Towards Descartes’ Scientific Method: a posteriori Evidence and the Rhetoric of Les Météores

  • Patrick Brissey
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas Archives internationales d'histoire des idées book series (ARCH, volume 225)


I argue that Descartes uses his method as evidence in the Discours and Les Météores. I begin by establishing there is a single method in Descartes’ works, using his meteorology as a case study. First, I hold that the method of the Regulae is best explained by two examples: one scientific, his proof of the anaclastic curve (1626), and one metaphysical, his question of the essence and scope of human knowledge (1628). Based on this account, I suggest that the form of his early metaphysics (not its content) is similar to the method of doubt of the Meditationes. Second, I argue that Descartes’ explanation of the cause of parhelia (1629) likewise contains a formulation of this procedure. I provide a novel reading of Les Météores, where, following Descartes’ guidance in the Discours and Correspondance, I interpret his meteorology by reasoning from effects to causes, in this case, from Christoph Scheiner’s 1626 observation of parhelia to his meteorological foundation. This backwards orientation to Les Météores, I argue, reveals an instance of Descartes’ scientific method. I conclude with remarks on Descartes’ concept of evidentia, in which I explain how he incorporates a posteriori evidence and an apparent hypothetical foundation into his rationalist epistemology where he uses his method as evidence for his claims.


  1. Beck, L. J. 1952. The Method of Descartes: A Study of the Regulae. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bellis, Delphine. 2012. An Epistolary Lab: The Case of Parhelia and Halos in Descartes’ Correspondence (1629–1630). In The Circulation of Science and Technology: Proceedings of the 4th International Conference of the ESHS, Barcelona, 18–20 November 2010, ed. A. Rosell, 372–377. Barcelona: SCHCT-IEC, ROCA.Google Scholar
  3. Brissey, Patrick. 2012. Descartes and the Meteorology of the World. Society and Politics 6: 88–100.Google Scholar
  4. ———. 2013. Descartes’ Discours as a Plan for a Universal Science. Studia UBB. Philosophia 58: 37–60.Google Scholar
  5. ———. 2014. Rule VIII of Descartes’ Regulae ad directionem ingenii. Journal of Early Modern Studies 3: 9–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. ———. 2015. Reflections on Descartes’ Vocation as an Early Theory of Happiness. Journal of Early Modern Studies 4: 69–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. ———. 2017. The Form of Descartes’ Method of Doubt. Southwest Philosophy Review 2: 233–249.Google Scholar
  8. Clarke, Desmond. 1982. Descartes’ Philosophy of Science. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Curley, Edwin. 1978. Descartes Against the Skeptics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dear, Peter. 1984. Method and the Study of Nature. In The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Philosophy, ed. Daniel Garber and Michael Ayers, vol. 1, 147–177. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Descartes, René. 1964–1974. Oeuvres de Descartes. Ed. C. Adam and P. Tannery, 11 vols, 2nd ed. Paris: Vrin.Google Scholar
  12. ———. 1984–1991. The Philosophical Writings of Descartes. Ed. and Trans. J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff, D. Murdoch, and Anthony Kenny, 3 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. ———. 1998. The World and Other Writings. Trans. Stephen Gaukroger. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  14. ———. 2001a. Discourse on Method, Optics, Geometry, and Meteorology. Trans. P. J. Olscamp. Indianapolis: Hackett.Google Scholar
  15. ———. 2001b. In Oeuvres Complètes de René Descartes. Ed. André Gombay, Calvin Normore, Randal Keen, and Rod Watkins. Toronto/Charlottesville: Connaught Descartes Project, University of Toronto/InteLex Corporation.Google Scholar
  16. Florka, Roger. 2004. Problems with the Garber-Dear Theory of the Disappearance of Method. Philosophical Studies 117: 131–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gadoffre, Gilbert. 1941, 1945, 1949, 1961, 1967, 1974. Introduction et remarques de Gilbert Gadoffre Descartes. In René Descartes’ Discours de la Méthode. Manchester: Editions de l’Université de Manchester.Google Scholar
  18. Garber, Daniel. 1992. Descartes’ Metaphysical Physics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  19. ———. 2000. Descartes on Knowledge and Certainty. In Descartes Embodied, 111–129. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. ———. 2000a. Descartes and Experiment in the Discourse and Essays. In Descartes Embodied, 85–110. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. ———. 2000b. Descartes and Method in 1637. In Descartes Embodied, 33–51. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gaukroger, Stephen. 1989. Cartesian Logic: An Essay on Descartes’s Conception of Inference. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  23. Hatfield, Gary. 1989. Science, Certainty, and Descartes. In Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1988, ed. A. Fine and J. Leplin, vol. 2, 249–262. East Lansing: Philosophy of Science Association.Google Scholar
  24. Kisner, Matthew J. 2005. Skepticism and the Early Descartes. British Journal of the History of Philosophy 13: 207–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Marion, Jean-Luc. 1992. Cartesian Metaphysics and the Role of Simple Natures. In The Cambridge Companion to Descartes, ed. John Cottingham, 115–139. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Martin, Craig. 2011. Renaissance Meteorology: Poponazzi to Descartes. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Olscamp, Paul J. 2001. Introduction. In Discourse on Method, Optics, Geometry, and Meteorology. Ed. René Descartes’ and Trans. Paul J. Olscamp, ix–xxxvi. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  28. Schouls, Peter. 1980. The Imposition of Method: A Study of Locke and Descartes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Schuster, John A. 2012. Physico-Mathematics and the Search for Causes in Descartes’ Optics—1619–37. Synthese 185: 467–499.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. ———. 2013. Descartes-Agonistes: Physico-mathematics, Method and Corpuscular-Mechanism 1618–33. Sydney: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Watson, Richard. 2002. Cogito, Ergo Sum: The Life of Descartes. New Hampshire: Godine Publishing.Google Scholar
  32. Weber, Jean-Paul. 1964. La constitution du texte des Regulae. Paris: Société d’édition d’enseignement supérieur.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick Brissey
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA

Personalised recommendations