Decoding Descartes

Main applicant: Prof. Han van Ruler

Starting Date: 1.1.2020

Positions: 1 post-doc and 1 PhD position

Still immensely studied today, the philosopher and scientist René Descartes (1596–1650) is an iconic figure who paradoxically appears to have gone out of fashion. Decoding Descartes aims to show why this contradiction is only apparent: Descartes is indisputably the father of modern philosophy and a pivotal figure in the rise of modern science, even though much of his own scientific views were considered outdated 50 years after his death. This project will redefine Descartes’ role in modern philosophical thought and contribute to our understanding of modernity itself by highlighting the emergence of the idea of a clash between science and common sense. Descartes considered natural truths to be encoded in the human mind and scientific investigation to offer the code with which to read human experience. Decoding Descartes will present his contribution to the development of the modern worldview in terms of a proposal to substitute the pre-modern practice of reading causal agents into nature with a new epistemology that sharply distinguishes between natural processes (the world of science) and experience itself (the world of common sense). The project is highly innovative for the way in which it will integrate a comprehensive study of Descartes’ works and correspondence with a new approach to some of today’s most pressing issues in neuroscience, artificial intelligence and philosophy. 

Adjoining projectCartesian Networks 

Researcher: Paolo Rossini  

Taking advantages of recent developments in the field of network science, the project Cartesian Networks employs digital tools and mathematical models to study the formation and evolution of the social and intellectual network(s) that helped Descartes – the father of modern philosophy – develop and disseminate his groundbreaking views in the Dutch Republic. The digitalisation of Descartes’ correspondence within Decoding Descartes provides a dataset to gain insights into the structure of Descartes’ network. This dataset can be further enriched by gathering data from other digital repositories of early modern correspondences. 

For more information: See the Decoding Descartes website 

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