Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Matthew J. Kisner


Descartes' Discourse on Method is a canonical text. It, however, has received little attention by English scholars, and its importance for understanding Descartes' mature philosophy has been unappreciated. In this dissertation, "Descartes' World : An Interpretation of the Discourse on Method ," I argue that Descartes wrote the Discourse as an outline of an early systematic text that is now lost. On my reading, the parts of the Discourse are rough outlines of treatises that Descartes composed early in his career: his Histoire de mon esprit , Rules , Treatise on Metaphysics , Treatise on Light , and Treatise on Man . Although each had a separate title, I argue that Descartes planned for this material, along with an early version of the Optics and Meteorology, to be published under the collective title The World . He, however, suppressed this project in late 1633 because of threat of condemnation over his philosophical foundations. He decided to detach the optical and meteorological portions to revise and publish them independently as the Optics and Meteorology . He later added the Discourse , where he outlined the philosophical foundations of The World . By attending to Descartes' description of his various texts in letters, I conclude that the Discourse is an approximation of Descartes' early, philosophical system. I, moreover, explain how this thesis has implications for Descartes' Meditations and Principles.