René Descartes by Franz Hals
Public DomainRené Descartes by Franz Hals
René Descartes (1596-1650) was a French philosopher, mathematician, physicist, and writer who spent most of his life in the Dutch Republic (now the Netherlands). He is known as the “Father of Western Philosophy” because so much of subsequent Western philosophical theories have been reactions to Descartes’ meditations on the natural sciences, methodical skepticism, dualism (see Bookmark, page 40), and the nature of the soul.

Descartes also invented the Cartesian coordinate system, subsequently used in analytical geometry, linear algrebra, calculus, group theory, and other branches of mathematics, as well as astronomy, physics, and engineering.

His most famous remark is the philosophical statement, “Cogito ergo sum” -- Latin for “I think, therefore I am” (or more properly, “I am thinking, therefore I exist”).

The narrator of Unbearable Lightness attacks this giant of philosophy for his extension of the Book of Genesis line that man shall “have dominion” over animals, to the contention that animals have no soul.