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Cogito ergo sum

DESCARTES, RENE. Discours de la Méthode pour bien Conduire sa Raison & Chercher la Vérité dans les Sciences

Leiden: Jan Maire, 1637

Numerous wood engraved diagrams throughout. Contemporary calf, morocco label.  Spine  ends  and  corners restored,  minor  wear, some  soiling. A very good copy. Morocco case

First edition of Descartes’s first published work, one of the most  influential  volumes  in  the  history  of  science  and  philosophy.

“It is no exaggeration to say that Descartes was the first of modern philosophers  and  one  of  the  first  of  modern  scientists;  in  both  branches  of  learning  his  influence  has  been  vast  …  From  these  central  propositions  in  logic,  metaphysics  and  physics  came  the  subsequent inquiries of Locke, Leibniz and Newton; from them stem all modern scientific and philosophic thought” (PMM).

Descartes’s  starting  point  for  the  search  for  truth,  “Cogito  ergo  sum” (“I am thinking therefore I exist,” often translated as “I think therefore  I  am”)  is  the  most  celebrated  philosophical  dictum  of  all  time.  In  this  original  form,  Descartes  wrote,  “Je  pense,  donc  je suis.” The author’s friend Etienne De Courcelles translated the Discours into Latin in 1644, giving the famous formulation “Cogito ergo sum.”

The first major exposition of this fundamental system was published in 1637 as the Discours de le Méthode (“Discourse on the Method of Properly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking the Truth in the Sciences”). Descartes  wrote,  “Since  I  wished  to  devote  myself  solely  to  the  search for truth, I thought it necessary to … reject as if absolutely false  everything  in  which  I  could  imagine  the  least  doubt  …  And  observing  that  the  truth,  ‘I  am  thinking,  therefore  I  exist’  was  so  firm  and  sure  that  all  the  most  extravagant  suppositions  of  the skeptics were incapable of shaking it, I decided that I might accept it  without  scruple  as  the  first  principle  of  the  philosophy  I  was  seeking.”

The publication of the Discours sparked wide-ranging criticism and commentary not only on his radical methodology but also on the early  formulation  of  his  controversial  treatment  of  the  existence  of God. In addition to its religious and philosophical content, the work presents the four essential elements of scientific Cartesianism: intuition,  analysis,  synthesis,  and  careful  review  of  the  deductive  reasoning linking first principles and their ultimate consequences. The impact of this work can hardly be overstated.

The Discours is a fundamental work of the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Aided by Descartes’s method, man can become “masters and possessors of nature.”This   volume   contains   three   treatises   in   which   Descartes   demonstrates his new method: Les Météores, La Dioptrique, and La Géométrie. Les Météores, the founding work of meteorology, is the first  attempt  to  put  the  study  of  weather  on  a  scientific  basis.  La Dioptrique (Optics), containing the first publication of the law of refraction, is a landmark in the history of physics. La Géométrie is the founding work of analytic geometry. This work introduces the Cartesian coordinate system, familiar to every student of algebra, as a way to unite the analytic tools of algebra and the visual immediacy of geometry.

This is an excellent copy of one of the central works in the history of science and philosophy.

Provenance: Lessing J. Rosenwald, bookplate, given to Library of Congress, bookplate  and  duplicate  stamp;  Richard  Green, his sale, Christie’s, 17 June 2008, lot 87.

Printing and the Mind of Man  129. Grolier/Horblit 24. Dibner Heralds 81.