Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy
René Descartes is a bold spirit who re-commenced the whole subject from the very beginning and constituted afresh the groundwork on which Philosophy is based, and to which, after a thousand years had passed, it once more returned. The extent of the influence which this man exercised upon his times and the culture of Philosophy generally, cannot be sufficiently expressed; it rests mainly in his setting aside all former pre-suppositious and beginning in a free, simple, and likewise popular way, with popular modes of thought and quite simple propositions, in his leading to thought and extension or Being, and so to speak setting up this before thought as its opposite. This simple thought appeared in the form of the determinate, clear understanding, and it cannot thus be called speculative thought or speculative reason. There are fixed determinations from which Descartes proceeds, but only of thought; this is the method of his time. What the French called exact science, science of the determinate understanding, made its appearance at this time. Philosophy and exact science were not yet separated, and it was only later on that this separation first took place.
To come to the life of Descartes — he was born in 1596, at La Haye in Touraine, of an ancient and noble race. He received an education of the usual kind in a Jesuit school, and made great progress; his disposition was lively and restless; he extended his insatiable zeal in all directions, pursued his researches into all systems and forms; his studies, in addition to ancient literature, embraced such subjects as philosophy, mathematics, chemistry, physics, and astronomy. But the studies of his youth in the Jesuit school, and those studies which he afterwards prosecuted with the same diligence and strenuous zeal, resulted in giving him a strong disinclination for learning derived from books; he quitted the school where he had been educated, and yet his eagerness for learning was only made the keener through this perplexity and unsatisfied yearning. He went as a young man of eighteen to Paris, and there lived in the great world. But as he here found no satisfaction, he soon left society and returned to his studies. He retired to a suburb of Paris and there occupied himself principally with mathematics, remaining quite concealed from all his former friends. At last, after the lapse of two years, he was discovered by them, drawn forth from his retirement, and again introduced to the great world. He now once more renounced the study of books and threw himself into the affairs of actual life. Thereafter he went to Holland and entered the military service, soon afterwards, in 1619 and in the first year of the Thirty Years’ War, he went as a volunteer with the Bavarian troops, and took part in several campaigns under Tilly. Many have found learning unsatisfying; Descartes became a solider — not because he found in the sciences too little, but because they were too much, too high for him. Here in his winter quarters he studied diligently, and in Ulm, for instance, he made acquaintance with a citizen who was deeply versed in mathematics. He was able to carry out his studies even better in winter quarters at Neuberg on the Danube, where once more, and now most profoundly, the desire awoke in him to strike out a new departure in Philosophy and entirely reconstruct it; he solemnly promised the Mother of God to make a pilgrimage to Loretto if she would prosper him in this design, and if he should now at last come to himself and attain to peace. He was also in the battle at Prague in which Frederick the Elector-Palatine lost the Bohemian crown. Yet since the sight of these wild scenes could not satisfy him, he gave up military service in 1621. He made several other journeys through the rest of Germany, and then proceeded to Poland, Prussia, Switzerland, Italy and France. On account of its greater freedom he withdrew to Holland, in order there to pursue his projects; here he lived in peace from 1629 to 1644 — a period in which he composed and issued most of his works, and also defended them against the manifold attacks from which they suffered, and which more especially proceeded from the clergy. Queen Christina of Sweden finally called him to her court at Stockholm, which was the rendezvous for all the most celebrated men of learning of the time, and there he died in 1650. (1)
As regards his philosophic works, those which contain his first principles have in particular something very popular about their method of presentation, which makes them highly to be recommended to those commencing the study of philosophy. Descartes sets to work in a quite simple and childlike manner, with a narration of his reflections as they came to him. Professor Cousin of Paris has brought out a new edition of Descartes in eleven octavo volumes; the greater part consists of letters on natural phenomena. Descartes gave a new impetus to mathematics as well as to philosophy. Several important methods were discovered by him, upon which the most brilliant results in higher mathematics were afterwards built. His method is even now an essential in mathematics, for Descartes is the inventor of analytic geometry, and consequently the first to point out the way in this field of science to modern mathematics. He likewise cultivated physics, optics, and astronomy, and made the most important discoveries in these; we have not, however, to deal with such matters. The application of metaphysics to ecclesiastical affairs, investigations, etc., has likewise no special interest for us.
1. In Philosophy Descartes struck out quite original lines; with him the new epoch in Philosophy begins, whereby it was permitted to culture to grasp in the form of universality the principle of its higher spirit in thought, just as Boehme grasped it in sensuous perceptions and forms. Descartes started by saying that thought must necessarily commence from itself; all the philosophy which came before this, and specially what proceeded from the authority of the Church, was for ever after set aside. But since here thought has properly speaking grasped itself as abstract understanding only, in relation to which the more concrete content still stands over on the other side, the determinate conceptions were not yet deduced from the understanding, but taken up only empirically. In Descartes’ philosophy we have thus to distinguish what has, and what has not universal interest for us: the former is the process of his thoughts themselves, and the latter the mode in which these thoughts are presented and deduced. Yet we must not consider the process as a method of consistent proof; it is indeed a deep and inward progress, but it comes to us in an ingenuous and naive form. In order to do justice to Descartes’ thoughts it is necessary for us to be assured of the necessity for his appearance; the spirit of his philosophy is simply knowledge as the unity of Thought and Being. And yet on the whole there is little to say about his philosophy.
a. Descartes expresses the fact that we must begin from thought as such alone, by saying that we must doubt everything (De omnibus dubitandum est); and that is an absolute beginning. He thus makes the abolition of all determinations the first condition of Philosophy. This first proposition has not, however, the same signification as Scepticism, which sets before it no other aim than doubt itself, and requires that we should remain in this indecision of mind, an indecision wherein mind finds its freedom. It rather signifies that we should renounce all prepossessions — that is, all hypotheses which are accepted as true in their immediacy — and commence from thought, so that from it we should in the first place attain to some fixed and settled basis, and make a true beginning. In Scepticism this is not the case for with the sceptics doubt is the end at which they rest. (2) But the doubting of Descartes, his making no hypotheses, because nothing is fixed or secure, does not occur in the interests of freedom as such, in order that nothing should have value except freedom itself, and nothing exist in the quality of an external objective. To him everything is unstable indeed, in so far as the Ego can abstract from it or can think, for pure thought is abstraction from everything. But in consciousness the end is predominant, and it is to arrive at something fixed and objective — and not the moment of subjectivity, or the fact of being set forth, known and proved by me. Yet this last comes along with the other, for it is from the starting point of my thought that I would attain my object; the impulse of freedom is thus likewise fundamental.
In the propositions in which Descartes gives in his own way the ground of this great and most important principle, there is found a naïve and empirical system of reasoning. This is an example: “Because we were born as children, and formed all manner of judgments respecting sensuous things before we had the perfect use of our reason, we are through many preconceived ideas hindered from the knowledge of the truth. From these we appear not to be able to free ourselves in any other way but by once in our lives striving to doubt that respecting which we have the very slightest suspicion of an uncertainty. Indeed it is really desirable to hold as false everything in respect to which we have any doubt, so that we may find more clearly what is most certain and most knowable. Yet this doubt has to be limited to the contemplation of the truth, for in the conduct of our life we are compelled to choose the probable, since there the opportunity for action would often pass away before we could solve our doubts. But here, where we have only to deal with the search for truth, we may very reasonably doubt whether any thing sensuous and perceptible exists — in the first place because we find that the senses often deceive us and it is prudent not to trust in what has even once deceived us, and then because every day in dreaming we think we feel or see before ourselves innumerable things which never were, and to the doubter no signs are given by which he can safely distinguish sleeping from waking. We shall hereby likewise doubt everything else, even mathematical propositions, partly because we have seen that some err even in what we hold most certain, and ascribe value to what to us seems false, and partly because we have heard that a God exists who has created us, and who can do everything, so that He may have created us liable to err. But if we conceive ourselves not to derive our existence from God, but from some other source, perhaps from ourselves, we are all the more liable, in that we are thus imperfect, to err. But we have so far the experience of freedom within us that we can always refrain from what is not perfectly certain and well founded.” (3) The demand which rests at the basis of Descartes’ reasonings thus is that what is recognized as true should be able to maintain the position of having the thought therein at home with itself. The so-called immediate intuition and inward revelation, which in modern times is so highly regarded, has its place here. But because in the Cartesian form the principle of freedom as such is not brought into view, the grounds which are here advanced are for the most part popular.
b. Descartes sought something in itself certain and true, which should neither be only true like the object of faith without knowledge, nor the sensuous and also sceptical certainty which is without truth. The whole of Philosophy as it had been carried on up to this time was vitiated by the constant pre-supposition of something as true, and in some measure, as in the Neo-Platonic philosophy, by not giving the form of scientific knowledge to its matter, or by not separating its moments. But to Descartes nothing is true which does not possess an inward evidence in consciousness, or which reason does not recognize so clearly and conclusively that any doubt regarding it is absolutely impossible. “Because we thus reject or declare to be false everything regarding which we can have any doubt at all, it is easy for us to suppose that there is no God, no heaven, no body — but we cannot therefore say that we do not exist, who think this. For it is contradictory to say that what thinks does not exist. Hence the knowledge that ‘I think, therefore I am,’ is what we arrive at first of all, and it is the most certain fact that offers itself to everyone who follows after philosophy in an orderly fashion. This is the best way of becoming acquainted with the nature of spirit and its diversity from body. For if we inquire who we are who can set forth as untrue everything which is different from ourselves, we clearly see that no extension, figure, change of position, nor any such thing which can be ascribed to body, constitutes our nature, but only thought alone; which is thus known earlier and more certainly than any corporeal thing.” (4) ‘I’ has thus significance here as thought, and not as individuality of self-consciousness. The second proposition of the Cartesian philosophy is hence the immediate certainty of thought. Certainty is only knowledge as such in its pure form as self-relating, and this is thought; thus then the unwieldy understanding makes its way on to the necessity of thought.
Descartes begins, just as Fichte did later on, with the ‘I’ as indubitably certain; I know that something is presented in me. By this Philosophy is at one stroke transplanted to quite another field and to quite another standpoint, namely to the sphere of subjectivity. Presuppositions in religion are given up; proof alone is sought for, and not the absolute content which disappears before abstract infinite subjectivity. There is in Descartes likewise a seething desire to speak from strong feeling, from the ordinary sensuous point of view, just as Bruno and so many others, each in his own fashion, express as individualities their particular conceptions of the world. To consider the content in itself is not the first matter; for I can abstract from all my conceptions, but not from the ‘I.’ We think this and that, and hence it is — is to give the common would-be-wise argument of those incapable of grasping the matter in point; that a determinate content exists is exactly what we are forced to doubt — there is nothing absolutely fixed. Thought is the entirely universal, but not merely because I can abstract, but because ‘I’ is thus simple, self-identical. Thought consequently comes first; the next determination arrived at, in direct connection with it, is the determination of Being. The ‘I think’ directly involves my Being; this, says Descartes, is the absolute basis of all Philosophy. (5) The determination of Being is in my ‘I’; this connection is itself the first matter. Thought as Being and Being as thought — that is my certainty, ‘I’; in the celebrated Cogito, ergo sum we thus have Thought and Being inseparably bound together.
On the one hand this proposition is regarded as a syllogism: from thought Being is deduced. Kant more especially has objected to this that Being is not contained in thinking, that it is different from thinking. This is true, but they are still inseparable, or constitute an identity; their difference is not to the prejudice of their unity. Yet this maxim of pure abstract certainty, the universal totality in which everything implicitly exists, is not proved; (6) we must therefore not try to convert this proposition into a syllogism. Descartes himself says: “There is no syllogism present at all. For in order that there should be such, the major premise must have been ‘all that thinks exists’” — from which the subsumption would have followed in the minor premise, ‘now I am.’ By this the immediacy which rests in the proposition would be removed. “But that major premise” is not set forth at all, being “really in the first instance derived from the original ‘I think, therefore, I am’” (7) For arriving at a conclusion three links are required — in this case we ought to have a third through which thought and Being should have been mediated, and it is not to be found here. The ‘Therefore’ which binds the two sides together is not the ‘Therefore’ of a syllogism; the connection between Being and Thought is only immediately posited. This certainty is thus the prius; all other propositions come later. The thinking subject as the simple immediacy of being-at-home-with-me is the very same thing as what is called Being; and it is quite easy to perceive this identity. As universal, thought is contained in all that is particular, and thus is pure relation to itself, pure oneness with itself. We must not make the mistake of representing Being to ourselves as a concrete content, and hence it is the same immediate identity which thought likewise is. Immediacy is, however, a one-sided determination; thought does not contain it alone, but also the determination to mediate itself with itself, and thereby — by the mediation being at the same time the abrogation of the mediation — it is immediacy. In thought we thus have Being; Being is, however, a poor determination, it is the abstraction from the concrete of thought. This identity of Being and Thought, which constitutes the most interesting idea of modern times, has not been further worked out by Descartes; he has relied on consciousness alone, and for the time being placed it in the forefront. For with Descartes the necessity to develop the differences from the ‘I think’ is not yet present; Fichte first applied himself to the deduction of all determinations from this culminating point of absolute certainty.
Other propositions have been set against that of Descartes. Gassendi, (8) for example, asks if we might not just as well say Ludificor, ergo sum: I am made a fool of by my consciousness, therefore I exist — or properly speaking, therefore I am made a fool of. Descartes himself recognized that this objection merited consideration, but he here repels it, inasmuch as it is the ‘I’ alone and not the other content which has to be maintained. Being alone is identical with pure thought, and not its content, be it what it may. Descartes further says: “By thought I, however, understand all that takes place in us within our consciousness, in as far as we are conscious of it; thus will, conception, and even feeling are identical with thought. For if I say ’ I see,’ or ‘I walk out,’ and ‘therefore I am,’ and understand by this the seeing and walking which is accomplished by the body, the conclusion is not absolutely certain, because, as often happens in a dream, I may imagine that I can see or walk even if I do not open my eyes nor move from my place, and I might also possibly do so supposing I had no body. But if I understand it of the subjective feeling or the consciousness of seeing or walking itself, because it is then related to the mind that alone feels or thinks that it sees or walks, this conclusion is perfectly certain.” (9) “In a dream” is an empirical mode of reasoning, but there is no other objection to it. In willing, seeing, hearing, &c., thought is likewise contained; it is absurd to suppose that the soul has thinking in one special pocket, and seeing, willing, &c., in others. But if I say ‘I see,’ ‘I walk out,’ there is present on the one hand my consciousness ‘I,’ and consequently thought; on the other hand, however, there is present willing, seeing, hearing, walking, and thus a still further modification of the content. Now because of this modification I cannot say ‘I walk, and therefore I am,’ for I can undoubtedly abstract from the modification, since it is no longer universal Thought. Thus we must merely look at the pure consciousness contained in the concrete ‘I.’ Only when I accentuate the fact that I am present there as thinking, is pure Being implied; for only with the universal is Being united.
“In this it is implied,” says Descartes, “that thought is more certain to me than body. If from the fact that I touch or see the earth I judge that it exists, I must more certainly judge from this that my thought exists. For it may very well happen that I judge the earth to exist, even if it does not exist, but it cannot be that I judge this, and that my mind which judges this does not exist.” (10) That is to say, everything which is for me I may assert to be non-existent; but when I assert myself to be non-existent, I myself assert, or it is my judgment. For I cannot set aside the fact that I judge, even if I can abstract from that respecting which I judge. In this Philosophy has regained its own ground that thought starts from thought as what is certain in itself, and not from something external, not from something given, not from an authority, but directly from the freedom that is contained in the ‘I think.’ Of all else I may doubt, of the existence of bodily things, of my body itself; or this certainty does not possess immediacy in itself. For ‘I’ is just certainty itself, but in all else this certainty is only predicate; my body is certain to me, it is not this certainty itself. (11) As against the certainty we feel of having a body, Descartes adduces the empirical phenomenon that we often hear of persons imagining they feel pain in a limb which they have lost long ago. (12) What is actual, he says is a substance, the soul is a thinking substance; it is thus for itself, separate from all external material things and independent. That it is thinking is evident from its nature: it would think and exist even if no material things were present; the soul can hence know itself more easily than its body: (13)
All else that we can hold as true rests on this certainty; for in order that anything should be held as true, evidence is requisite, but nothing is true which has not this inward evidence in consciousness. “Now the evidence of everything rests upon our perceiving it as clearly and vividly as that certainty itself, and on its so entirely depending from, and harmonizing with this principle, that if we wished to doubt it we should also have to doubt this principle likewise” (our ego). (14) This knowledge is indeed on its own account perfect evidence, but it is not yet the truth; or if we take that Being as truth, it is an empty content, and it is with the content that we have to do.
c. What comes third is thus the transition of this certainty into truth, into the determinate; Descartes again makes this transition in a naïve way, and with it we for the first time begin to consider his metaphysics. What here takes place is that an interest arises in further representations and conceptions of the abstract unity of Being and Thought; there Descartes sets to work in an externally reflective manner. “The consciousness which merely knows itself to be certain now however seeks to extend its knowledge, and finds that it has conceptions of many things — in which conceptions it does not deceive itself, so long as it does not assert or deny that something similar outside corresponds to them.” Deception in the conceptions has meaning only in relation to external existence. “Consciousness also discovers universal conceptions, and obtains from them proofs which are evident, e.g. the geometric proposition that the three angles of a triangle are together equal to two right angles is a conception which follows incontrovertibly from others. But in reflecting whether such things really exist doubts arise.” (15) That there is such a thing as a triangle is indeed in this case by no means certain, since extension is not contained in the immediate certainty of myself. The soul may exist without the bodily element, and this last without it; they are in reality different; one is conceivable without the other. The soul thus does not think and know the other as clearly as the certainty of itself. (16)
Now the truth of all knowledge rests on the proof of the existence of God. The soul is an imperfect substance, but it has the Idea of an absolute perfect existence within itself; this perfection is not begotten in itself, just because it is an imperfect substance; this Idea is thus innate. In Descartes the consciousness of this fact is expressed by his saying that as long as the existence of God is not proved and perceived the possibility of our deceiving ourselves remains, because we cannot know whether we do not possess a nature ordered and disposed to err (supra, p. 226). (17) The form is rather a mistaken one, and it only generally expresses the opposition in which self-consciousness stands to the consciousness of what is different, of the objective; and we have to deal with the unity of both — the question being whether what is in thought likewise possesses objectivity. This unity rests in God or is God Himself. I shall put these assertions in the manner of Descartes: “Amongst these various conceptions possessed by us there likewise is the conception of a supremely intelligent, powerful, and absolutely perfect Being; and this is the most excellent of all conceptions.” This all-embracing universal conception has therefore this distinguishing feature, that in its case the uncertainty respecting Being which appears in the other conceptions, finds no place. It has the characteristic that “In it we do not recognize existence as something merely possible and accidental, as we do the conceptions of other things which we perceive clearly, but as a really essential and eternal determination. For instance, as mind perceives that in the conception of a triangle it is implied that the three angles are equal to two right angles, the triangle has them; and in the same way from the fact that mind perceives existence to be necessarily and eternally implied in the Notion of the most perfect reality, it is forced to conclude that the most perfect reality exists.” (18) For to perfection there likewise pertains the determination of existence, since the conception of a non-existent is less perfect. Thus we there have the unity of thought and Being, and the ontological proof of the existence of God; this we met with earlier (p. 63, seq.) in dealing with Anselm.
The proof of the existence of God from the Idea of Him is in this wise: In this Notion existence is implied; and therefore it is true. Descartes proceeds further in the same direction, in so far as after the manner of empirical axioms he sets forth: “There are different degrees of reality or entity, for the substance has more reality than the accident or the mode, and infinite substance has more than finite.” “In the Notion of a thing existence is implied, either the merely potential or the necessary,” i.e., in the ‘I’ there is Being as the immediate certainty of an other-being, of the not-I opposed to the I. “No thing or no perfection of a thing which really exists actu can have the Nothing as original cause of its existence. For if anything could be predicated of nothing, thought could equally well be predicated of it, and I would thus say that I am nothing because I think.” Descartes here arrives at a dividing line, at an unknown relationship; the Notion of cause is reached, and this is a thought indeed, but a determinate thought. Spinoza says in his explanation, “That the conceptions contain more or less reality, and those moments have just as much evidence as thought itself, because they not only, say that we think, but how we think.” These determinate modes as differences in the simplicity of thought, had, however, to be demonstrated. Spinoza adds to this step in advance that “The degrees of reality which we perceive in ideas are not in the ideas in as far as they are considered merely as kinds of thought, but in so far as the one represents a substance and the other a mere mode of substance, or, in a word, in so far as they are considered as conceptions of things.” “The objective reality of Notions (i.e., the entity of what is represented in so far as it is in the Notion), "demands a first cause in which the same reality is contained not merely objectively” (that is to say in the Notion), “but likewise formally or even eminenter — formally, that is perfectly likewise: eminenter, more perfectly. For there must at least be as much in the cause as in the effect.” “The existence of God, is known immediately” — a priori — “from the contemplation of His nature. To say that anything is contained in the nature or in the Notion of a thing is tantamount to saying that it is true: existence is directly contained in the Notion of God. Hence it is quite true to say of Him that existence pertains of necessity to Him. There is implied in the Notion of every particular thing either a possible or a necessary existence — a necessary existence in the Notion of God, i.e. of the absolutely perfect Being, for else He would be conceived as imperfect.” (19)
Descartes likewise argues after this manner: “Problem: to prove a posteriori from the mere Notion within us the existence of God. The objective reality of a Notion demands a cause in which the same reality is not merely contained objectively” (as in the finite), “but formally” (freely, purely for itself, outside of us) “or eminenter” (as original). (Axiom.) “We now have a Notion of God, but His objective reality is neither formally nor eminenter contained within us, and it can thus be only in God Himself.” (20) Consequently we see that with Descartes this Idea is an hypothesis. Now we should say we find this highest Idea in us. If we then ask whether this Idea exists, why, this is the Idea, that existence is asserted with it. To say that it is only a conception is to contradict the meaning of this conception. But here it is unsatisfactory to find that the conception is introduced thus: ‘We have this conception,’ and to find that it consequently appears like an hypothesis. In such a case it is not proved of this content in itself that it determines itself into this unity of thought and Being. In the form of God no other conception is thus here given than that contained in Cogito, ergo sum, wherein Being and thought are inseparably bound up — though now in the form of a conception which I possess within me. The whole content of this conception, the Almighty, All-wise, &c., are predicates which do not make their appearance until later; the content is simply the content of the Idea bound up with existence. Hence we see these determinations following one another in an empirical manner, and not philosophically proved — thus giving us an example of how in a priori metaphysics generally hypotheses of conceptions are brought in, and these become objects of thought, just as happens in empiricism with investigations, observations, and experiences.
Descartes then proceeds: “Mind is the more convinced of this when it notices that it discovers within itself the conception of no other thing wherein existence is necessarily implied. From this it will perceive that that idea of highest reality is not imagined by it; it is not chimerical, but a true and unalterable fact which cannot do otherwise than exist, seeing that existence is necessarily involved in it. Our prejudices hinder us from apprehending this with ease, for we are accustomed to distinguish in all other things the essence” (the Notion) “from the existence.” Respecting the assertion that thought is not inseparable from existence, the common way of talking is as follows: ‘If what men think really existed, things would be different.’ But in saying this men do not take into account that what is spoken of in this way is always a particular content, and that in it the essential nature of the finality of things simply signifies the fact that Notion and Being are separable. But how can one argue from finite things to the infinite? “This Notion,” Descartes continues, “is furthermore not made by us.” It is now declared to be an eternal truth which is revealed in us. “We do not find in ourselves the perfections which are contained in this conception. Thus we are certain that a first cause in which is all perfection, i.e., God as really existent, has given them to us; for it is certain to us that from nothing, nothing arises” (according to Boehme God derived the material of the world from Himself), “and what is perfect cannot be the effect of anything imperfect. From Him we must thus in true science deduce all created things.” (21) With the proof of the existence of God the validity of and evidence for all truth in its origin is immediately established. God as First Cause is Being-for-self, the reality which is not merely entity or existence in thought. An existence such as this first cause (which is not what we know as a thing) rests in the Notion of the not-I, not of each determinate thing — since these as determinate are negations — but only in the Notion of pure existence or the perfect cause. It is the cause of the truth of ideas, for the aspect that it represents is that of their Being.
d. Fourthly, Descartes goes on to assert: “We must believe what is revealed to us by God, though we cannot understand it. It is not to be wondered at, since we are finite, that there is in God’s nature as inconceivably infinite, what passes our comprehension.” This represents the entrance of a very ordinary conception. Boehme on the other hand says (supra, p. 212): ‘The mystery of the Trinity is ever born within us.’ Descartes, however, concludes: “Hence we must not trouble ourselves with investigations respecting the infinite; for seeing that we are finite, it is absurd for us to say anything about it.” (22) This matter we shall not, however, enter upon at present.
“Now the first attribute of God is that He is true and the Giver of all light; it is hence quite contrary to His nature to deceive us. Hence the light of nature or the power of acquiring knowledge given us by God can affect no object which is not really true in as far as it is affected by it” (the power of acquiring knowledge) “i.e., as it is perceived clearly and distinctly.” We ascribe truth to God. From this Descartes goes on to infer the universal bond which exists between absolute knowledge and the objectivity of what we thus know. Knowledge has objects, has a content which is known; we call this connection truth. The truth of God is just this unity of what is thought by the subject or clearly perceived, and external reality or existence. “Thereby an end is put to doubt, as if it could be the case that what appears quite evident to us should not be really true. We can thus no longer have any suspicion of mathematical truths. Likewise if we give heed to what we distinguish by our senses in waking or in sleeping, clearly and distinctly, it is easy to recognize in each thing what in it is true.” By saying that what is rightly and clearly thought likewise is, Descartes maintains that man comes to know by means of thought what in fact is in things; the sources of errors lie on the other hand in the finitude of our nature. “It is certain, because of God’s truth, that the faculty of perceiving and that of assenting through the will, if it extends no further than to that which is clearly perceived, cannot lead to error. Even if this cannot be in any way proved, it is by nature so established in all things, that as often as we clearly perceive anything, we assent to it from ourselves and can in no wise doubt that it is true.” (23)
All this is set forth very plausibly, but it is still indeterminate, formal, and shallow; we only have the assertion made to us that this is so. Descartes’ method is the method of the clear understanding merely. Certainty with him takes the first place; from it no content is deduced of necessity, no content generally, and still less its objectivity as distinguished from the inward subjectivity of the ‘I.’ At one time we have the opposition of subjective knowledge and actuality, and at another their inseparable union. In the first case the necessity of mediating them enters in, and the truth of God is asserted to be this mediating power. It consists in this, that His Notion contains reality immediately in itself. The proof of this unity then rests solely upon the fact of its being said that we find within us the idea of complete perfection; thus this conception here appears simply as one found ready to hand. With this is compared the mere conception of God which contains no existence within it, and it is found that without existence it would be imperfect. This unity of God Himself, of His Idea, with His existence, is undoubtedly the Truth; in this we find the ground for holding as true what is for us just as certain as the truth of ourselves. As Descartes proceeds further we thus find that in reality everything has truth for him only in so far as it is really an object of thought, a universal. This truth of God has been, as we shall see, expressed even more clearly and in a more concise way by a disciple of Descartes, if one may venture to call him so — I mean Malebranche (who might really be dealt with here), (24) in his Recherche de la vérité.
The first of the fundamental determinations of the Cartesian metaphysics is from the certainty of oneself to arrive at the truth, to recognize Being in the Notion of thought. But because in the thought “I think,” I am an individual, thought comes before my mind as subjective; Being is hence not demonstrated in the Notion of thought itself, for what advance has been made is merely in the direction of separation generally. In the second place the negative of Being likewise comes before self-consciousness, and this negative, united with the positive I, is so to speak implicitly united in a third, in God. God, who before this was a non-contradictory potentiality, now takes objective form to self-consciousness, He is all reality in so far as it is positive, i.e., as it is Being, unity of thought and Being, the highest perfection of existence; it is just in the negative, in the Notion of this, in its being an object of thought, that Being is contained. An objection to this identity is now old — Kant urged it likewise — that from the Notion of the most perfect existence more does not follow than that in thought existence here and now and the most perfect essence are conjoined, but not outside of thought. But the very Notion of present existence is this negative of self-consciousness, not out of thought, — but the thought of the ‘out of thought.’
2. Descartes accepts Being in the entirely positive sense, and has not the conception of its being the negative of self-consciousness: but simple Being, set forth as the negative of self-consciousness, is extension. Descartes thus separates extension from God, remains constant to this separation, unites the universe, matter, with God in such a way as to make Him its creator and first cause: and he has the true perception that conservation is a continuous creation, in so far as creation as activity is asserted to be separated. Descartes does not, however, trace extension in a true method back to thought; matter, extended substances, stand over against the thinking substances which are simple; in as far as the universe is created by God, it could not be as perfect as its cause. As a matter of fact the effect is less perfect than the cause, since it is that which is posited, if we are to remain at the conception of cause pertaining to the understanding. Hence according to Descartes extension is the less perfect. But as imperfect the extended substances cannot exist and subsist through themselves or their Notion; they thus require every moment the assistance of God for their maintenance, and without this they would in a moment sink back into nothing. Preservation is, however, unceasing re-production. (25)
Descartes now proceeds to further particulars, and expresses himself as follows: “We consider what comes under consciousness either as things or their qualities, or as eternal truths which have no existence outside our thought" — which do not belong to this or that time, to this or that place. He calls these last something inborn within us, something not made by us or merely felt, (26) but the eternal Notion of mind itself and the eternal determinations of its freedom, of itself as itself. From this point the conception that ideas are inborn (innatæ ideæ) hence proceeds; this is the question over which Locke and Leibnitz dispute. The expression “eternal truths” is current even in these modern times, and it signifies the universal determinations and relations which exist entirely on their own account. The word ‘Inborn’ is however a clumsy and stupid expression, because the conception of physical birth thereby indicated, does not apply to mind. To Descartes inborn ideas are not universal, as they are to Plato and his successors, but that which has evidence, immediate certainty, an immediate multiplicity founded in thought itself — manifold conceptions in the form of a Being, resembling what Cicero calls natural feelings implanted in the heart. We would rather say that such is implied in the nature and essence of our mind and spirit. Mind is active and conducts itself in its activity in a determinate manner; but this activity has no other ground than its freedom. Yet if this is the case more is required than merely to say so; it must be deduced as a necessary product of our mind. We have such ideas, for instance, in the logical laws: “From nothing comes nothing,” “A thing cannot both be and not be,” (27) as also in moral principles. These are facts of consciousness which Descartes however soon passes from again; they are only present in thought as subjective, and he has thus not yet inquired respecting their content.
As regards things, on which Descartes now directs his attention, the other side to these eternal verities, the universal determinations of things are substance, permanence, order, &c. (28) He then gives definitions of these thoughts, just as Aristotle draws up a list of the categories. But although Descartes laid it down formerly as essential that no hypotheses must be made, yet now he takes the conceptions, and passes on to them as something found within our consciousness. He defines substance thus: “By substance I understand none other than a thing (rem) which requires no other something for existence; and there is only one thing, namely God, which can be regarded as such a substance requiring no other thing.” This is what Spinoza says; we may say that it is likewise the true definition, the unity of Notion and reality: “All other” (things) “can only exist by means of a concurrence (concursus) of God;” what we still call substance outside of God thus does not exist for itself, does not have its existence in the Notion itself. That is then called the system of assistance (systema assistentiæ) which is, however, transcendental. God is the absolute uniter of Notion and actuality; other things, finite things which have a limit and, stand in dependence, require something else. “Hence if we likewise call other things substances, this expression is not applicable both to them and to God univoce, as is said in the schools; that is to say no definite significance can be given to this word which would equally apply both to God and to the creatures.” (29)
“But I do not recognize more than two sorts of things; the one is that of thinking things, and the other that of things which relate to what is extended.” Thought, the Notion, the spiritual, the self-conscious, is what is at home with itself, and its opposite is contained in what is extended, spatial, separated, not at home with itself nor free. This is the real distinction (distinctio realis) of substances: “The one substance can be clearly and definitely comprehended without the other. But the corporeal and the thinking and creating substance can be comprehended under this common notion, for the reason that they are things which require God’s support alone in order to exist.” They are universal; other finite things require other things as conditions essential to their existence. But extended substance, the kingdom of nature, and spiritual substance, do not require one another. They may be called substances, because each of them constitutes an entire range or sphere, an independent totality. But because, Spinoza concluded, each side, the kingdom of thought as well as nature, is one complete system within itself, they are likewise in themselves, that is absolutely, identical as God, the absolute substance; for thinking spirit this implicit is thus God, or their differences are ideal.
Descartes proceeds from the Notion of God to what is created, to thought and extension, and from this to the particular. “Now substances have several attributes without which they cannot be thought" — that signifies their determinateness — "but each has something peculiar to itself which constitutes its nature and essence" — a simple universal determinateness — "and to which the others all relate. Thus thought, constitutes the absolute attribute of mind,” thought is its quality; “extension is" the essential determination of corporeality, and this alone is “the true nature of body. What remains are merely secondary qualities, modes, like figure and movement in what is extended, imagination, feeling and will in thinking; they may be taken away or thought away. God is the uncreated, thinking substance.” (30)
Descartes here passes to what is individual, and because he follows up extension he arrives at matter, rest, movement. One of Descartes’ main points is that matter, extension, corporeality, are quite the same thing for thought; according to him the nature of body is fulfilled in its extension, and this should be accepted as the only essential fact respecting the corporeal world. We say that body offers resistance, has smell, taste, colour, transparency, hardness, &c., since without these we can have no body. All these further determinations respecting what is extended, such as size, rest, movement, and inertia, are, however, merely sensuous, and this Descartes showed, as it had long before this been shown by the Sceptics. Undoubtedly that is the abstract Notion or pure essence, but to body or to pure existence, there likewise of necessity pertains negativity or diversity. By means of the following illustration Descartes showed that with the exception of extension, all corporeal determinations may be annihilated, and that none can be absolutely predicated. We draw conclusions respecting the solidity and hardness of matter from the resistance which a body offers to our disturbance, and by means of which it seeks to hold its place. Now if we admit that matter as we touch it always gives way to as like space, we should have no reason for ascribing to it solidity. Smell, colour, taste, are in the same way sensuous qualities merely; but what we clearly perceive is alone true. If a body is ground into small parts, it gives way, and yet it does not lose its nature; resistance is thus not essential.(31) This not-being-for-itself is however a quantitatively slighter resistance only; the resistance always remains. But Descartes desires only to think; now he does not think resistance, colour, &c., but apprehends them by the senses only. Hence he says that all this must be led back to extension as being special modifications of the same. It is undoubtedly to the credit of Descartes that he only accepts as true what is thought; but the abrogation of these sensuous qualities simply represents the negative movement of thought: the essence of body is conditioned through this thought, that is, it is not true essence.
Descartes now makes his way from the Notion of extension to the laws of motion, as the universal knowledge of the corporeal in its implicitude; he shows that there is no vacuum, for that would be an extension without bodily substance, i.e. a body without body; that there are no atoms (no indivisible independent existence), for the same reason, viz., because the essence of body is extension. He further shows that a body is set in motion by something outside of it, but of itself it continues in a condition of rest, and likewise it must, when in a condition of movement, be brought to rest by another outside of it — this is the property of inertia.(32) These are unmeaning propositions, for an abstraction is involved for instance in asserting simple rest and movement in their opposition.
Extension and motion are the fundamental conceptions in mechanical physics; they represent the truth of the corporeal world. It is thus that ideality comes before the mind of Descartes, and he is far elevated above the reality of the sensuous qualities, although he does not reach so far as to the separation of this ideality. He thus remains at the point of view of mechanism pure and simple. Give me matter (extension) and motion and I will build worlds for you, is what Descartes virtually says.(33) Space and time were hence to him the only determinations of the material universe. In this, then, lies the mechanical fashion of viewing nature, or the natural philosophy of Descartes is seen to be purely mechanical.(34) Hence changes in matter are due merely to motion, so that Descartes traces every relationship to the rest and movement of particles, and all material diversity such as colour, and taste — in short, all bodily qualities and animal phenomena — to mechanism. In living beings processes such as that of digestion are mechanical effects which have as principles, rest and movement. We here see the ground and origin of the mechanical philosophy; but further on we find that this is unsatisfactory, for matter and motion do not suffice to explain life. Yet the great matter in all this is that thought goes forward in its determinations, and that it constitutes from these thought-determinations the truth of nature.
In his consideration of the system of the world and the movement of the heavenly bodies, Descartes has worked out the mechanical view more fully. He thus comes to speak of the earth, the sun, &c., and of his conception of the circling motion of the heavenly bodies in the form of vortices: of metaphysical hypotheses as to how small particles pass into, out of, and through pores and act on one another; and finally to saltpetre and gunpowder.(35)
Universal reflections should have the first claim on our attention; but on the other hand the transition to the determinate is accomplished in a system of Physics which is the result of observations and experiences, and this is done entirely by means of the understanding. Descartes thus mingles many observations with a metaphysic of this nature, and to us the result is hence obscure. In this philosophy the thinking treatment of empiricism is thus predominant, and a similar method has been adopted by philosophers from this time on. To Descartes and others, Philosophy had still the more indefinite significance of arriving at knowledge through thought, reflection, and reasoning. Speculative cognition, the derivation from the Notion, the free independent development of the matter itself, was first introduced by Fichte, and consequently what is now called philosophic knowledge is not yet separated in Descartes from the rest of scientific knowledge. In those times all the knowledge of mankind was called philosophy; in Descartes’ metaphysics we thus saw quite empirical reflection and reasoning from particular grounds, from experiences, facts, phenomena, being brought into play in the naļvest manner, and one has no sense of speculation in the matter. The strictly scientific element here really consisted mainly in the method of proof as it has long been made use of in geometry, and in the ordinary method of the formal logical syllogism. Hence it likewise happens that Philosophy, which ought to form a totality of the sciences, begins with logic and metaphysics; the second part is composed of ordinary physics and mathematics, mingled no doubt with metaphysical speculations, and the third part, ethics, deals with the nature of man, his duties, the state, the citizen. And this is the case with Descartes. The first part of the Principia philosophię treats De principiis cognitionis humanę, the second De principiis rerum materialium. This natural philosophy, as a philosophy of extension, is, however, none other than what a quite ordinary physics or mechanics might at that time be, and it is still quite hypothetical; we, on the other hand, accurately distinguish empirical physics and natural philosophy, first likewise pertains to thought.
3. Descartes never reached the third part, the philosophy of Mind, for, while he made a special study of physics, in the region of ethics he published one tract only, De passionibus. In this reference Descartes treats of thought and human freedom. He proves freedom from the fact of the soul thinking that the will is unrestrained, and of that constituting the perfection of mankind. And this is quite true. In respect to the freedom of the will he comes across the difficulty of how to reconcile it with the divine prescience. As free, man might do what is not ordained of God beforehand — this would conflict with the omnipotence and omniscience of God; and if everything is ordained of God, human freedom would thereby be done away with. Yet he does not solve the contradiction contained in these two different aspects without falling into difficulty. But conformably to the method which he adopts, and which we pointed out above (pp. 238,239), he says: "The human mind is finite, God’s power and predetermination are infinite; we are thus not capable of judging of the relationship in which the freedom of the human soul stands to the omnipotence and omniscience of God — but in self-consciousness we have the certainty of it given us as a fact. And we must hold only to what is certain."(36) When he proceeds further much appears to him still incapable of explanation; but we see obstinacy and caprice likewise exhibited in his stopping short at the assertion as to the best of his knowledge. The method of knowledge as set forth by Descartes, takes the form of a reasoning of the understanding, and is thus without special interest.
These, then, are the principal points in the Cartesian system. Some particular assertions made by Descartes, which have been specially instrumental in giving him fame, have still to be mentioned — particular forms which have been formerly considered in metaphysics, and likewise by Wolff. For example, in the first place we gather that Descartes regarded animals and other organisms as machines moved by another, and not possessing the principle of the spontaneity of thought within them(37) — a mechanical physiology, a cut and dry thought pertaining to the understanding, which is of no further importance. In the sharp opposition between thought and extension, the former is not considered as sensation, so that the latter can isolate itself. The organic must as body reduce itself to extension; any further development of this last thus only proves its dependence on the first determinations.
In the second place, the relation between soul and body now becomes an important question, that is, the return of the object within itself in such a way that thought posits itself in another, in matter. As to this, many systems are offered to us in metaphysics. One of these is the influxus physicus, that the relation of spirit is of a corporeal nature, that the object is related to mind as bodies are to one another — a conception like this is very crude. How does Descartes understand the unity of soul and body? The former belongs to thought, the latter to extension; and thus because both are substance, neither requires the Notion of the other, and hence soul and body are independent of one another and can exercise no direct influence upon one another. Soul could only influence body in so far as it required the same, and conversely — that is, in so far as they have actual relation to one another. But since each is a totality, neither can bear a real relation to the other. Descartes consistently denied the physical influence of one on the other; that would have signified a mechanical relation between the two. Descartes thus established the intellectual sphere in contradistinction to matter, and on it based the independent subsistence of mind; for in his cogito ‘I’ is at first only certain of itself, since I can abstract from all. Now we find the necessity of a mediator to bring about a union of the abstract and the external and individual. Descartes settles this by placing between the two what constitutes the metaphysical ground of their mutual changes, God. He is the intermediate bond of union, in as far as He affords assistance to the soul in what it cannot through its own freedom accomplish, so that the changes in body and soul may correspond with one another.(38) If I have desires, an intention, these receive corporeal realization; this association of soul and body is, according to Descartes, effected through God. For above (p. 239) we saw that Descartes says of God that He is the Truth of the conception: as long as I think rightly and consistently, something real corresponds to my thought, and the connecting link is God. God is hereby the perfect identity of the two opposites, since He is, as Idea, the unity of Notion and reality. In the Idea of Spinoza this is worked out and developed in its further moments. Descartes’ conclusion is quite correct; in finite things this identity is imperfect. Only the form employed by Descartes is inadequate; for it implies that in the beginning there are two things, thought or soul and body, and that then God appears as a third thing, outside both — that He is not the Notion of unity, nor are the two elements themselves Notion. We must not however forget that Descartes says that both those original elements are created substances. But this expression ‘created’ pertains to the ordinary conception only and is not a determinate thought; it was Spinoza, therefore, who first accomplished this return to thought.
Spinoza (next section) — Contents
1. Brucker. Hist. crit. phil. T. IV. P. II. pp. 203-217; Cartes. De Methodo, I-II (Amstelod. 1672, 4), pp. 2-7 (Euvres complčtes de Descartes publiées par Victor Cousin, T. I. pp. 125-133; Notes sur l'éloge de Descartes par Thomas (Euvres de Descartes publiées par Cousin, T. I), p. 83, et suiv.; Tennemann, Vol. X. pp. 210-216.
2. Spinoza: Principia philosophię Cartesianę (Bendicti de Spinoza Opera, ed. Paulus. Jenę, 1802, T.I.), p. 2.
3. Cartes. Principia philosophię, P. I. § 1-6 (Amstelod. 1672, 4), pp. 1, 2 (Euvres, T. III. pp. 63-66); cf. Meditationes de prima philosophia, I. (Amstelod. 1685, 4), pp. 5-8 (Euvres, T. I. pp. 235-245); De Methodo, IV. p. 20 (pp. 156-158).
4. Cares. Principia philosophię, P. I. § 7, 8, p. 2 (pp. 66, 67).
5. Cartes. De Methodo. IV. pp. 20, 21 (p. 158); Spinoza: Principia philosophię Cartes, p. 14.
6. Cartes. De Methodo, IV. p. 21 (p. 159); Epistol. T. I. ep. 118 (Amstelod. 1682, 4), p. 379 (Euvres, T. IX. pp. 442, 443).
7. Cartes. Responsiones ad sec. objectiones, adjunctę Meditationibus de prima philosophia, p. 74 (p. 427); Spinoza: Principia philosophię Cartes., pp. 4, 5.
8. Appendix ad Cartes. Meditationes, continens objectiones quint. p. 4 (Euvres, T. II. pp. 92, 93).
9. Cartes. Principia philosophię, P. I. § 9, pp. 2, 3 (pp. 67, 68).
10. Ibid. P. I. § 11, p. 3 (pp. 69, 70).
11. Cartes. Respons. ad sec. object.: Rationes more geometr. dispos., Postulata, p. 86 (pp. 454, 455); Spinoza: Principai philosophię, Cartes., p. 13.
12. Cartes. Princip. philos., P. IV. § 196, pp. 215, 216 (pp. 507-509); Meditation. VI. p. 38 (pp. 329, 330); Spinoza: Principa philos. Cartes., pp. 2, 3.
13. Cartes. Respons. ad sec. object.: Rat. more geom. dispos., Axiomata V., VI. p. 86 (p. 453), et Propositio IV. p. 91 (pp. 464, 465); Meditationes, II. pp. 9-14 (pp. 246-262).
14. Cartes. De Methodo, IV. p. 21 (pp. 158, 159); Spinoza: Principia philosoph. Cartes., p. 14.
15. Cartes. Principia philosophię, P. I. § 13, pp. 3, 4 (pp. 71, 72).
16. Cartes. Respons. ad sec. object: Rationes more geom. dispos., Def. I. p. 85 (pp. 451, 452), et Proposit. IV. p. 91 (pp. 464, 465); Meditationes, III. pp. 15-17 (pp. 263-268).
17. Cartes. Principia philos., P. I. § 20, p. 6 (pp. 76, 77); Meditationes, III. pp. 17-25 (pp. 268-292); De Methodo, IV. pp. 21, 22 (pp. 159-162); Spinoza: Principia philos. Cartes., p. 10.
18. Cartes. Principia philos. P. I., § 14, p. 4 (pp. 72, 73).
19. Cartes. Resp. ad sec. obj.: Rat. more geom. disp., Ax. III-VI., X., Prop. I. pp. 88, 89 (pp. 458-461); Spinoza: Princ. phil. Cart., pp. 14-17.
20. Spinoza: Princip. philos. Cart., p. 20; Cartesii Resp. ad sec. obj.: Rat. more geom. dispos., Propos. II. p. 89 ) pp. 461, 462).
21. Cartes. Principia philosophię, P. I. § 15, 16, 18, 24, pp. 4, 5, 7 (pp. 73-75, 78, 79).
22. Cartes. Principia philosophię, P. I. § 24-26, p. 7 (pp. 79, 80).
23. Ibid. P. I. § 29, 30, 35, 36, 38, 43, pp. 8-11 (pp. 81-86, 89); Meditationes, IV. pp. 25, 26 (pp. 293-297).
24. In the Lectures of 1829-1830 the philosophy of Malebranche is inserted here. (Editor's note).
25. Cartes. Principia philos. P. I. § 22, 23, pp. 6, 7 (pp. 77, 78); Responsiones quartę, p. 133 (p. 70); Spinoza: Princip. philos. Cart. pp. 30, 31, 36, 38; Buhle: Geschichte der neuern Philosophie, Vol. III. Sec. I. pp. 17, 18.
26. Cartes. Principia philos. P. I. § 48, p. 12 (p. 92); Meditationes, III. p. 17 (pp. 268, 269).
27. Cartes. Principia philosophię. P. I. § 49, p. 13 (p. 93).
28. Ibid. P. I. § 48, p. 12 (p. 92).
29. Cartes. Princip. philosophię, P. I. § 51, p. 14 (p. 95).
30. Cartes. Principia philosophię, P. I. § 53, 54, p. 14 (pp. 96, 97).
31. Cartes. Princip. philos., P. I. § 66-74, pp. 19-22 (pp. 107-117); P. II § 4, p. 25 (pp. 123,124).
32. Cartes. Prineipia philos. P. II. § 16, 20, 37, 38, pp. 29-31, 38, 39 (pp. 133, 134, 137, 138, 152-154).
33. Cartes. Princip. philos., P. I. § 66-74, pp. 19-22 (pp. 107-117); P. II § 4, p. 25 (pp. 123,124).
34. Cf. Cartes. Principia philos., P. II. § 64, p. 49 (pp. 178, 179).
35. Cartes. Principia philos., P. III. § 5-42, 46 sqq. pp. 51-63, 65 sqq. (pp. 183-208, p. 210 et suiv.); P. IV. § 1 sqq., 69, 109-115, p. 137 sqq., 116, 178-180 (p. 330 et suiv., 388, 420-425).
36. Cartes. Principia philosoph., P. I. § 37, 39-41, pp. 10, 11 (pp. 85-88).
37. Cartes. De Methodo. V. pp. 35, 36 (pp. 185-189).
38. Cartes. De Methodo. V. p. 29 (173, 174).
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