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UC Davis Department of Philosophy


Philosophy Department

1240 Social Sciences and Humanities
University of California, Davis
One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616

Phone: (530) 752-0607

Fax: (530) 752-8964

Picture of Rene Descartes

René Descartes

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  • The final examination will be Thursday, December 8, 8:00-10:00 A.M.

This is the home page of G. J. Mattey’s Philosophy 168, Descartes, for Fall Quarter, 2016.

The Course

Philosophy 168 is devoted to the study of the 17th century French philosopher René Descartes. Although the focus will be on his Meditations on First Philosophy, other of Descartes’s works, including his Discourse on Method and Principles of Philosophy will be discussed.

General Catalog Course Description

The philosophical writings of René Descartes. Topics include the refutation of skepticism, the nature and existence of mind and body, the existence of God, and the foundations of science.

The Topic

Descartes was one of the originators of the “modern” period of philosophy in the first half of the 17th century. His early work was in natural science and mathematics. In 1737, he published his work on optics, meteorology and geometry, along with the Discourse on the Method for Reasoning Well and for Seeking Truth in the Sciences, which connected his scientific work with metaphysics. The Meditations on First Philosophy, published in 1741, was devoted entirely to metaphysics. Its stated aim was to prove the existence of God and the distinction between the human soul and human body. The meditational style of the book was to take the reader from the ill-founded opinions resulting from sense-experience and hearsay to infallible knowledge. The mind is to be cleared of all opinions that are subject to the slightest doubt and re-populated with clear and distinct perceptions that cannot fail to be true. The first such perception was that of his own existence when he is thinking about whether he exists. (In the Discourse, this is expressed in the famous formula, “I think; therefore, I am.”) In 1644, Descartes published a text-book, the Principles of Philosophy, in which he combined his metaphysical system with his scientific results. His final published work was the Passions of the Soul from 1649, the year before his death.