« ForrigeFortsæt »
D'Alembert's description of the highest merit of philosophical style exactly applies to that of Descartes: 'Le premier devoir de la philosophie est d'instruire, et ce n'est qu'en instruisant qu'elle peut plaire; son éloquence est la précision.'
But we must hasten to give some brief account of the correlation and concatenation of the chief principles of Descartes' philosophical system. In constructing that system he resolved, as we have seen, to begin absolutely de novo; and not merely to doubt, but to consider pro tempore as false, every thing except that of which it was not possible that he should even doubt whether he ever could doubt—namely, his own consciousness. Hence his celebrated 'Cogito, ergò sum;' 'je pense, donc je suis;' not an enthymeme, as he truly replied to Gassendi, of which the suppressed premise was every thing that thinks, exists;' but merely a statement of the fact of the con
the Meditations,' together with the Objections' and 'Réponses' elicited by the latter, with an able introduction by M. J. Simon ; and as far as the metaphysical works of Descartes are concerned, he who possesses these may be said to possess all. Of him as well as of many of the voluminous philosophers of that age, it may be said that a large portion of their 'opera omnia' consists of little else than a repetition of the same thoughts. Thus, in Descartes' 'Letters' we perpetually find the same matter as in his 'Method' and the Meditations,' the latter being itself little more than an expansion of the former. The 'Method' was written originally in French, the Meditations' in Latin.
But for those who would wish to possess the entire writings of this celebrated philosopher, the admirable edition of M. Cousin, in eleven vols. 8vo., leaves nothing to be desired. There, all that Descartes wrote is presented in the vernacular; his Latin treatises are admirably translated; indeed the most important of these were executed under the eye and with the corrections of Descartes himself. This edition is a worthy monument of respect from one distinguished philosopher to the memory of another.
sciousness of his existence as involved in the consciousness of his thinking. Of this fact it is impossible to doubt, for even to doubt is to think; and to doubt that we think is still only to think that perhaps we do not think. Therefore it still remains true; 'Je pense, donc je suis;' or as Augustin puts it, not less epigrammatically than Descartes, in a passage often eited by his critics, 'Si enim fallor, sum; nam qui non est, utique nec falli potest; ac per hoc, sum, si fallor.'
And even if it be supposed (as Descartes says), that there is no such thing as an external world; no such things as our bodies and their organs; that when we flatter ourselves we are awake, we think so with as little reason as when, in sleep, we fancy that we are, and thus imagine the illusory, yet often as vivid, phenomena, to be really external to us; still these thoughts, these dreams are real at all events; and that is real which is conscious of them. Thus then the philosopher, after much toil and profound meditation, has arrived at the conclusion that he is, for he thinks. 'Cogito, ergò sum;' a doughty achievement and worthy of philosophy; though men, not metaphysicians, will suspect that they had already arrived at the same conclusion without any philosophy at all. It is Descartes' TO σT, the starting-point of all his philosophy.
But though this was solid ground, it was, it must be confessed, a narrow space of certainty on which to erect a philosophy. Of all else that he had believed, he deliberately resolved that he might not only doubt, but that all was to be held false till strictly proved; an excess of paradox with which Gassendi does not fail to twit him, since it was sufficient to regard previous opinions as uncertain till proved: to regard them as false rather than true was, instead of laying
aside all prejudices, to exchange an old prejudice for
a new one.
For our own parts we doubt whether it was possible for Descartes to reduce himself even to a state of genuine doubt as to his previous conceptions; or regard a material universe, external objects, all other beings like himself, his own body, and its organs, as possible illusions, and the God he had from childhood believed in, as possibly a malignant deceiver. However, Descartes thinks otherwise, and resolves pro tempore that he will doubt of all these; clandestinely retaining, it must be remembered, a provisional code of maxims, by which, during his sojourn in the 'interlunar' cave of his scepticism, he is resolved to act as all the rest of the world acted; a fact which may well lead one to suspect, with Gassendi, that the doubt was not so sincere as he supposed. He would have done well to include among his doubts, a doubt as to whether he thoroughly doubted. It may be said perhaps, that he resolved only to place himself in the exact situation of one who did thus doubt; but it is wonderful that a philosopher who so distinctly saw and so well expressed (in fact as vividly as Bacon) the inextricable nature of that web of mental convictions and impressions which our whole life-from periods long anterior to the dawn of reflection has been weaving for us, did not doubt whether a man could thus denude himself of his past beliefs, and coolly act as if he still doubted. That Descartes never doubted that he could, if he so pleased, be sure that he doubted of every thing except his own existence, and then construct his system in a condition of self-induced scepticism, was itself a proof of confidence and dogmatism far more striking than were the alleged doubts themselves of the reality of the voluntary scepticism.
The notion that he could at once thus strip himself of all prejudices, was itself a prejudice: of a philosopher it is true, but a prejudice for all that. Of all the deceptive 'illusions of the race,' the idola tribûs, not the least amusing is the illusion which each man is apt to feel, that he is free from them. When a man says that he will denude himself of all belief in what may be but the illusions of his past experience, until he has philosophically deduced that they are not illusions, it is much as if he were to say that he would strip himself of his skin for a quarter of an hour or so, just in order to examine what would be his sensations without that integument! The one feat would be just as practicable as the other.
However immovable the 'Cogito, ergò sum,' the point from which Descartes' philosophy commences, many affirm that it is also the point which terminates it; nothing, they say, as to the existence of anything but the thing that thinks, and therefore is,' being to be proved by Descartes' philosophy. He opines differently; and after laying down as a criterion of truth 'that the things which we conceive very clearly and distinctly are all true,' ,' he proceeds thus: I, who am conscious that I am an imperfect and finite being, find in myself a distinct and clear idea of a being absolutely perfect and infinite, and hence conclude' (in modes which we shall presently consider) the actual existence of such a being as necessarily involved in the idea of his existence.' Next,
As veracity is among the perfections of this perfect being, He could not have permitted us to be the victims of deception or exist amidst a system of illusions; hence, the information of our senses, and the convic
* La Méthode, Quatrième Partie.
tion of the presence of other beings besides ourselves, may be trusted; and thus we are at last at liberty to believe that there is an external world.-Now it has been well remarked by critics, both contemporaneous and subsequent, that there is here a vicious circle; for having first made man dependent on the veracity of his faculties for the idea of the divine existence, he now makes the divine perfections the proof of the veracity of our faculties. There is in this reasoning also, as M. Cousin has well remarked, both a 'paralogisme' and an anachronisme;' the conviction of an external world is at least as much entitled to be esteemed intuitive as the conviction of the divine existence; it is 'plus voisine du point de départ de la pensée; elle est et plus immédiate et plus profonde.' Nay, further, multitudes will think that the latter conviction is at all events connected with the prior, or at least simultaneous, conviction of an external world. They will say, with Gassendi, that there is some reason to doubt whether M. Descartes himself had so completely insulated himself, during his state of provisional scepticism, as to be competent to declare with absolute certainty that his idea of God was in no degree dependent, in its actual development at least, upon those previous life-long impressions he had had (however faint!), that there was somehow such a thing as an external world; an external world which, nevertheless, waits to exist for him, till he can say that the idea of God is wholly independent of it, and would not only have been, but would as clearly have been seen to be, without it. For if the external world be necessary only to the development of the idea of God, then its existence is already anticipated even in the very premises which are to prove it.
Descartes may answer that he is thus certain that