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SELECTIONS FROM THE PRINCIPLES OF PHILOSOPHY

OF

RENE DESCARTES
(1596-1650)

TRANSLATED BY
JOHN VEITCH, LL. D.
LATE PROFESSOR OF LOGIC AND RHETORIC IN THE UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW


From the Publisher's Preface.

The present volume contains a reprint of the preface and the first
part of the Principles of Philosophy, together with selections from
the second, third and fourth parts of that work, corresponding to
the extracts in the French edition of Gamier, are also given, as
well as an appendix containing part of Descartes' reply to the
Second Objections (viz., his formal demonstrations of the existence
of Deity). The translation is based on the original Latin edition of
the Principles, published in 1644.

The work had been translated into French during Descartes' lifetime,
and personally revised and corrected by him, the French text is
evidently deserving of the same consideration as the Latin
originals, and consequently, the additions and variations of the
French version have also been given - the additions being put in
square brackets in the text and the variations in the footnotes.

A copy of the title-page of the original edition, as given in Dr. C.
Guttler's work (Munich: C. H. Beck. 1901), are also reproduced in
the present volume.


SELECTIONS FROM THE PRINCIPLES OF PHILOSOPHY

OF DESCARTES

TRANSLATED FROM THE LATIN AND COLLATED WITH THE FRENCH


LETTER OF THE AUTHOR

TO THE FRENCH TRANSLATOR OF THE PRINCIPLES OF PHILOSOPHY SERVING FOR
A PREFACE.

Sir, - The version of my principles which you have been at pains to
make, is so elegant and finished as to lead me to expect that the
work will be more generally read in French than in Latin, and better
understood. The only apprehension I entertain is lest the title
should deter some who have not been brought up to letters, or with
whom philosophy is in bad repute, because the kind they were taught
has proved unsatisfactory; and this makes me think that it will be
useful to add a preface to it for the purpose of showing what the
MATTER of the work is, what END I had in view in writing it, and
what UTILITY may be derived from it. But although it might be my
part to write a preface of this nature, seeing I ought to know those
particulars better than any other person, I cannot nevertheless
prevail upon myself to do anything more than merely to give a
summary of the chief points that fall, as I think, to be discussed
in it: and I leave it to your discretion to present to the public
such part of them as you shall judge proper.

I should have desired, in the first place, to explain in it what
philosophy is, by commencing with the most common matters, as, for
example, that the word PHILOSOPHY signifies the study of wisdom, and
that by wisdom is to be understood not merely prudence in the
management of affairs, but a perfect knowledge of all that man can
know, as well for the conduct of his life as for the preservation of
his health and the discovery of all the arts, and that knowledge to
subserve these ends must necessarily be deduced from first causes;
so that in order to study the acquisition of it (which is properly
called philosophizing), we must commence with the investigation of
those first causes which are called PRINCIPLES. Now these principles
must possess TWO CONDITIONS: in the first place, they must be so
clear and evident that the human mind, when it attentively considers
them, cannot doubt of their truth; in the second place, the
knowledge of other things must be so dependent on them as that
though the principles themselves may indeed be known apart from what
depends on them, the latter cannot nevertheless be known apart from
the former. It will accordingly be necessary thereafter to endeavour
so to deduce from those principles the knowledge of the things that
depend on them, as that there may be nothing in the whole series of
deductions which is not perfectly manifest. God is in truth the only
being who is absolutely wise, that is, who possesses a perfect
knowledge of all things; but we may say that men are more or less
wise as their knowledge of the most important truths is greater or
less. And I am confident that there is nothing, in what I have now
said, in which all the learned do not concur.

I should, in the next place, have proposed to consider the utility
of philosophy, and at the same time have shown that, since it
embraces all that the human mind can know, we ought to believe that
it is by it we are distinguished from savages and barbarians, and
that the civilisation and culture of a nation is regulated by the
degree in which true philosophy nourishes in it, and, accordingly,
that to contain true philosophers is the highest privilege a state
can enjoy. Besides this, I should have shown that, as regards
individuals, it is not only useful for each man to have intercourse
with those who apply themselves to this study, but that it is
incomparably better he should himself direct his attention to it;
just as it is doubtless to be preferred that a man should make use
of his own eyes to direct his steps, and enjoy by means of the same
the beauties of colour and light, than that he should blindly follow
the guidance of another; though the latter course is certainly
better than to have the eyes closed with no guide except one's self.
But to live without philosophizing is in truth the same as keeping
the eyes closed without attempting to open them; and the pleasure of
seeing all that sight discloses is not to be compared with the
satisfaction afforded by the discoveries of philosophy. And,
finally, this study is more imperatively requisite for the
regulation of our manners, and for conducting us through life, than
is the use of our eyes for directing our steps. The brutes, which
have only their bodies to conserve, are continually occupied in
seeking sources of nourishment; but men, of whom the chief part is
the mind, ought to make the search after wisdom their principal
care, for wisdom is the true nourishment of the mind; and I feel
assured, moreover, that there are very many who would not fail in
the search, if they would but hope for success in it, and knew the
degree of their capabilities for it. There is no mind, how ignoble
soever it be, which remains so firmly bound up in the objects of the
senses, as not sometime or other to turn itself away from them in
the aspiration after some higher good, although not knowing
frequently wherein that good consists. The greatest favourites of
fortune - those who have health, honours, and riches in abundance -
are not more exempt from aspirations of this nature than others;
nay, I am persuaded that these are the persons who sigh the most
deeply after another good greater and more perfect still than any
they already possess. But the supreme good, considered by natural
reason without the light of faith, is nothing more than the
knowledge of truth through its first causes, in other words, the
wisdom of which philosophy is the study. And, as all these
particulars are indisputably true, all that is required to gain
assent to their truth is that they be well stated.

But as one is restrained from assenting to these doctrines by
experience, which shows that they who make pretensions to philosophy
are often less wise and reasonable than others who never applied
themselves to the study, I should have here shortly explained
wherein consists all the science we now possess, and what are the
degrees of wisdom at which we have arrived. The first degree
contains only notions so clear of themselves that they can be
acquired without meditation; the second comprehends all that the
experience of the senses dictates; the third, that which the
conversation of other men teaches us; to which may be added as the
fourth, the reading, not of all books, but especially of such as
have been written by persons capable of conveying proper
instruction, for it is a species of conversation we hold with their
authors. And it seems to me that all the wisdom we in ordinary
possess is acquired only in these four ways; for I do not class
divine revelation among them, because it does not conduct us by
degrees, but elevates us at once to an infallible faith.

There have been, indeed, in all ages great minds who endeavoured to
find a fifth road to wisdom, incomparably more sure and elevated
than the other four. The path they essayed was the search of first
causes and true principles, from which might be deduced the reasons
of all that can be known by man; and it is to them the appellation
of philosophers has been more especially accorded. I am not aware
that there is any one of them up to the present who has succeeded in
this enterprise. The first and chief whose writings we possess are
Plato and Aristotle, between whom there was no difference, except
that the former, following in the footsteps of his master, Socrates,
ingenuously confessed that he had never yet been able to find
anything certain, and that he was contented to write what seemed to
him probable, imagining, for this end, certain principles by which
he endeavoured to account for the other things. Aristotle, on the
other hand, characterised by less candour, although for twenty years
the disciple of Plato, and with no principles beyond those of his
master, completely reversed his mode of putting them, and proposed
as true and certain what it is probable he himself never esteemed as
such. But these two men had acquired much judgment and wisdom by the
four preceding means, qualities which raised their authority very
high, so much so that those who succeeded them were willing rather
to acquiesce in their opinions, than to seek better for themselves.
The chief question among their disciples, however, was as to whether
we ought to doubt of all things or hold some as certain, - a dispute
which led them on both sides into extravagant errors; for a part of
those who were for doubt, extended it even to the actions of life,
to the neglect of the most ordinary rules required for its conduct;
those, on the other hand, who maintained the doctrine of certainty,
supposing that it must depend upon the senses, trusted entirely to
them. To such an extent was this carried by Epicurus, that it is
said he ventured to affirm, contrary to all the reasonings of the
astronomers, that the sun is no larger than it appears.

It is a fault we may remark in most disputes, that, as truth is the
mean between the two opinions that are upheld, each disputant
departs from it in proportion to the degree in which he possesses
the spirit of contradiction. But the error of those who leant too
much to the side of doubt, was not followed for any length of time,
and that of the opposite party has been to some extent corrected by
the doctrine that the senses are deceitful in many instances.
Nevertheless, I do not know that this error was wholly removed by
showing that certitude is not in the senses, but in the
understanding alone when it has clear perceptions; and that while we
only possess the knowledge which is acquired in the first four
grades of wisdom, we ought not to doubt of the things that appear to
be true in what regards the conduct of life, nor esteem them as so
certain that we cannot change our opinions regarding them, even
though constrained by the evidence of reason.

From ignorance of this truth, or, if there was any one to whom it
was known, from neglect of it, the majority of those who in these
later ages aspired to be philosophers, blindly followed Aristotle,
so that they frequently corrupted the sense of his writings, and
attributed to him various opinions which he would not recognise as
his own were he now to return to the world; and those who did not
follow him, among whom are to be found many of the greatest minds,
did yet not escape being imbued with his opinions in their youth, as
these form the staple of instruction in the schools; and thus their
minds were so preoccupied that they could not rise to the knowledge
of true principles. And though I hold all the philosophers in
esteem, and am unwilling to incur odium by my censure, I can adduce
a proof of my assertion, which I do not think any of them will
gainsay, which is, that they all laid down as a principle what they
did not perfectly know. For example, I know none of them who did not
suppose that there was gravity in terrestrial bodies; but although
experience shows us very clearly that bodies we call heavy descend
towards the center of the earth, we do not, therefore, know the
nature of gravity, that is, the cause or principle in virtue of
which bodies descend, and we must derive our knowledge of it from
some other source. The same may be said of a vacuum and atoms, of
heat and cold, of dryness and humidity, and of salt, sulphur, and
mercury, and the other things of this sort which some have adopted
as their principles. But no conclusion deduced from a principle
which is not clear can be evident, even although the deduction be
formally valid; and hence it follows that no reasonings based on
such principles could lead them to the certain knowledge of any one
thing, nor consequently advance them one step in the search after
wisdom. And if they did discover any truth, this was due to one or
other of the four means above mentioned. Notwithstanding this, I am
in no degree desirous to lessen the honour which each of them can
justly claim; I am only constrained to say, for the consolation of
those who have not given their attention to study, that just as in
travelling, when we turn our back upon the place to which we were
going, we recede the farther from it in proportion as we proceed in
the new direction for a greater length of time and with greater
speed, so that, though we may be afterwards brought back to the
right way, we cannot nevertheless arrive at the destined place as
soon as if we had not moved backwards at all; so in philosophy, when
we make use of false principles, we depart the farther from the
knowledge of truth and wisdom exactly in proportion to the care with
which we cultivate them, and apply ourselves to the deduction of
diverse consequences from them, thinking that we are philosophizing
well, while we are only departing the farther from the truth; from
which it must be inferred that they who have learned the least of
all that has been hitherto distinguished by the name of philosophy
are the most fitted for the apprehension of truth.

After making those matters clear, I should, in the next place, have
desired to set forth the grounds for holding that the true
principles by which we may reach that highest degree of wisdom
wherein consists the sovereign good of human life, are those I have
proposed in this work; and two considerations alone are sufficient
to establish this - the first of which is, that these principles are
very clear, and the second, that we can deduce all other truths from
them; for it is only these two conditions that are required in true
principles. But I easily prove that they are very clear; firstly, by
a reference to the manner in which I found them, namely, by
rejecting all propositions that were in the least doubtful, for it
is certain that such as could not be rejected by this test when they
were attentively considered, are the most evident and clear which
the human mind can know. Thus by considering that he who strives to
doubt of all is unable nevertheless to doubt that he is while he
doubts, and that what reasons thus, in not being able to doubt of
itself and doubting nevertheless of everything else, is not that
which we call our body, but what we name our mind or thought, I have
taken the existence of this thought for the first principle, from
which I very clearly deduced the following truths, namely, that
there is a God who is the author of all that is in the world, and
who, being the source of all truth, cannot have created our
understanding of such a nature as to be deceived in the judgments it
forms of the things of which it possesses a very clear and distinct
perception. Those are all the principles of which I avail myself
touching immaterial or metaphysical objects, from which I most
clearly deduce these other principles of physical or corporeal
things, namely, that there are bodies extended in length, breadth,
and depth, which are of diverse figures and are moved in a variety
of ways. Such are in sum the principles from which I deduce all
other truths. The second circumstance that proves the clearness of
these principles is, that they have been known in all ages, and even
received as true and indubitable by all men, with the exception only
of the existence of God, which has been doubted by some, because
they attributed too much to the perceptions of the senses, and God
can neither be seen nor touched.

But, though all the truths which I class among my principles were
known at all times, and by all men, nevertheless, there has been no
one up to the present, who, so far as I know, has adopted them as
principles of philosophy: in other words, as such that we can deduce
from them the knowledge of whatever else is in the world. It
accordingly now remains for me to prove that they are such; and it
appears to me that I cannot better establish this than by the test
of experience: in other words, by inviting readers to peruse the
following work. For, though I have not treated in it of all matters-
-that being impossible - I think I have so explained all of which I
had occasion to treat, that they who read it attentively will have
ground for the persuasion that it is unnecessary to seek for any
other principles than those I have given, in order to arrive at the
most exalted knowledge of which the mind of man is capable;
especially if, after the perusal of my writings, they take the
trouble to consider how many diverse questions are therein discussed
and explained, and, referring to the writings of others, they see
how little probability there is in the reasons that are adduced in
explanation of the same questions by principles different from mine.
And that they may the more easily undertake this, I might have said
that those imbued with my doctrines have much less difficulty in
comprehending the writings of others, and estimating their true
value, than those who have not been so imbued; and this is precisely
the opposite of what I before said of such as commenced with the
ancient philosophy, namely, that the more they have studied it the
less fit are they for rightly apprehending the truth.

I should also have added a word of advice regarding the manner of
reading this work, which is, that I should wish the reader at first
to go over the whole of it, as he would a romance, without greatly
straining his attention, or tarrying at the difficulties he may
perhaps meet with in it, with the view simply of knowing in general
the matters of which I treat; and that afterwards, if they seem to
him to merit a more careful examination, and he feel a desire to
know their causes, he may read it a second time, in order to observe
the connection of my reasonings; but that he must not then give it
up in despair, although he may not everywhere sufficiently discover
the connection of the proof, or understand all the reasonings - it
being only necessary to mark with a pen the places where the
difficulties occur, and continue to read without interruption to the
end; then, if he does not grudge to take up the book a third time, I
am confident he will find in a fresh perusal the solution of most of
the difficulties he will have marked before; and that, if any still
remain, their solution will in the end be found in another reading.

I have observed, on examining the natural constitutions of different
minds, that there are hardly any so dull or slow of understanding as
to be incapable of apprehending good opinions, or even of acquiring
all the highest sciences, if they be but conducted along the right
road. And this can also be proved by reason; for, as the principles
are clear, and as nothing ought to be deduced from them, unless most
manifest inferences, no one is so devoid of intelligence as to be
unable to comprehend the conclusions that flow from them. But,
besides the entanglement of prejudices, from which no one is
entirely exempt, although it is they who have been the most ardent
students of the false sciences that receive the greatest detriment
from them, it happens very generally that people of ordinary
capacity neglect to study from a conviction that they want ability,
and that others, who are more ardent, press on too rapidly: whence
it comes to pass that they frequently admit principles far from
evident, and draw doubtful inferences from them. For this reason, I
should wish to assure those who are too distrustful of their own
ability that there is nothing in my writings which they may not
entirely understand, if they only take the trouble to examine them;
and I should wish, at the same time, to warn those of an opposite
tendency that even the most superior minds will have need of much
time and attention to remark all I designed to embrace therein.

After this, that I might lead men to understand the real design I
had in publishing them, I should have wished here to explain the
order which it seems to me one ought to follow with the view of
instructing himself. In the first place, a man who has merely the
vulgar and imperfect knowledge which can be acquired by the four
means above explained, ought, before all else, to endeavour to form
for himself a code of morals, sufficient to regulate the actions of
his life, as well for the reason that this does not admit of delay
as because it ought to be our first care to live well. In the next
place, he ought to study Logic, not that of the schools, for it is
only, properly speaking, a dialectic which teaches the mode of
expounding to others what we already know, or even of speaking much,
without judgment, of what we do not know, by which means it corrupts
rather than increases good sense - but the logic which teaches the
right conduct of the reason with the view of discovering the truths
of which we are ignorant; and, because it greatly depends on usage,
it is desirable he should exercise himself for a length of time in
practising its rules on easy and simple questions, as those of the
mathematics. Then, when he has acquired some skill in discovering
the truth in these questions, he should commence to apply himself in
earnest to true philosophy, of which the first part is Metaphysics,
containing the principles of knowledge, among which is the
explication of the principal attributes of God, of the immateriality
of the soul, and of all the clear and simple notions that are in us;
the second is Physics, in which, after finding the true principles
of material things, we examine, in general, how the whole universe
has been framed; in the next place, we consider, in particular, the
nature of the earth, and of all the bodies that are most generally
found upon it, as air, water, fire, the loadstone and other
minerals. In the next place it is necessary also to examine singly
the nature of plants, of animals, and above all of man, in order
that we may thereafter be able to discover the other sciences that
are useful to us. Thus, all Philosophy is like a tree, of which
Metaphysics is the root, Physics the trunk, and all the other
sciences the branches that grow out of this trunk, which are reduced
to three principal, namely, Medicine, Mechanics, and Ethics. By the
science of Morals, I understand the highest and most perfect which,
presupposing an entire knowledge of the other sciences, is the last
degree of wisdom.

But as it is not from the roots or the trunks of trees that we
gather the fruit, but only from the extremities of their branches,
so the principal utility of philosophy depends on the separate uses
of its parts, which we can only learn last of all. But, though I am
ignorant of almost all these, the zeal I have always felt in
endeavouring to be of service to the public, was the reason why I
published, some ten or twelve years ago, certain Essays on the
doctrines I thought I had acquired. The first part of these Essays
was a "Discourse on the Method of rightly conducting the Reason, and
seeking Truth in the Sciences," in which I gave a summary of the
principal rules of logic, and also of an imperfect ethic, which a
person may follow provisionally so long as he does not know any
better. The other parts were three treatises: the first of
Dioptrics, the second of Meteors, and the third of Geometry. In the
Dioptrics, I designed to show that we might proceed far enough in
philosophy as to arrive, by its means, at the knowledge of the arts


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