DESCARTES AND CARTESIANISM.
By EMILE BODTROUX, Member of the Institute, Professor in the University of Paris.
Science and free-thinking . 776
Early life of Descartes . 778
His later life and posthumous works . 779
Descartes' use of the mathematical method . 780
Mathematics, physics, and metaphysics . 781
Cogito, ergo sum . 782
Descartes' physical theories . 783
His philosophy . 784
His disciples . 785
Elizabeth, Princess Palatine . 786
Queen Christina of Sweden . 787
Cartesianism in the universities .788
in the Low Countries . 789
in France . 790
in Germany, England, etc. 791
Descartes and Gassendi at variance . 793
Pascal . 794
His religious ideas. Port-Royal .795
The Lettres Provinciales and the Pensées . 796
The scientific demonstration of Christian truth . 797
The relations between science and religion . 798
Religion, science, and reason .799
DESCARTES AND CARTESIANISM.
THE period of Continental history which extends from the beginning of the Thirty Years1 War to the Peace of the Pyrenees is, from the point of view of intellectual progress, chiefly noteworthy for the works of Descartes and for the growing influence of the Cartesian Philosophy. Descartes was a Frenchman. Now, he travelled over the whole of Europe ; he lived for twenty years in Holland ; he was connected with numerous learned men of different countries ; and among his pupils were a Princess Palatine and a Queen of Sweden. To some extent, therefore, he represents the whole of Europe, which, moreover, even in his lifetime displayed a fervent partisanship for or against his philosophy.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century France, where Descartes passed his days of studentship, presented, in the world of thought, a spectacle of disorder and confusion. The instruction given in the colleges was still wholly scholastic ; but in the field of philosophy the yoke of authority had been cast off since the time of Ramus and the Renaissance. The philosophy of Aristotle was being rejected, and no substitute could be offered in its place except some other system likewise borrowed from the ancients, such as Neo-Platonism, Platonism, Epicureanism, or Stoicism. On the other hand, learning enlisted fewer enthusiasts than in the sixteenth century, and philology was in its decadence. The work of the Renaissance, so far as philosophy was concerned, seemed to be chiefly negative, and drew a number of thinkers towards scepticism.
And, from the religious standpoint, there was not less cause for anxiety in the prevailing condition of mind. Side by side with the development of medieval doctrine, from the fifteenth century onwards, a struggle had manifested itself between faith and reason, which was wholly adverse to the scholastic point of view. On the other hand, the Reformation had with incomparable force reawakened the craving for a personal and living way of belief and thought, as opposed to mere repetition of formulae and of comment upon them. And this movement had not been confined to the Protestants. Towards the middle of
Moreover, side by side with philosophy and theology a new power was developing which would infallibly claim a share in the guidance of man's mind. This was the science of nature. Hitherto the earth had been regarded as the centre of the world ; but Copernicus had recently assigned this place of honour to the sun. About 1604 Galileo, by the discovery of the laws of gravitation and of the pendulum, had proved it possible to explain the phenomena of nature by comparing them with one another, while stating natural laws, and avoiding any recourse to mysterious forces and influences. What would be the effect of this scientific revolution when men came to examine its bearings on philosophy?
In this intellectual atmosphere, in which antagonistic elements were at variance with one another, a class of men frivolous, sceptical, impatient of all restraint, who claimed the right to think and live according to their individual inspiration, was continually on the increase. These were the free-thinkers. They took their inspiration from Montaigne, appropriating in particular his critical and negative conclusions. They were represented by some very prominent men : Cesare Vanini, a young Neapolitan priest, who acknowledged no other God but Nature, Théophile de Viau, a worldly poet, " head of the secret atheists," and, close to the throne, Gaston of Orleans, brother of Louis XIII, who wrote lampoons on God and his sovereign in verse. Such in general was the chaotic state of men's minds.
However, a very different age was at the same time announcing itself. While Richelieu was re-establishing in society the principle of order and authority it was natural that a similar change should take place in the world of thought. Now, ever since the end of the sixteenth century, Malherbe had been subjecting the poetry, versification, and overloaded style of the Renaissance to the laws of clearness, purity, method, and good taste ; and from 1620 onwards the Hôtel de Rambouillet, where particular attention was paid to purity of style, fostered the idea of the French Academy, which was actually established in 1635. Soon, in
A desire for order and stability was therefore beginning to make itself felt, and it is to be noticed that men sought for the principles of such order, not in the authority of any established law, but in the supreme right of common-sense, truth, and reason. In 1540 Calvin had published his Institution Chrétienne in French, with a view to attracting the simple as well as the learned to the individual religious life. In the hands of Montaigne (from 1580) the French language had become more pliant, more capable of expressing in a simple and picturesque way the subtle thoughts of philosophy. And thus men of the world were enabled to examine questions formerly reserved for scholars.
All these tendencies, both positive and negative, are united in Descartes, whose work, suggestive and far-reaching, though severely methodical, was at the same time the complete realisation of the thought of his epoch, and the starting-point of future developments.
René Descartes (1596-1650) was born at La Haye in Touraine on March 31, 1596. His family belonged to the petite noblesse, and came originally from Poitou. From 1604 to 1612 he was a pupil at the Jesuit College of La Flèche. Then he spent two years (1615-6) at the University of Poitiers, where he took his Bachelor's, and afterwards his Licentiate's, degree in civil and canon law. In 1617 he entered the service of Prince Maurice of Nassau in Holland as a volunteer. About the same time he was studying the principles of music, algebra, and science. He was justifying the nickname given him by his father, who, from his childhood, had called him the " little philosopher." Then, in 1619, when war threatened in Germany, he went to that country, was present at the coronation of the Emperor Ferdinand II at Frankfort, and enlisted in the Duke of Bavaria's forces. He spent the winter in the duchy of Neuburg, where he remained all day shut up in his little room, untroubled by cares and passions, free to devote himself to meditation. It was then that he fell into a sort of trance of enthusiasm, in the midst of which, so he tells us, he discovered the principles of a wonderful science. And, in order to secure the help of the Blessed Virgin in this undertaking, he vowed to make a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Loretto.
In 1620 he was with the army in Bohemia, and in 1621 in Hungary. Then he abandoned the profession of arms, which he had regarded mainly as a means towards the study of his fellow-men, and came back to France by way of northern Germany and Holland. From 1622 to 1625 he travelled again, in France, in Switzerland, and in Italy. From 1625 to 1629 he stayed for the last time in Paris; then, having been entreated by his friends to publish some portion of his works, he withdrew
At the same time he was in correspondence with several learned men ; with his friend Father Mersenne, who formed a centre of scientific correspondence ; with Fermât and Rober val ; and, as his philosophy had spread rapidly throughout the Dutch Universities and had excited much opposition among the Aristotelians, he defended himself and his doctrines against his antagonists and enemies. Among his pupils were Princess Elizabeth, daughter of the Elector Palatine Frederick V and of the English Princess Elizabeth, and, afterwards, Queen Christina of Sweden. The latter entreated him to come to her Court, and sent a ship to Amsterdam in order to convey him. After some hesitation Descartes yielded, largely in the hope that he might serve the cause of the Princess Elizabeth in Stockholm. But the winter climate of Sweden proved too severe for him, and he died at Stockholm, February 11, 1650. He was only in his fifty-fifth year.
In addition to his published works he left several manuscripts, which were gradually brought to light. These included, in the first place, a voluminous correspondence ; then, a Traité de l'homme et de la formation du foetus (1664), Le Monde, ou Traité de la Lumière (1664); with the Regulae ad directionem ingénu (1701), a work probably composed between 1619 and 1629.
The most salient characteristic of the author of the Discours de la Méthode is his restless and independent disposition. This philosopher is an aristocrat of an adventurous disposition, a worthy contemporary of the heroes of the Thirty Years' War. One day Gassendi apostrophised him with the taunt, " 0 mens /" But as a matter of fact few men have seen so many countries, or have so ardently longed to come in contact with reality. At the same time, he is impatient of any kind of restraint, whether material or intellectual. Throughout all his struggles and adventures he endeavours to retain his serenity of thought ; he would like his motto to be, bene qui latuit, bene vixit. Descartes is the very reverse of a philosopher of the Schools. Nothing seems alien to him ; philosophy
Hence it follows naturally that he is dissatisfied with ready-made doctrines, which can be proved or rejected by means of an abstract system of dialectics. He is in quest of living certainties, of doctrines which will satisfy his spiritual needs ; the only truth which he is prepared to acknowledge, is that which he has, to some extent, reconstituted by the activity of his own reason. And his diction, so wonderfully clear, correct, and logical, merely translates into words the inner working of his mind. In Descartes life, philosophy, science, and the art of writing, which hitherto had usually been isolated, are reunited and form an indissoluble whole. Hence the original force and the significance of his personality. To define his point of view with regard to life and its phenomena, means to trace the history of his mind.
Among the scientific subjects studied by him at the College of La Flèche, there was one to which he felt especially attracted, and which made him unduly critical of the rest, viz. mathematics. This science brought logical reasons to support what it affirmed, and therefore afforded him intellectual certainty. Compared with mathematics, all other sciences, such as language, history, jurisprudence, medicine, philosophy, ethics, were mere exercises of memory or of abstract dialectics, and incapable of supplying irrefutable conclusions. To Descartes it seemed that information which brought with it no certainty had no claim to the title of science.
He therefore first came forward with mathematical researches. Herein he succeeded so well that he formed the highest idea of the power and capability of this science, and, realising that hitherto it had merely been made serviceable to the mechanical arts, he asked himself why, seeing that its foundations were so firm and solid, no more important structure had been raised upon them. Thus, he conceived the idea of treating according to the mathematical method not merely numbers and figures, but concrete realities-in other words, of applying the mathematical method to philosophy. But this application could not be legitimately made unless the method were rendered more general by divesting it of the peculiarities which belong to the special purpose of mathematics. In order to enable himself to effect this, Descartes determined to develop in himself the sense of truth, the critical faculty, and the power of solid argument. With this end in view he devoted long years to the solution of mathematical problems and to reflexion on the operations of the mind involved in this work.
Thus was very gradually brought out the point of view which is characteristic of his line of speculation, and which places him so high in the study of human thought. In every branch of knowledge, in all the
The evidence acknowledged by honest reason is in all cases the supreme criterion of truth. This reason, moreover, can never become for man a complete and finite thing, replaceable by a formula. We must unceasingly exercise, strengthen, and extend it by supplying it with truths ; for activity is its being. This is the principle which regulated the intellectual occupations and the doctrines of Descartes.
As a born mathematician he could not fail to apply himself with zeal to a science then so flourishing. As is known, analytical geometry, that is, algebra applied to geometry, dates from the Essai de géométrie, published by him in 1637, immediately after his Discours de la Méthode. It must, however, be admitted that this discovery would in any case have, sooner or later, followed on those in analysis due to Viète. What is wholly original in the mathematical work of Descartes is his complete recasting of the theory of equations, and the general solution given by him to the problem of tangents for algebraical curves.
Descartes was not only a mathematician, but also a physicist. The discoveries of Galileo determined him to seek to improve the telescope. With this end in view, he investigated the mathematical law of refraction, and in order to decide on the shapes of the lenses he studied the problem of tangents. Soon afterwards he applied himself to the general subject of light, and applied his principles to the explanation of the phenomenon of the rainbow. And he thus arrived at the conception of a complete revolution in the whole science of physics, in the widest sense of the word. This consisted in substituting everywhere purely mathematical explanations for the scholastic formulae assuming occult influences.
But this step could not be taken simply by the application of principles proper to mathematical science. How could it be asserted that the nature of bodies could be fully expressed in mathematical terms ? In order to solve this problem Descartes plunged into metaphysical speculation. He sought, by the light of reasonable evidence, some truth which would enable him to prove the principles, not only of mathematics, or the science of what may be, but of philosophy, or the science of what is. He finds this principle in the proposition, Cogito, ergo sum, inasmuch
In accordance with a practical rule which he had made for himself, and which consisted in devoting the greater part of his time to the recreation of the senses, and a very small portion of it to the exercise of the pure understanding, within a few months Descartes succeeded in establishing the principles of his metaphysics. In order to make sure of the strength of the work, he thought it necessary and sufficient that this work should have been the genuine product of free reason, disentangled from sense and imagination. In fact, though the Meditations is but small in bulk, its doctrinal matter is large, and the book is great by its originality and by its importance. Firsb, it demonstrates the method known as that of methodic doubt, which consists in the provisional rejection of all that knowledge which, when examined from the standpoint of pure reason, appears uncertain. In the second place, by means of the proposition of Cogito, ergo sum, it defines that knowledge which by its own action the mind has established as primary and fundamental knowledge, inasmuch as no knowledge has any value for us unless it rationally connects itself with the knowledge which we have of our own existence. But if we admit that rational evidence is the sole criterion of certainty, the important consequence necessarily follows that those kinds of knowledge which depend upon the evidence of such witnesses as history or positive theology can never become sciences in the exact meaning of the word.
The soul is defined by thought, the body by extension ; since these two attributes are the only ones of which we can form a clear idea. Hence all the other properties of being, such as sentiment and will, which are produced in the mind, or concrete qualities and passions which manifest themselves in the body, have to be regarded merely as moods, either of thought or extension. And the actual fact of the union of soul and body is, so far as science is concerned, solely a confused medley of essences which cannot be simplified, but must be dissociated from each other.
The existence of God can no longer be demonstrated by considering the nature of the world. On the contrary, it must be recognised before
From these metaphysical principles proceed the celebrated physical theories of Descartes. No explanation by final causes is received in the science of nature ; for mathematics admit only the mechanical relations between component and composed. The world has been evolved mechanically from chaos, matter having, in the course of time, automatically taken all possible forms, only those being retained which, according to the general laws of motion, offered adequate conditions of equilibrium and stability. In order to account in this way for the formation of the world, Descartes lays down as a principle the permanency of the same quantity of motion in the universe ; and he holds that all motion is transmitted by impact. Moreover he invents the celebrated hypothesis of vortices, according to which each body is surrounded by numerous particles of matter, arranged in spherical layers, which revolve continually about it as round a common centre. This mechanical theory of the formation of the solar system formed the prelude to that which Kant and Laplace were afterwards to enunciate with so much success. All the properties of bodies, in so far as they belong to the things themselves, and are not merely the illusory projections of our inner feelings, are nothing but extension and motion in space. Thought, or reason, alone, which are the necessary conditions of the knowledge of extension of bodies, are of a different character. Beings devoid of reason, however much their actions may seem to be to the purpose, are to scientific insight mere machines. An animal is but a very complicated clock.
In man, however, we see that thought and extension are substantially united. This union manifests itself by means of the influence upon each other of soul and body. In certain conditions the soul can affect the direction, though not the quantity, of motion. The influence of the
From these metaphysical and physical principles Descartes by no means concludes that any object whatever can become known à priori without the aid of experience. In explaining the creation of the world out of initial chaos he had merely presented his conclusions in the light of a hypothesis, the total value of which consisted in its conformity with observable phenomena. In proportion as he treats of more complicated phenomena he assigns a greater and more necessary part to experiment and to Baconian induction. And the celebrated Discours de la Méthode ends with an appeal to the generosity of the friends of science, soliciting their aid for the author in the costly experiments which he is obliged to undertake in order to work, as his ambition impels him to work, for the progress of physiology and of medicine.
The mathematics, physics, and biology of Descartes have one important feature in common. They are as profound as it seemed possible to the philosopher to make them, but they are restricted to the study of a few fundamental problems, and have no pretensions to be complete. The mind of Descartes was, in fact, firmly fixed upon what was to him the very principle and object of philosophy, namely reason as the standard of truth, and at the same time a power which it is our duty to develop by culture. And the sciences are the instruments of this culture. According to Descartes, it is through them only that either man will acquire a control over nature, on which the liberty of reason is conditional, or the formation of reason itself will be achieved; but he only asks of the sciences that which is necessary and sufficient for reaching this twofold end.
Thus in the end his philosophy leads to the practical applications, which, by means of the theoretical sciences, teach men to realise the work of reason. These applications are, in the first place, mechanics, or the appropriation by man of the forces of nature ; next, medicine, or the care for the health of the body, on which that of the soul is so largely dependent; and finally ethics, or the determination by reason of the objects to be selected by the will of man, and the choice of means suitable for calming or subduing the passions, and for creating a virtuous disposition in the soul. According to Descartes, the will has for its ends the love of God and the interest of the whole of which the individual is a part. And the surest way to reach these ends is to attain to a clear and exact knowledge of things, because a luminous understanding generates a strong desire in the will.
Such is the philosophy of Descartes, which may be said to have re-established order and certainty in the human mind. As viewed by Descartes, science, experience of life, the principles of religious faith, and the good-sense of a well-bred man, do not merely exist side by side, they cooperate in forming a harmonious whole. Taken by themselves,
As is the case with all works that are essentially original, the meaning and importance of Descartes' philosophy were but inadequately appreciated by his contemporaries. However, such vigorous and productive thought could not fail to excite immediate attention on every side. Unlike the learned criticism of the Renaissance scholars, it did not content itself with destroying or with exhuming the past, but built afresh on new foundations. Pierre Borel, a contemporary of Descartes, tells us that, at the actual time of the master's death, his disciples were as numerous as the stars in the firmament or the grains of sand by the sea.
Some of the most celebrated of these were his personal pupils. Among the most distinguished we must place the Princess Palatine Elizabeth. In 1640 she was living at the Hague with her mother, who had taken refuge there. She was a beautiful and haughty Princess, a worthy daughter of the House of Stewart, eager to prove herself heroic and magnanimous. When twenty years of age, she had refused the Crown of Poland, so as not to abjure the Protestant faith, in which she had been brought up. Meditation was for her the highest happiness. She wished to see the man of whom all Holland was then talking -such had been the interest excited by his Essais on their appearance in 1687-and whose works she had read with admiration. At that time Descartes was living in the small castle of Endegeest, near Leyden, and only two leagues distant from the Hague. He caused himself to be presented to the Queen of Bohemia, whose salon he found to be
For her part, Elizabeth could not remain satisfied with the abstract theory of the system of the world which formed the conclusion of Descartes' work. She was in great trouble, and her sufferings threatened to undermine her health. She was tried hard by the calamities of her kith and kin ; for the cause of the Stewarts seemed to be lost, and in 1649 the head of Charles I was to fall on the scaffold. The sufferings of the Princess Palatine were the more acute in that she was gifted with an especially keen intelligence, and with an exceptionally refined sense of morality. She tells Descartes that she realised the inconvenience of being somewhat reasonable. She asked of philosophy a remedy for her misfortunes. She helped to draw the attention of Descartes towards practical questions, to make him consider the passions, and to study medicine and ethics, by which they may be combated. She conscientiously made trial of the remedies which Descartes proposed to her. But the teaching of the philosopher was essentially optimistic, and the very real sorrows of the Princess, her passionate nature, and her melancholy temperament, prevented her from finding in this teaching the relief which she sought. At least, however, the Cartesian philosophy in itself continued to arouse her enthusiasm ; and when, in 1648, she was obliged to leave the Hague, owing to a murder committed by her brother, she devoted herself to propagating the principles of the Cartesian philosophy in Berlin and Heidelberg. She died in 1680, having been, since 1667, Abbess of the Lutheran abbey of Herford, in Westphalia. This rich foundation had been converted by the pupil of Descartes into a free academy, a retreat open to men irrespective of nationality, religion, and opinions, provided only that they were students of philosophy.
Another pupil of Descartes was Queen Christina of Sweden, the daughter of Gustavus Adolphus ; and the relation between them furnishes a striking illustration of the place which science and scientific men then held in the world. Queen Christina was undoubtedly capable and intelligent, but also whimsical, excessively passionate, and addicted to dissipation and licence. In 1657 she caused her lover, Monaldeschi, to be assassinated. She was a keen student of languages and science, and drew to her Court the learned men of every country. In the interval between presiding at a Council of her Ministers and riding for ten consecutive hours in a reckless hunt, she despatched to Descartes,
Not only Elizabeth and Christina, but also all those who came into contact with Descartes, or who read his works, were filled with admiration for his genius, and became eager students of his philosophy. Throughout all Europe the advent of his system caused a revolution in the world of thought, exceptional in its force, its extent, and its duration. It would be no easy task to give an account of this revolution of thought, and to follow it in all its manifestations and results. Here it is only possible to add a few instances and indications.
Holland was the first battlefield of the Cartesian philosophy. In this land of wealth and freedom intense intellectual activity prevailed. Descartes was surrounded by friends who interested themselves in his doctrines. Among them were Constantine Huyghens, lord of Zuitlichem, father of the great Huyghens, and himself a person of no small importance - a Councillor of the Prince of Orange, a statesman, a soldier, and withal a scholar and a man of letters. On the death of Descartes Huyghens apostrophised Nature and bade her lead the way in mourning for the great Descartes, the loss of whose life was the loss of her light ; for it was by means only of that shed on her by him that men had been able to behold her. Another was van Hoogland, the physician, who, following the footsteps of Descartes, sought to solve the problems of medicine through chemistry and mechanics.
The influence of Descartes was soon to exceed the narrow limits of coteries and to make itself felt outside, in the tumultuous sphere of the Universities. The first professors to be converted to the Cartesian philosophy in Holland were Henry Reneri and Henry de Roy, otherwise Regius, of the University of Utrecht. The latter became famous on account of his private lectures in medicine and philosophy, based on Cartesian principles. He aroused such enthusiasm that in 1638 his pupils united in compelling the University to establish in his favour a second chair of medicine. This was but one year after the publication of the Discours de la Méthode. On the death of Reneri, Regius became chief representative of the new philosophy, and vehemently defended it against scholasticism. Thus, in 1641 he caused de Raey, one of his pupils, to sustain a public thesis in which the philosophy and the science of Aristotle were turned to ridicule. Hereupon war broke out in the University. Each time that a thesis was sustained it was met by blast and counterblast of applause and hisses. Foremost among the professors of the Peripatetic School was the Calvinist minister, Gisbert de Voet, Rector of the University, and a bigoted opponent of all new movements. This guardian of orthodoxy had already discountenanced the teaching of the theory of the circulation of the blood. He determined to ruin Descartes. On the one hand, by means of insinuation, he accused him of atheism ; on the other he denounced him as a pupil and spy of the Jesuits. And he declared that his whole method of philosophy was heretical and opposed to the scholastic system of instruction. At his instigation the magistrates ordered Regius to confine himself to his lectures on medicine, and the majority of the professors, in the General Assembly of the University, condemned the new philosophy, on the grounds that it was opposed to the ancient and the true philosophy, that it deterred young men from the study of scholastic terms, and that it was conducive to scepticism and irreligion.
Next, Voetius caused one of his pupils, Martin Schoockius, a professor at Groningen, to write a libellous pamphlet against Descartes, entitled, Philosofhia cartesiana, sive admiranda methodus Cartesli. Descartes addressed his reply to Voetius himself, who thereupon caused this reply to be condemned by the magistrates as libellous. And, according to Baillet, the biographer of Descartes, Voetius lost no time in making a bargain with the executioner to the effect that no fuel should be spared in burning the books of the philosopher, so that the flames might be seen from afar. But Descartes, who at that time was not living in the Province of Utrecht, but at Egmont in North Holland, succeeded in putting an end to all these proceedings, thanks to the protection of the French ambassador and of the Prince of Orange. Then the accused turned accuser and obtained a decree from the Senate of the University of Groningen, which in effect condemned his two enemies, Voetius and Schoockius, as libellers.
The University of Leyden, in its turn, was divided on the subject of the teaching of the Cartesian philosophy. The great opponent of Descartes in this city was Jacques de Rêves, or Revius, who wrote a pamphlet against methodic doubt, entitled Furiosum nugamentum. In 1676, after the teaching of the Cartesian philosophy had been formally forbidden, Heidanus, a Cartesian, made a public protest against this prohibition, and was dismissed from office ; while Voider, another Cartesian, who was more skilful, continued his teaching under disguises which he was gradually able to discard.
Besides the University of Groningen, that of Breda welcomed the Cartesian philosophy. In the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium it met with violent opposition. In 1652 the physician Plempius persuaded his colleagues, each individually, to condemn the Cartesian philosophy, as a system which had sprung from Democritus and was opposed to the doctrine of the Eucharist. In 1662, by order of the Nuncio, it was formally condemned by the theological faculty. This was the prelude to its being, in the following year, placed on the Index at Rome. But all these efforts proved fruitless. In 1667 five Franciscan friars came forward to defend Cartesian theses at Louvain, and dedicated them to the same Nuncio, Geronimo Vecchio.
The Cartesian philosophy was not merely an object of strife and a means of instruction in the Low Countries, it was the source of a new movement in philosophy. From the University of Groningen there came the Cartesian philosopher Clauberg, born at Solingen in Westphalia, who became a professor in the German University of Herborn in 1649, and in 1651 in that of Duisburg. Clauberg was active in spreading the Cartesian philosophy in western Germany, laying especial stress on the problems of the relation of the Deity to the world, and on that of the soul to the body. Geulincx of Antwerp, a doctor of the University of Louvain, became professor there in 1646. In 1658, having been dismissed for his attacks upon the scholastic philosophy and the clergy, he withdrew to Leyden, and in 1665 was made a professor of that University. He was more than a mere disciple of Descartes. He refused to admit the union of soul and body which had been accepted by Descartes, and advanced the Cartesian metaphysics in the direction of " occasionalism " afterwards developed by Malebranche. About the same time, in the vicinity of Amsterdam, Spinoza was learning from Descartes the geometrical and rational method which he was to apply so forcibly to the demonstration of his half-scientific, half-religious pantheism (1661-77).
In France the Cartesian philosophy was opposed by the Jesuits, who, perceiving its audacity, hastened to make war upon it with the same fervour with which they had combated the doctrines of Luther and Calvin. On the other hand it was welcomed by the Congregation of the Oratory, on the grounds that it was akin to Platonism and to
Augustinianism. The Oratorian Malebranche was awakened to philosophical reflexion by the perusal of Descartes' Traité de rhomme; afterwards (1665-1712) he put together his brilliant system by attributing, through the inspiration of Plato and Saint Augustine, to God Himself the ideas designated as "clear" by the author of the Méditations. At Port-Royal, in the Church, in literature, in the Universities, and in the law-courts the influence of Descartes gradually grew to be considerable, and even dominant. Thus it was the Cartesian philosophy which inspired the celebrated Logique de Port-Royal, in which the art of reasoning, which was the very end and object of scholastic logic, is subordinated to the art of thought or judgment- that is, to the art of distinguishing between truth and falsehood by means of reason or good-sense, shared by all men. According to Pascal, it is not by "barbara and baralipton" that the faculty of reasoning can be trained and formed ; " you must not hoist the mind up by a crane." It is mainly owing to the influence of Descartes that, in the latter half of the seventeenth century, religion and philosophy were reconciled, and came to form a harmonious whole. A Malebranche, a Bossuet, a Fénelon, far from distrusting reason, sound the praises of its power and authority. Did not Descartes show with mathematical precision that reason itself contains the principles of belief in God and of the spirituality of the soul, which are the foundations of religion ? Reason, perfect and eternal, said Fénelon, is common to all men, and, withal, superior to man. " What is this supreme reason ? Is it not the God whom I seek ? "
In the seventeenth century it was chiefly the metaphysics of Descartes of which the authority was acknowledged. Towards the close of the seventeenth and in the eighteenth century his physics, and his method in general, were supreme. Fontenelle (1657-1757) extolled Descartes not as a metaphysician, who had attacked unanswerable questions, but as the thinker who had effected a revolution in mathematics and physics, as the promoter of the true method of reasoning. And Montesquieu, in his Esprit des Lois (1748) undoubtedly makes use of the Cartesian method itself, applying it to political matters.
The influence of the Cartesian philosophy continued more and more to prevail in France until 1765, when the French Academy proposed the eulogy of Descartes as the subject of competition for the prize of rhetoric. After this date the system of innate ideas and of vortices was succeeded by English empiricism and by the philosophy of Newton. But Cartesianism will never die out in the land where the love of clearness and of the logical connexion of ideas is a part of the national temperament.
Cartesianism was not as much at home in Germany as it was in France. However, it spread in Germany also and, to a great extent, contributed to the philosophical movement in that country. Not only
In Switzerland the Cartesian Robert Chouet was made Professor at Geneva in 1669. Among his pupils in that city was Pierre Bayle.
The Cartesian philosophy was introduced into England mainly by Antoine Legrand, of the Brotherhood of St Francis of Douai, who published in London two works expounding the philosophy in a scholastic form. Samuel Parker, of Oxford, having simultaneously confuted Hobbes and Descartes, as alike supporters of the mechanical theory, in 1659 Legrand indited an Apologia pro R. Descartes contra S. Parkerum, in which he showed with what power Descartes had proved the existence of God against the materialistic supporters of the mechanical theory. Though expelled from Oxford, the Cartesian philosophy played an important part at Cambridge. The opponent of Descartes in this University, the celebrated Platonist Cudworth, a colleague of Henry More of Christ's College, accepted the Cartesian mechanism with regard to dead matter, but pronounced it false and fatal to religion to extend this mechanism to living organisms. Between thought and extension he introduced a universal plastic nature, by means of which God controls the motion of things. The Cartesian ideas concerning physics were introduced into the University of Cambridge by English and Latin translations of the physics of Rohault, one of the first to spread the Cartesian philosophy in France. Up to the time of Newton, this work was considered as a classic at Cambridge. The fecundity of Cartesianism manifested itself in England chiefly through the part played by it in the formation of the intellectual system of Locke, which was in its turn to exercise so considerable an influence on the entire later development of philosophy.
In Italy the Cartesian philosophy, especially as a scientific doctrine, established itself in the territory of Naples, the birthplace of Giordano Bruno and of Campanella. It was introduced here by Tommaso Cornelio, and powerfully supported by Fardella. On the other hand Vico (1688-1744), on behalf of concrete, historical, and social studies, opposed the
Cartesian thought is the most original and the most productive of all intellectual systems that existed on the Continent in the period of the Thirty Years' War. Its essential characteristics were its conception of reason, which it regarded as the common centre of knowledge, life, science, morality, and religion. It signified the re-establishment of order and reason in the intellects and in the souls of men, by means of those very sciences and of those modern ideas which writers without ballast were ready to place in opposition to philosophical certainty and to the religious faith of mankind.
Powerful, however, as was the influence exercised by the genius of Descartes, it was not the only important intellectual movement noticeable during this period. In France itself two further names, unequal to each other in importance, call for mention as representing tendencies distinct from his, but endowed like it with permanent vitality.
Descartes had sought to confute the free-thinkers, the sceptics, and the naturalists, and, as a matter of fact, his philosophy had in course of time to a great extent overshadowed them. But just at first they refused to disarm, the more so because they hoped to find a fitting formula and a satisfactory defence of their theories, especially in the teaching of a man of learning, who, during his lifetime, enjoyed a reputation similar to that of Descartes. This was Gassend, or Gassendi.
Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655), the Christian Epicurean, is chiefly famous for his antagonism to Descartes, and for the point of view maintained by him in opposition to that of the great rationalist. He was born in Provence, near Digne. He took Orders early in life and became an irreproachable priest ; he conscientiously said mass, drank nothing but water, and was a vegetarian. He died from fasting with undue rigour during Lent, having received the holy viaticum and the extreme unction three times more majorum.
His chief characteristic is that he lived two lives : the one devoted to religion, the other to philosophy. No doubt, Descartes virtually seems to have done the same. But with him, philosophy and religion were finally reunited in reason, the universal source of all our thoughts, the necessary principle and guide of all our knowledge. Now Gassendi rejected all idea of connexion or comparison between religious faith and philosophical doctrine. It mattered little to him whether the two were in harmony or opposition. As a Christian, he submitted his opinions wholly to the judgment of the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church. As a philosopher, he held that the truth is contained in the system of Epicurus. The substance of the world to him consisted of purely material atoms; a mind which could think without the organs of
Henceforward his controversy with Descartes was something more than a quarrel between two metaphysicians. When Gassendi apostrophised Descartes as "O mens.'" and the latter retorted "O caro ! " many of their contemporaries concluded that the author of the Principes valued the ideas of his own mind more than the realities of experience ; while the learning and somewhat confused eclectic teaching of the author of the Syntagma philosophiae Epicuri (1649) represented the advance of modern science towards the complete subordination of our conceptions to facts, to data, and to experiments.
Henceforward it mattered little that Gassendi had always been a docile Christian and a staunch supporter of Providence. His religious faith was not only without root in his philosophy, but appeared to be in contradiction with it. This faith could only be maintained by means of a radical dualism ; and the state of dualism is one of instability for the mind of man, which sooner or later begins to compare diiferent assertions with one another. Now, given the enormous progress which awaited experimental science, a belief at variance with the philosophical conception entertained of this science was fated to suffer from so close a contact with it, and to seem less justifiable and less important in proportion as the authority of science increased and its province was extended. And hence Gassendi, because of the exclusively empirical and naturalistic point of view which he assumed in the domain of philosophy, because of his identification of ancient atomism with modern experimental science, represents, as opposed to the broad rationalism of Descartes, the tendency of which, a hundred years later, the Encyclopédie was the outcome. In other words, he anticipated the apotheosis of natural science as having put to flight the phantom of the supernatural, and as being
Notwithstanding the considerable reputation which he enjoyed amongst his contemporaries, the chief importance of Gassendi, who as a thinker was inconsistent and lacked originality, lies in the interpretation which the free-thinkers gave to his doctrines.
Of a very different stamp was the great adversary of the Cartesian philosophy, who is the chief glory of the Abbey of Port-Royal des Champs-Biaise Pascal. The most marvellous scientific capacity, a religious faith of extraordinary depth and intensity, and the choicest gifts of the thinker and the writer were united in this rare genius, which burst forth in childhood, and which death gathered in at the early age of thirty-nine (1623-62).
Biaise Pascal was born at Clermont-Ferrand in Auvergne ; he came of a family belonging to the legal noblesse. The father, President of the Cour des Aides at Clermont, was conversant with mathematics and physics, and associated with the most intelligent men of the time. He gave his son an excellent education, especially from a scientific point of view. The child, however, had not been taught a word of mathematics, when one day-he was then not yet twelve years of age-his father, taking him by surprise, found him employed in proving the thirty-second proposition of Euclid, which demonstrates the sum of the angles of A triangle to be equal to two right angles.
In the intellectual atmosphere in which he grew up the precocious genius of Pascal rapidly became productive. Before he was sixteen he had formed the first conception of his Essai pour les Coniques, a work which afterwards filled Leibniz with admiration. Pascal made important contributions to mathematical and physical science. Following in the footsteps of Gérard Desargues (1593-1662), a geometrician who was almost unknown in his lifetime, but whose works were of great utility, Pascal established the entire theory of conic sections on a general basis. He prepared the way for the infinitesimal calculus by his work on calculating machines, entitled Lettres de Dettonville, from which Leibniz declared himself to have derived the ideas that led him to his own discovery. D'Alembert said that this work formed the connecting link between Archimedes and Newton. Finally, together with the clever geometrician Fermât, of Toulouse (1595-1665), and Huyghens, the great astronomical mathematician of the Hague (1629-95), Pascal was one of the originators of the theory of probabilities.
In connexion with Torricelirs experiments on the possibility of a vacuum, which were then attracting the attention of all Europe, Pascal (in 1647) conceived the idea of the celebrated experiment of the Puy-de-Dôme, which proved the hypothesis of the atmospheric pressure being the cause of the suspension of the liquid column in the barometer.
And by his generalisations from this result he completed the experimental theory of hydrostatics, the principles of which had been demonstrated theoretically at the end of the sixteenth century by Stevin, the Flemish geometrician.
While making these discoveries, he examined the method which he employed in the process, and boasted of being in opposition to Descartes, who, he maintained, sought for hypotheses as to the nature of things and took pleasure in theoretic points of view, while he, Pascal, put faith only in experiments. He declined to ask himself in what light consisted, or on what subtle grounds visible phenomena might be explained ; but only examined physical laws, that is to say, the permanent relations between facts such as are deducible from experiments.
Accurate and profound in scholarship, Pascal was also full of spiritual ardour. Early in life he happened to read some Jansenist works, and reflected on the true character of the Christian life. His impassioned nature, eager to excel in all things, caused him to welcome with enthusiasm a conception of religion which did away with the strange parallel readily accepted by the insight of ordinary men between our love of God and our love of things, and which, by acknowledging the emptiness of a world without God, bade him devote to God all his thoughts, all his love, and all his life. Meanwhile the state of his health compelled him to seek relaxation in society, and for several years (1649-53) the world again took possession of him. But a spiritual crisis of exceptional force caused him definitely to abandon the world and self, and to concentrate all his efforts on the single point of living for Jesus Christ. He withdrew to the Abbey of Port-Royal des Champs, a place which breathed this very spirit of detachment from the world. There he became intimate with the recluses and priests of that house, such as Arnauld, Nicole, and " M. de Saci," and devoted all his strength to the service of God.
In this strain he wrote the Petites Lettres called the Provinciales, in order to confute, first the subtle theology, secondly the loose morals of the Jesuits. This work, by reason of its vigour, its high moral tone, its wit, its intensity, its dialectic force, its oratorical and dramatic power, is a masterpiece of the French language, and of the mind of man, and withal one of the most forcible attacks which the Society of Jesus has at any time sustained.
According to Pascal the vice inherent in the teaching and practice of the Jesuits was that of lowering the ideal of the Christian religion, in order to bring it to the level of the natural man. To entice men, and to get them into their power, the Jesuits declare that God only requires of us human virtues. They degrade our duty to the level of our capability, of our weakness, and of our cowardice. They relax their rules in order to adjust them to the weakness of our will ; they corrupt the law to render it conformable to our corruption. Consequently they
The casuistry of the Jesuits, was, according to Pascal, the enemy of the Church from within. Without, she had an enemy no less terrible in the scepticism of the free-thinkers or philosophers. He determined to crush the latter as he had crushed the former, and, inspired by a miracle which he believed to have taken place in favour of Port-Royal, from about the year 1656 onwards he devoted all the energies spared him by his serious ill-health to an important work directed against atheism. In 1662 he died suddenly, before he had been able to complete it. He had only made a few notes, fragmentary sketches, and suggestions. These, which were reverently collected, and published with ever-increasing care, constitute what we call the Pensées of Pascal. They are the disconnected thoughts of a genius in whom the mathematical mind is blended, in an almost unique way, with the most ardent passion, and with the most facile and most original gift of style.
Like Descartes, Pascal wishes to confute the sceptics and to convert them. But, in order to accomplish this, Descartes thought it sufficient to compel them to acknowledge the existence and authority of reason, which, according to him, contains the principles which attest the truth of religion, as of science. But it seemed to Pascal that to remain content with proving the supremacy of reason left the point at issue still undecided. For reason of itself has no fixed principles, and can serve in the cause of error as successfully as in that of truth. The haughty Stoic and the complacent disciple of Pyrrho invoke the name of reason-and both lead man to his ruin. Pascal, therefore, passing beyond the boundary which limits the province of philosophy, undertook to demonstrate directly the truth of religion itself. And religion to him signified Christianity.
The method which he employed for this demonstration was, at the same time, most vivid and most subtle. Indeed, faith, according to him, comes from Divine Grace, and no demonstration could take its place. But it behoves man to strive, with the help of this very grace, to remove the barriers set up by the soul's corruption between itself and God. Pascal had in mind the free-thinkers of his time, those superficial scholars, who, impressed with the power and progress of science,
What then is man, taken in his actual and natural form ? A mass of contradictory elements, a chaotic medley, an enigma. Each of his faculties, in fact, aims at an end which it is incapable of accomplishing. Happiness is our goal, and all our actions merely procure for us deception and disquietude. We demand justice which is not based on force, and in reality we can but decorate force with the name of justice. In our sciences we seek for complete demonstrations, and in our arguments we only succeed in avoiding progression towards infinity by falling back on hypotheses based on sentiment and (since demonstration here becomes impossible) admitted by us without demonstration. In a word, human nature, lofty and noble on the one hand, is low and petty on the other. It is an irreconcilable medley of all that is great and of all that is base. This is an undeniable truth. A scientific mind should start from this and attempt to explain it, just as the student of physics attempts to explain the strange phenomenon of the suspension of a liquid column in the barometrical tube.
Now reason cannot itself explain the presence of two contradictory attributes in the same subject. But it so happens that the Christian faith supplies us with an explanation, according to which the subject, which appears to us as being one, is in reality twofold, containing on the one hand Divine Grace and on the other fallen nature. As a hypothesis this explanation is convenient and possible ; its truth remains to be proved. In dealing with this latter point Pascal appeals to the documents of history. He attempts to show how, in the face of innumerable obstacles, the Christian faith has established itself in the world with a power and with results which attest its Divine origin. But he also invokes an argument of a different character, which, according to him, is as capable of demonstration as the assertion of a phenomenon in physics. This consists in the individual experience of the working of God in ourselves,
Hence the work which Pascal intended to accomplish was a demonstration of the truth of Christianity on scientific principles. Not that he meant to substitute human means for the action of Grace. On the contrary, he constantly declares that Love and Faith can only come from God Himself. But he thought that Divine Grace, instead of acting as a substitute for human effort, is its incentive and its guide, and that it makes itself felt by actions wholly conformable with the fundamental needs of our nature and of our reason.
The originality of this demonstration lay in its starting, not from the examination of religious matters, or of the idea of God, but in its taking up the actual standpoint of the opposite side, the standpoint of nature, claimed by the free-thinkers as a substitute for God. Pascal contended that nature herself, and science, which is but the rational interpretation of nature, can only be conceived by a thoughtful and reasoning man, by presupposing the existence of God, the very God of the Christian Faith.
The Pensées of Pascal, which were published posthumously by his Port-Royal friends in 1670, at once attracted a wide-spread attention. They showed that it was possible to combine the humblest faith with a most vigorous scientific insight. And this striking example did not fail to influence that large number of minds who never dare to think in any particular way unless they are sure of being in excellent company. But the work of Pascal chiefly consisted in the exact and clear expression of a certain attitude of the human mind when confronted with the problem of the relations between religion and science. He does not regard religion as a domain apart, wholly unconnected with our natural life. Religion is the explanation and the principle of the true realisation of our very nature, the key and the goal of all the sciences. Thought, action, and feeling are really consistent and salutary only if they start from God, and end in Him. Religion is the light and the force of science and of life.
The several tendencies of which Descartes, Gassendi, and Pascal were the representatives were not merely notable phenomena, characteristic of the atmosphere and of the epoch in which these philosophers had their being. The very brilliancy with which these tendencies were expressed by such men as Descartes and Pascal led to their dissemination among all nations and throughout the ages and ensured to them a great historical importance. But this is not all. More profound than the phenomena, which are but the expression of the genius of a particular period or of a given phase of society, these tendencies seem to compribe in themselves the various ways in which the modern spirit, taken as
With Descartes philosophy properly so-called finds in human reason the common source of our knowledge of nature and of our beliefs concerning the supernatural. With Gassendi, or rather with the class of thinkers whom he came to represent, science tends to be self-sufficient, and to banish religion to the obscure retreat of individual feeling, till the time comes for altogether expelling it. With Pascal the supreme guidance of reason, science and nature is claimed by religion, on proving that it alone can solve the problems inherent in nature, science, and reason. Religion, science, reason-are not these the three teachers of humanity, the three powers which even to-day struggle for the control of the moral world? And even to-day are we not asking ourselves which of the three is to overcome and subjugate the others-or whether they may be brought together in a lasting and beneficent harmony?