Writers

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René Descartes

1596-1650

René Descartes (1596 – 1650) was a French-born philosopher, mathematician, and scientist who spent a large portion of his working life in the Dutch Republic, initially serving the Dutch States Army of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange and the Stadtholder of the United Provinces. René was born into a well-off legal family, originally from the Poitou region of France. His father, Joachim Descartes, spent six months of the year 260 kilometres away in Rennes at the Parliament of Brittany and was absent from home when René was born. Rene’s mother, Jeanne Brochard, gave birth to René at her mother’s home and died fourteen months later.

With his father absent for half the year, René (and his siblings), were left in the care of his maternal grandmother and wet-nurse. Biographer Desmond Clarke believes this arrangement continued for at least two years, and the children then moved between grandmother and father until Rene was four. From 1600 René then lived with the grandmother until her death around 1609, after which René spent school holidays with his godfather, Michel Ferrand, or with his paternal grandmother.

Rene began his formal education at a Jesuit school, La Fleche College, 160 kilometres from home. René was at La Fleche from approximately 1607 until 1616, by which time he was 19 years old.

René Descartes went on to become one of the most influential philosophers of his time; he is sometimes regarded as the “parent of modern philosophy”.