René Descartes: Fifteen Best Quotes (With References)

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This page contains a collection of philosophical quotes by René Descartes. These quotes are all genuine and details about the book, chapter number, and translation are included where applicable.

On good sense:

Good sense is the best distributed thing in the world: for everyone thinks himself so well endowed with it that even those who are the hardest to please in everything else do not usually desire more of it than they possess. In this it is unlikely that everyone is mistaken. It indicates rather that the power of judging well and of distinguishing the true from the false – which is what we properly call ‘good sense’ or ‘reason’ – is naturally equal in all men.

– René Descartes, Discourse on the Method, I, trans. J. Cottingham, R. Soothoff and D. Murdoch

On reading:

Reading good books is like having a conversation with the most distinguished men of past ages – indeed, a rehearsed conversation in which these authors reveal to us only the best of their thoughts.

– René Descartes, Discourse on the Method, I, trans. J. Cottingham et al.

On the method of doubt:

The first [rule] was never to accept anything as true if I did not have evident knowledge of its truth: that is, carefully to avoid precipitate conclusions and preconceptions, and to include nothing more in my judgements than what presented itself to my mind so clearly and so distinctly that I had no occasion to doubt it. The second, to divide each of the difficulties I examined into as many parts as possible and as may be required in order to resolve them better. The third, to direct my thoughts in an orderly manner, by beginning with the simplest and most easily known objects in order to ascend little by little, step by step, to knowledge of the most complex, and by supposing some order even among objects that have no natural order of precedence. And the last, throughout to make enumerations so complete, and reviews so comprehensive, that I could be sure of leaving nothing out.

– René Descartes, Discourse on the Method, II, trans. J. Cottingham et al.

On the method of doubt:

But since I now wished to devote myself solely to the search for truth, I thought it necessary to do the very opposite and reject as if absolutely false everything in which I could imagine the least doubt, in order to see if I was left believing anything that was entirely indubitable.

– René Descartes, Discourse on the Method, IV, trans. J. Cottingham et al.

On Cogito Ergo Sum:

But immediately I noticed that while I was trying thus to think everything false, it was necessary that I, who was thinking this, was something. And observing that this truth ‘I am thinking, therefore I exist’ was so firm and sure that all the most extravagant suppositions of the sceptics were incapable of shaking it, I decided that I could accept it without scruple as the first principle of the philosophy I was seeking.

– René Descartes, Discourse on the Method, IV, trans. J. Cottingham et al.

On Cogito Ergo Sum:

Next I examined attentively what I was. I saw that while I could pretend that I had no body and that there was no world and no place for me to be in, I could not for all that pretend that I did not exist. I saw on the contrary that from the mere fact that I thought of doubting the truth of other things, it followed quite evidently and certainly that I existed; whereas if I had merely ceased thinking, even if everything else I had ever imagined had been true, I should have had no reason to believe that I existed. From this I knew I was a substance whose whole essence or nature is simply to think, and which does not require any place, or depend on any material thing, in order to exist. Accordingly this ‘I’ – that is, the soul by which I am what I am – is entirely distinct from the body, and indeed is easier to know than the body, and would not fail to be whatever it is, even if the body did not exist.

– René Descartes, Discourse on the Method, IV, trans. J. Cottingham et al.

On the body:

This will not seem at all strange to those who know how many kinds of automatons, or moving machines, the skill of man can construct with the use of very few parts, in comparison with the great multitude of bones, muscles, nerves, arteries, veins and all the other parts that are in the body of any animal. For they will regard this body as a machine which, having been made by the hands of God, is incomparably better ordered than any machine that can be devised by man, and contains in itself movements more wonderful than those in any such machine.

– René Descartes, Discourse on the Method, V, trans. J. Cottingham et al.

On knowledge:

Some years ago I was struck by the large number of falsehoods that I had accepted as true in my childhood, and by the highly doubtful nature of the whole edifice that I had subsequently based on them. I realized that it was necessary, once in the course of my life, to demolish everything completely and start again right from the foundations if I wanted to establish anything at all in the sciences that was stable and likely to last.

– René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, I, trans. J. Cottingham et al.

On dreaming and reality:

How often, asleep at night, am I convinced of just such familiar events – that I am here in my dressing-gown, sitting by the fire – when in fact I am lying undressed in bed! … As I think about this more carefully, I see plainly that there are never any sure signs by means of which being awake can be distinguished from being asleep. The result is that I begin to feel dazed, and this very feeling only reinforces the notion that I may be asleep.

– René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, I, trans. J. Cottingham et al.

On error:

Since I sometimes believe that others go astray in cases where they think they have the most perfect knowledge, may I not similarly go wrong every time I add two and three or count the sides of a square?

– René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, I, trans. J. Cottingham et al.

On the evil demon:

I will suppose therefore that not God, who is supremely good and the source of truth, but rather some malicious demon of the utmost power and cunning has employed all his energies in order to deceive me. I shall think that the sky, the air, the earth, colours, shapes, sounds and all external things are merely the delusions of dreams which he has devised to ensnare my judgement.

– René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, I, trans. J. Cottingham et al.

On Cogito Ergo Sum:

But there is a deceiver of supreme power and cunning who is deliberately and constantly deceiving me. In that case I too undoubtedly exist, if he is deceiving me; and let him deceive me as much as he can, he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am something. So after considering everything very thoroughly, I must finally conclude that this proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind.

– René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, II, trans. J. Cottingham et al.

On thought:

Thought; this alone is inseparable from me. I am, I exist – that is certain. But for how long? For as long as I am thinking. For it could be that were I totally to cease from thinking, I should totally cease to exist. At present I am not admitting anything except what is necessarily true. I am, then, in the strict sense only a thing that thinks; that is, I am a mind, or intelligence, or intellect, or reason – words whose meaning I have been ignorant of until now. But for all that I am a thing which is real and which truly exists. But what kind of a thing? As I have just said – a thinking thing.

– René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, II, trans. J. Cottingham et al.

On mind and body:

There is a great difference between the mind and the body, inasmuch as the body is by its very nature always divisible, while the mind is utterly indivisible. For when I consider the mind, or myself in so far as I am merely a thinking thing, I am unable to distinguish any parts within myself; I understand myself to be something quite single and complete. … By contrast, there is no corporeal or extended thing that I can think of which in my thought I cannot easily divide into parts; and this very fact makes me understand that it is divisible.

– René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, VI, trans. J. Cottingham et al.

On love:

We may, it seems to me, find differences in love according to the esteem which we bear to the object loved as compared to oneself: for when we esteem the object of love less than ourselves, we have only a simple affection for it; when we esteem it equally with ourselves, that is called friendship; and when we esteem it more, the passion which we have may be called devotion.

– René Descartes, Passions of the Soul, LXXXIII, trans. E. Haldane and G. R. T. Ross

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