René Descartes: Philosophy and seventeenth century Rationalism

British philosopher and eminent Descartes scholar the late Sir Bernard Williams talks about the relevance and importance of Descartes as a seminal figure of modern philosophy. René Descartes, as a man of science, mathematics and philosophy, known best for his ‘Discourse on Method’ and ‘Meditations on First Philosophy’, certainly marks the point at which the world decided to go ‘modern’. His philosophical system based on deductive reasoning and a priori truths, were the basis for seventeenth century Rationalism. Individualistic, lucid and methodical, he believed in innate ideas, ones that do not come to us through experience, and not to forget his contributions to analytic geometry and the mind-set behind the scientific method, Descartes was determined to make a clean sweep of all the comfortable old assumptions, to take nobody’s word for anything, to doubt everything. We are all better for that.

Bernard Williams on Descartes: Section 1

Part 1

Bernard Williams on Descartes: Section 2

Part 2

Bernard Williams on Descartes: Section 3

Part 3

Bernard Williams on Descartes: Section 4

Part 4

Bernard Williams on Descartes: Section 5

part 5

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10 Comments on "René Descartes: Philosophy and seventeenth century Rationalism"

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grad student

thanks! time well spent.


Descartes is well known for applying a rational view to reality. All his philosophy comes from the only certain truth. “Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am).
Then I noticed this:
When he proves the existence of a God, he concludes that this God has to be perfect in every feature, including morally.
Yet I have not seen that he has attempted to prove that morality is objective and absolute, so it seems like if he made an exception with that part…
So, without having evidence about this, how are his arguments rational when proving the existence of a God? Just thinkin.

Marlon P

Sir Bernard is extremely lucid and conceptually alive. Great find! Had a hard time keeping up with the Brit accent but I got a hang of it.


space and time and “extension” of matter.


I was told by a friend to read Descartes and also Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and I am a little confused on how the two differ. I understand the basics, but am wanting to get a deeper understanding of how these two viewed knowledge, how it is obtained and why it is that way. This has helped, thanks.

Squall Leonhart

Sartre and Descartes, I wonder if they would disagree with each other’s ‘meaning of life’…..


I am trying to find simple explanations of how animals concern the philosophers Heidegger, Marx and Descartes, …. Descartes seems to have many false accusations of him nailing cats to posts and what not!


ty for posting these obscure but invaluable nuggets


Descartes attempts to provide an absolutely certain foundation for knowledge by adopting the method of hyperbolic skepticism. Suppose there is an evil demon who is very powerful and can deceive me about my sense perceptions and even my knowledge of mathematics. Nevertheless, Descartes thinks that the evil demon cannot deceive us about everything. What is the first thing Descrates finds that he is absolutely certain about and cannot be deceived about and how does Descartes know this…..


I didn’t actually do the reading for myself, but in class we discussed that Rene Descartes believed that even in absolute skepticism that while he could not be sure of the existence of an vanilla ice cream cone or of the actual taste of the vanilla ice cream cone, but he could know for certain that the vanilla ice cream cone tasted good to him. I guess I just wonder why it is not possible that an absolutely deceptive god could not manifest those thoughts in him and thus they were not his true thoughts…