Discourse on Method and Related Writings

ISBN: 0140446990
ISBN 13: 9780140446999
By: René Descartes Desmond M. Clarke

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About this book

‘It is not enough to have a good mind; it is more important to use it well’René Descartes was a central figure in the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. In his Discourse on Method he outlined the contrast between mathematics and experimental sciences, and the extent to which each one can achieve certainty. Drawing on his own work in geometry, optics, astronomy and physiology, Descartes developed the hypothetical method that characterizes modern science, and this soon came to replace the traditional techniques derived from Aristotle. Many of Descartes’ most radical ideas – such as the disparity between our perceptions and the realities that cause them – have been highly influential in the development of modern philosophy.This edition sets the Discourse on Method in the wider context of Descartes’ work, with the Rules for Guiding One’s Intelligence in Searching for the Truth (1628), extracts from The World (1633) and selected letters from 1636–9. A companion volume, Meditations and Other Metaphysical Writings, is also published in Penguin Classics.

Reader's Thoughts

Mel Vincent

Rene Descartes is not only a pure optimist and a wide thinker but he too is very eloquent, charismatic, simple and very brilliant in how he fuses his ideas and arguments to that of different sciences such as anatomy and to an extent, psychology itself.While reading this it is as if you are not reading a highly charged philosophy book but instead it makes you think that it is in fact a travel novel, which is amazing. Rene Descartes articulately draws his own opinions on the environs, perceptions, thoughts, epiphanies and the arguments that go about him while changing scenes, places and meeting other people as well.It talks how the soul, whether that of a human or of a creature is distinct from either one and that the soul is not a part of the body and is therefore not subjected to the mortalities of the flesh, hence the immortality of the soul. He then states that dreams and conscious thoughts are not as distinct as previously thought the only this is that these are partly of truths for one could not have arrived at that thought if that did not exist in the first place and lastly, he talks about and proves the existence of God which is phenomenal and how he connects it with the other arguments of this book.And lastly, the thing that I love about this book is that it gives off a calming effect while you read it and I've come to realize and empathize that Rene Descartes is truly humble and I admire a great person who keeps his feet on the ground even if the world constantly tells hims of his genius and greatness.


Fascinating book. Even though this book is old now you can still follow Descartes remarkable clarity of thought. Descartes was truly a great thinker in that he aimed in getting the maximum amount of clarity in his work that he could. This book can be slightly confusing at times due to the views of those times and the different sentence structuring but it is generally quite intelligible what Descartes is trying to say. Descartes breaks down the human experience to its very basics, and in doing so he improves our own thinking patterns as we realise what we can truly assert to be true and what we cannot.I recommend this book for any person who wants a glimpse of how to think lucidly and clearly with deliberate decision. However, I do not recommend this book for someone who is afraid of doubt, as this book will have you doubting literally everything and everyone! Lol.5/5

Erik Graff

Despite the title, this editions contains more than the Discourse, the other selections being given in the description appended. I read this volume to supplement the Descartes readings for a course entitled "History of Classical Modern Philosophy" taken at Loyola University Chicago during the first semester of 1980/81.

Ali Reda

أولاً إنما مطلوبي العلم بحقائق الأمور ، فلا بُد من طلب حقيقة العلم ما هي؟ فظهر لي أن العلم اليقيني هو الذي ينكشف فيه المعلوم انكشافاً لا يبقى معه ريب ، ولا يقارنه إمكان الغلط والوهم ، ولا يتسع القلب لتقدير ذلك ؛ بل الأمان من الخطأ ينبغي أن يكون مقارناً لليقين مقارنة لو تحدى بإظهار بطلانه مثلاً من يقلب الحجر ذهباً والعصا ثعباناً ، لم يورث ذلك شكاً وإنكاراً ؛ فإني إذا علمت أن العشرة أكثر من الثلاثة ، فلو قال لي قائل: لا ، بل الثلاثة أكثر [ من العشرة ] بدليل أني أقلب هذه العصا ثعباناً ، وقلبها ، وشاهدت ذلك منه ، لم أشك بسببه في معرفتي ، ولم يحصل لي منه إلا التعجب من كيفية قدرته عليه! فأما الشك فيما علمته ، فلا. ثم علمت أن كل ما لا أعلمه على هذا الوجه ولا أتيقنه هذا النوع من اليقين ، فهو علم لا ثقة به ولا أمان معه ، وكل علم لا أمان معه ، فليس بعلم يقيني.~ الغزالى - المنقذ من الضلالThe first was never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such; that is to say, carefully to avoid precipitancy and prejudice, and to comprise nothing more in my judgment than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt. ~ René Descartes, Discourse on Method

Benjamin Plaggenborg

Obligatory reading never does a book justice, so you may take this review with a grain of salt.The book's central message is that of Descartes' brand of critical thinking. According to his account he grew so disillusioned by his education that he set out to abandon it all and try to build a set of knowledge on solid foundations. In short, he won't accept any claim if its truth isn't glaringly obvious to him. He gets going with his "I think, therefore I am." So far so good. However, it doesn't take many flips of the page until he's proven the existence of God with arguments which are hard to take seriously. Essentially he says he's not perfect because he doubts, yet he has the idea of perfection; so something perfect must have impressed the idea on him. This perfect being is, Descartes says, God.Perhaps I find this silly because I'm irreligious. But I find it hard to believe that even my religious friends would find the argument convincing. And therein lies my problem with the book. If you're going to create a philosophical method which is to remove uncertainties and disagreement from our thought, then you better not get into serious arguments within pages of its introduction. It would seem that our vision of truth's clarity is not as unified as the method requires.He lays out four rules of thinking which are the most useful part of the book, especially considering the times at which he wrote it. Firstly the previously mentioned method of approval. Secondly the breaking down of problems into smaller and easier parts. Thirdly ascending, by the solutions of simple problems, to more complex ones. Finally to make as full and general account of his reasoning, to make sure nothing was left out.This sort of explanation is in my experience not going to help break habits of thought, except by enormous mental effort and discipline. Much more will be gained by seeing the rules applied. The next best thing to learning by doing is learning by seeing done. This shouldn't be taken as criticism of the book, since it was written as an introduction to three scientific and mathematical works. But as it stands, though it may have been useful in its time, it isn't to me now. And I'm at a loss to think of anyone who needs a lesson in critical thinking who would benefit by reading it.

Daniella Insalaco

Even though I am not a fan of Descartes, I did enjoy the edition that I read (courtesy of The Focus Philosophical Library) because it contained a thorough introduction, great footnotes as well as an interpretive essay at the end. This is one of the reasons why I am giving it two stars rather than one. I really disagree with Descartes on a number of levels and frankly I don't want to get into all of that on here because then I would have to divulge my personal beliefs and I don't feel comfortable doing that on a public forum. All I really want to say is that his views on animals really angered and frustrated me.

David S. T.

At first I wasn't going to read this one, but when I started to read Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes referred to this several times, so I decided to quickly read it. Instead of doing the smart thing and getting a better translation, I found and read a public domain one. In hind sight after reading the superior Hackett version translated by Cress, it would have been better to just wait for that one (or pay the small price). As for the Discourse, it's pretty interesting, Descartes decides to throw way everything he's learned and approach everything as geometric proofs where he builds on top of what he can completely infer. At first he rejects all senses and perceptions because they could be an illusion, the only thing he knows is, “I think therefore I am” (or if you read the Cottingham version, 'I am thinking therefore I exist'). From this he bases everything. He later goes to present his own modified version of the ontological argument, basically he thinks of something more perfect than himself, since he knows there is something more perfect then this, then eventually the most perfect thing is God. I'm sure many theists will agree with him that perhaps God is the only other thing they know is true, but I'm not sure how the thought of a most perfect being is more apparent than everything he experiences around him. I realize that his could be in illusion, but the thought of a most perfect being is more concrete? If someone doesn't perceive of this most perfect being instead assumes that everything is partially flawed does god cease to exist?

Bookworm Amir

This works out to be a bit of a philosophy text, similar to Plato's allegory of the cave. Something which I have read since I had done Philosophy class. His work is divided into 6 parts, of which the content are the first 4 I'd say. He talks about how God and man's relationship is, how the idea of something perfect, shall you try looking for it in the most objective manner, is naturally embedded in our mind already. He also talks about the sciences and how it works out. And animals too, how humans and animals are similar yet different. Hint: the ability to speak and us having the rational soul. The last part talks about him not wanting to be considered as a philosopher nor us taking his views and transforming it into a philosophy. Overall, the best part that I took from this reading is that to find objective truth, you have to suspend and remove some of your beliefs so that you can find things in the most objective and unbiased manner, the way which Descartes had done in a few principles. For me, it would be very fun to start doing this, as I used to do that itself. Question everything and don't take anything you see as an inherent truth. A short read, I suggest you read this as it is considered as one of the classics. Read it once, let it expand your mind, and shelve it. :-)


Cogito Ergo Sum......more correctly, " Je pense donc je suis" ... I think, therefore, I am.Anyways, Descartes, ladies and gentlemen... I've been trying to read some more basic philosophy, and this one is one of my favorites. I like Descartes' method (yes, pun intended) in discovering and discerning truth. Seems to align with my worldview-- question everything, but build on what you know and can reason.Anyway, the reading was quite thick. It was interesting to read in the last section how he delayed publication because of the religious and social pressure of the rennaissance.I really admire descartes. A true rennaissance man (again, pun very much intended) -- a thinker, mathematician, physicist, dabbling in medicine and anything else that interested him.


Summary of my notes on the Discourse, by part:I. The premise is introduced that reason is naturally equal in all, and truth is to be found by conducting it correctly. Descartes attempts to show how he himself has attempted this, not to dictate how everyone should.II. The method. Descartes wished to rebuild the very foundations upon which his opinions and views were formed. He decided to do this by systematic doubt. The key point is to never accept as true anything that is not known to be evidently so.III. Descartes outlines his provisional moral code that he used during his search, saying that if one wishes to rebuild their house, they must have alternate accommodation while doing so.IV. From his first unquestionable principle, 'I think, therefore I am', Descartes moves on to his proof for the existence of God.V. Largely a description of a treatise he never published, and discussion of the difference between human and animals souls. This part is generally of less interest, not written with such clarity and wit.VI. Here, he describes why that treatise was never published, his thoughts on experimentation, and his plans for future publications. This suffers from the same issues as part five. The real meat of the Discourse is to be found in parts one through four.

Safdar Sikandar

This brief book is divided into six parts. In the third part , Descartes tells us why he thinks that 'i think hence i am'.I believe I am only a little dumber than Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber, and I may have to read this book again!

Shannon Thompson

In Discourse on Method, Rene Descartes discusses the philosophical and psychological aspects of being human, and I think that’s why this writing is easily accessible and relatable throughout the ages. Since there is a discussion on our nature, Descartes allows readers from his day and modern day to relate to one another and how they try to psychologically make sense of their life meaning. Descartes writes, “what we thus see or imagine is in reality existent; but it plainly tells us that all our ideas or notions contain in some truth” (Discourse on Method, 19.) While discussing whether or not this writing is an opportunity or a challenge, I think Descartes reveals how human nature is obviously both—life is a challenging opportunity. I think he best describes us as individuals when Descartes wrote, “it is not my design to teach the method that everyone must follow in order to use his reason properly, but only to show the way in which I have tried to use my own” (2). I liked this quote because, to me, it is both positive and negative, both challenging and an opportunity. It ultimately describes the modern world and how we must figure out our rights, our wants, and how to achieve everything within the equation of being a human in society and also an individual.

Rohan Ramakrishna

Cogito Ergo Sum. The book that heralded the modern age. Descartes' explanation of his scientific method kick-started the "Age of Reason" and was responsible for the break between science and philosophy. As a direct result of his method, science came to be an organized international peer-reviewed enterprise as we know it today.

Puji Lestari

Discourse On Method merupakan karyanya yang paling terkenal, ditulis dalam bahasa Perancis dan di dalamnya berisi tiga esai. Buku ini menceritakan tentang penemuan-penemuannya yang diperoleh melalui metode ciptaannya sendiri, misalnya mengenai optik, meteorologi, dan geometri. Pola pikir Descartes ini cukup unik. Ia meneliti pendapat-pendapat yang keliru, padahal sudah dipercaya oleh khalayak. Filosofinya dimulai dari keraguan, ia meragukan apa saja, bahkan yang dikatakan oleh gurunya sekalipun. Menurutnya, untuk mencari kebenaran sejati haruslah dimulai dengan langkah yang polos dan jernih, yaitu meragukan segalanya. Bagi saya, bagian paling menarik dari buku ini adalah bagaimana Descartes mendapatkan keyakinan tentang adanya Tuhan (ia sebut Allah). Berawal dari keraguan akan ketidaksempurnaan dirinya, Descartes mencari tau bagaimana dia bisa berpikir lebih sempurna daripada dirinya. Dan secara gamblang dia menyimpulkan bahwa ada sesuatu yang secara kodrat memang lebih sempurna karena mustahil apabila sesuatu yang lebih sempurna itu berasal dari ketiadaan. “…, yakni bahwa gagasan tentang sesuatu yang lebih sempurna itu diletakkan dalam diri saya oleh kodrat lain yang benar-benar lebih sempurna daripada saya, dan yang memiliki segala kesempurnaan yang beberapa di antaranya dapat saya pahami, atau dengan satu kata: Allah.”Descartes percaya adanya Tuhan, ia menganggap dirinya seorang Katolik patuh, namun gereja Katolik justru tidak menyukai pandangan-pandangannya. Gereja Katolik menyatakan bahwa karya-karya Descartes terlarang untuk dibaca. Menurut artikel yang ditulis oleh Michael H. Hart (1978), ada lima ide Descartes yang berpengaruh penting terhadap jalan pikiran Eropa yaitu: pandangan mekanisnya mengenai alam semesta, sikapnya yang positif terhadap penjajagan ilmiah, tekanan yang diletakkannya pada penggunaan matematika dalam ilmu pengetahuan, pembelaannya terhadap dasar awal sikap skeptis, dan penitikberatan perhatian terhadap epistemologi. Ah, bahasa filsafat memang selalu susah saya pahami. Tapi saya semakin tertarik dan tertarik dengan pemikiran Descartes manakala membaca bagian pemikirannya tentang Tuhan dengan berlandaskan pada apa yang nampak pada dunia dan sekitarnya, juga keberadaan dirinya. Bukankah ini senada dengan urusan kita dalam mengenal Allah? “Iqra!” Bacalah!Setiap muslim diwajibkan ma’rifatullah, mengenal Allah dengan cara “membaca” ayat-ayat qauliyah dan kauniyah-Nya. Descartes aja bisa membaca ayat kauniyah-Nya, bagaimana dengan kita?


Fascinating text with interesting theories, and not hard to read. Part four definitely the most relevant. Part one and two felt like introduction and five and six like conclusion. However, I had to keep reminding myself that it was published in 1637 to not get angry at the outrageous theories on God and animals. Also, Descartes sounds like a massive megalomaniac. The text serves as a good introduction to the work of Descartes, but I am not sure I will read much more of it. Although his ideas on reason and the Soul are very interesting, religion is a big part of his philosophies, and I have a hard time reading almost scientific language used to prove the existence of a Chistian God, no matter when it was written.

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