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85 phrases by René Descartes to understand his thinking

85 phrases by René Descartes to understand his thinking

April 9, 2024

René Descartes is one of the greatest and most renowned European philosophers that history has given.

Considered by many as the father of modern philosophy and rationalism and radical mechanics, considered that all knowledge should be put to trial , using methodical doubt as a method to achieve knowledge through different steps.

Understanding your theory is of great interest, so below we offer you 85 phrases by René Descartes to better understand your thinking .

  • It may interest you: "85 philosophical phrases pronounced by great thinkers of History"

85 phrases and thoughts of René Descartes

The methodical doubt, the importance of mathematics as the purest of the sciences, the ideas and the search for the simplest elements, the substances, modes and attributes, the separation between soul and body, the res cogitans and the res extensive, the evil genius, God, the provisional morality, the Cartesian axes ...

All these concepts and ideas were worked by Descartes throughout his life and they have influenced the Western way of thinking in one way or another.

To better understand many of these ideas we present you 85 phrases of the French philosopher that make your thinking more understandable

1. "Cogito, ergo sum"

Possibly the best known of his phrases, reflects one of the maxims of this philosopher: I think, therefore I exist . We exist because we are capable of thinking, being the knowledge of our own existence demonstrated by this same capacity.

2. "Everything complex can be divided into simple parts"

One of the main elements that Descartes uses and proposes in his method to discover the truth in reducing each problem to its most basic and verifiable elements in the light of reason, simple ideas. From them are going to be associated with different ideas to configure knowledge, so that each association has the same level of certainty as the simple idea.

3. "To investigate the truth, it is necessary to doubt, as much as possible, all things"

Descartes considered that the main method to reach the truth, insofar as we are able to achieve it, is the doubt regarding all the knowledge existed up to now.

4. "It would be absurd for us, finite things, to try to determine infinite things"

The human being is a limited being with specific abilities. Aspects like the infinite or the existence or non-existence of God can not be known to us , having appeared for some reason in our mind.

5. "I would give everything I know for half of what I do not know"

Our senses deceive us, so our understanding and knowledge are very limited. The human being ignores many things, working with a multitude of assumptions that are not true. We will always be able to learn new things.

6. "There is hardly anything said by one whose opposite is not affirmed"

Each person has his way of seeing the world, which is in conflict with the beliefs of others.

7. "Reason and judgment is the only thing that makes us men and distinguishes us from animals"

For Descartes, animals are nothing but elaborate machines without the capacity for reasoning. The human being does enjoy this ability, which makes us unique according to the point of view of the author.

8. "It is prudent not to trust entirely those who have deceived us once"

With this phrase the author encourages us to doubt what we perceive , since it is not uncommon for our senses to deceive us.

9. "Mathematics is the science of order and measurement, of beautiful chains of reasoning, all simple and easy"

Descartes considered mathematics as the main science on which to base all knowledge, due to its logic and objectivity.

10. "Philosophy is what distinguishes us from savages and barbarians; the nations are more civilized and cultured the better philosophize their men "

The role of philosophy as a discipline that helps to think and reflect on the world and doubt those knowledge that are not such is what allows a society to be able to move forward.

11. "Get rid of all the impressions of the senses and the imagination and do not trust anything but reason"

The important role that Descartes gives to reason as that element that allows us to discern the truth over what we perceive can be observed in this sentence.

12. "Sleep or be awake, two plus three will always be five, and the square will not have more than four sides"

The conclusions drawn mathematically are not debatable for this author, being one of the few objective knowledge that there is. Again we can see that the author considers mathematics the purest of sciences.

13"Living without philosophizing is, properly, having your eyes closed without trying to open them ever"

Philosophy tries to find answers to what happens in the world. Do not philosophize implies refusing to think and reflect on what we live, living only at the moment and not being able to discern the different options and possibilities we can have.

14. "Better than to seek the truth without method is never to think about it, because disordered studies and dark meditations disturb the natural lights of reason and blind intelligence"

With this sentence Descartes criticizes the use of tricks, superstitions and little documented explanations of reality that can contaminate the capacity of reasoning of people.

15. "Many times it happens that there is not so much perfection in the works composed of several pieces and made by the hands of many teachers as in those in which only one has worked"

Very elaborate explanations can be complex to carry out rationally, and often that something is explained by more than one person causes that the conceptions of each one of the authors on the same subject differ, with what the final result can be blurred.

16. "By method I understand those certain and easy rules whose rigorous observation prevents the false from being assumed true, and makes that without consuming itself in useless efforts and gradually increasing its science the spirit reaches the true knowledge of all things accessible to human intelligence. "

Through this sentence we can see what the author was looking for at the time of elaborating his method, the goal of his effort.

17. "Never admit anything as truth without having known with evidence that it was so; that is to say, to avoid with great care the precipitation and the prevention, and not to admit in my judgments nothing more than what is presented so clearly and distinctly to my spirit, that I had no reason to doubt it "

We often take for granted the truthfulness of what is said or explained to us even though we do not have proof that it is true. Descartes proposes that we not act according to what we are told, but that we reflect on the information that has been given to us and we doubt it.

18. "A state is better governed if it has few laws and those laws are meticulously observed"

Descartes pleads on multiple occasions about the need for things to become simple, needing to reduce problems to their most basic elements in order to draw a conclusion as we unite them. Having few laws means we can understand them better, reaching better the simple ideas of which they are composed and allowing them to be integrated.

19. "The multitude of laws frequently excuses vices"

The opposite of the previous sentence, an excess of laws can make it difficult to reach their core and accept them as valid, creating confusion and making it easier for people to skip them.

20. "The first maxim was never to accept something real until I met her in such a way that I did not doubt her"

Doubting is good, given that it allows us to search for the core of things so that we can reach the truth. But while we can doubt something, we will not be knowing it as much as we can not consider our perception to be real.

21. "In my humble opinion, all things in this world happen mathematically"

Again, the author reflects the conviction that mathematics is one of the few objective and real knowledge that we can have.

22. "There is no soul, no matter how noble, that remains so attached to the objects of the senses that, sometimes, it does not depart from them to desire a greater good"

Although the human being is prone to fall into fallacies and accept as true the information that comes from the senses, all of us have asked ourselves the reason of things or if these are how we perceive them . In the same way, we tend to want the common good in spite of wanting what we see.

23. "There is no spirit as foolish and rude as to be incapable of acquiring the highest virtues if one is led as is necessary"

We are all capable of achieving virtue.

24. "It is not enough to have good wit, the main thing is to apply it well"

Being able to see something does not make us act accordingly. We must ensure that our actions (physical and mental) and thoughts correspond.

25. "Reading a book teaches more than talking with its author, because the author, in the book, has only put his best thoughts"

The effort of an author to reflect the best of himself in his work means that he is very involved in everything he does, presenting less ramblings and reflecting more clearly his beliefs.

26. "The greatest minds are capable of the greatest vices, as well as the greatest virtues"

The ability to reason does not make us intrinsically good, being able to lead our efforts towards different purposes.

27. "Except for our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power"

The only thing truly ours, and in fact what makes us who we are, is our ability to think.

28"To know what people really think pay attention to what they do instead of what they say"

Our actions reflect much better what we think than what we say, which is more easily manipulated or even misinterpreted.

29. "Not being useful to anyone is equivalent to not worth anything"

This phrase reflects that the human being needs to have a valid function in life, being useful to the world in some way.

30. "Every time I have been offended, I try to raise my soul so high that crime can not reach me"

No one wants to offend but who can. If we are above this offense this will not hurt us.

31. "Two things contribute to progress: to go faster than the others, or to go in the right direction"

Progress is achieved through effort. Going faster than others may seem to move us forward, but it can lead us down a path that leads to deception. On the other hand, to advance meticulously doubting the reality allows that the conclusions that we finish extracting are probably more certain.

32. "Feeling is nothing other than thinking"

The feelings and emotions, although they can be vitiated by the information that comes to us through the senses, do not stop being for the author a form of thought that can lead us through his analysis to the search for the truth.

33. "Bad books provoke bad habits and bad habits provoke good books"

To err is not bad, since it allows us to doubt and reflect on what is wrong. That is why while a book or wrong education / as can cause a wrong way of thinking, in the long run this can cause us to seek the truth.

34. "The good that we have done gives us an inner satisfaction that is the sweetest of passions"

Cartesian morality proposes that rational man should seek the supreme good or virtue, which produces spiritual happiness as the highest level of pleasure we can achieve.

35. "It is better to modify our desires than the ordination of the world"

Taking into account that the only thing we can control are our own thoughts, Descartes proposes that it is better to change our desires rather than pretending to change the established order.

36. "Conduct my thoughts with order, starting with the simplest and easiest objects to know, to gradually ascend, gradually, until the knowledge of the most complex, and even assuming an order between them that do not naturally seem to others"

This phrase reflects part of his method, which is based on deconstructing each problem to its simplest and objective elements to gradually reconstruct the situation so that little by little a true and truer image becomes possible.

37. "I have committed all the mistakes that could be committed and yet I have never stopped trying"

To err is human and, as we have mentioned previously, positive. But only if the mistakes made do not stop you from continuing to search for the truth and to pursue your goals.

38. "My goal is not to teach the method that everyone should follow to make good use of reason, but only to show how I have tried to use mine well"

Descartes proposes that we accept nothing that we are able to verify for ourselves with reason . Therefore even your method may be subject to doubt, with what should be taken only as an example of how someone has tried to reach the truth.

39. "Perfect numbers as well as perfect shoulders are very rare"

Each and every one of us has multiple defects and we make many mistakes, taking many things for granted and acting erratically and unpredictably in many situations. Perfection is a utopia in all facets of life, even in something as objective as mathematics.

40. "Good sense is the best distributed thing in the world, since everyone thinks that they are so well provided that even those who are more difficult to content with anything else do not usually want more than they have"

We all consider good enough common sense, based largely on it in the face of action.

41. "Systematic doubt as a principle of knowledge"

Doubt is the main element that allows us to work on the perceptions of the world in order to achieve true knowledge. It is one of the key aspects of Cartesian thinking.

42. "He who spends too much time traveling ends up being a foreigner in his own country"

If we put it as an analogy with thought, this phrase refers to the fact that we can not base our thinking on the beliefs and opinions we perceive of others, but that we must work for ourselves in the search for truth.

43. "Reading is a conversation with the most illustrious men of the past centuries"

On the other hand, to inform us of what many highly relevant thinkers have discovered or reflected on the world allows us to see new ways of capturing the reality that we can use to elaborate our own knowledge.

44"The joy that comes from good is serious, while the birth of evil is accompanied by laughter and ridicule"

The author establishes a differentiation between the well-deserved joy felt by those who work to achieve virtue and the cruel enjoyment at the bottom not happy of those who are incapable of trying to have a moral.

45. "Frequently a false joy is worth more than a sadness whose cause is true"

Knowing the truth is something valuable and the only way to know. However, it is necessary that we try to do good to others as well as to ourselves. The human being sometimes chooses to ignore the truth and sometimes this helps him to be happy, which can be of more value for the person.

46. ​​"The main perfection of man consists in having free will, which is what makes him worthy of praise or censure"

Our ability to choose is together with reason what makes us human, being free will one of the things that Descartes most defends in his treatment of morality.

47. "As for logic, its syllogisms rather serve to explain to others the things already known than to learn"

Logic may seem a valid way to incorporate new knowledge, but we can not base ourselves on budgets that are not rationally contrasted when it comes to acquiring new information, since the logic of this could be different. However, it can be used to transmit to others what has already been learned.

48. "It is enough to judge well to do well, and to judge as best as possible to act also in the best way"

The moral of Descartes contemplates that to do good one must be able to correctly assess the world and situations, allowing this a better behavior.

49. "If it is not in our power to discern the best opinions, we must follow the most probable"

Our knowledge is limited and we must act from the reason to try to get a glimpse of the truth. It may not be possible to distinguish which are more true, but at least we have to try to take into account those that have more reality.

50. "The most generous ones tend to be the humblest"

For Descartes humility and generosity are two aspects that tend to be related, bringing both aspects closer to virtue.

51. "I do not even want to know if there was another man before me"

Although it is unlikely to be the first person to exist, the truth is that we can not have clear evidence of this. I am me, and our own thoughts are the only thing we control. For many people who were born before, there is only one me.

52. "True intelligence consists in discovering the intelligence of others"

Very often people tend to consider themselves extremely intelligent, ignoring that others also possess this ability to a great extent. Recognizing that others possess a capacity that may be even greater than their own implies in itself an act of authentic intelligence.

53. "Our idea of ​​God implies necessary and eternal existence. Therefore, the manifest conclusion is that God exists "

We are finite beings with finite capacities. The fact that we can conceptualize something infinite and omnipotent as God supposes that at some time this knowledge has been placed in our mind, knowledge that in itself shows for Descartes the existence of God.

54. "To improve our knowledge we must learn less and contemplate more"

Accepting the things that they teach us without more does not serve to improve the quality of our knowledge . For them we have to focus on deconstructing the observed to do from its most basic and objective parts a construction as true as possible.

55. "Nature abhors a vacuum"

Although attributed to Aristotle, this phrase was also used by Descartes. In it the author refers to the identification of matter with space, not being possible the existence of a real vacuum.

56. "The greatest good that can exist in a State is to have true philosophers"

For Descartes, being able to reflect and seek a meaning to reality is an element that advances society.

57. "I present myself in disguise"

In this sentence Descartes speaks to us about appearance, which, while it may appear to be real, hides the real core of the being / thing / idea below it.

58. "We harbor a multitude of prejudices if we do not decide to doubt, sometime, of all the things in which we find the slightest suspicion of uncertainty"

Again, the author makes reference in this phrase to the importance of doubting what we do not know for ourselves, and can cause prejudices that prevent us from seeing the truth.

59. "My only wish is to know the world and the comedies that are represented in it"

Curiosity, observation of the different ways of doing and seeing the world and the search for knowledge go hand in hand in this sentence, which in turn supposes a criticism regarding the uncritical assimilation of the dogmas and assumptions transmitted without trying to see if They are true or not.

60. "The little I have learned is worthless compared to what I do not know and I do not despair in learning"

The knowledge we acquired throughout our lives is very limited, unable to understand a large part of reality. It is reflected that everything we know is really tiny.

61. "Think before you act and do not start anything without having consulted the circumstances thoroughly"

In this sentence the author urges us to be prudent and not rush into our actions.

62. "The first maxim of every citizen must be to obey the laws of his country, and in all other things govern according to the most moderate opinions and further away from excess"

In this sentence Descartes indicates the need to follow the current legality and morality, as well as the appropriateness of maintaining a balanced and rational position regarding the events of life.

63. "I'm used to sleeping and in my dreams imagine the same things that the crazy imagine when they are awake"

We all have at some point perceptions that may be distorted.

64. "Being incapable of enthusiasm is a sign of mediocrity"

The knowledge of reality can be a complex process, but at the same time exciting when approaching the understanding of certain aspects of the universe. Someone who is not able to be curious and motivated about something in normal circumstances is not likely to succeed.

65. "That of having to sink into uncertainty and despair of the truth is a sad and miserable refuge against error"

Failing to seek the truth is usually a way to avoid recognizing that we are wrong or that we can do it.

66. "Dubito, ergo cogito"

The maximum "cogito, ergo sum" can be preceded by this phrase , taking into account that the fact of being able to doubt is a reflection of our ability to think and reason (I doubt, then I think).

67. "We are only rational in light of our species"

Although the reason is for Descartes what differentiates us from animals, it is a property that is only observed by ourselves.

68. "Trips serve to know the customs of different peoples and to shed the prejudice that only in one's own homeland can one live in the way one is accustomed"

Seeing other points of view of reality can serve to rethink one's beliefs while teaching us that we can be ourselves anywhere.

69. "It is worth bearing in mind that many beliefs are based on prejudice and tradition"

Prejudice and tradition are behind many behaviors that have no rational basis. It is necessary to examine the beliefs of each one and give them a sense working to increase our rationality.

70. "There is nothing so strange and so incredible that it has not been said by one philosopher to another"

Most things we do and think have already been said or thought about by others. We should not be afraid to expose them.

71. "Traveling is almost the same as talking to people from other centuries"

Like reading, traveling allows us to see new perspectives and styles of thinking that can help us to know reality.

72. "There is nothing older than the truth"

Opinions and beliefs are derived from the perception of certain patterns of stimuli and situations, patterns that do not have to be true. However, reality is always present, it is only necessary to find it.

73. "An optimist can see the light where there is none, but why should the pessimist always run to turn it off?"

Optimism and pessimism are different ways of seeing reality. But they do not have to be annulled, because through both ways of thinking, knowledge can be accessed.

74. "Is the real knowable, rational? Is not the universe something totally inapprehensible by human reason, something essentially absurd, irrational, unknowable? "

The philosophy of Descartes is mainly rational and mechanistic, but sometimes it is necessary to reflect and doubt whether the universe is really understandable to the human being.

75. "At last I will dedicate myself sincerely and without reservations to the general demolition of my opinions"

Like all people, Descartes had his own opinions about how the world worked and the different aspects that are part of it. His purpose with this phrase is to show the importance of going from being based on the rational and ignoring the possible prejudices that the senses could have instilled in him.

76. "It is better not to leave after a great search for the truth, because that only makes us feel miserable"

Descartes made his philosophical work based on truths that he believed were fundamental and that, because they were so, explained little.

77. "Law, medicine and other sciences bring wealth to those who persecute them"

A sample of the esteem that this thinker felt for the disciplines related to formal thought.

78. "There is a great difference between body and mind, since the body can be divided but the mind can not be divided"

Descartes is a paradigmatic example of dualism in philosophy .

79. "When you write about the transcendent, be transcendently clear"

One of the phrases of Descartes in which emphasis is placed on using systematized language.

80. "Our beliefs are based on our habits than on any other knowledge"

As a philosopher, this author wanted to question much of what used to be considered common sense.

81. "Reason is nothing without imagination"

Imagination proposes hypotheses that reason puts to the test.

82. "Mathematics is the most powerful knowledge instrument"

Being a formal system of thought , mathematics was considered by Descartes a search engine for true knowledge.

83. "Science is applied philosophy"

Everything is based on philosophy; the effort to examine concepts, ideas and beliefs.

84. "It is contrary to reason to say that there is a place of emptiness in which nothing exists"

The concept of nothingness posed was problematic for Descartes.

85. "To develop the mind you have to learn, rather than observe"

Drawing conclusions from what you see is something that must be done actively.

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