50 Thought-Provoking Descartes Quotes

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René Descartes (1596-1650) was a French-born philosopher who lived most of his life in the Dutch Republic. Inspired by Stoicism and Aristotelian thought, Descartes was one of the prominent figures of the Dutch Golden Age. His epistemology (theory of knowledge) inspired empiricism, the theory that we can only know what we can derive by reason from our sensory experience.

Descartes was also a noted mathematician who also made advances in science. Best known for his quote “I think, therefore I am,” Descartes is widely known as the father of modern Western philosophy. The following 50 thought-provoking quotes provide a very brief introduction to his seminal works.

Descartes Quotes

  1. “The reading of all good books is indeed like a conversation with the noblest men of past centuries who were the authors of them, nay a carefully studied conversation, in which they reveal to us none but the best of their thoughts.”
  2. “So blind is the curiosity by which mortals are possessed, that they often conduct their minds along unexplored routes, having no reason to hope for success, but merely being willing to risk the experiment of finding whether the truth they seek lies there.”
  3. “Whatever I have up till now accepted as most true and assured I have gotten either from the senses or through the senses. But from time to time I have found that the senses deceive, and it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once.”
  4. “I am a thing that thinks: that is, a thing that doubts, affirms, denies, understands a few things, is ignorant of many things, is willing, is unwilling, and also which imagines and has sensory perceptions.”
  5. “Doubt is the origin of wisdom.”
  6. “Each problem that I solved became a rule, which served afterwards to solve other problems.”
  7. “And what more am I? I look for aid to the imagination. [But how mistakenly!] I am not that assemblage of limbs we call the human body; I am not a subtle penetrating air distributed throughout all these members; I am not a wind, a fire, a vapor, a breath or anything at all that I can imagine. I am supposing all these things to be nothing. Yet I find, while so doing, that I am still assured that I am a something.”
  8. “Whence then come my errors? They come from the sole fact that since the will is much wider in its range and compass than the understanding, I do not restrain it within the same bounds, but extend it also to things which I do not understand: and as the will is of itself indifferent to these, it easily falls into error and sin, and chooses the evil for the good, or the false for the true.”
  9. “Of all things, good sense is the most fairly distributed: everyone thinks he is so well supplied with it that even those who are the hardest to satisfy in every other respect never desire more of it than they already have.”
  10. “My third maxim was to try always to master myself rather than fortune and change my desires rather than changing how things stand in the world.”
  11. “I had become aware, as early as my college days, that no opinion, however absurd and incredible can be imagined, that has not been held by one of the philosophers.”
  12. “The first precept was never to accept a thing as true until I knew it as such without a single doubt.”
  13. “It is thus quite certain that the constitution of the true religion, the ordinances of which are derived from God, must be incomparably superior to that of every other.”
  14. “Am I so tied to a body and senses that I am incapable of existing without them?”’
  15. “Cogito Ergo Sum.” (“I think, therefore I am.”)
  16. “To know what people really think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say.”
  17. “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.”
  18. “Conquer yourself rather than the world.”
  19. “The greatest minds are capable of the greatest vices as well as of the greatest virtues.”
  20. “Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it.”
  21. “The thinking of the mind is twofold: understanding and willing.”
  22. “It is useful to know something of the manners of different nations, that we may be enabled to form a more correct judgment regarding our own, and be prevented from thinking that everything contrary to our customs is ridiculous and irrational, a conclusion usually come to by those whose experience has been limited to their own country.”
  23. “By ‘God’, I understand, a substance which is infinite, independent, supremely intelligent, supremely powerful, and which created both myself and everything else […] that exists. All these attributes are such that, the more carefully I concentrate on them, the less possible it seems that they could have originated from me alone. So, from what has been said it must be concluded that God necessarily exists.”
  24. “When it is not in our power to determine what is true, we ought to follow what is most probable.”
  25. “Control your body if you want your mind to work properly.”
  26. “The very desire to seek the truth often causes people, who do not know how it should be sought correctly, to make judgments about things that they do not perceive and in that way they make mistakes.”
  27. “Just as faith teaches us that the sovereign felicity of the other life consists in the contemplation of the divine majesty alone, so even now we can learn from experience that a similar meditation, although incomparably less perfect, allows us to enjoy the greatest happiness we are capable of feeling in this life.”
  28. “After that, I thought about what a proposition generally needs in order to be true and certain because, since I had Just found one that I knew was such, I thought I should also know what this certainty consists in. Having noticed that there is nothing at all in the proposition “I think, therefore I am” [cogito ergo sum] which convinces me that I speak the truth, apart from the fact that I see very clearly that one has to exist in order to think, I judged that I could adopt as a general rule that those things we conceive very clearly and distinctly are all true. The only outstanding difficulty is in recognizing which ones we conceive distinctly.”
  29. “Considering that, among all those who up to this time made discoveries in the sciences, it was the mathematicians alone who had been able to arrive at demonstrations—that is to say, at proofs certain and evident—I did not doubt that I should begin with the same truths that they have investigated, although I had looked for no other advantage from them than to accustom my mind to nourish itself upon truths and not to be satisfied with false reasons.”
  30. “I am like a prisoner who happens on enjoy an imaginary freedom in his dreams and who subsequently begins to suspect that he is asleep and, afraid of being awakened, conspires silently with his agreeable illusions.”
  31. “But in my opinion, all things in nature occur mathematically.”
  32. “I took especially great pleasure in mathematics because of the certainty and the evidence of its arguments.”
  33. “It is Just as valuable to be censured by friends as it is splendid to be praised by enemies. We desire praise from those who do not know us, but from friends, we want the truth.”
  34. “Mind and soul of the man is entirely different from the body.”
  35. “I have always been taught to take a broad overview of things, in order to be able to deduce from them general rules, which might be applicable elsewhere.”
  36. “Like a prisoner who dreams that he is free, starts to suspect that it is merely a dream, and wants to go on dreaming rather than waking up, so I am content to slide back into my old opinions; I fear being shaken out of them because I am afraid that my peaceful sleep may be followed by hard labour when I wake and that I shall have to struggle not in the light but in the imprisoning darkness of the problems I have raised.”
  37. “Even the mind depends so much on temperament and the disposition of one’s bodily organs that, if it is possible to find a way to make people generally more wise and more skillful than they have been in the past, I believe that we should look for it in medicine. It is true that medicine as it is currently practiced contains little of much use.”
  38. “To think? That’s it. It is thought. This alone cannot be detached from me. I am, I exist; that is certain.”
  39. “Give me extension and motion, and I will construct the Universe.”
  40. “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
  41. “For the very fact that my knowledge is increasing little by little is the most certain argument for its imperfection.”
  42. “Hope is the desire of the soul to be convinced that the dream will come true.”
  43. “It is a common failing of mortals to deem the more difficult the fairer.”
  44. “It is easy to hate, and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve; and bad things are very easy to get.”
  45. “We do not see the world we see; we see the world we can describe.”
  46. “I hope that posterity will judge me kindly, not only as to the things which I have explained but also to those which I have intentionally omitted so as to leave to others the pleasure of discovery.”
  47. “An optimist may see a light where there is none, but why must the pessimist always run to blow it out?”
  48. “He who lives well lives well hidden.”
  49. “I am accustomed to sleep and in my dreams to imagine the same things that lunatics imagine when awake.”
  50. “Several years have now passed since I first realized how numerous were the false opinions that in my youth I had taken to be true, and thus how doubtful were all those that I had subsequently built upon them.”

Rene Descartes Video

Rene Descartes is one of the world’s best known-philosophers.

He is most known for his famous statement: ‘I think therefore I am.’

He stands out as an example of what intellectual self-confidence can bring us. This short video is very educational and entertaining and a must watch!

 

Summary

These quotes range from philosophical to motivational. As stated above, they offer a brief glimpse into the mind of a highly influential philosopher.

The Western world has derived much of its philosophical and scientific thought from his many works. We hope these quotes will inspire you to look further into his writing.

Finally, if you like this post be sure to check out Jean Jacques Rosseau Quotes too

 

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