Study Guide

René Descartes Influences

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Isaac Beeckman

If you're like most people, when you hear the name "Isaac Beeckman," you go, "Who?" So you're probably amazed that a great man like myself counts as a major influence someone so, well, unknown. I suppose we just have to consider this one more piece of the fascinating, complex puzzle that is René Descartes.

Anyhow, Beeckman was a mathematician, amateur physicist and friend, as well as a kind of teacher to me. He challenged me by giving me puzzles in mathematics and physics. And this inspired not only my scientific work, but also my work in philosophy. After all, the state of philosophy was so dismal when I first came on the scene that I could hardly build on the work of any contemporaries. More than anything, it was mathematics that served as the spur for my many philosophical innovations.

Now, while Beeckman did serve a useful purpose for a while, we did have a little falling out (a common occurrence with my friends). He was stealing my ideas; I'm sure of it. So I had to axe him from the Cartesian circle, so to speak, after which I denied that he had had much influence on me in the first place.

Marin Mersenne

Marin was a fellow philosopher and mathematician, as well as a theologian. It's not that I got all that many ideas from him, but he has been extremely helpful in defending me against my many critics.

All right, so I've found him useful, is that so wrong? He certainly has played a key role in the spread of my ideas.


When I talk about the influence of physics on my thought, I don't, of course, mean Aristotelian physics. That old musty subject is exactly what I have been opposing all my life. No, I mean the "new physics"—the scientific study as developed by true thinkers like Galileo, Gassendi, Kepler, and many others. Rather than talk about the behavior of bodies in terms of inner "substantial forms" like the Aristotelians, the new physicists went for mechanical, causal explanations. Those are my peeps.

My predecessors in physics definitely inspired my own work in this area, but they also inspired my work in philosophy. In fact, you could say that one of my central philosophical achievements was to present a new viewpoint in which science is the main source of our knowledge.

I made the world safe for physics.

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