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North American Philosophical Publications

Life, Science, and Wisdom According to Descartes Author(s): Adriaan Peperzak Source: History of Philosophy Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 2, Studies on Descartes (Apr., 1995), pp. 133-153 Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of North American Philosophical Publications Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27744655 . Accessed: 23/02/2014 14:20
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History Volume

of Philosophy 12, Number

Quarterly 2, April 1995

LIFE, SCIENCE, AND WISDOM ACCORDING TO DESCARTES


Adriaan Peperzak

it is true that "the supreme good" of human life is wisdom, then all human endeavors are grounded in the search for wisdom, and all our IF scientific ventures are oriented by this search. The
reason

of Philosophy

sent to Elizabeth along with the Principles letter which Descartes defines wisdom as the "firm and powerful resolve to use
as well as one can and, in all actions, to do whatever one judges to

the will, the preface to the French Although this definition emphasizes edition of the Principles ofPhilosophy stresses knowledge when it defines wisdom as both "prudence in our affairs" and "a perfect knowledge of all is capable of knowing, both for the conduct of life" things that mankind (moral knowledge) "and for the preservation ofhealth" (medicine) "and the wisdom discovery of all manner of skills" (mechanics).2 Neither definition of follows the view of Plato and Aristotle that the highest form ofknowledge is contemplation as the absolute end ofhuman life,desirable par excellence. Instead, wisdom here is useful knowledge. We seek knowledge of the truth inasmuch as it enables us to lead our lives in a satisfactory and happy manner. This does not involve merely virtuous behaviour, but also the health of the body and the exercise of a
certain mastery or control over the world.

the other three cardinal grounds and encompasses virtues, justice, courage and temperance (successors to the Platonic dikaio syn?, andreia and sophrosyn?), and through these, "all the other virtues."

be best."1 Wisdom

the search forwisdom, philosophy is the most useful thing there is for the accomplishment of a successful life; it is therefore also "the greatest good that a state can enjoy." As "more necessary for the regulation of our morals and our conduct in this life than is the use of our eyes to guide our steps," "it is this philosophy alone which distinguishes us from the most As
savage and barbarous

ment
there."3

depends

on the superiority

peoples,

and

[...]

a nation's

civilization

and

refine

of the philosophy which

is practiced

In point of fact, it is possible to "live," and even to live in a more or less human way (which implies a certain morality) "without philosophizing," but it "is exactly like having one's eyes closed without ever trying to open 133

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them." One who proceeds blindly, without knowing the whys or hows of life and the world, is a savage or a barbarian, and thus the opposite of one who, by virtue of true knowledge, discovers how he can "proceed with confidence in this life."4 revives the ancient idea that This article will consider how Descartes philosophy and the study ofwisdom as the search for the highest good are identical. His view of philosophy as the supreme element in a culture, and as a most certain guide on the path leading to the happy life, invites a comparison between his way of "proceeding" and the itineraries which other men and women have employed to find wisdom, goodness and hap piness. So many locutions in the Cartesian texts echo a long Grseco-Chris tian tradition which presents the truly human or "spiritual" life as a
journey, passages a voyage evoke or an the stages ascension. along In a way the manner or the steps of that on a tradition, ladder, and these they

underscore the necessity of an initial conversion, without which we could not find the right path, nor discover the conditions of further progress. It seems worthwhile, therefore, to ask whether Descartes' philosophy can be understood as a modern version ofGraeco-Christian I Let us begin by paying attention to the beginning of the Cartesian to risk a journey.lt seems clear that the force which impels Descartes radical questioning of his convictions is the urgent need for certainty. His desire forwisdom is grounded in his desire to "proceed with confidence in this life," and the wisdom which he desires is characterized by a fundamen spirituality

tal and absolute solidity so certain that it can never again be doubted. "My whole aim was to reach certainty? to cast aside the loose earth and sand so as to come upon rock or clay."5 The starting point of the path to be followed, the direction, the character of the distance to cross and the way of proceeding

from stage to stage must be known in advance, at least in its general patterns and its essential characteristics. Ifwe do not know which direction is the right one, for example, the journey will take us further and further away from our goal instead of taking us closer to it. For, "so long

as we turn our back on the place we wish to get to, then the longer and we faster we walk the further we get from our destination, so that even if are subsequently set on the right road we cannot reach our goal as quickly as we would have done had we never walked in the wrong direction."6 It is not always good to "keep walking as straight as [one] can in one direction"

because it is not always true that they who never change direction "will at When it is least end up in a place where they are likely to be better off."7 a question of gaining true and certain knowledge, we can never be satisfied by these sorts of considerations, where probability and chance play a
determining role.

An example

of the disaster

to which perseverance

in a wrong direction

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135

can lead is seen in the history of philosophy, which is simply a long repetition of false certainties, which are unjustified and masked by the appearance of a series of probabilities.8 As long as the question of certainty was the only issue which interested Descartes in his rapid glance at the two thousand years separating him from Plato and Aristotle, he could see nothing in that history to augment the knowledge of a well-educated person of his epoch. In fact, forhim, those who have followed the path ofPlato and Aristotle or their epigones are the furthest from true knowledge, whereas "among those who have studied whatever has been called philosophy up till now, those who have learned the least" are exempt from the mistakes of the so-called philosophers and are thus "the most capable of learning
true philosophy."9

is thus the first true philosopher, because he knows where certainty is to be found. Before this true beginning of philosophy, before the discovery of a solid ground and an absolutely certain principle, there was only a false science of the certain and the doubtful. However, the distance between the history of pseudo-philosophy and true philosophy? which is scientific philosophy? demanded and continues to demand a Descartes of each person who wants to be initiated. We must a life-style which contents itselfwith probabilities from separate and plausibilities, in order to enter into the kingdom ofthat which is solidly established and certain. But how? radical conversion ourselves The old way of living, which we must renounce,
Descartes calls "commonplace and imperfect

is characterized

by what "in
wis

vulgaire et imparfaite), or an everyday "wisdom" generally


four degrees."10 These "degrees" are elements or "means"

knowledge"

(connaissance

possessed
of this one

dom, rather than different degrees or levels of which each has its own wisdom. Together, they constitute a sort of knowledge which Plato would have characterized by the word doxa. "All the knowledge that we now that is, all knowledge which has not undergone the conversion possess"? to which Descartes wants to lead his reader ? is composed of
1) some without 2) 3) 4) "notions which are so clear in themselves that they can be acquired meditation;" we can are learn acquainted with through other sensory people;" have been written by people experience;"

"everything "what we "what who

by conversing

with

is learned are capable

books [...] which by reading us well." of instructing

Apart from self-evident notions, which Descartes accepts as standing on their own, and sensible experience, which he does not entirely repudiate but which he feels demands critical examination, pre-philosophical knowledge is composed ofthat which is said and written in the society in which we live. That is to say, it consists of the common opinions of the culture in and by which we are educated. It is difficult to know which books must be read and who

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might be "capable of giving good instructions" through their books ifwe can only employ the first two "means." If, on the other hand, we rely on oral and written "conversation" itself to discover which authors might be
worthy of confidence, we enter into an hermeneutic circle. This, however,

Descartes must exclude, since it consists in criticizing doubtful opinions by means of other opinions which are themselves uncertain. The true philoso pher raises himself above the level of the doxa of cultivated people and
looks for wisdom

because he can neither start to think from nothing, nor begin from the three last moments of pseudo-knowledge, his only support will be the element of "notions which are so clear in themselves that they can be acquired without meditation." This does not imply,however, that he can neglect meditation. On the contrary, he must freely direct his attention to these notions, and assume the responsibility ofmaking a selection of particular phenomena which are solid and revealing enough for the discovery of truth. The beginning
which comes to us

"incomparably

more

elevated

and

more

sure."

However,

or the principle
as chance

of discovery
fortune."11

of truth is not something


It is not an event, drama,

meeting or divine grace which wakes us up from dozing or slumber, but rather a decision of our will; not a call which comes to us from outside, but a reversal of consciousness which comes from this consciousness, this thought or this will itself. Thus I reformmyself by an autonomous decision which changes the grounds ofmy thought. But how can I change myself if I am a prisoner of the doxa of my culture? It ismy longing for certainty which pushes me to do so. If I let this desire develop to the point where it becomes imperious, ifI allow it such a tyranny that nothing else matters either inmy life or in the history of cultures, I can only want and decide that the supreme good which I need must be indubitable. And that ismy resolution! If I find it impossible to doubt, I will be saved: the foundations ofmy life will be secure once I have escaped the domain where nothing is perfectly secure. A hatred of the uncertain, and the anguish of being lost in the to find a solid quicksands of insecurity seems to have motivated Descartes
"rock or

or "good

himself straight up into the sunlight, in the full confidence of bearing his own needed fruits. Instead ofmere hope, which prolongs gratitude and chose to save his life through wonderment at one's own existence, Descartes the autonomy of some initial decisions and a legislation which set his thoughts and actions in order. Everything which allows even the least opportunity for doubt must be abolished in the name of the desire for certainty. Everything written or spoken must be ignored, all advisors and all traditions must be put into a methodical Doubt must be radicalized, skepticism em parentheses. which is life the with all human confronted, especially braced, uncertainty at the end of a culture or tradition, must be exaggerated.

clay"

in which

man

can

root

himself.

From

here,

he

can

raise

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137

and even exclude all that does not stand out with obvious marginalize clarity. However, because the flow of life cannot be suspended until nihilism is conquered, life itselfmust be protected from the general doubt which I decreed as the only means of approaching certain truth? if it is at all possible to attain it.Within pure philosophy, however, I must restrict the terrain of all that is said and written, in order to isolate a domain, a little chunk or even just a point of certainty which will allow me to establish

Will we then sink into complete nihilism? As long as we do not find a solid principle, there will be no response to this question. We must simply tolerate the consequences which spring from the initial decision and wager that something solid and sure will emerge from the ocean of doubt inwhich we are in danger of drowning. Given that in order to find "the rock" Imust ignore or repress everything doubtful, the initial decision obliges me to

myself for good.

The project which results from the initial decision not to trust anything but the unshakable, two truths which it takes for given, two presupposes the is truth of which neither proven nor evident nor in itself prejudices nor made explicit. is which neither and thematized convincing, The first prejudice says that it is possible to separate the philosophical for true principles from practical life. In its third section, the Discourse onMethod goes as far as dividing the existence of the philosopher into two dwelling places: one is the house which is destroyed by the initial decision to no longer believe in anything, in the hope, however, that this house will be replaced by another more well-founded and more solidly constructed edifice. Next to this theoretical site the philosopher has an other domicile, a house where he can "live comfortably" while theoretical search

the building is in progress. What is surprising is that this second abode? abode without a solid foundation? gives the philosopher the opportunity to "live as happily as he could" and that he can do this, on condition that
formulates some rules of conduct, and that his actions conform to them.12

he

If it is true that he can live there, and that he can even live there more or less happily, several questions arise. For example: if it is possible to live happily without having acquired certain knowledge, which is sought on the site, what then is the importance of certain and perfect philosophical Is it not true that we need wisdom? What does it add to happiness? our lives? Is philosophizing not then an philosophy to know how to conduct integral part of the life and happiness of the philosopher? The dualism of the two dwelling places suggests that philosophy does not occupy the abode of life,but that itbelongs rather to the dimension of death. On the other hand, we know that it is precisely the quicksand of uncer tainty which Descartes hates and rejects as the sepulcher of all truths. The conversion towards which Descartes invites all those who are afraid other by people's opinions, by prejudices of culture, by and the probabilities merely "moral certainties" of common sense, does not of being deceived

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involve the whole person, but only theoretical activity. The practice of life, from which philosophical reflection, in his opinion, can isolate itself, con tinues to let itself be guided by doxa, laws, morals, and the pseudo-wisdom of everyday traditions, or in other words by a culture which is formed according to historical contingency. to abandon leads to a decision all pseudo-certainties creates a gulf between theoretical work against all likelihood? and practical life.The necessity of carefully preparing a rationally founded method demands that we know which path we must follow in the absence of true knowledge. To "walk" on this road "with assurance," we must, however, content ourselves with the semblance of certainty which we find The decision which? in common sense and the merely probable opinions of the culture inwhich we share. This iswhy, as long as the philosopher has not attained the final goal of his project, as long as he cannot gather the fruits from the extremi ties of the branches of the tree of Science, he needs a "provisional moral code."13 This morale par provision is a moral code which, like "a judgement which precedes the definitive sentence,"14 contains a sketch of a definitive

morality, which itself can only be defined after more complete consideration.

avoiding all excess, he follows the moral code of those he considers "the most sensible men" (those therefore who reflect his own tastes and to the expectations ofhis compatriots, but is yet so He conforms thoughts). concerned forhis independence that he avoids, as much as possible, tying to promises, vows and contracts. The first maxim of provisional and scientifically unfounded morality dictates that the philosopher rely on a series of presuppositions. We can classify these as a) the laws and customs of France, b) the Catholic religion, c) the opinions commonly held by the most moderate and "most sensible people," insofar as these opinions are put into practice and not merely spoken and believed, d) the choice of a himself freedom which is as uncommitted as possible.15

The happy life of the philosopher, who is converted to pure theory in its initial form ofmethodical skepticism, fits the portrait of the honest man of seventeenth century France. Good citizen, good Christian, moderate and

We might ask how the rule, upon which this model is built, is founded. A clear response is given throughout the text of the Discourse onMethod which abounds in turns of phrases such as these: "I thought itwould be most useful" and "[the most moderate opinions] are [...] probably the best." come "accepted Next to what seems to be true to a man like Descartes, opinions," which form the basis for the leading of his life. This is thus the complete opposite ofwhat he stipulated as an absolute condition of perfect

wisdom, which is the absolute condition for conduct in a philosophically founded life.True, it is not out of the question that the rules, virtues and mores of provisional morality will be seen one day to be identical to the scientific morality which is envisaged as a fruit of the tree of science. Science is not simply pure theory; there is alsj a science of good and evil. But:

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could not know if these two moralities are identical and we 1) Descartes will never know, because the projected tree never developed sufficiently. Descartes himself developed mechanics, medicine and scientific morality only in a very fragmentary way, and he admitted in 1647 that he was

science on which "the "ignorant of almost all" the parts of universal principal benefit of philosophy" depends.16 The post-Cartesian history of is the history of the surgical interventions the tree of sciences, meanwhile, which its roots and trunk underwent continuously until recently,when itdied. 2) Even if scientifically founded and executed morality did have the same content as provisional morality, there would be a radical difference between of them. Definitive morality would be deduced from the principles Cartesian metaphysics and physics, and thus both its structure and the

progression of its rules and virtues17 would be understood, while doxastic morality would be built on the authority of a particular culture. But
furthermore, according to Descartes this latter morality cannot be a mo

the rality of the truly happy and good life, since it has not accomplished principal task of finding the certainty in all things which is inseparable from true wisdom. Morality by provision is the morality of the person still embroiled in anguish. In the face of the dilemma presented by practical living, one makes a virtue of necessity by choosing to conform to the rules of the particular culture inwhich, by chance, one was educated.

occurs between the theoretical disciplines, including metaphysics, physics, and philosophy of mind, on one hand, and practical philosophy on the other. Perhaps Kant and Fichte alone realized that ifa true beginning or principle in philosophy is possible, itwill necessarily be both theoretical and practi cal. The postponement of ethics until the building site of theoretical phi medicine, losophy is transformed into a solid edifice with specific duties for

There is a schism between a theory which pretends to be able to retreat to an absolutely certain position removed from practical life, and a life of action which renounces the exigencies of severely critical reason. This seems to be symbolic of the divorce which in most modern philosophers

mechanics and morality, is co-responsible for practical nihilism. The idea that we will soon complete the construction of a scientific totality has created the illusion that we can cross the desert of a non-justified morality

or if itwill be a radical recasting of it. What should be certain, however, is that it will be grafted onto the scientific corpus, which will soon be applied to all the questions of human life in order to sets himself? wisdom show their utility. In fact, the goal which Descartes which will enable us to enjoy the supreme good? remains an ideal from of the initial morality which reflection has grown more and more distant philosophical the endlessly digs up ground to install or change the foundations.18 as

carrying with us only the long wait for an indubitable Law, which has not only been proclaimed but also justified by Reason itself. At the beginning of the journey, we cannot know if this Law will prove to be a legitimization

it

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less constantly, once they have been determined, than if they were very well secured. Since very often practical life does not admit of sufficient time for us to attain certainty in action, our only solution is to take doubtful opinion as certain truth. It goes without saying that this "tenir pour" (take a decision of the will, cannot be justified by any as) which presupposes rational deduction. The logic of Cartesian theory formally condemns mak ing merely probable opinion identical with true and certain theses. Was

This brings us to the second maxim of the provisional moral code.19 The voluntarist character of the provisional morality is here even more clearly evident than in the first maxim, which involved the decision to "obey the laws and customs ofmy country." For the philosopher embarked on his journey, Descartes stipulates a guiding rule: that he be as firm and resolute as possible in his actions, and that he follow the most doubtful opinions no

this not also the great reproach levelled against the Platonic and Aristote lian tradition? In relation to the active life, however, Descartes adopts a which he of his rule drawn from the methodical time, probabilist morality no doubt learned from the Jesuits of La Fl?che. In practice, one has to act as though a merely probable? and thus doubtful? opinion were a well a founded and certain rule, that is, normative truth rationally deduced

mere chance made them choose never changing it for slight reasons even if it in the first place; for in this way, even if they do not go exactly where they wish, they will at least end up in a place where they are likely to be better off than in the middle of a forest." In this way, scientific theory

fromwell-established scientific principles. Obviously it is not this. Instead of a rational argument, and without giving an analysis either of the concept or of degrees of probability, Descartes uses a rhetorical strategy. He leads the reader to believe that the fundamental ethical questions are clarified by the image of "travellers who upon finding themselves lost in a forest, should not wander about turning this way and that, and still less stay in one place, but should keep walking as straight as they can in one direction,

preserves its domain over all that is not certain: but the price of this is that the domain of practical life is dominated by and abandoned to the wars of probability. In order to rid theoretical philosophy of doubt, Doubt had to be crowned king over ethical territory. Even in provisional morality, however, not everything is doubtful, be cause there is at least a "most certain truth" which has a methodic character: "When it is not in our power to discern the truest opinions" and in situations where our actions do not permit any delay, "we must follow themost probable [opinions]. Even when no opinions appear more probable than others, we must still adopt some." This truth is grounded in another certain truthwhich says that one must act in the best manner, or according

actions

to the best norm. In the absence of indubitable rules which indicate which are good, it is certain that one must choose that uncertain rule

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which is closest to certainty, that is, the most probable rule. Descartes did not enter into themoralist debates ofhis time, concerning whether we must always follow themost probable opinion (sententia probabilior), orwhether we can legitimately follow a merely probable opinion (sententia probabilis)

moderate

did not drift very far from the accepted doctrines of his civilized and contemporaries. When he delimits the domain ofmorality as the choices between probable opinions, he continues a field of reasonable tradition which reserves the strictly scientific method for questions of theoretical philosophy, while abandoning most ethical questions to pruden is the voluntarism of decisions is typically Cartesian tial wisdom. What to and resolutions which have compensate for the lack of evidence and
conclusive arguments.

even ifa more probable opinion exists. He seems to lean towards the second position, but generally makes very little effort to prove the presuppositions of the second moral maxim, which he chose at the beginning of his philo of sophical explorations. A comparison of his position with the manuals 16th century scholastic morality would no doubt show that even here, he

In fact, the goal of all maxims of provisional morality is to not "remain indecisive in my actions while reason obliges me to be so in my judge ments"20 and this resolution reappears in texts where Descartes discusses the foundations ofmorality. Thus, in his letter to Elizabeth, dated August 4, 1645, he defines the virtue which encompasses all particular virtues as
the "firm and constant resolution to carry out whatever reason recommends,"

a resolution made

"without being diverted by passion or appetite."21

the maxims of In the preface to the Principles, Descartes generalizes were as of rules which personal conduct in presented provisional morality the Discourse on Method. He writes that "a man who still possesses only the ordinary and imperfect knowledge" of pre-scientific wisdom "should try before anything else to devise for himself a code ofmorals which is suffi cient to regulate the actions ofhis life. For this is something which permits no delay, since we should endeavor above all else to live well."22 The second maxim is there formulated thus: "so long as we possess only the kind of knowledge by the first four degrees of wisdom [that is, we should not doubt what seems true with pre-scientific knowledge], regard to the conduct of life,while at the same time we should not consider them to be so certain that we are incapable of changing our views when we that is acquired are obliged to do so by some evident reason."23

In a letter written on November 20 of the same year (1647), Descartes repeats this doctrine, insisting again upon the role of the will: resolution should compensate for the imperfections of knowledge. Speaking of the goods of the soul, which are the real moral goods, he says that they "can all be reduced to two heads, the one being to know, and the other to will, is often beyond our powers, and so there what is good. But knowledge

remains only our will ofwhich we can dispose outright. I do not see that it

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is possible to dispose it better than by a firm and constant resolution to carry out to the letter whatever one judges best [even if our judgement cannot surpass the level of probability] and to employ all the powers of one's mind
constitutes

philosophy].

in order to acquire adequate knowledge This by itself constitutes all the virtues;
supreme good."24

[i.e. in practicing [..] it is this which

the

Does the methodological rule which is thus formulated characterize only on the non-scientific and provisional moral code" which the Discourse a Method and the preface to the Principles of? Or is it also speak part of as a branch of the philosophical tree? should scientific morality which? be deduced from metaphysics and physics? Perhaps Descartes, in the course of several years of reflection, realized that the domain of moral of uncertainties, and that questions will never be free of a multitude

concrete action must be satisfied with knowledge that is only more or less probable. Risk is essential to all human action; it cannot be abolished by any science or philosophy. We could ask whether this discovery should not to radically recast his starting points. The concept of constrain Descartes wisdom, for example, and the relation which the concept implies between science and life or between logic and philosophically founded morality, But

seems to demand another analysis than that fromwhich Descartes begins. let's leave that for now, in order to ask whether the late work of Descartes contains a definitive morality or the fundamental outline of such
a morality.

that such a reply has to be negative, ifwe agree with Descartes as "a the highest and most perfect moral code presupposes morality, complete knowledge of the other sciences" fromwhich it should be deduced. This "ultimate degree of wisdom"25 is not developed, although we could The consider the Passions of theSoul as an integral part of such a moral science, and though from letters we can glean some phrases which seem to contain the raw material for such a science. Thus we can cite the letter ofAugust

inwhich Descartes describes the uncertainty which 1641 toHyperaspistes, we see on the level of action as something not only inevitable, but also as a reality which we can prove is insurmountable. In response to a first writes: "It would Descartes from his interlocutor, objection pseudonymous as in to matters of conduct as is much desirable have indeed be certainty needed for the acquisition of scientific knowledge; but it is easily proved Then he that in such matters so much is not to be sought nor hoped for."26 one a priori, or from the gives the sketch of a double demonstration, principles of philosophy, the other a posteriori, or "by the consequences."

Given

the perspective of the scientific project, symbolized by the tree of the sciences,27 we are interested especially in the first proof, which promises us a true deduction.28 The phrase in which this proof is sketched gives us only the starting point: "This can be shown a priori, to wit, from the fact that the human composite is naturally corruptible, while the mind is

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LIFE, SCIENCE, AND WISDOM


incorruptible and immortal." The reader can try to reconstruct the

143
argu

ment which

in this rather enigmatic clue. Descartes does not indicate how the notion of uncertainty is related to the notions of compo sition and corruptibility.29 Nor is he able to give us an explicit theory of moral phenomena and the ethical ormeta-ethical rules by which they are ruled. He himself recognizes that he knows almost nothing of the three sciences which the branches of the philosophical tree represent;30 and both the preface to and the last articles of the Principles ofPhilosophy state very

is unspoken

clearly that the program of Cartesian theory has not yet reached the point where it is possible to scientifically treat questions ofmedicine and moral ity.Even physics has not yet been completed. The only part which has been completed concerns dead material things, not including minerals. But how can we write a moral treatise ifwe have not even given a philosophy (a physics) of animals and of the human composite? "But in order to bring the plan to its conclusion I should need to explain in the same manner the nature of all the particular bodies which exist on
the earth,

And then to conclude, I should have to give an exact account ofmedicine, morals and mechanics. This is what I should have to do in order to give to mankind a body of philosophy that is quite complete." We still need a lot of time, money and work to accomplish this, however.31 sentence of the text quoted, By the word "exact" in the penultimate seems to point to the difference between non-scientific consid Descartes erations ofmorality, such as we find in the account of provisional morality and in some epistolary arguments32 and "the most perfect morality" which exact and evident science. The Passions of the should be a well-grounded, Soul

namely

minerals,

plants,

animals

and,

most

importantly,

man.

is his last effort to ground scientifically the most urgent thing in life, but it is only a fragment ofwhat itwould be necessary to know in order to achieve the wisdom which was the goal of the Cartesian undertaking.33

The third maxim shows that Descartes drew on the neostoic morality of his time, which seemed reasonable to him, since it teaches that we must not want or desire the impossible.34 He admits that it is not always easy to put the will in accord with reason, but he recommends a spiritual method in the Ignatian also inherited from the tradition: oft-repeated meditation style, but more or less secularized.

stipulate the authority inmoral questions. This last maxim is not a sort of specifically states, it appendix for entirely private use. For, as Descartes formulates the pattern fromwhich the first three borrow their indispensa ble foundation. None of the maxims would have any value if the path of the philosopher did not promise personal knowledge, which would set the

The fourth maxim, which he gives as a private rule, formulates a condition of true philosophy.35 Only those who choose to spend their lives cultivating their reason and progressing as much as they can in the knowledge of the truth can rely on the customs and opinions ofwhich the first three maxims

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HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY QUARTERLY

autonomy of a self-justifying science in the place of the authorities on which he had depended. In regard to the first and second maxims, Descartes says that he would never have been able to rely on other people's opinions had he not been convinced that he could get to better and more certain judge ments, maxim
on us,

"in case there were any" by the use of his own reason. The third the progress of autonomous knowledge, notably also presupposes in the knowledge of all the true goods, both those which are not dependent
and those which ? like virtue ? are in our power.36

science, provisional morality is According to the criteria of Cartesian based on the sands of a "moving earth," without being grounded on "rock or clay."37 Inasmuch as we must live and act, we must be happy with a base and a path which lack certainty. Because the urgency of an exact and clear science involves delaying a scientific and certain ethics, the philosopher, who is also an honest man, lets himself be guided by impure reason hidden

in the mores and opinions of his epoch. Pirre and unmixed reason is found only in the domain of theory, which is separated from the concerns of practical conduct. The project of a secure ethics demands long concentra tion on questions of pure theory, even if it means only taking up the problems of practical life once science has reached completion.

The conversion to pure theory in the name of the project of a certain science ofmorality, stands in singular contrast to the itineraries drawn up this latter em tradition of spiritual guidance. Whereas by the European and of for the the desire God of combination the phasizes deepening on this meditations the Cartesian and charitable practices charity, philoso pher leaves practice to the codes and mores of a more or less civilized society and to the good sense of men without excess. He concentrates on pure theory, well protected against the intrusions of practical and social con cerns. Instead of an asceticism modeled after the sufferings of a persecuted just man who sacrifices himself for others, Descartes advocates the asceti

the world, cism of a utilitarianism motivated by the desire to master conserve health and regulate the conduct of individual and social life in a useful and happy way38 The desert of nihilism and the nights of anguish that all spiritual travellers have to cross, are replaced by the methodically regulated experience of a purely theoretical reversal. Through this one can, "semel in vita," put an end to all radical doubt, in order to establish oneself
on the unshakable rock of an absolute principle, which is one's own con

science. In fact, the end of insecurity only comes with the discovery that everything that appears clear and distinct tome is guaranteed by the truth of an infinite God. Once we are certain of this, we can concentrate on the path we must follow in order to accomplish the proposed programme by means of themethod which is arranged and fixed in advance. All the battles and all the experiences that professionals of spirituality since Plato and Origen have described or stylized, all the meetings, transformations, ad ventures, sufferings and passions along the path towards wisdom are

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145

annulled in one shot by the simple decision to trust only the game of clear and distinct evidence put into order by an understanding which does not
accept conjectures or suppositions.

Ill
After having supposed that the philosopher can live in two separate clears the way for theoretical opinions. places at the same time, Descartes not I want to Because do be deceived, or to deceive myself, Imust eliminate can be put into doubt, in order to conserve only that which everything that

a fundamental site. Before metaphysics, which Descartes takes to be the most radical part of science, there is thus logic or a doctrine of "the method of rightly conducting one's reason and seeking the truth in the sciences." Ifwe have learned something from post-Hegelian philosophy, and espe cially fromNietzsche and Heidegger, it is that no logic is innocent, because it is always also an ontology (disguised or not), full of presuppositions about the essence of being which cannot be justified by this same logic. In his reconsideration ofCartesian logic,Heidegger tried to sketch the ontological it that which entails, is, a specific way of dealing with the world position But and oneself and a particular mode of existing in philosophizing.

will to affirm and deny. To be completely rational, this narrowing, under taken with a view to the decisive discovery of a place or a point where we can finally lay the foundations of a sure and lasting construction, should also be regulated. This is why a method and a logic precede the search for

is so certain that even the most trustful will cannot doubt it. This involves until we hit upon something which narrowing the field of appearances cannot be denied, a thing which can thus resist the infinite capacity of the

Heidegger himself follows the Cartesian and modern tradition of philoso consideration phy insofar as he, too, indefinitely postpones philosophical of the ethical problematic. Still, it should be clear that all ontology is necessarily a fundamental ethics, inasmuch as a position of thought with regard to the mode of being of beings (which is always also a taking up and acceptance of a position) is also inevitably the taking of an attitude and action on the basis of affectivity and passion. Any onto-logical constellation of a theoretical ensemble shows the profound inspiration of a human totality, and the particular language in which it expresses itself. All phi losophy, and especially the operative logic in philosophy (which can, more over, be considerably different from the logic which is explicitly formulated) is animated by a breath emanating from a source which precedes the schism between theory and affectivity. The true roots of science are also the roots of true morality.

IV of modern philosophy would have to analyze the fundamental of Descartes' logic, which are as much theoretical as presuppositions A diagnosis

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HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY QUARTERLY

affective and practical. In particular, it would be interesting to take up corpus in a perspective more interpretation of the Cartesian Heidegger's open to the original unity of ontology and fundamental ethics. Here, merely a few indications of the hidden morality which seems to have motivated the Cartesian undertaking can be given. It is possible to put an end to fundamental anguish by a decision not to tolerate the insecurity of our immersion in the social and cultural life of a particular epoch such as we find itwithout having chosen, wanted, justi
fied, or understood it. To attain

cover in the commitments and emotions resulting from this immersion. Then we must count on an entirely private and pure knowledge, as the only
way the of saving dark."39 ourselves from the situation of "a man who walks alone in

security,

we

can,

as much

as

possible,

take

of theory and practice which this choice involves, of doubt prevented Descartes from devoting his whole scientific endeavor to the sole aim of enabling man to possess the earth like a master. Mastery and possession constitute the sense of utility, which is desired as the most precious fruit of supreme wisdom. The supreme good is thought through the schema of that which is favourable towelfare. The goal ofwelfare is the universal success of a possession which begins with consciousness possessing itself, and having itself as a mirror, Neither the dualism nor the radicalization man and world. in order later to spread out over the whole finite universe of The possession ofmyself by myself extends to the mastery of a legislator who governs himself in giving himself rules which assure the organization of his thoughts and actions. His will is a will to independence. If this a can of the wish the Cartesian be called power, profound autonomy philosopher would postulate an ethics of a will to power. V One of the objections which could be made to the rapid and bold sketch presented in this article would be that God plays too large a role in for us to accept the proposed schema. Descartes Descartes' metaphysics the contrast between human finitude, and the infinitude of emphasizes him whom we need at each moment of our existence in order forus to exist and to be certain ofthat which seems true to us. In fact, the "thinking me" which is the site upon which the edifice of knowledge must be constructed, incorporates not only a secure intuition about its own essence and existence, but also the indubitable certainty that God exists as the infinite which guarantees the truth of our clear, distinct identifies this infinite and evident ideas. In the thirdMeditation, Descartes a little too quickly with "a substance that is infinite, independent, su premely intelligent, supremely powerful," and with the creator, the author and the cause of "both myself and anything else that exists." The presence is marked by an idea or representation of the Infinite in consciousness

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LIFE, SCIENCE, AND WISDOM


which has

147

so much objective reality that it could only have been placed there by the Infinite itself. In putting this idea inme, God has imprinted his mark on his work.40

These quotations abound in expressions which Descartes inherited from the philosophy which developed within the Christian framework. He cites them without feeling the need to justify them by proofs (which could simply indicate that his interest was not sufficiently great tomotivate his partici pation in the battles of natural theology? but let us not press this point). retains from the traditional doctrine, however, is not so What Descartes a much clarification of the original and pre-conscious relation which links man to God, but the certainty that we can progress from this foundation and come to trust in the phenomena and ideas which evidently appear to us. Once in a lifetime, one must be certain that an infinite God is the guarantor of our clear and distinct thoughts. Then, once this universal "insurance company" is established, we can forget the difficult task of formulating the proofs which we needed to prove and secure his existence: it is sufficient to remember the conclusion we attained and the accompa can be leftbehind, and the seeker nying certainty. The path of metaphysics can now dedicate himself entirely to the more concrete and useful sciences: physics and its application tomechanics, medicine and scientific morality.41 The human task on earth, the conduct of life and everything that is necessary to it, can all be accomplished without having to turn continu ously to God as the saviour from finitude's deceptions and blindnesses. is on its own, and the world is secularized. From now on, humankind And yet, the two last paragraphs of the thirdMeditation do not at all fit with the kind of deism just presented. Of course Descartes himself presents them as a kind of "pause" or "entr'acte," that is, as a text which is found outside the framework or on the edge of the philosophical discourse which he is holding. He also says, however, that the contemplation ofGod, about which the text speaks, gives us "the greatest joy ofwhich we are capable in this life." In the middle of the sixMetaphysical Meditations, then, we find a very short "meditation" which has a different status. If it indeed can
be called a "meditation," then we are using an homonymous term, since

"the contemplation of this all-perfect God" ofwhich we are speaking here, does not obey either the structures of the representation of an idea, or the methodical rules of theoretical research. Descartes is not studying the idea of God here, but he "pauses" and "spends some time" reflecting on the wonder of his attributes. He discloses to us in the firstperson that he "gazes" "with wonder and adoration" at "the beauty of this immense light, at least so far as the eye ofmy mind, which is somehow blinded by it, can bear it."42 We must "weigh up" and "scrutinize" all the words which Descartes uses here, so that we can draw from the text its very concentrated wealth. By showing another possibility of coming to terms with that which is most

perfect, these passages stand out against the way of thinking of scientific discourse. For the sake of brevity, only a few remarks will be made.

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148
1) Descartes

HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY QUARTERLY


states

this same contemplation, albeit incomparably less perfect, grants us the greatest joy ofwhich we are capable in this life."This statement formulates the highest thesis of ethics, to which all other theses must point as their
source and apex.

that we should "believe through faith that the su of the other life consists solely in the contemplation of preme happiness the divine majesty," and that "experience tells us in this very moment that

was encompassed by another intentionality: that of prayer and admiration, is not an of gratitude, hope and adoration. The God of contemplation "insurer" of propositional truth, but a marvel, a dazzling light which we
can neither see, nor know, nor understand. But this does not in any way

methodical 2) The style of this contemplation is not at all similar to that of as it. Descartes conceives The cited such passage thought philosophical continues the Augustinian tradition, according towhich the realm of ideas

prayer, in the Proslogion ofAnselm we see that it begins to detach itself, and to adopt a more studious style, while still alternating with prayers within a religious context. Even though the separation of prayer and thought had been effected long before Descartes, we still find inhis writings

prevent us from recognizing it as God, through the contemplation which grows out of adoration. Although in the Confessions of Saint Augustine the conceptual search for truth was still integrated into the body of a long

the remainder of the double intentionality ofAugustine and Anselm. It can remind us that the ultimate "usefulness" of demonstrative discourse is simply the capacity to direct human conduct towards a sort of happiness which goes beyond the capacities of an ego trapped in the consciousness of a finite world and a finite consciousness. to its centre, 3) We must return from the end of the thirdMeditation where we recognized that the idea of the infinite cannot be a product? dream, projection or idol? of our thought. If it is true that the idea ofGod does not give us an object of study, but that it dazzles us by its incompre

hensibility,43 then it follows that the Cogito itself is always obscured. The great clarity of the infinite is not captured by an idea which is found next to other ideas in the consciousness, sharing with them a more or less a totality according to an order of cannot in status. It ranked similar be The wonder of this so-called idea goes limits and different levels, degrees. that it our to understand, and thus shows consciousness capacity beyond a is which cannot possess itself, since itfinds itself inhabited by "thought" too big, too strange and too enigmatic to be an idea. In this, the enigma bears a singular resemblance to the Platonic idea of the Good, which is not an idea either. Being neither the sun nor the light, but rather something source from which all light and like the non-visible and untouchable

affectivity come, it is responsible for the fact that we can experience wonders of the universe, and recognize them forwhat they are. In the light of this transcendence, consciousness

all the

cannot remain a gaze

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LIFE, SCIENCE, AND WISDOM


which thematizes

149

anguish by recognition, itbecomes respondent and responsible will to originality. We know Cartesian

the infinite, as if the infinite were a simple object before consciousness. Itmust rather change itself in bending or tilting its thought before that which is absolutely other than all direct and objectifying thought. Surprised by the Other, consciousness does not simply abandon its desire to master and possess the world, but, being delivered from rather than

Levinas how Emmanuel concretized his reading of the idea of the infinite in showing how the Other approaches us, starting from the trace that the infinite left in the course of its passage. While refusing the idea of an "arri?re-monde," a Hinterwelt or other-world where things happen which are sublime, but nonetheless analogous to our

history, Levinas defied the prohibitions of all postmodern philosophies of finitude. He resumed ties with the quadruple Jewish, Greek, Christian and modern traditions, which put the infinite at the beginning and at the end but he was able to avoid reducing it to a of all human achievements, supreme being, an encompassing totality, or a kind of divinity. In order to contemplate God, a few contemplative sessions or pious manner are to not enough; the only serious actions recognize the "obscure clarity" of the presence of the Infinite in its absence seems to consist in a

concern by which we engage ourselves in the social, cultural and historical reality of the world, starting with a recognition filled with wonder. The Other is then certainly the first being which awakens responsibility, but itself and all natural and cultural phenomena also my consciousness surprise us by their admirable incomprehensibility, whilst giving us a sign
of an

the heights of otherness promises us a meaning than that of thought.44 Loyola University Chicago

Enigma

which

can

neither

be

assured,

nor

can

assure.

The

road

to

less clear but more deep

Received November

29, 1993

NOTES
Adam & Paul Tannery 1. Oeuvres eds. Charles de Descartes, (Paris: Cerf, 1897 I have used translation of Descartes, 1913), cited as AT, EX B, p. 21; for the English trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff The Philosophical of Descartes, Writings and Dugald Press, 1985, cited as PW), Murdoch, University Cambridge: Cambridge although 2.ATIXB, S.ATIXB, 4. AT VI, p. I have sometimes modified p. 179. p. 180. p. 115. their versions of the text. Cf. PW I, p. 191. p. 2;PWI, p. 3;PW, 10; PW,

I, p. 183.

5. AT VI, p. 29; PW I, p. 125. 6. From the preface to the French edition of thePrinciples, AT IXB, pp. 8-9; PW

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150

HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY QUARTERLY

to pay willing I p. 123). 8. AT 9. At 10. AT IXB, IXB, IXB,

7. A well-known in which Descartes, on theMethod in the Discourse tries phrase, to justify the probabilist character of his provisional The fact that Des morality. cartes the indispensable defends in the realm role of probability of practical life while all uncertainty in the realm of theory, shows the price he was excluding to satisfy his desire for theoretical certainty. (AT VI, pp. 24-25; PW

pp.

6-9; PW p. 4-7; PW

I, p. 183.

181-83.

p. 9;PWI, pp.

I, pp.

181-82. heureuse), discusses, which Politeia almost 493 sounds like a a 1; Phaidros 230

a 6 and 244 c 4; Nomoi 931 e 6 and 946 b 3.


12. AT VI, 13. AT VI, as pp. 22-23; PW I, p. 122. p. 22; PW I, p. 122.

11. Literally "a happy (une part part," translation of the theia moira which Plato

14. Cf. Petit Robert

vol.

in his letter of 18August 1645 to Elizabeth, Oeuvres philosophiques


Ill, Paris, Gamier 1973, pp. 592-98.

s.v. "provision" a jugement II, where par provision "un jugement ? la sentence d?finitive." pr?alable 15. AT VI, pp. 22-24; PW" /, pp. 122-23. Cf. also what Descartes says

is explained about Seneca

(ed. F. Alqui?),

of almost all of [the sciences]" out which constitute the branches "ignorant growing on of the trunk of physics must also be based (moral incidentally, philosophy, he contributed three fragments of these sciences. In 1637, along with the physics), on the Method, a scientific Discourse which contains logic and a non-scientific on Geometry. he published the Optics, the Meteorology, and a treatise The morals, fact that he had clear confession not on scientific the sections published In his letter of 15 June of sorts. 1646, morals to Chanut seems (PL to be a very p. 196), he ? relation

16. AT IXB p. 15; PW I, p. 186. Although Descartes

admits here that he is

an intimate that the Passions involves indicates, however, of the Soul or as part? ? as presupposition some "I am spending with the science of morality: time also on thinking about moral for instance, Last winter, problems. particular a little treatise on the nature I sketched of the Passions In the same of the Soul." letter, he confidence great have others conduct help found draws to me it easier a that what "I must between moral and physics: say philosophy I have little knowledge of physics tried to acquire has been sure foundations in establishing in moral Indeed philosophy. link to reach satisfactory conclusions upon this topic than

in a I

on many

concerning

medicine."

must

which man "for the needs IXB, p. 2; PW I, p. 179: The knowledge of life" is put on the same level as knowledge concerned with "the preser of health" vation and "the discovery of all manner of skills" (medicine) (mechanics). to be perfect In order for this knowledge to be component of wisdom, "it enough 17. Cf. AT be deduced from first causes," that is, from the principles of metaphysics and physics. 18. To what presupposes of wisdom" extent does the project of a "most perfect moral system, which a complete of the other sciences and is the ultimate knowledge degree a comprehensive as (AT IXB, p. 14; PW I, p. 186) contain casuistry, thinks 1968 selon Vordre de la raison (Paris: Aubier, ) vol. II, [Descartes

Gu?roult

The parallelism with the other two branches of the physico-metaphysi pp. 219-71]? a comparison cal tree, and with the fruit which Descartes expects especially at to bring forth, seem to suggest mechanics that a scientific moral system would a body of rules concrete to be useful to those who hesitate least contain enough between alternatives of determining the ethical allow alternatives of human conduct. does The fact that few of these for entirely certain of probability. degrees judgements Scholastic not eliminate the possibility of the time (of which we

morality

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151

a caricature, can glean an idea, though it is rather from Pascal's Lettres Provin was dominated of probable with the search ciales) opinions, by the confrontation to escape created for a method the uncertainty of these opinions. by the divergence A comparison of probabilist ethics, which Descartes knew, with the moral certainly maxims and

on the Method, in the Discourse which he gives his letters to Elizabeth, no doubt to the Principles, is rather would show that Descartes the preface on this subject. Here of the most moderate again, he follows the opinions unoriginal authors 19. AT of his VI, time. pp. 24-25; PW I, p. 123. 123: "My second maxim

20. AT VI, was to be as

p. 22; PW I, p. 122; Cf. AT VI, p. 24; PW I, p. as I could...." in my actions firm and decisive translation [(English ed. Anthony Kenny I, p. 186. 182. who Cf. were also at the in favour to employ (Oxford:

21. AT IV, p. 262. PL trans, and cal Letters, here as PL)], p. 164. 22. AT 23. AT IXB, p. 13; PW IXB, p. of Plato [disciples the actions of life, so behaviour." 24. AT

of Descartes'letters Clarendon

Press,

from Philosophi cited 1970)

I, p. 7-8; PW and Aristotle] that they

same "Some of those page: of doubt it even to extended common Cf. prudence also the in their letter to

neglected

Elizabeth
synthesis Method: see how

V,

of the first "one must far

of 15 Sept. 1645 (AT TV, p. 287; PL, p. 171), where we find a sort of
two rules be take also examine they should still we must on the of the provisional moral code of the Discourse to in detail all the customs of one's place of abode we cannot of certain followed. have Though proofs

p.

81; PL,

pp.

226-27

(translation

modified).

everything, that seem act. For

the most

25. AT IXB, p. 14; PW I, p. 186. 26. AT III, p. 422; PL, p. 110 (translation slightlymodified).
27. AT IXB, p. 14; PW to the 28. According character of a "deduced" 29. Compare I, p. 186. same passage

nothing

of custom embrace the opinions sides, and inmatters so that we may never be irresolute to when we need probable, causes irresolution." regret and remorse except

"by very

philosophical evident between

(AT IXB, p. 13; PW I, p. 185), the scientific are in the fact that consists its truths discipline from very clear and evident reasoning" principles. two of September of pleasure and of the spirit, inasmuch sorts He 1, 1645 to Elizabeth. on the confusion insists as it is joined to the body

this

text to Descartes'letter the pleasures

there distinguishes which characterizes

(ATTV, p. 262; PL, p. 168). 30. AT IXB, p. 14; PW I, p. 186.


31. AT this earth IXB, p. 14; PW indeed

ofPhilosophy IV,n. 188 (AT IXB, p. 315; PWI, p. 279): "Up till now I have described
and the whole visible universe than as if it were which one should consider parts." As a kind of appendix, of our senses (nn. 189-206), in nature which phenomenon he has the nothing Descartes on the I have else the then provides basis of which omitted or sensible world shapes a rapid he and theory of the objects is no "that there treatise," nothing and that from I, p. treat

I, p. 188. The

same

self-criticism

is found

in the Principles

of only a machine of its movements

claims

to consider

in this contains

Even were we to admit 283-84). as such. the human composite

that the entire visible "proved an account I have given things

apart PW of here" (n. 199, AT IXB, p. 317-18; that Descartes did not this, the fact remains

to Elizabeth letter of September 32. Descartes' ( AT IV, pp. 15, 1645, written should of moral several which p. 171-74), 287ff; PL, prescriptions gives examples are not methodically in a scientific moral find a place grounded. system, but which A first norm tells us to love God and to "accept happen calmly all the things which

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HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY QUARTERLY

sent by God." A second orders us to take care of our soul above to us as expressly also very fundamental but chance. and Another to scorn death norm, all, and nor proved, of which each of of the whole, neither obvious says that "the interests with us is a part, must to those of our individual be preferred personality? always measure, In his because however, letter Seneca was and discretion." of August 4, 1645, Descartes in the content of the principal "... did not ground them sufficiently: all criticizes norms it seems not Seneca, of a normative to me, Seneca to Elizabeth

mistaken

he ethic, but because us should have taught facilitate

(AT IV, p. 262; PL, p. 166). By "a philosopher Descartes ..., unenlightened means, by faith, philosopher," "pagan reason then like Descartes to guide him" with only natural (p. 164), a philosopher from his faith and Christian abstract that he can completely claims himself, who theology. Descartes' grounded, between the a morality is correct but not scientifically which in the same letter, he distinguishes why, explains of the good, and from a real knowledge which "solid contentment," springs in an uncertain is the result contentment which of a resolution grounded distinction between and moral science than other uncertain be let ourselves Having judgements. by that which sketches and thus reminded seems true

the practice to enjoy natural have made That would happiness. could have written" useful that a pagan philosopher

to is necessary truths whose the principal knowledge our desires and thus and passions, of virtue and to regulate his book the finest and most

guided of action, Descartes to us at the moment probable ? as a condition of "the greatest science happiness" revolution. Cartesian is the goal of the whole which reason should never So have course. well free from error; and resolution lacked be by itself it is sufficient virtue

which is better judgement of the rule that we must

us or

"It is not necessary testifies if our conscience

of moral the project ? of perfect wisdom that

our

that we

unenlightened by intellect can be false: that is to say, the will and resolution to do

virtue

is sufficient

we to carry out whatever us content in this to make

the best judge life. But virtue

in such a case the can carry us to evil courses, if we think them good; and "the right use of is not solid." On the contrary, virtue brings contentment which a true knowledge from being false; by virtue reason... of good, prevents by giving us and by making it easy to practice; makes it to licit pleasures accommodating to our desires. So we must sets bounds of our nature the condition recognize on the right use of reason; and conse the greatest depends felicity of man is the most useful leads to its acquisition that the study which occupation quently one can take up" (p. 166). that In the same between the way, section 49 o? The Passions from which resolutions proceed light on the phrase already of the Soul some false notes opinion

know

a "great difference and those which where

are based solely on knowledge of the truth" (ATXI, p. 368; PW" J, p. 347). This
distinction is more sheds quoted from the Principles, in this life than and our conduct of our morals for the regulation same our steps" (AT IXB, p. 3; PW I, p. 180). The eyes to guide of three levels in context of the distinction consciousness, differentiating appears of which is a way them thus: 1) "living without philosophizing," characterizing ever trying to open them;" 2) having one's eyes one's eyes closed without "having else (ifwe think of the authority which of someone the conduct closed and following necessary is the use of our of his country, this level seem to be that gives to the "laws and customs" own eyes to get about," which one's of provisional 3) corresponds "using morality); of truth. in the certain, and hence to moral conduct scientific, knowledge grounded is only I written "...what have to Chanut: 1646 33. Cf. the letter of June 15, "the safest way moral philosophy...;" first what we are, what kind of world to find out how we live we in, and who

Descartes extols the utility ofhis philosophy, arguing that "the study ofphilosophy

Descartes

with connected distantly should live is to discover

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153

or the Master is the Creator is a of this world, of the house we live in. But...there I have notion between the general of heaven and earth, which very great distance in my Principles, and the detailed tried to convey of the nature of man, knowledge I must which I have not yet discussed. that what little However, say in confidence knowledge establishing to preserve I have of physics sure foundations tried inmoral to acquire has been So that philosophy.... much easier a great instead in to me help of finding ways which is not to

found another, and surer way, life, I have some time it." "I am spending fear death, without, about however, being depressed on thinking I also about moral Last for instance, winter, particular problems. a little treatise on the nature of the Soul..." sketched of the Passions (AT IV p. 440; PL, pp. 195-6). Cf. note PW art. 16. I, p. 123-24. 146 The same rule is given in letters to Elizabeth 34. AT VI, p. 25-27;

(AT IV, p. 262; PL, p. 165); and to Christine (AT V, p. 81; PL, p. 226); and in the
Passions 35.AT bears of the Soul, VI, pp. 27-28; (AT XI, p. 439; PW I, p. 380). the Method in his letter the PW I, pp. 124-25.

36. Understood a resemblance as well

one's mind

ofAugust 4, 1645 to Elizabeth


as one circumstances of life."

on in this way, the fourth maxim of the Discourse to the first rule of morality which Descartes gives should can, to know what In both cases, the distinction or should Descartes

(AT IV p. 262; PL, p. 168), that one should "employ


not be done makes in all between the

of one's life, poses difficulties. The third rule in the path of science and the conduct to the third maxim is of the Discourse; but the maxim which letter corresponds to the in the letter, and which insists on the autonomy in relation of reason second and appetites, has no counterpart passions in this latter work also the second maxim first maxim in the Discourse. discusses We firmness can only say of resolution. that The

in the letter cited, although has no parallel the problem of the Discourse of common and customs which this maxim of a critique poses, inevitably opinions in the remarks which in the context another letter makes, is touched upon of what wrote Aug. in the first 18, 1645 chapter (see note of his 15). De Vita Beata. Cf. also the letter to

Seneca Elizabeth,

37. AT VI, 38. AT VI, and masters possession, Cartesian behind

p. 29; PW I, p. 125. as it were, "and thus to make lords p. 62; PW 1, pp. 142-43: ourselves, on the frequency to have, of the words Research of nature." power, on the power in these words wield assurance, etc., and certainty, no doubt motivation is reveal the practico-theoretic which texts, would project. I, p. PW 119. II, p. 31. to an objection Paris, Vrin 1975 to the sixth Meditation , p. 74. in Entretien p. 17; PW pp. 45-46;

the Cartesian

39. AT VI, 40. AT VII, 41. avec Burman

Cf. Descartes'

response

(ed. Ch. Adam), pp. 45-46, pp.

42. AT VII, p. 52; PW II, p. 36 (translation modified).


43. Cf. AT VII, 33; PWI, 44. This philosophy presented to thank p. 236; PL, PW II, pp. 31-32; AT IX, p. 89, PWII, p. 61; AT IXB, p. and 208-18. 8-12; PL, pp. 171-74 on the relationships of a larger research between project was written in French and life. The original manuscript on November I want Conference 24, 1987 in Luxemburg. the manuscript of Descartes' texts. into English and added

is part essay and human at a Descartes Catriona

the references

who translated Hanley, to the English translations

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