A Historical Record of René Descartes

“I exist therefore I am” is a famous quote made by the French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes. He is regarded as the father of modern philosophy for his many contributions in the field of science and philosophy. Read on to learn more about the historical account of this great philosopher: René Descartes.


René Descartes was born on March 31, 1596, in La Haye en Touraine, France to Joachin Descartes (father) and Jeane Brochard (mother). René was the youngest child of his parents’ three surviving children, but Pierre his older brother later died after birth as did his mother died when he was one year old.

Early Life

After the passing of Descartes’ mother, he was sent by his father to live with his maternal grandmother Jeane Sain. Being someone who valued education, his father sent him to be educated at Jesuit College in La Fleche in 1614. He studied subjects such as rhetoric, metaphysics, natural philosophy and ethics, and mathematical arts (comprising music and astronomy), all of which developed him as a philosopher. René equally earned a baccalaureate in law at the age of 22 at the University of Poitiers from 1615-1616.

Later Life

René travelled from France to the Netherland in 1628 to become a volunteer for the army of Maurice of Nassau. During this period, he was introduced to the philosopher Isaac Breeckam who had a significant influence on him. Breeckam introduced him on how to mathematics to other fields.

Although Descartes was never married, he had a female child named Francine in 1635 when he was teaching at Utrecht University. Francine’s mother Helena Jans van der Strom was a maid in the home Descartes stayed when he travelled to the Netherlands. René had planned to send Francine to be educated in France. She, however, died due to a bout of fever at the age of 5 years in 1640.


During his time at Jesuit College, Descartes was never mandated to wake up to pray with his peers at 5 am due to his sickly nature. However, when he went to work as Queen Christina’s philosopher at Stockholm, she demanded that Descartes rise at 5 am to give her philosophy lessons. As a result, he contracted pneumonia, which consequently led to his death on February 11, 1650.  Put simply, he died at the age of 53 years. 


Descartes believed in clearing all preconceived and inherited notions as well as putting back only things which were certain. This began with the statement “I exist,” which led to his famous quote “I exist, therefore I am.” He held that truths were ultimately connected, and therefore sought the understanding of the natural world through science and mathematics.

Father of Modern Philosophy

René Descartes is considered as the “father of modern philosophy” for the following reasons: (1) breaking from the traditional scholastic Aristotelian philosophy which was prevalent in his time; (2) developing and promoting a new mechanistic science; (3) formulation of the mind-body dualism.

Contributions in Physics

In physics, he propounded the law of refraction around 1628. Through this law, he developed an understanding of rainbows. Also, a naturalistic account of the solar system was proposed by him.

Works by René Descartes

In his time, René made many contributions to science, including physics and philosophy. He published Discourse on the Methods, Meditations on First Philosophy, and Principles of Philosophy, among other treaties.

In Sum

Descartes legacies and influence in modern philosophy were immense. He combined mathematics and logic to explain the physical world. Through his mind-body dualism theory, he found a point of contact for the body and the soul. He has indeed left his marks in the sands of history as his works are still studied to this day.

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