Treasures from Special Collections and Archives: An Early Edition of Descartes’s Meditations

By Patricia Reguyal, Archives Assistant 

Considered “the founder of modern philosophy,” René Descartes is famous for the declaration, “I think, therefore I am.” (While this formulation is famous in Latin as “Cogito, ergo sum,” it was originally written in French as “Je pense, donc je suis.”) 

The SCA has Descartes’s Meditationes de Prima Philosophia. This book, as the title indicates, was first published in Latin in Paris in 1641, then updated and published again in Amsterdam in 1642. The item that the SCA has, also in Latin, was published in Amsterdam in 1685.  

Descartes made his famous argument in his first book, Discours de la Methode, which he published in 1637 and he reiterated and expounded on it in his Meditationes, his most popular book today, according to Descartes scholar Kurt Smith.  

Descartes died of a respiratory infection in 1650. His books were banned by the church in 1663. The item at the SCA was published in 1685 and, despite his early death, despite the banning, he continues to be read and discussed. Contemporary interpretations of his philosophy continue to be published in various academic journals and The Oxford Handbook of Descartes and Cartesianism, a collection of fifty essays from “an international group of leading scholars of early modern philosophy,” was published in 2019.  

The SCA copy is part of the collection that came from the old Klapper Library. It does not have the original binding but the textblock is in good condition.  


Smith, K. (2018). Descartes’ Life and Works. In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Archive (Winter 2018 Edition).
Watson, R. A. (n.d.). René Descartes. In Britannica Academic. Retrieved January 3, 2022, from