Paolo Rossini*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Most studies of René Descartes’s legacy have focused on the novelty of his ideas, but little has been done to uncover the conditions that allowed these ideas to spread. Seventeenth-century Europe was already a small world—it presented a high degree of connectedness with a few brokers bridging otherwise disparate regions. A communication network known as the Republic of Letters enabled scholars to trade ideas—including Descartes’s—by means of correspondence. This article offers an analysis—both qualitative and quantitative—of a corpus of letters written during Descartes’s lifetime and mentioning his name. The aim is to unveil the factors that drove the diffusion of Descartes’s ideas. The results are twofold. First, a close reading of the letters reveals that they were not used to create awareness about Descartes and his works but rather to discuss his ideas. Second, a network analysis of the letters shows that ideas do not spread like viruses, thus undermining the ‘social con-tagion’ model, and that weak ties are not as effective in promoting innovations as they are in circulating information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-120
Number of pages24
Issue number1
Early online date1 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I would like to thank Han van Ruler and Doğukan Öztürkoğlu for their comments on an early draft of this article. Erik-Jan Bos deserves a special mention for his help with the identification of Descartes’s acquaintances and supporters and the retrieval of source material. Ben Companjen and Peter Verhaar helped me kickstart my project Cartesian Networks during a 2-month fellowship at Leiden University’s Center for Digital Scholarship. My deepest gratitude goes to Ingeborg van Vugt for introducing me to the world of network science. This article is part of the project Cartesian Networks, which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 891747. The research data for this article have been made available at

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science. All rights reserved.


Dive into the research topics of 'THE NETWORKED ORIGINS OF CARTESIAN PHILOSOPHY AND SCIENCE'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this