French mathematician, scientist and philosopher, Rene Descartes was born in La Haye, Tourine in France on 30 March 1596. He was also known as Renatus Cartesius. He developed an early interest in mathematics that remained with him throughout his life.
He has been called the father of modern philosophy and is most widely remembered for the axiom: “Cogito, ergo sum” ( I think,therefore I am)”.
From the age of eight, Descartes, an exceptionally intelligent boy, he liked mathematics because of the certainty of its proofs and the evidence of its reasoning.
He attended the newly-opened Royal College of La Fleche where for the next 10 years he received a Jesuit education, showing a distinct interest in mathematics.
In 1616 at the age of 20 he took a degree in Law at the University of Poitiers. For the next 12 years he travelled extensively and at one time joined the army of the Duke of Baaria during the early stages of the Thirty Years’ War.
In 1628 he settled in Holland where he lived until 1649.
During this period he completed the works that made him famous in his own time and influenced succeeding ages. “The Discourse of Method” his most widely read work, presents four rules for the pursuit of knowledge.
- They are to accept nothing as true unless clearly recognized as such.
- To solve problems systematically by analyzing them part by part.
- To proceed from simple to more complex considerations.
- To review everything thoroughly to make sure that nothing has been omitted.
Descartes’ supreme achievements are his philosophy and his invention of analytic geometry, the latter shared with fellow mathematician Pierre-Simon de Fermat. His contributions to algebra include improved notation, the method of undetermined coefficients and the rule of signs. His analysis of the cycloid introduces the concept of instantaneous axis while his theorem of polyhedral anticipates Euler’s.
Insisting on clear and logical thinking, Descartes believed that all experience is organized according to laws that are basically mathematical. So diverse was his intellectual capacity that philosophers, physicists and mathematicians all look upon Descartes as one of the greatest geniuses in their field. And each group is correct his brilliance spanned many subjects.
In 1649 Descartes left Amsterdam to serve as instructor to Queen Christiana in Stockholm, Sweden. He died on February 11, 1650 of complications from a severe chill.
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