Rene Descartes

Renee Descartes

The French mathematician Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650) insightfully connected the bridge between geometry and algebra by developing analytic or Cartesian geometry. Aside from his mathematical works he was extremely influential in other area’s of science and philosophy.

Descartes was born in France to a bourgeois family, educated at a Jesuits college, and joined the army at the age of 22 where he met a man named Isaac Beekman who kindled his interest in science and left an indelible stamp of influence on his early adulthood.   After a move to the Netherlands Descartes formulated some of his most influential ideas.  While Descartes was working with curves he realized that the key to solving them was by using coordinates.  In 1637 in his appendix to his book Discourse on Methods titled La Geometrie, Descartes shows how a single equation can be used to explain every single point along a curve.   This work laid the foundation for the invention of calculus by Newton and Leibniz.

In addition to his mathematical contributions Descartes was also influential in philosophy and science.  He was one of the first to break away from the Aristotelian Scholastic mode of thought, which was extremely entrenched in intellectual institutions during his life.  He wrote speculations on a multitude of topics including the nature of the mind, mind-body dualism, God, the sensations and passions, and morality.

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