Descartes' planetary system, 1761.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Hand-coloured engraving showing 'Systeme de Descartes', a chart of Descartes' planetary system, isued in Paris in 1761. Rene Descartes (1596-1650), French philosopher and mathematician, is regarded as one of great figures in the history of Western thought, and is widely considered to be the father of modern philosophy. In the 1640s he was one of the first to propose that the planets and moons within the Solar System formed out of a swirling region of matter as a by-product of the formation of the Sun itself.