusp at the time of Francine’s death,
but it fell short. However there was a solar eclipse on May 20, 1640
reasonably close to that cusp. The eclipse fell on transiting Pluto
and also on Descartes’ SAD (solar arc directed) Pluto. Also the
earlier solar eclipse at 02°Sagittarius35'
on November 24, 1639, falls quite closely opposite the cusp of the house
of children, a little less than a degree from exact. Further, a few
months before the death, there was a lunar eclipse on the MC/IC, involving
his family life. All in all, these indications for the death of a child
are very strong.
SEcl (X) Tr-Tr Nov 24 1639 NS 23:07 02°Sg35'
MonLEcl (X) Tr-Tr May 5 1640 NS 19:31 15°Sc41'
Sun SEcl (X) Tr-Tr May 20 1640 NS 20:46 00°Ge10'
We cannot help but notice that Descartes’ exoterically
ruling planet Mars (exoteric ruler of the Sun-sign) found in the fifth
house on the cusp of the sixth is natally conjunct Chiron (the planet
of wounds) in the fifth house of children. It would appear that fate
had arranged this experience. Francine died of scarlet fever, and Mars
We must also notice that at the time of the death transiting
Chiron had been stationary in the first degree of Gemini, also conjunct
the cusp of the fifth house. Chiron is a wounding and healing planet.
Its transiting position in its own natal sign is an indicator of the
deep wound he received in this area of his life. In fact, he was emotionally
Given these two sets of events—Descartes’ precipitous
flight to the Netherlands after his November lecture in 1628 and the
death of his daughter Francine in September of 1640, we have to decide
which of them should have greater weight. We also have to preserve at
the Ascendant, if we can, the most apt Sabian Symbol for Descartes’
life—the twelfth degree.
To preserve the degree we will not move beyond 2:04:48 am. The
closer we are to that degree, the closer to the IC is the progressing
Sun at the time of his Nov/Dec departure to the Netherlands. But the
closer we are to the 2:04:48, the farther is the degree of the fifth
house cusp from the most advanced position of death-dealing Pluto.
In all these considerations, however, we are already very close
to accurate, and are considering a possible margin of error of about
three minutes with regard to birth time.
Probably, Descartes had been thinking about relocating even before
his progressing Sun came to the IC, so the move could have occurred
a little after the progressing Sun arrived at the IC. The Moon
has progressed into Cancer during the early part of the year 1628 and
was at the time of the move conjuncting Mars (indicating the taking
of action with respect to home or place of residence). We cannot expect
an exact line up of the progressing Sun with the IC. We are close
The judgment of the author is that we should favor the position
of the progressing Sun and keep it as close to the IC as possible (for
the time of Descartes’ departure to the Netherlands). Even though
transiting Pluto misses the fifth house cusp by more than a degree,
it was stationary and therefore powerful at the time of
Francine’s death. That, and the eclipse which conjuncted the fifth
house cusp within about three degrees, transiting Pluto within about
one degree and progressing Pluto within about two degrees would be enough
to indicate the unfortunate events which occurred in relation to the
fifth house cusp in September of 1640.
It is at this point that we should introduce a thought about
the Sabian Symbol for the MC or tenth house cusp. We have decided to
work to retain the twelfth degree as the Ascending degree due to the
apt Sabian Symbol, “A Student of Nature Lecturing”. The
MC degree which results from our choice of birth time, 2:04:48 am is
the thirteenth degree of Scorpio: “An Inventor Performs a Laboratory
Experiment”. “The driving urge toward achievement which
is at the root of civilization”. The key phrase is the “Ability
to Relate Seemingly Unrelated Facts”. About a minute before 2:04:38,
i.e., at 2:03:48 the thirteenth degree came to the MC. Thus we have
If we move the time of birth back to 2:03:48 am, we can retain
the MC degree, but not any earlier. So, using the Sabian Symbols and
all the other constraints, we have narrowed our possibilities to a one
minute frame: 2:03:48 am to 2:04:48 am. Either one would do. The earlier
time makes the Pluto activity of at the fifth house closer to exact.
The later time makes the Sun’s progression to the IC at the time
of his departure to the Netherlands closer to exact. For practical purposes
either one will do.
So the time of birth to be proposed and used will be 2:04:48
am, but we will keep our eye on the effects of using 2:03:48 or, let
us say, 2:04 am, rounded off. We remember that 2:04:48 is used instead
of 2:04:52 (when the rising degrees reads 12°Capricorn00’) just
to ensure that we eliminate the ambiguity concerning when the
thirteenth degree begins. Some say it does not begin until we reach
12°Capricorn 01’, but let us not allow the Ascendant to even touch
12°Capricorn 00’. We will stop at 11°Capricorn59’, just
to be sure.
Few Additional Points of Timing to Bear in Mind when Interpreting the
Astrological Chart of Rene Descartes
Some eclipses offer further testimony for the accuracy of the proposed
chart. In 1628, Descartes left for the Netherlands, seeking at atmosphere
of toleration where he could think and write as he wished without fear
of persecution. Early in that year the progressed Moon moved into Cancer.
He was seeking a new home and refused to become an apologist, doctrinaire
philosopher for an important and powerful Catholic official. There were
two significant eclipses, touching his Asc/Dsc axis.
SEcl (X) Tr-Tr Jan 6 1628 NS 16:00 15°Cp57'
Sun SEcl (X) Tr-Tr Jul 1 1628 NS 10:58
two eclipses can be considered direct ‘hits’, being equidistant
from the proposed Asc/Dsc axis. The move was extremely significant and
lasted for some sixteen years. The eclipses involve the identity point
(the Ascendant) and the point of relationships (Descendant). Descartes’
sense of himself and the degree to which he could express himself changed
dramatically. So also did his relations.
We know that in 1635 he had a child, Francine,
born to Helena Jans who served as maid in the household. In 1634, only
two days before his birthday, we see an important solar eclipse on his
Aries Sun (the Sun ruling part of the seventh house and the eighth).
SEcl (X) Tr-Tr Mar 29 1634 NS 02:33 08°Ar23'
Transiting Jupiter came to the seventh house cusp during June and July
of 1634 indicating the probable start of the relationship which led
to the birth of his daughter. The angles of the chart appear to be working.
Francine, was conceived in Amsterdam on a Sunday, in October 1634 and
was born on July
We note as well in 1635 that progressing Mercury conjuncts progressing
Jupiter in early May 1635 (the year Francine was born) and remains closely
in aspect at the time of Francine’s birth. Francine was born according
to the baptismal records, on July 28, 1635. This conjunction confirms
the thought that the cusp of the fifth house should be Gemini ruled
by Mercury. Jupiter represents the fulfillment of the birth (and the
happiness of it) and Mercury (ruling the fifth house cusp in the proposed
chart) is the indicator of the child. We also find transiting Ceres,
the nurturing asteroid exactly at the seventh house cusp on the day
of the birth.
Descartes’ Rayology and Astrology
we are quite assured of the reasonable accuracy of Descartes’
chart, we can interpret with greater confidence.
Descartes was a profoundly third ray individual. Those equipped with
a powerful third ray, as well as an emphasis in Aries (five planets)
and Gemini (his exoteric Sun Sign ruler, Mars, is place there), can
become experts in ‘thinking about thinking’. Descartes is
famous for his philosophical dictum: “I think, therefore, I am”.
This statement, as can easily be seen, is closely related to the Aries
Mantram, “I come forth and from the plane of mind, I rule”.
A strong head-centeredness is indicated. As well, a vigorous
fifth ray is can be seen in Descartes’ thought process—responsible
for what has been called in philosophy, “the Cartesian split”
between mind and body, for he considered mind and body two separate
substances, the first indivisible and “non-extended”, and
the second, characterized by “extension” and divisible.
was a logician who sought certainty in his thought process. His
exacting mind can most reasonably be conceived as focussed on the fifth
ray. He loved truth and sought not to be deceived, deluded or misled.
Advanced third and fifth ray types seek truth and fact above
all. They seek to overcome illusion (often by the power of thought alone),
though their early efforts (insufficiently illumined by the soul) may
embroil them still more deeply in the very illusion they seek to overcome.
searched for a secure starting point or premise from which logical deduction
might proceed with assurance. This was the meaning of his dictum, “I
think, therefore I am” (“Cogito ergo sum.”). After
rigorously applying systematic doubt to every possible assumption
he might make about himself or about the nature of the world (for all
those assumptions might be illusory or incorrect) he discovered he was
unable to doubt his very own existence. Because he could not
doubt the self-evident presence (and, therefore, reality) of his own
process of thinking (for it persisted whether or not it was deluded
or accurate, inspired or deceived), he concluded with “intuitive”
certainty that he, indeed, existed. From that certainty he could,
then, logically and rigorously, erect the edifice of his philosophy.
We need not
look far for the presence of mental acuity in the chart of Rene Descartes.
Five planets and the North Node are concentrated in the sign Aries,
in (or extremely close to) the third, or mental, house of the horoscope.
In the disciple/initiate, Aries proves to be a sign with considerable
mental focus. An indication of this mental focus is the esoteric
rulership of Aries by mental Mercury.
the esoteric ruler of the Aries Sun (and it is legitimate to consider
the esoteric ruler when working with a soul as advanced as Descartes)
is actually found in Aries (its own sign, esoterically considered) and
in the critical thirtieth degree. Further, Mercury receives an out-of-sign
trine from exacting Saturn in Virgo, the sign of keen discrimination,
contributing to the general fifth ray expression. Saturn (the planet of
structure), let us note, is both the exoteric and esoteric ruler
of the proposed Capricorn Ascendant. Descartes sought to structure his
thought rigorously. Further, thoughtful Mercury is in very close parallel
to Venus (the planet of the fifth ray) placed in one of its own signs,
Taurus. This conjunction certainly added fifth ray light to the mind.
sought dependability in all mental considerations can be seen from his
practical Taurus Moon, also in the third house along with the stellium
in Aries. The pursuit of light and illumination can be seen, esoterically,
from the conjunction of Moon and Venus in luminous Taurus. The fifth
ray mind has the power to “throw light” on many matters.
Interestingly, Descartes speculated upon the pineal gland as the seat
of the soul; Venus (the planet of the Solar Angels, and customarily
ruling the ajna center) in Taurus (associated with the third eye) can
easily be seen as related to the pineal gland.
acuity of mind is promoted by Mars (the exoteric ruler of the Aries
Sun) placed in intelligent, mentally-active Gemini. Found in the fifth
house on the cusp of the sixth and conjunct Chiron in the fifth (the
planet of wounding) Mars also can be seen as contributing to his death
by pneumonia—Gemini ruling the lungs and Mars, infection. The conjunction
of Uranus, Jupiter and Pluto in the third house of mind is powerful,
indeed, for the expansion, deepening and transformation of the mental
process. We might say that Descartes caused a revolution in the field
of thought, bringing about a kind of mental detachment which
is needed if one is to dis-identify from bio-psychic processes—a
great necessity at a certain stage of discipleship (and a necessity
for human thought during the “Age of Reason” which covered
much of the seventeenth century. Some will say, however, that Descartes
carried the cleavage (fifth ray) too far. It is interesting that the
rays within his energy system having the greatest impact upon the human
thought process, the third and fifth rays, are the rays of France, his
Astro-Rayological Factors of Note
a. The factor
of light was of extreme importance to Descartes. Not only does
he have a close conjunction of the Moon and Venus in the sixth degree
of Taurus, but he has the Taurus decanate of Capricorn rising, a decanate
ruled by illuminative Venus. The light of the Solar Angel (the “Light
of the Soul”) would be of great importance to him, whether or
not he called it by that name.
valued contemplation highly. Venus is the planet of contemplation
and its strong position by sign and aspect strengthened in Descartes
this advanced meditative approach. He already knew what many
students of spirituality are today struggling to learn. His deepest
thoughts were derived through his power to contemplate.
the degree for the Venus/Moon conjunction reads, “A Cantilever
Bridge Across A Deep Gorge”. “The conquest of separativeness
through group cooperation”. The capacity to “Conquer Obstacles.
Many of Descartes’ scientific findings and his general positive
to attitude towards the progressive possibilities opened by reason and
scientific enquiry are representative of this degree, but his attitude
towards mind and matter represented them as eternally distinct and opposed
to each other—bridged only by God’s intervention.
d. In the
chart of an advanced soul (which Descartes undoubtedly was and is),
this Venus/Moon conjunction is a most occult indication. Venus (placed
in its own sign Taurus—the “Mother of Illumination”)
with the Moon (both in the third house of mind) is an intensely strong
light-bearing combination. The Venus/Moon conjunction, trined by Saturn
(which is the esoteric ruler of the Ascendant), brings together two
important planets related to Capricorn—Saturn and Venus and relates
them to the ‘field to be transformed’, symbolized by the
Moon. Venus is the hierarchical ruler of Capricorn and the ruler of
the second decanate (the rising decanate) by means of which the light
of the Solar Angel is steadily pursued and increased. Saturn, Venus
and the Moon in this configuration are a potentially initiatory
The Moon is exalted in Taurus, which is either good or bad depending on
the quality of the individual. In this case, the exalted Moon represents
the heightened potential of lunar substance, once transformed, to carry
the light of Venus. A initially transmutative, then transformative and,
finally, transfiguring process is underway, and ‘permeative’
soul light is the medium of the transfiguration.
We find in Capricorn and its ruling planet Saturn not only rigor
and exaction (of which Descartes was notably capable—in his thought
life at least) but the reason for that rigor—the disciplining
required for ever-more complete illumination.
famous speculations about the pineal gland as the seat of the soul were
appropriate to one who stood at his stage of initiatory development.
He was climbing the Mountain of Illumination and wished to know, technically
as always, the source and cause of that illumination.
was principally a rationalist rather than an empiricist (though he deeply
respected empiricism, and the new scientific paradigm initiated by the
philosopher Sir Francis Bacon, the later Master R). But Descartes was
living in the “Age of Reason” (a time when the third ray was very powerful,
moreso that the fifth, which awaited its cyclic re-introduction in 1775),
and so his method of deriving truth was through self-contained
thinking, i.e., reasoning logically from self-evident principles.
His was an apriori method. His self-evident principles were in
the nature of clear intuitions which he could not doubt. That he reasoned
with exactitude can be attributed to the presence of his ruling
planet Saturn in the sign of fastidiousness, Virgo. He worked with a
combination of the third and fifth rays, as the trine from third ray
Saturn to fifth ray Venus suggests.
i. The mental
indicators in the charts are formidable. Capricorn rises, conducting
in this case, primarily, the third ray rather than the first or the
seventh. Its ruler, Saturn, is in the material sign Virgo (deeply and
formerly associated with the third aspect of divinity). Thus Descartes
worked not only on the plane of mind but with matter. These were
two poles in his existence—mind and matter. Since he was, in a
practical way, so versatile at working with both, it is surprising that
his metaphysics saw these two “substances” as essentially
distinct and unbridgeable except by divine intervention.
j. A word
about skepticism: If we think carefully about Descartes’
methods, we shall see they are influenced by a profound skepticism—at
least he began with this attitude as he moved towards a more
certain position with respect to truth. Modern philosophers are still
influenced by Cartesian skepticism. In Descartes’ Age it was a
healthy reaction to the prevailing gullibility and encumbering scholasticism.
Today, its value may have run its course.
k. In Descartes’
Meditations Descartes begins with methodic doubt, rejecting as though false all
types of knowledge by which he was ever deceived. His arguments derive
from the Pyrrhonism of the Greek skeptic Sextus Empiricus (from whom
the term “empiricism” is derived) as reflected in the skeptical
writings of Michel de Montaigne and Pierre Charron.
Can we find it his astrological chart zodiacal or planetary predispositions
for this fundamental skepticism? Perhaps the presence of three earth signs,
with planets in grand trine to each other, represents a beginning. Saturn
as double ruler of Capricorn and in harmonious aspect to the planets of
thought, Mercury and Venus, and regulating the irrational Moon, demands
truth as a foundation for thought. Descartes uses a stern philosophical
skepticism to remove any possibility of being deceived. Saturn in Virgo
is so strong in this respect. Its quintile to Mars (another mental planet,
especially as it is placed in Gemini) indicates an ability to still the
agile, thoughtform-making tendencies of the lower mind—which must
have been immense is Descartes’ case—and subject diverse thoughts
to a rigorous testing.) All the acuity of the third ray was involved in
this process. If the fifth ray gives, according to Besant, “exactitude
of action”, the third ray gives “exactitude of thought”.
It is the “acute energy of divine mental perception”. Descartes’
sought such lofty perceptions, but realize that he had to earn
them by applying the rigorous methodology of systematic doubt. In this
case skepticism was enlisted in the service of the divine. Today in certain
circles, skepticism has become a god it itself, its purpose forgotten.
This must soon be remedied.
from the Age of Pisces demanded an end to “blind faith”.
It is inevitable that thinkers had to come along who would challenge
the assumptions built up during the Age of Faith. The Age of Reason
was a necessary corrective to unfounded belief, and Descartes’
was one of reason’s greatest exponents.
have to realize that the sign/constellation Aries expresses an energy
which inclines those it conditions to do all things and derive all things
from themselves. Aries is an essentially rebellious influence.
It discounts all former conditioning (i.e., the influence of the planet
Saturn which “falls” in this sign). The Sun (representing
the ‘unconditioned center of Selfhood’ is exalted in Aries.
began his true and deep quest for knowledge with an act of mental
rebellion. He threw away all authority other than that
of his own intuition, logic and sense of truth. We can see that he had
to do this. The North Node closely conjuncts the Sun and indicates the
need for the assertion of great independence in the field of thought.
(We will read the Sun as if it is in the third house, as it is so close
to the cusp and also in the sign which is found at the third house cusp.)
We note that Uranus, the hierarchical ruler of Aries, is fairly closely
conjunct the Sun. This conjunction represents rebellion against mental
authority and, instead, an embrace of authentic mental self-determination—an
attitude which insists that one derive truth for himself rather than accept
it on the authority of others.
q. We see
that two of the rulers of Aries—the esoteric ruler Mercury and
hierarchical ruler, Uranus, are actually in Aries and in a house
congenial to it—the third. The orthodox ruler, Mars, is in the
third sign Gemini, and hence again the mental influence and extreme
mental activity. Thus all three rulers of Aries reinforce the power
of the mind.
If we are looking for one of the reasons for Descartes’
frequent moves and changes of residence, we can look to this Mars-in-Gemini
position, reinforced by his very powerful third ray at the soul level
and perhaps at the physical level.
Jupiter in Aries conjuncts Uranus making an energic combination which
confers what the Tibetan calls “beneficent organization”.
To the individual possessed of this combination, it is as if ‘all
things are possible through original thought’. Jupiter in Aries
conjunct the Sun, Uranus and Pluto, would immensely broaden the scope
of inquiry, and make one comprehensive (even universal) in one’s
Thus, great mental creativity and fertility are suggested. There
is the capacity to embrace whole disciplines of thought and relate
them to other disciplines, creating a well-organized and comprehensive
synthesis. Descartes addressed himself to metaphysics, physics, mechanics,
medicine and morality, to name five distinct fields of human thinking.
When one considers all the various areas which Descartes pondered, and
to which he made significant contributions, one is somewhat reminded
of the genius Leibniz, who was much influenced by Descartes (though
disagreeing with him in certain fundamental ways).
had an interest in Rosicrucianism, though he appeared to reject its
magical and mystical beliefs. Nevertheless, he lived in many ways as
if he were a member of the Rosicrucian order—a virtual vegetarian,
living a single and rather secluded life, changing residences often,
practicing medicine (without charge) and like Master R., interested
in longevity. (The energy of Capricorn inclines towards an interest
in longevity.) Occult lore tells us that Master R. could stop the aging
process and did; Descartes, naturally, could not, and some were amused
that he died at a relatively young age, having lived only about half
of the hundred years he had imagined for himself. It would seem that
there was a subtle link between him and the Master R., whose image/likeness,
as the Comte de St. Germain, shows the presence of a strong Saturn,
perhaps Capricorn, and strong Gemini as well.
great rationalists seem to have had links to the Comte/Master R.—perhaps
Newton among them. We are told that when Master R. became the Mahachohan,
transferring His focus to the third ray, he took a number of his more
advanced seventh ray disciples with him (i.e., onto the third ray).
Philosophical/mathematical/scientific workers already upon the third
ray, such as Descartes’, would naturally be related to Him. While
for these third ray/fifth ray types the emphasis required by the spirit
of their times had to be on reason and the mind, the deeper more occult
roots (in which Master R. interested Himself deeply) lay just beneath
the surface, ready to be considered by them when the time was right.
Newton (the most academically respectable of all these thinkers) was,
for instance, profoundly interested in alchemy and astrology.
w. Really Descartes
was both a rationalist and an intuitive. His antahkarana
was working (thought not built in the way that present day occultists
build it). It was built through philosophical enquiry and meditation,
as he conceived it. We see two synthesizing planets (Saturn and Neptune)
in trine aspect to the tremendous stellium of planets spanning the interval
from the eleventh degree of Aries to the sixth degree of Taurus.
(in its own esoteric sign—of the heart—Leo) trines the Sun,
Uranus and Jupiter, giving great inspiration and, intuition adding buddhic
access to his super-rationalism.
on the other hand, renders the actions of Mercury exact and exacting,
applying its ray to Venus and the Moon as well. This is a manasic complex.
we have buddhi-manas (albeit with a third ray flavor rather than
aa. It is important to consider
the relationship between Capricorn, the soul indicator, and Aries, more
pertaining to the personality. Both are signs associated with the third
initiation, and in the case of Descartes may have to be considered as
such—at least in terms of the preparation for that initiation.
The three watchwords for this initiation are “Integration. Direction.
Science”. Each of thee can be related directly to the goals which
Descartes set for himself and the methodology (Saturn in Virgo) he utilized.
bb. There will be a particular
relationship between Saturn and Mercury which, in the chart of the initiate
is of defining importance. Saturn in Virgo is the esoteric ruler of
the Sun-sign and Mercury in Aries is the esoteric ruler of the
Aries Sun. Because Descartes was, at the very least, an initiate of
the threshold (and working on third initiation themes), it is possible
to use the esoteric ruler of the Sun sign, not just the exoteric ruler
chart (in combination with many other more subtle astrological charts
which can be derived from it) should be useful in shedding light on
the soul purpose of an individual in any particular incarnation.
was a third ray soul, and (perhaps—as his intellect was so strong,
primarily a third ray monad as well). His personality was essentially
tolerant and, from reports, genial. He was amative (the Venus/Moon conjunction,
Ceres rising in Capricorn, and liberal in personal matters (Jupiter
conjunct the Sun). His “love life” was a significant part
of his personality expression, though far less discussed than his contributions
to the world of thought. When accused of having illegitimate children,
he said something to this effect: “I am a man and have taken no
vows of chastity”. He also, apparently, disliked confrontation,
frequently avoiding it. He also had, shall we say, a somewhat ‘lazy’
side. It was his habit to remain in bed until ten in the morning (though
it was also his habit to work, in bed, until very late hours). When
in 1650 Queen Christina of Sweden insisted that he rise at 5:00 am to
teach her (in the midst of the cold Swedish winter), the change of sleeping
habits was very damaging to him. In fact, it killed him.
the evidence, perhaps we see a second ray personality. More research
on this point would be required. His mental ray was almost certainly
the fifth. A more exacting and discriminative thinker would be hard
to find. He believed in the control of the emotions and was not given
to emotional displays but at the death of his daughter his tears flowed
copiously. The second ray, it appears, was operative in the astral sphere,
but, also, he was devoted to truth. Essentially, with the stoics,
he believed in changing oneself rather than attempting to change the
world. We cannot know the ray of the physical body, but there was so
much movement in his life that one suspects the third. It would appear
that the third and second rays were curiously mixed. His avoidance of
confrontation and danger (so uncharacteristic of an Aries person) may
be attributed to the second ray in his makeup.
ray structure is therefore 332-523.
combination of the third ray and Capricorn should define his soul purpose.
He was striving towards a point of perspective from which he could achieve
a panoramic vision of the world of thought. It is said that his goal
was to be the “master of nature”. Although he was inevitably
involved in generating illusions, his purpose was to rid the world of
thought of error and illusion. He was a radical in this respect
(as Pluto in the third house of mind, loosely conjunct Jupiter, Uranus
and the Sun reveals). It is Pluto that inspired him to eliminate all
untrue assumptions from his thought life. Truth was his god.
Like so many great third ray thinkers, he sought to erect a structure
of thought, purged of error. By the time Descartes was born, Scholasticism
had burdened the world of thought with many unverifiable notions, many
obviously erroneous. Descartes with his Saturn in Virgo sought to, as
it were, ‘clear the clutter’, and create methodologies which
logically and inevitably would lead to the perception of truth, and
to the acquisition of masterful power over nature which such perception
claim that Descartes’ thinking is responsible for the attitude, prevalent
today, that man is to be the master of nature. The Cartesian
split, they say, gave man the impression that he was distinct from nature
rather than an integral part of it. Many modern thinkers work to overcome
this split. The findings of modern physics, revealing that the observer
affects his observation, have already done much to heal the gap between
mind and matter which Descartes conceptualized.
Rene Descartes’ approach we witness an independent assault against illusion.
It is here that his assertive Aries energy is applied. Men were not
his enemies; errors and illusions were. He certainly had mental
courage (if not its physical counterpart). His task (North Node) was
to plunge into the world of thought, and set the “jungles of illusion”
ablaze. This is the gift of Aries, accentuated by Mercury in Aries.
But to burn the “jungles” would not be enough. Something would
have to be built, erected. Some edifice of thought would have to rise
upon the ruin of the old paradigms. It is here that we see the power
of Descartes’ Capricorn Ascendant, sub-ruled by constructive Taurus
and illuminative Venus. He was a builder in the world of thought. Indeed,
like Aristotle before him, his construction affected the thinking of
millions of people and endured in its effects until the beginning of
the twentieth century. Aries conferred upon his mental audacity. Capricorn
gave him the ambition to comprehend the structure of nature and to master
it. When we think of Descartes, we inevitably think about the quality
of our thought and the responsibility of all those who build in thought
and wield it. When we think of Descartes, we think of the power of mind,
and what can be accomplished through its use.
Descartes was a philosopher whose work, La géométrie,
includes his application of algebra to geometry from which we now have
Descartes was educated at the Jesuit college of La Flèche in
Anjou. He entered the college at the age of eight years, just a few
months after the opening of the college in January 1604. He studied
there until 1612, studying classics, logic and traditional Aristotelian
philosophy. He also learnt mathematics from the books of Clavius. While
in the school his health was poor and he was granted permission to remain
in bed until 11 o'clock in the morning, a custom he maintained until
the year of his death.
School had made Descartes understand how little he knew, the only subject
which was satisfactory in his eyes was mathematics. This idea became
the foundation for his way of thinking, and was to form the basis for
all his works.
Descartes spent a while in Paris, apparently keeping very much to himself,
then he studied at the University of Poitiers. He received a law degree
from Poitiers in 1616 then enlisted in the military school at Breda.
In 1618 he started studying mathematics and mechanics under the Dutch
scientist Isaac Beeckman, and began to seek a unified science of nature.
After two years in Holland he travelled through Europe. Then in 1619
he joined the Bavarian army.
From 1620 to 1628 Descartes travelled through Europe, spending time
in Bohemia (1620), Hungary (1621), Germany, Holland and France (1622-23).
He spent time in 1623 in Paris where he made contact with Mersenne,
an important contact which kept him in touch with the scientific world
for many years. From Paris he travelled to Italy where he spent some
time in Venice, then he returned to France again (1625).
By 1628 Descartes tired of the continual travelling and decided to settle
down. He gave much thought to choosing a country suited to his nature
and chose Holland. It was a good decision which he did not seem to regret
over the next twenty years.
Soon after he settled in Holland Descartes began work on his first major
treatise on physics, Le Monde, ou Traité de la Lumière.
This work was near completion when news that Galileo was condemned to
house arrest reached him. He, perhaps wisely, decided not to risk publication
and the work was published, only in part, after his death. He explained
later his change of direction saying:-
... in order to express my judgement more freely, without being called
upon to assent to, or to refute the opinions of the learned, I resolved
to leave all this world to them and to speak solely of what would happen
in a new world, if God were now to create ... and allow her to act in
accordance with the laws He had established.
In Holland Descartes had a number of scientific friends as well as continued
contact with Mersenne. His friendship with Beeckman continued and he
also had contact with Mydorge, Hortensius, Huygens and Frans van Schooten
Descartes was pressed by his friends to publish his ideas and, although
he was adamant in not publishing Le Monde, he wrote a treatise on science
under the title Discours de la méthode pour bien conduire sa
raison et chercher la vérité dans les sciences. Three
appendices to this work were La Dioptrique, Les Météores,
and La Géométrie. The treatise was published at Leiden
in 1637 and Descartes wrote to Mersenne saying:-
I have tried in my Dioptrique and my Météores to show
that my Méthode is better than the vulgar, and in my Géométrie
to have demonstrated it.
The work describes what Descartes considers is a more satisfactory means
of acquiring knowledge than that presented by Aristotle's logic. Only
mathematics, Descartes feels, is certain, so all must be based on mathematics.
La Dioptrique is a work on optics and, although Descartes does not cite
previous scientists for the ideas he puts forward, in fact there is
little new. However his approach through experiment was an important
Les Météores is a work on meteorology and is important
in being the first work which attempts to put the study of weather on
a scientific basis. However many of Descartes' claims are not only wrong
but could have easily been seen to be wrong if he had done some easy
experiments. For example Roger Bacon had demonstrated the error in the
commonly held belief that water which has been boiled freezes more quickly.
However Descartes claims:-
... and we see by experience that water which has been kept on a fire
for some time freezes more quickly than otherwise, the reason being
that those of its parts which can be most easily folded and bent are
driven off during the heating, leaving only those which are rigid.
Despite its many faults, the subject of meteorology was set on course
after publication of Les Météores particularly through
the work of Boyle, Hooke and Halley.
La Géométrie is by far the most important part of this
work. In  Scott summarises the importance of this work in four points:-
1. He makes the first step towards a theory of invariants, which at
later stages derelativises the system of reference and removes arbitrariness.
2. Algebra makes it possible to recognise the typical problems in geometry
and to bring together problems which in geometrical dress would not
appear to be related at all.
3. Algebra imports into geometry the most natural principles of division
and the most natural hierarchy of method.
4. Not only can questions of solvability and geometrical possibility
be decided elegantly, quickly and fully from the parallel algebra, without
it they cannot be decided at all. Some ideas in La Géométrie
may have come from earlier work of Oresme but in Oresme's work there
is no evidence of linking algebra and geometry. Wallis in Algebra (1685)
strongly argues the the ideas of La Géométrie were copied
from Harriot. Wallis writes:-
the Praxis was read by Descartes, and every line of Descartes' analysis
bears token of the impression.
seems little to justify Wallis's claim, which was probably made partly
through partiotism but also through his just desires to give Harriot
more credit for his work. Harriot's work on equations, however, may
indeed have influenced Descartes who always claimed, clearly falsely,
that nothing in his work was influenced by the work of others.
Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy, was published in 1641, designed
for the philosopher and for the theologian. It consists of six meditations,
Of the Things that we may doubt, Of the Nature of the Human Mind, Of
God: that He exists, Of Truth and Error, Of the Essence of Material
Things, Of the Existence of Material Things and of the Real Distinction
between the Mind and the Body of Man. However many scientists were opposed
to Descartes' ideas including Arnauld, Hobbes and Gassendi.
The most comprehensive of Descartes' works, Principia Philosophiae was
published in Amsterdam in 1644. In four parts, The Principles of Human
Knowledge, The Principles of Material Things, Of the Visible World and
The Earth, it attempts to put the whole universe on a mathematical foundation
reducing the study to one of mechanics.
This is an important point of view and was to point the way forward.
Descartes did not believe in action at a distance. Therefore, given
this, there could be no vacuum around the Earth otherwise there was
way that forces could be transferred. In many ways Descartes's theory,
where forces work through contact, is more satisfactory than the mysterious
effect of gravity acting at a distance.
However Descartes' mechanics leaves much to be desired. He assumes that
the universe is filled with matter which, due to some initial motion,
has settled down into a system of vortices which carry the sun, the
stars, the planets and comets in their paths. Despite the problems with
the vortex theory it was championed in France for nearly one hundred
years even after Newton showed it was impossible as a dynamical system.
As Brewster, one of Newton's 19th century biographers, puts it:-
Thus entrenched as the Cartesian system was ... it was not to be wondered
at that the pure and sublime doctrines of the Principia were distrustfully
received ... The uninstructed mind could not readily admit the idea
that the great masses of the planets were suspended in empty space,
and retained their orbits by an invisible influence...
Pleasing as Descartes's theory was even the supporters of his natural
philosophy, such as the Cambridge metaphysical theologian Henry More,
found objections. Certainly More admired Descartes, writing:-
I should look upon Des-Cartes as a man most truly inspired in the knowledge
of Nature, than any that have professed themselves so these sixteen
However between 1648 and 1649 they exchanged a number of letters in
which More made some telling objections, Descartes however in his replies
making no concessions to More's points. More went on to ask:-
Why are not your vortices in the form of columns or cylinders rather
than ellipses, since any point of the axis of a vortex is as it were
a centre from which the celestial matter recedes with, as far as I can
see, a wholly constant impetus? ... Who causes all the planets not to
revolve in one plane (the plane of the ecliptic)? ... And the Moon itself,
neither in the plane of the Earth's equator nor in a plane parallel
In 1644, the year his Meditations were published, Descartes visited
France. He returned again in 1647, when he met Pascal and argued with
him that a vacuum could not exist, and then again in 1648.
In 1649 Queen Christina of Sweden persuaded Descartes to go to Stockholm.
However the Queen wanted to draw tangents at 5 a.m. and Descartes broke
the habit of his lifetime of getting up at 11 o'clock. After only a
few months in the cold northern climate, walking to the palace for 5
o'clock every morning, he died of pneumonia. Rene Descartes was a famous
French mathematician, scientist and philosopher. He was arguably the
first major philosopher in the modern era to make a serious effort to
defeat skepticism. His views about knowledge and certainty, as well
as his views about the relationship between mind and body have been
very influential over the last three centuries.
Descartes was born at La Haye (now called Descartes), and educated at
the Jesuit College of La Flèche between 1606 and 1614. Descartes
later claimed that his education gave him little of substance and that
only mathematics had given him certain knowledge. In this lament he
joins a chorus of seventeenth century philosophers including Bacon,
Hobbes and Locke. In 1618 he went to Holland to serve in the army of
Prince Maurice of Nassau, in travelled to Germany with that army. On
the night of Nov ember 10, he had a series of dreams which he interpreted
as signs that he would found a universal science. The most important
influence on Descartes at this time was the mathematician Issac Beeckman,
who stimulated Descartes by posing a number of problem s and discusiing
issues in physics and mathematics with him. His first substantial work
was the Regulae or Rules for the Direction of Mind written in 1628-9
but not published until 1701. This work shows Descartes interest in
method which he shared with many sixteenth and seventeenth century scientists,
mathematicians and philosophers.
One source of this interest in method was ancient mathematics. The thirteen
books of Euclid's Elements was a model of knowledge and deductive method.
But how had all this been achieved? Archimedes had made many remarkable
discoveries. How had he come to make these discoveries? The method in
which the results were presented (sometimes called the method of synthesis)
was clearly not the method by which these results were discovered. So,
the search was on for the method used by the ancient mathematicians
to make their discoveries (the method of analysis). Descartes is clearly
convinced that the discovery of the proper method is the key to scientific
advance. For a more extended and detailed discussion of these methods,
see John Cottingham , The Rationalists, Oxford University Press, Oxford,
1982. Chapter 2.
In November 1628 Descartes was in Paris, where he made himself famous
in a confrontation with Chandoux. Chandoux claimed that science could
only be based on probablitiies. This view reflected the dominance in
French intellectual circles of Renaissance skepticism. This skptical
view was rooted in the religious crisis in Europe resulting from the
Protestant Reformation and had been deepened by the publication of the
works of Sextus Empiricus and reflections on disagreements between classical
authors. It was strengthend again by considerations about the differences
in culture between New World cultures and that of Europe, and by the
debates over the new Copernican system. All of this had been eloquently
formulated by Montaigne in his Apology for Raymond Sebond and developed
by his followers. Descartes attacked this view, claiming only that certainty
could serve as a basis for knowledge, and that he himself had a method
for attaining such certainty. In the same year Descartes moved to Holland
where he remained with only brief interruptions until 1649.
In Holland Descartes produced a scientific work called Le Monde or The
World which he was about to publish in 1634. At the point, however,
he learned that Galileo had been condemned by the Church for teaching
Copernicanism. Descarte s' book was Copernican to the core, and he therefore
had it supressed. In 1638 Descartes published a book containing three
essays on mathematical and scientific subjects and the Discourse on
Method. These works were written in French (rather th an Latin) and
were aimed at the educated world rather than simply academics. In 1641
Descartes followed this with the Meditationes de Prima Philosophia (Meditations
on First Philosophy). This short work is more metaphysical than scientific,
and aims to establish the certain foundations for the sciences which
Descartes had announced in his confrontation with Chandoux in 1628.
(For a more detailed account of this work see Structure of the Meditations.
The work was published together with Objections and Replies from a six
(and then seven) philosophers and theologians, including Thomas Hobbes,
Pierre Gassendi and Antoine Arnauld.
After the Meditations, Descartes produced The Principles of Philosophy
in 1644, the most complete statement of his mature philosophy and of
the Cartesian system in general. Part 1 explains Descartes metaphysical
views. Part II gives a detailed exposition of the principles of Cartesian
physics. Part III applies those principles of physics to give a detailed
explanation of the universe, and Part IV deals with a wide variety of
terrestial phenomena. Two more parts were planned, to deal with pl ants
and animals and man, but were not completed. In 1648 Descartes published
"Notes against a Program" -- a response to a pamphlet published
anonymously by Henricus Regius, Professor of Medecine at the University
of Utrecht. Regius had been an early and enthusiastic supporter of Descartes.
But when Regius published his Foundations of Physics Descartes complained
that Regius had shamelessly used unpublished papers of Descartes to
which he had access and had distorted Descartes' ideas. The "Notes"
both illustrate the kind of academic controversies in which Descartes
was involved during this decade, but also provides some insight into
his views about mind and his doctrine of innate ideas.
Descartes last work Les Passions de l'áme was written as a result
of the correspondence which Descartes carried on with Princess Elisabeth
of Bohemia. The work was written in French, and published in Amsterdam
and Paris in 1649. This work (like the Principles) is composed of a
large number of short articles. Princess Elisabeth had raised the question
of how the soul could interact with the body in 1643. In response to
Elisabeth's questions, Descartes wrote a short work which developed
into the Passions of the Soul. The work is a combination of psychology,
physiology and ethics, and contains Descartes' theory of two way causal
interaction via the pineal gland.
Two months before the publication of the Passions Descartes set sail
for Stockholm, Sweden, at the invitation of Queen Christina of Sweden.
Descartes' death in Stockholm of pneumonia, has regularly been attributed
to the rigours of the Swedish climate and the fact that Descartes (no
early riser) was sometimes required to give the Queen lessons as early
as five in the morning. However unpleasant these conditions may have
been, it seems plain that Descartes acquired his fatal malady as a result
of nursing his friend the French ambassador (who had pneumonia) back
René DescartesRené Descartes (IPA: [r?ne.dek??t], March
31, 1596 – February 11, 1650), also known as Cartesius, worked
as a philosopher and mathematician. He is equally notable for both his
groundbreaking work in philosophy and mathematics. As the inventor of
the Cartesian coordinate system, he formulated the basis of modern geometry
(analytic geometry), which in turn influenced the development of modern
calculus.Descartes, sometimes called the founder of modern philosophy
and the Father of Modern Mathematics, ranks as one of the most important
and influential thinkers in modern western history. He inspired both
his contemporaries and later generations of philosophers, leading them
to form what we know today as continental rationalism, a philosophical
position in 17th and 18th century Europe.His most famous sentence is
"cogito ergo sum", "I think, therefore I am". Descartes
(1596-1650) was born in La Haye, Indre-et-Loire, France. At the age
of eight he entered the Jesuit College Royal Henry-Le-Grand at La Flèche.
After graduation he studied at the University of Poitiers, graduating
with a Baccalauréat and Licence in law in 1616.Descartes never
actually practiced law however, and in 1618 he entered the service of
Prince Maurice of Nassau, leader of the United Provinces of the Netherlands,
with the intention of following a military career. Here he met Isaac
Beeckman, and composed a short treatise on music entitled Compendium
Musicae. In 1619, he travelled in Germany, and on November 10 had a
vision of a new mathematical and scientific system. In 1622 he returned
to France, and during the next few years spent time in Paris and other
parts of Europe. Descartes was present at the siege of La Rochelle by
Cardinal Richelieu in 1627.In 1628 he composed Rules for the Direction
of the Mind, and left for Holland, where he lived until 1649, changing
his address frequently. In 1629 he began work on The World. In 1633,
Galileo was condemned and Descartes abandoned plans to publish The World.
In 1635, Descartes' daughter Francine was born. She was baptized on
August 7, 1635 and died in 1640. Descartes published Discourse on Method,
with Optics, Meteorology and Geometry in 1637. In 1641, Meditations
on First Philosophy was published, with the first six sets of Objections
and Replies. In 1642 the second edition of Meditations was published
with all seven sets of Objections and Replies, followed by Letter to
Dinet. In 1643, Cartesian philosophy was condemned at the University
of Utrecht, and Descartes began his long correspondence with Princess
Elizabeth of Bohemia. Descartes published Principles of Philosophy and
visited France in 1644. In 1647 he was awarded a pension by the King
of France, published Comments on a Certain Broadsheet and began work
on The Description of the Human Body. He was interviewed by Frans Burman
at Egmond-Binnen in 1648, resulting in Conversation with Burman. In
1649 he went to Sweden on invitation of Queen Christina, and his Passions
of the Soul, which he dedicated to Princess Elizabeth, were published.René
Descartes died of pneumonia on February 11, 1650 in Stockholm, Sweden,
where he had been invited as a teacher for Queen Christina of Sweden.
Accustomed to working in bed till noon, he may have suffered a detrimental
effect on his health due to Christina's demands for early morning study.
As a Catholic in a Protestant nation, he was interred in a graveyard
mainly used for unbaptized infants, in Adolf Fredrikskyrkan in Stockholm.
Later his remains were taken to France from Sweden and buried in the
Church of St. Genevieve-du-Mont in Paris. A memorial erected in the
18th century remains in the Swedish church.During the French Revolution,
his remains were disinterred for burial in the Panthéon, among
the great French thinkers. The village in the Loire Valley where he
was born was renamed La Haye - Descartes.In 1667, after his death, the
Roman Catholic Church placed his works on the Index of Prohibited Books.Significance
Often regarded as the first "modern" thinker for providing
a philosophical framework for the natural sciences as these began to
develop, Descartes in his Meditations on First Philosophy attempts to
arrive at a fundamental set of principles that one can know as true
without any doubt. To achieve this, he employs a method called Methodological
Skepticism: he doubts any idea that can be doubted.He gives the example
of dreaming: in a dream, one's senses perceive things that seem real,
but do not actually exist. Thus one cannot rely on the data of the senses
as necessarily true. Or, perhaps an "evil genius" exists:
a supremely powerful and cunning being who sets out to try to deceive
Descartes from knowing the true nature of reality. Given these possibilities,
what can one know for certain?Initially, Descartes arrives at only a
single principle: if I am being deceived, then surely "I"
must exist. Most famously, this is known as cogito ergo sum, ("I
think, therefore I am"). (These words do not appear in the Meditations,
although he had written them in his earlier work Discourse on Method).Therefore,
Descartes concludes that he can be certain that he exists. But in what
form? You perceive your body through the use of the senses; however,
these have previously proved unreliable. So Descartes concludes that
at this point, he can only say that he is a thinking thing. Thinking
is his essence as it is the only thing about him that cannot be doubted.To
further demonstrate the limitations of the senses, Descartes proceeds
with what is known as the Wax Argument. He considers a piece of wax:
his senses inform him that it has certain characteristics, such as shape,
texture, size, color, smell, and so forth. However, when he brings the
wax towards a flame, these characteristics change completely. However,
it seems that it is still the same thing: it is still a piece of wax,
even though the data of the senses inform him that all of its characteristics
are different. Therefore, in order to properly grasp the nature of the
wax, he cannot use the senses: he must use his mind. Descartes concludes:"Thus
what I thought I had seen with my eyes, I actually grasped solely with
the faculty of judgment, which is in my mind."In this manner Descartes
proceeds to construct a system of knowledge, discarding perception as
unreliable and instead admitting only deduction as a method. Halfway
through the Meditations he also claims to prove the existence of a benevolent
God, who, being benevolent, has provided him with a working mind and
sensory system, and who cannot desire to deceive him, and thus, finally,
he establishes the possibility of acquiring knowledge about the world
based on deduction and perception.Mathematicians consider Descartes
of the utmost importance for his discovery of analytic geometry. Up
to Descartes's times, geometry, dealing with lines and shapes, and algebra,
dealing with numbers, appeared as completely different subsets of mathematics.
Descartes showed how to translate many problems in geometry into problems
in algebra, by using a coordinate system to describe the problem.Descartes's
theory provided the basis for the calculus of Newton and Leibniz, and
thus for much of modern mathematics. This appears even more astounding
when one keeps in mind that the work was just meant as an example to
his Discours de la méthode pour bien conduire sa raison, et chercher
la verité dans les sciences (Discourse on the Method to Rightly
Conduct the Reason and Search for the Truth in Sciences, known better
under the shortened title Discours de la méthode).
He was very fond of his dog, named Monsieur Grat. This is seen by some
to contradict Descartes’ position that animals were simply (unthinking)
automata made of meat.