Rene Descartes

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In existographies, Rene Descartes (339-305 BE) (1596-1650 ACM) (IQ:195|#14) (ID:3.58|53) (Cattell 1000:23) (RGM:26|1,350+) (PR:43|65AE / philosopher:7) (Becker 160:37|5L) (Becker 139:3|18L) (Stokes 100:33) (CR:355) (LH:15) (TL:381|#16) was a French philosopher and physicist, noted for []


A hydro-powered Neptune automaton fountain, from Salomon Caus' The Reason for Moving Forces (1615)[1], which seems to be similar to the Neptune automaton Descartes refers to in his Treatise on Man.

Cartesian reductionism

See main: Cartesian reductionism[2]

In 1633, Descartes, in his Treatise on Man, stated the following: [3]

“In proportion as these spirits (the animal spirits) enter the cavities of the brain, they pass thence into the pores of its substance, and from these pores into the nerves; where, according as they enter, or even only tend to enter, more or less, into one than into another, they have the power of altering the figure of the muscles into which the nerves are inserted, and by this means of causing all the limbs to move. Thus, as you may have seen in the grottoes and the fountains in royal gardens, the force with which the water issues from its reservoir is sufficient to move various machines, and even to make them play instruments, or pronounce words, according to the different disposition of the pipes which lead the water.
And, in truth, the nerves of the machine which I am describing may very well be compared to the pipes of these water-works; its muscles and its tendons to the other various engines and springs which seem to move them; its animal spirits to the water which impels them, of which the heart is the fountain; while the cavities of the brain are the central office. Moreover, respiration and other such actions as are natural and usual in the body, and which depend on the course of the spirits, are like the movements of a clock, or of a mill, which may be kept up by the ordinary flow of water.
The external objects which, by their mere presence[4], act upon the organs of the senses; and which, by this means, determine the corporal machine [human/animal] to move in many different ways, according as the parts of the brain are arranged, are like the strangers who, entering into some of the grottoes of those water-works, unconsciously cause the movements which take place in their presence. For they cannot enter without treading upon certain planks so arranged that, for example, if they approach a bathing Diana, they cause her to hide among the reeds; and if they attempt to follow her, they see approaching a Neptune, who threatens them with his trident; or if they try some other way, they cause some monster who vomits water into their faces, to dart out; or like contrivances, according to the fancy of the engineers who have made them. And lastly, when the rational soul is lodged in this machine, it will have its principal seat in the brain, and will take the place of the engineer, who ought to be in that part of the works with which all the pipes are connected, when he wishes to increase, or to slacken, or in some way to alter, their movements.
All the functions which I have attributed to this machine (the body), as the digestion of food, the pulsation of the heart and of the arteries; the nutrition and the growth of the limbs; respiration, wakefulness, and sleep; the reception of light, sounds, odors, flavors, heat, and such like qualities, in the organs of the external senses; the impression of the ideas of these in the organ of common sense and in the imagination; the retention, or the impression, of these ideas on the memory; the internal movements of the appetites and the passions; and lastly, the external movements of all the limbs, which follow so aptly, as well the action of the objects which are presented to the senses, as the impressions which meet in the memory, that they imitate as nearly as possible those of a real man: I desire, I say, that you should consider that these functions in the machine naturally proceed from the mere arrangement of its organs, neither more nor less than do the movements of a clock, or other automaton, from that of its weights and its wheels; so that, so far as these are concerned, it is not necessary to conceive any other vegetative soul or sensitive soul, nor any other principle of motion, or of life, than the blood and the spirits agitated by the fire which burns continually in the heart, and which is no wise essentially different from all the fires which exist in inanimate bodies.”

In 1871, John Tyndall, in commentary on this passage, stated that Descartes here was the "first to reduce, in a manner eminently capable of beating the test of mental presentation, vital phenomena to purely mechanical principles."[3]

Reaction end

In 1650, Descartes ceased to exist. The so-called “official” version of Descartes' reaction end (death), was that at age 54 he dies from pneumonia in Sweden. The unofficial version, is that he was poisoned by an arsenic-laced communion wafer by priests fearing of the effect of his matter and motion philosophy on the queen of Sweden:

“Descartes symptoms include: weakening, vomits, diarrhea, dizziness, skin's pigmentation, cutaneous damages, enteritis ... symptoms commonly found in an arsenic intoxication.”
— Johann van Wullen (c.1650), “Letter to Willem Piso”
“He expiated his rivals attacks with the innocency of his life.”
— Hector Chanut (1650), words engraved on Descartes tombstone
“Virgil, the bishop of Saltzburg, was condemned by the church, for having dared to maintain the existence of the antipodes. All the world is acquainted with the persecutions which Galileo suffered for pretending that the sun did not make its revolution round the earth. Descartes was put to death in a foreign land.”
Baron Holbach (1770), The System of Nature (pg. 284)

In 2009, Theodore Ebert, in his The Enigmatic Death of Rene Descartes, conjectured that Descartes was poisoned by an arsenic-laced communion wafer; the abstract of which is as follows:

“This monograph discusses the illness and death of Rene Descartes. All the hitherto available documents on his illness and death are collected in the appendix, partly also in the original French or Latin. These documents make it rather unlikely that Descartes died of pneumonia, the circumstances of his death suggest a poisoning by arsenic. The possible murderer and his motives are also discussed.”

This would seem to be the logical conclusion. We note that Descartes, while residing in the Dutch republic, had to move "24 times" to keep away from spies and government agents.[5]


Quotes | On

The following are quotes on Descartes:

Descartes was the first to reduce, in a manner eminently capable of beating the test of mental presentation, vital phenomena to purely mechanical principles. Through fear or love, Descartes was a good churchman; he accordingly rejects the notion of an atom, because it was absurd to suppose that god, if he so pleased, could not divide an atom; he puts in the place of the atoms small round particles and light splinters, out of which he builds the organism. He sketches with marvelous physical insight a machine, with water for its motive power, which shall illustrate vital actions. He has made clear to his mind that such a machine would be competent to carry on the processes of digestion, nutrition, growth, respiration, and the beating of the heart.”
John Tyndall (1874), “Atheistic Materialism”, BAAS Address (pg. 21)[6]
Descartes start to resolve all the phenomena of the universe into matter and motion, or forces operating according to law. This grand conception, which is sketched in Discourse on Method (1637), and more fully in the Principles of Philosophy (1644), and in the Treatise on Man (c.1648), he worked out  with extraordinary power and knowledge; and with the effect of arriving, in the latter essay, at that purely mechanical view of vital phenomena, towards which modern physiology is striving.”
Thomas Huxley (1898), Methods and Results (pg. 181)[7]

Quotes | By

The following are quotes by Descartes:

“These functions, namely: digestion, beating of heart, growth, respiration, waking, sleeping, etc., follow in this [human] machine simply from the disposition of the organs as wholly naturally as the movements of a clock or other automaton follow from the disposition of its counterweights and wheels. As far as these functions are concerned, it is not necessary to conceive any other vegetative or sensitive soul, nor any other principle of motion or of life, than the blood and the spirits agitated by the fire which burns continually in the heart, and which is in no wise different from the fires which exist in inanimate bodies.”
— Rene Descartes (1633), Treatise on Man (pg. #); cited by John Tyndall (1874) in “Atheistic Materialism” (pgs. 21-22)[8]; cited by: Julien Musolino (2015) in The Soul Fallacy (pg. 47)[9]
Motion, indeed, is only a state of the moving body; but it has a certain definite ‘quantity’, and it is readily conceived that this quantity may be constant in the universe as a whole, while varying in any given part. We must reckon the ‘quantity of motion’ in two pieces of matter as equal if one moves twice as fast as the other, and this in turn is twice as big as the first; again, if the motion of one piece of matter is retarded, we must assume an equal acceleration of some other body of the same size.”
— Rene Descartes (1644), Principles of Philosophy (§:36) [10]
“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries.”
— Rene Descartes (c.1630), Publication[11]

End matter

See also

  • Cartesian
  • Cartesian automaton
  • Cartesian system
  • Cartesian economics
  • Descartes on the soul


  1. Caus, Salomon. (1615). The Reasons for Moving Forces (Les Raisons des forces mouvantes) (Neptune, pg. 35). Publisher.
  2. Cartesian reductionism – Hmolpedia 2020.
  3. 3.0 3.1 (a) Descartes, Rene. (1633). Treatise on Man (Traite de l’Homme) (translator: Thomas Huxley Huxley). Publisher.
    (b) Huxley, Thomas. (c.1870). Lay Sermons (pgs. #). Publisher.
    (c) Tyndall, John. (1871). Fragments of Science for Unscientific People (Vitality [with note on Huxley's translation of Descartes], pgs. 410-418). Publisher.
  4. See: Principle of inertia.
  5. Anon. (2015). “Philosophy: Rene Descartes” (YT), The School of Life, Sep 11.
  6. Tyndall, John. (1874). “Atheistic Materialism (txt) (pregnant, pg. 3), Address, British Association for the Advancement of Science, Belfast. Longmans.
  7. Huxley, Thomas. (1898). Methods and Results (pg. 181). Publisher.
  8. Tyndall, John. (1874). “Atheistic Materialism (txt), Address, British Association for the Advancement of Science, Belfast. Longmans.
  9. Musolino, Julien. (2015). The Soul Fallacy: What Science Shows We Gain from Letting Go of Our Soul Beliefs (foreword: Victor Stenger) (Gardens, pg. 46, wheels, pg. 47). Prometheus.
  10. (a) Descartes, Rene. (1644). Principles of Philosophy (Principia Philosophiae); in: Oeuvres de Descartes, Volumes Eight (of 13) (editors: Charles Adam and Paul Tannery) (pg. 61). Cerf, 1913.
    (b) Litis, Carolyn. (1971). “Leibniz and the Vis Viva Controversy” (abs), Isis, 62(1): 21-35.
    (c) Achinstein, Peter. (2004). Science Rules: a Historical Introduction to Scientific Methods (§3: Descartes’ Laws of Motions, pgs. 40-). Publisher.
  11. Solimine, Vincent. (2006). Path of a Scholar (pg. #). Publisher.

External links

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