Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Rene Descartes (1596-1650), French mathematician, philosopher, and physiologist, developed first systematic account of the mind/body relationship. Descartes was born in Touraine, in the small town of La Haye and educated from the age of eight at the Jesuit college of La Fléche. At La Fléche, Descartes formed the habit of spending the morning in bed, engaged in systematic meditation. During his meditations, he was struck by the sharp contrast between the certainty of mathematics and the controversial nature of philosophy, and came to believe that the sciences could be made to yield results as certain as those of mathematics. From 1612 Descartes spent much of his time in travel, contemplation, and correspondence before he settled in Holland in 1628. It was during this period that he composed a series of works that set the agenda for all later students of mind and body. By focusing on the problem of true and certain knowledge, Descartes had made epistemology, the question of the relationship between mind and world, the starting point of philosophy. By localizing the soul’s contact with body in the pineal gland, Descartes had raised the question of the relationship of mind to the brain and nervous system.