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.