Clark Descartes (1)

Desmond Clarke: Descartes: A Biography (Cambridge University Press, 2006) There doesn’t seem to be much source material for Descartes’ private life aside from the Baillet biography and Descartes’ own correspondence. So Clarke does what he can to stitch together a compact and continuous narrative from what we have.

The faults that I can see lie mainly in what he says about the philosophy and science. There is a recent consensus that Descartes’ role in the scientific revolution is far more noteworthy than his fallacy-strewn metaphysics, which for some reason receives more attention in philosophy classes than worthier topics such as his theories of motion or perception. Clarke promises to focus on the science but he never really delivers, giving amazingly short shrift to the Principes wherein most of the scientific theory lay. Clarke also ignores Descartes’ contributions to mathematics, which, in the form of symbolic algebra and analytic geometry, are the only portions of Descartes’ thought that are still taught and practiced virtually unchanged. Perhaps he feared to tread into an area where his ignorance would have been embarrassing.