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Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia & Rene Descartes: Correspondences

"Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia," pp. 9-21, which is correspondence between Princess Elisabeth and Descartes.

This is the question: What do you think about their discussion of the soul? Do not be flippant in your response, but discerning. At the beginning of your response to this question, be sure to define and elucidate what you understand the word "soul" to mean. Please, no dictionary definition. Think! Make at least four references to the letters in your response.

The Book: Women Philosophers of the early modern period
Edited, with introduction, by Margaret Atherton


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OTA 105878/Xenia Jones

Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia & Rene Descartes: Correspondences


Between 1643-1649, Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia (known also as Princess of the Palatine, 1618-80) and René Descartes (1596-1650) exchanged 58 letters, 32 written by Descartes and 26 by the Princess. Elisabeth von der Pfalz as she was known in her native Prussia was the daughter of Frederick V & Elizabeth Stuart, after the overthrow of her father came to the care of her grandmother who then conducted her education in Leiden, studying classic and modern languages as well as art and literature. She was however keenly interested in philosophy. Her life was dictated by the politics of court (arranged marriages to the King of Poland, etc.) & the family fortune (that saw decline) but her mental concerns were focused on philosophical questions, entering into correspondence with Anna Maria van Schurman, another learned Prussian woman scholar of the period (painter, poet linguist), seeking to reach out to similarly educated women, a very unusual phenomenon of the period. Upon her acquaintance with Descartes however, she soon had him hired as her tutor on morals & philosophy with Descartes dedicating his work Principia to her. Even when Descartes was invited to the Swedish court by Queen Christina, he continued to correspond with Elisabeth until his death the next year. It is in this correspondence that the extent of Elisabeth's mastery and knowledge of philosophy is revealed - her expertise of metaphysics, moral philosophy, analytical geometry and interest in natural philosophy shone. In a way, the unfolding of information through the correspondence provides essential reading about Cartesian philosophy, especially the account of the union of the Body & the Mind. Ethics and ethical viewpoints of Cartesian humanism are also laid foundation in the discussion brought about by the correspondence. Of course, the letters also provide great insight to the characters and personality of the authors - especially how their minds worked and ideas developed via collaboration through correspondence. While beyond her letters and correspondence with Descartes, Elisabeth affected more lives via her dedication to Christian values, morality and Piety, becoming an Abbess in Herford dedicated to philanthropy & hospitality to those who need it (i.e. William Penn & the Quakers sought her protection and became a great friend, with Penn celebrating her memory in his 1682 book No Cross, No Crown, her philosophical viewpoint as well as her academic accomplishments - highly unusual and can be considered phenomenal for the period - came to light via her correspondence with Rene Descartes. Some readings of the correspondence put forth the notion that Descartes and Elisabeth were lovers (Leon Petit, Descartes et la Princesse Elizabeth: roman d'amour vecu, Paris, 1969) but the ...

Solution Summary

The solution is an extensive 1,859-word study of the correspondences between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia & early Enlightenment philosopher Rene Descartes. It looks into their discussion of the nature, purpose and concept of the soul to discern the emergent meaning between the discourse. Key sections from the correspondences are cited; additionally, a concise historical background of the 2 is included. A word version of the solution is attached for easy download and printing. References, both web and print are listed. The solution follows the APA format.