Principles of Philosophy

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Principia philosophiae, 1685 Principia philosophiae.tif
Principia philosophiae, 1685
The illustration of movement of objects from the Principles Descartes Principles of Philosophy 1.png
The illustration of movement of objects from the Principles

Principles of Philosophy (Latin : Principia philosophiae) is a book by René Descartes. In essence it is a synthesis of the Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy [1] It was written in Latin, published in 1644 and dedicated to Elisabeth of Bohemia, with whom Descartes had a long-standing friendship. A French version (Les Principes de la Philosophie) followed in 1647. It set forth the principles of nature—the Laws of Physics—as Descartes viewed them. Most notably, it set forth the principle that in the absence of external forces, an object's motion will be uniform and in a straight line. Newton borrowed this principle from Descartes and included it in his own Principia ; to this day, it is still generally referred to as Newton's First Law of Motion. [2] The book was primarily intended to replace the Aristotelian curriculum then used in French and British universities. The work provides a systematic statement of his metaphysics and natural philosophy, and represents the first truly comprehensive, mechanistic account of the universe.

René Descartes 17th-century French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist

René Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. A native of the Kingdom of France, he spent about 20 years (1629–1649) of his life in the Dutch Republic after serving for a while in the Dutch States Army of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange and the Stadtholder of the United Provinces. He is generally considered one of the most notable intellectual figures of the Dutch Golden Age.

<i>Meditations on First Philosophy</i> philosophy book by Descartes

Meditations on First Philosophy in which the existence of God and the immortality of the soul are demonstrated is a philosophical treatise by René Descartes first published in Latin in 1641. The French translation was published in 1647 as Méditations Métaphysiques. The title may contain a misreading by the printer, mistaking animae immortalitas for animae immaterialitas, as suspected by A. Baillet.

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.


Preface to the French edition

Descartes asked Abbot Claude Picot to translate his Latin Principia Philosophiae into French. For this edition he wrote a preface, disguised as a letter to the translator, whose title is "Letter of the author to the translator of the book, that may be used as a preface". This was published in 1647, a date already in the maturity final period of his life. In this writing Descartes pours some reflexions about his idea of wisdom and philosophy. Its content may be summarized as follows. [3]

Concept of philosophy. Philosophy is the study of wisdom, understood as the ability to conduct the human activities; and also as the perfect knowledge of all the things that a man can know for the direction of his life, maintenance of his health, and knowledge of the arts. Only God is perfectly wise, and the man is more or less wise, in proportion to the knowledge he has of the most important truths.

The degrees of knowledge. Descartes identifies four degrees of knowledge, he names common, and a fifth one he designates as higher. The first degree consists on clear and evident notions that can be acquired without need of any meditation. The second degree is all that is learned by means of the senses. The third comprises what we learn when talking with other men. The fourth consists on what we can learn from the writings of men capable of giving good instructions.

Higher wisdom. There have been great men in all times that have sought after a better and more secure wisdom, a fifth degree of knowledge. This has consisted on the search for the first causes, and those that have followed this pursuit have been named philosophers, but he thinks that no one has been successful yet.

Doubt and certainty. Since Plato and Aristotle there has been a discussion about doubt and certainty. Those that have favored doubt have arrived to extremes of doubting even the most evident things, and those that have sought certainty have relied excessively on senses. Though it is true that it has been accepted that the senses may mislead us, according to Descartes nobody had yet expressed that the truth can not be based on the senses, but in the understanding, when it is founded on evident perceptions.

Meditations on first philosophy. The search for the first causes, or basic truths, as undertaken by Descartes is contained in this work. It explains the metaphysical principles on which to build the rest of knowledge.

Metaphysics Branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of reality

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between possibility and actuality. The word "metaphysics" comes from two Greek words that, together, literally mean "after or behind or among [the study of] the natural". It has been suggested that the term might have been coined by a first century CE editor who assembled various small selections of Aristotle’s works into the treatise we now know by the name Metaphysics.

The tree of philosophy. The philosophy is like a tree, whose roots are the metaphysics, its trunk the physics, and the branches the rest of sciences, mainly medicine, mechanics, and morals that is the last level of wisdom. In the same way that the tree has its fruits in its outer parts, the usefulness of philosophy is also contained in the parts that are learnt at the end.

Copies and prints

Rene Descartes' Principia Philosophiae. This copy was printed in 1656, and is owned by Southwest Research Institute rare book collection at the Tom Slick Memorial Library in San Antonio, Texas. Descartes swri.JPG
René Descartes' Principia Philosophiae. This copy was printed in 1656, and is owned by Southwest Research Institute rare book collection at the Tom Slick Memorial Library in San Antonio, Texas.

A copy of Descartes' Principia philosophiae dated 1656 is owned by the Tom Slick rare book collection at the Southwest Research Institute in Texas.

Thomas Baker "Tom" Slick Jr. was a San Antonio, Texas-based inventor, businessman, adventurer, and heir to an oil business. Slick's father, Thomas Baker Slick Sr., a.k.a. "The King of the Wildcatters", had made a fortune during the Oklahoma oil boom of the 1910s. He was notable for discovering Oklahoma's then-largest oil field, the Cushing Oil Field.

Southwest Research Institute Independent, nonprofit research and development organization

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is one of the oldest and largest independent, nonprofit, applied research and development (R&D) organizations in the United States. Founded in 1947 by oil businessman Thomas Slick, Jr., SwRI provides contract research and development services to government and industrial clients.


International Standard Book Number Unique numeric book identifier

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a numeric commercial book identifier which is intended to be unique. Publishers purchase ISBNs from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency.

See also

<i>The World</i> (Descartes) book by René Descartes

The World, also called Treatise on the Light, is a book by René Descartes (1596–1650). Written between 1629 and 1633, it contains a nearly complete version of his philosophy, from method, to metaphysics, to physics and biology.

<i>Principia philosophiae cartesianae</i> book

Principia philosophiae cartesianae or Renati Descartes principia philosophiae, more geometrico demonstrata is a philosophical work of Baruch Spinoza published in Amsterdam in 1663. In the preface to this work, Ludovic Meyer explains that it is a reconstruction of René Descartes' Principles of Philosophy in the Euclidean or "geometric" fashion. In the appendix, a series of non-geometric prose passages entitled Metaphysical Thoughts [Cogitata Metaphisica], Spinoza explicates Descartes' views on traditional metaphysical topics while furtively interpolating some of his own.

Baruch Spinoza Dutch philosopher

Baruch Spinoza was a Jewish-Dutch philosopher of Portuguese Sephardi origin. By laying the groundwork for the Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism, including modern conceptions of the self and the universe, he came to be considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy. Along with René Descartes, Spinoza was a leading philosophical figure of the Dutch Golden Age. Spinoza's given name, which means "Blessed", varies among different languages. In Hebrew, it is written ברוך שפינוזה. His Portuguese name is Benedito "Bento" de Espinosa or d'Espinosa. In his Latin works, he used Latin: Benedictus de Spinoza.

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Cogito, ergo sum is a Latin philosophical proposition by René Descartes usually translated into English as "I think, therefore I am". The phrase originally appeared in French as je pense, donc je suis in his Discourse on the Method, so as to reach a wider audience than Latin would have allowed. It appeared in Latin in his later Principles of Philosophy. As Descartes explained, "we cannot doubt of our existence while we doubt...." A fuller version, articulated by Antoine Léonard Thomas, aptly captures Descartes's intent: dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum. The concept is also sometimes known as the cogito.

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Skepticism or scepticism is generally any questioning attitude or doubt towards one or more items of putative knowledge or belief. It is often directed at domains, such as the supernatural, morality, religion, or knowledge. Formally, skepticism as a topic occurs in the context of philosophy, particularly epistemology, although it can be applied to any topic such as politics, religion, and pseudoscience.

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<i>Discourse on the Method</i> book by Descartes

Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences is a philosophical and autobiographical treatise published by René Descartes in 1637. It is best known as the source of the famous quotation "Je pense, donc je suis", which occurs in Part IV of the work. A similar argument, without this precise wording, is found in Meditations on First Philosophy (1641), and a Latin version of the same statement Cogito, ergo sum is found in Principles of Philosophy (1644).

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<i>Novum Organum</i> book

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  1. Guy Durandin, Les Principes de la Philosophie. Introduction et notes, Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, Paris, 1970.
  2. D.T. Whiteside, The prehistory of the Principia Notes Rec. R. Soc. Lond. 45, 13 (1991).
  3. René Descartes. "Letter of the Author to the French Translator of the Principles of Philosophy serving for a preface". John Veitch (trans.). Retrieved December 2011.Check date values in: |access-date= (help)