History & Historiography
Discourse on Method by René Descartes
(Abridged and annotated)
René Descartes, born in 1596, lived during a key period of the transition from the medieval to the modern worldview. He earned his degree in 1614. The first half of the 17th century was a remarkable period of astronomical discovery and debate. Discoveries were being made that challenged the supposed flawless logic of the Aristotelean system. Copernicus had shown a century earlier that Ptolemy's math could be simplified by making the sun the center of a heliocentric universe rather than a geocentric one. In 1609 Johannas Kepler published Astronomia Nova, further simplifying the mathematical model of the cosmos. In 1618, three comets were spotted that traveled in paths that should be impossible if Aristotle's assumptions were true. But this period where Descartes found himself was before the work of Isaac Newton, whose book, Principia, answered several of the unanswered questions. But Descartes lived and studied in the 1610s. The natural philosophers (scientists of their day) at many of the universities continued to favor the medieval Aristotelean-Ptolemaic view. Descartes felt the problem was the way knowledge was created. He then sought to find a method of creating knowledge that would replace the current method built on Aristotle. In this work, he explains his struggle and the method he devised which was built on slow, methodical, deductive reasoning.
"It is not good enough to have talent, the main thing is to apply it well."
Machiavelli's name has become synonymous with ruthless ambition. Historians, however, disagree as to whether or not Machiavelli was writing a 'how to' manual, a 'trojan horse manual' designed to turn the people against any ruler that would use his amoral methods, or perhaps even a satire. Either way, the end result is primary source for historians that illustrates a change political world during the renaissance. Machiavelli was put in charge of defending the Republic only to see his beloved Florence overrun by powerful tyrants with political connections and less-than-Christian methods, a direct contradiction from the medieval notion of what a ruler ought to be.
"The first method for evaluating the intelligence for a ruler is to look at the men around him."
Although annotated and abridged, these readings on Machiavelli and Descartes are a bit advanced and might be best suited for students in "Honors" or above.