- Special Introduction
- I.: Descartes—his Life and Writings .
- II.: Philosophy In the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries Preceding Descartes .
- III.: The Cogito Ergo Sum — Its Nature and Meaning .
- IV.: Cogito Ergo Sum — Objections to the Principle.
- V.: The Guarantee of the Principle .
- VI.: The Criterion of Truth .
- VII.: The Ego and the Material World .
- VIII.: Innate Ideas.
- IX.: Malebranche (1638-1715) †
- X.: Spinoza (1632-1677) — Relations to Descartes .
- XI.: Development of Cartesianism In the Line of Spinoza—omnis Determinatio Est Negatio .
- XII.: Hegelian Criticism — the Ego and the Infinite .
- Discourse On Method
- Part I.
- Part II.
- Part III.
- Part IV.
- Part V.
- Part VI.
- The Meditations
- Preface to the Reader.
- Synopsis of the Six Following Meditations.
- Meditations On the First Philosophy In Which the Existence of God, and the Real Distinction of Mind and Body, Are Demonstrated.
- Meditation I.: Of the Things On Which We May Doubt .
- Meditation II.: Of the Nature of the Human Mind ; and That It Is More Easily Known Than the Body .
- Meditation III.: Of God: That He Exists.
- Meditation IV.: Of Truth and Error .
- Meditation V.: Of the Essence of Material Things ; and , Again , of God; That He Exists .
- Meditation VI.: Of the Existence of Material Things , and of the Real Distinction Between the Mind and Body of Man .
- The Principles of Philosophy.
- To the Most Serene Princess , Elisabeth, Eldest Daughter of Frederick, King of Bohemia, Count Palatine , and Elector of the Sacred Roman Empire .
- The Principles of Philosophy.
- Part I.: Of the Principles of Human Knowledge .
- Part II.: Of the Principles of Material Things .
- Part III.: Of the Visible World .
- Part IV.: Of the Earth .
- Appendix: Reasons Which Establish the Existence of God, and the Distinction Between the Mind and Body of Man, Disposed In Geometrical Order.
OftheExistenceofMaterial Things, and of the
Real Distinction BetweentheMind
There now only remains the inquiry as to whether material things exist. With regard to this question, I at least know with certainty that such things may exist, in as far as they constitute the object of the pure mathematics, since, regarding them in this aspect, I can conceive them clearly and distinctly. For there can be no doubt that God possesses the power of producing all the objects I am able distinctly to conceive, and I never considered anything impossible to him, unless when I experienced a contradiction in the attempt to conceive it aright. Further, the faculty of imagination which I possess, and of which I am conscious that I make use when I apply myself to the consideration of material things, is sufficient to persuade me of their existence: for, when I attentively consider what imagination is, I find that it is simply a certain application of the cognitive faculty (facultas cognoscitiva) to a body which is immediately present to it, and which therefore exists.
And to render this quite clear, I remark, in the first place, the difference that subsists between imagination and pure intellection [or conception]. For example, when I imagine a triangle I not only conceive (intelligo) that it is a figure comprehended by three lines, but at the same time also I look upon (intueor) these three lines as present by the power and internal application of my mind (acie mentis), and this is what I call imagining. But if I desire to think of a chiliogon, I indeed rightly conceive that it is a figure composed of a thousand sides, as easily as I conceive that a triangle is a figure composed of only three sides; but I cannot imagine the thousand sides of a chiliogon as I do the three sides of a triangle, nor, so to speak, view them as present [with the eyes of my mind]. And although, in accordance with the habit I have of always imagining something when I think of corporeal things, it may happen that, in conceiving a chiliogon, I confusedly represent some figure to myself, yet it is quite evident that this is not a chiliogon, since it in no wise differs from that which I would represent to myself, if I were to think of a myriogon, or any other figure of many sides; nor would this representation be of any use in discovering and unfolding the properties that constitute the difference between a chiliogon and other polygons. But if the question turns on a pentagon, it is quite true that I can conceive its figure, as well as that of a chiliogon, without the aid of imagination; but I can likewise imagine it by applying the attention of my mind to its five sides, and at the same time to the area which they contain. Thus I observe that a special effort of mind is necessary to the act of imagination, which is not required to conceiving or understanding (ad intelligendum;) and this special exertion of mind clearly shows the difference between imagination and pure intellection (imaginatio et intellectio pura). I remark, besides, that this power of imagination which I possess, in as far as it differs from the power of conceiving, is in no way necessary to my [nature or] essence, that is, to the essence of my mind; for although I did not possess it, I should still remain the same that I now am, from which it seems we may conclude that it depends on something different from the mind. And I easily understand that, if some body exists, with which my mind is so conjoined and united as to be able, as it were, to consider it when it chooses, it may thus imagine corporeal objects; so that this mode of thinking differs from pure intellection only in this respect, that the mind in conceiving turns in some way upon itself, and considers some one of the ideas it possesses within itself; but in imagining it turns toward the body, and contemplates in it some object conformed to the idea which it either of itself conceived or apprehended by sense. I easily understand, I say, that imagination may be thus formed, if it is true that there are bodies; and because I find no other obvious mode of explaining it, I thence, with probability, conjecture that they exist, but only with probability; and although I carefully examine all things, nevertheless I do not find that, from the distinct idea of corporeal nature I have in my imagination, I can necessarily infer the existence of any body.
But I am accustomed to imagine many other objects besides that corporeal nature which is the object of the pure mathematics, as, for example, colors, sounds, tastes, pain, and the like, although with less distinctness; and, inasmuch as I perceive these objects much better by the senses, through the medium of which and of memory, they seem to have reached the imagination, I believe that, in order the more advantageously to examine them, it is proper I should at the same time examine what sense-perception is, and inquire whether from those ideas that are apprehended by this mode of thinking (consciousness), I cannot obtain a certain proof of the existence of corporeal objects.
And, in the first place, I will recall to my mind the things I have hitherto held as true, because perceived by the senses, and the foundations upon which my belief in their truth rested; I will, in the second place, examine the reasons that afterward constrained me to doubt of them; and, finally, I will consider what of them I ought now to believe.
Firstly, then, I perceived that I had a head, hands, feet, and other members composing that body which I considered as part, or perhaps even as the whole, of myself. I perceived further, that that body was placed among many others, by which it was capable of being affected in diverse ways, both beneficial and hurtful; and what was beneficial I remarked by a certain sensation of pleasure, and what was hurtful by a sensation of pain. And besides this pleasure and pain, I was likewise conscious of hunger, thirst, and other appetites, as well as certain corporeal inclinations toward joy, sadness, anger, and similar passions. And, out of myself, besides the extension, figure, and motions of bodies, I likewise perceived in them hardness, heat, and the other tactile qualities, and, in addition, light, colors, odors, tastes, and sounds, the variety of which gave me the means of distinguishing the sky, the earth, the sea, and generally all the other bodies, from one another. And certainly, considering the ideas of all these qualities, which were presented to my mind, and which alone I properly and immediately perceived, it was not without reason that I thought I perceived certain objects wholly different from my thought, namely, bodies from which those ideas proceeded; for I was conscious that the ideas were presented to me without my consent being required, so that I could not perceive any object, however desirous I might be, unless it were present to the organ of sense; and it was wholly out of my power not to perceive it when it was thus present. And because the ideas I perceived by the senses were much more lively and clear, and even, in their own way, more distinct than any of those I could of myself frame by meditation, or which I found impressed on my memory, it seemed that they could not have proceeded from myself, and must therefore have been caused in me by some other objects; and as of those objects I had no knowledge beyond what the ideas themselves gave me, nothing was so likely to occur to my mind as the supposition that the objects were similar to the ideas which they caused. And because I recollected also that I had formerly trusted to the senses, rather than to reason, and that the ideas which I myself formed were not so clear as those I perceived by sense, and that they were even for the most part composed of parts of the latter, I was readily persuaded that I had no idea in my intellect which had not formerly passed through the senses. Nor was I altogether wrong in likewise believing that that body which, by a special right, I called my own, pertained to me more properly and strictly than any of the others; for in truth, I could never be separated from it as from other bodies; I felt in it and on account of it all my appetites and affections, and in fine I was affected in its parts by pain and the titillation of pleasure, and not in the parts of the other bodies that were separated from it. But when I inquired into the reason why, from this I know not what sensation of pain, sadness of mind should follow, and why from the sensation of pleasure, joy should arise, or why this indescribable twitching of the stomach, which I call hunger, should put me in mind of taking food, and the parchedness of the throat of drink, and so in other cases, I was unable to give any explanation, unless that I was so taught by nature; for there is assuredly no affinity, at least none that I am able to comprehend, between this irritation of the stomach and the desire of food, any more than between the perception of an object that causes pain and the consciousness of sadness which springs from the perception. And in the same way it seemed to me that all the other judgments I had formed regarding the objects of sense, were dictates of nature; because I remarked that those judgments were formed in me, before I had leisure to weigh and consider the reasons that might constrain me to form them.
But, afterward, a wide experience by degrees sapped the faith I had reposed in my senses; for I frequently observed that towers, which at a distance seemed round, appeared square, when more closely viewed, and that colossal figures, raised on the summits of these towers, looked like small statues, when viewed from the bottom of them; and, in other instances without number, I also discovered error in judgments founded on the external senses; and not only in those founded on the external, but even in those that rested on the internal senses; for is there aught more internal than pain? And yet I have sometimes been informed by parties whose arm or leg had been amputated, that they still occasionally seemed to feel pain in that part of the body which they had lost, — a circumstance that led me to think that I could not be quite certain even that any one of my members was affected when I felt pain in it. And to these grounds of doubt I shortly afterward also added two others of very wide generality: the first of them was that I believed I never perceived anything when awake which I could not occasionally think I also perceived when asleep, and as I do not believe that the ideas I seem to perceive in my sleep proceed from objects external to me, I did not any more observe any ground for believing this of such as I seem to perceive when awake; the second was that since I was as yet ignorant of the author of my being or at least supposed myself to be so, I saw nothing to prevent my having been so constituted by nature as that I should be deceived even in matters that appeared to me to possess the greatest truth. And, with respect to the grounds on which I had before been persuaded of the existence of sensible objects, I had no great difficulty in finding suitable answers to them; for as nature seemed to incline me to many things from which reason made me averse, I thought that I ought not to confide much in its teachings. And although the perceptions of the senses were not dependent on my will, I did not think that I ought on that ground to conclude that they proceeded from things different from myself, since perhaps there might be found in me some faculty, though hitherto unknown to me, which produced them.
But now that I begin to know myself better, and to discover more clearly the author of my being, I do not, indeed, think that I ought rashly to admit all which the senses seem to teach, nor, on the other hand, is it my conviction that I ought to doubt in general of their teachings.
And, firstly, because I know that all which I clearly and distinctly conceive can be produced by God exactly as I conceive it, it is sufficient that I am able clearly and distinctly to conceive one thing apart from another, in order to be certain that the one is different from the other, seeing they may at least be made to exist separately, by the omnipotence of God; and it matters not by what power this separation is made, in order to be compelled to judge them different; and, therefore, merely because I know with certitude that I exist, and because, in the meantime, I do not observe that aught necessarily belongs to my nature or essence beyond my being a thinking thing, I rightly conclude that my essence consists only in my being a thinking thing [or a substance whose whole essence or nature is merely thinking]. And although I may, or rather, as I will shortly say, although I certainly do possess a body with which I am very closely conjoined; nevertheless, because, on the one hand, I have a clear and distinct idea of myself, in as far as I am only a thinking and unextended thing, and as, on the other hand, I possess a distinct idea of body, in as far as it is only an extended and unthinking thing, it is certain that I, [that is, my mind, by which I am what I am], is entirely and truly distinct from my body, and may exist without it.
Moreover, I find in myself diverse faculties of thinking that have each their special mode: for example, I find I possess the faculties of imagining and perceiving, without which I can indeed clearly and distinctly conceive myself as entire, but I cannot reciprocally conceive them without conceiving myself, that is to say, without an intelligent substance in which they reside, for [in the notion we have of them, or to use the terms of the schools] in their formal concept, they comprise some sort of intellection; whence I perceive that they are distinct from myself as modes are from things. I remark likewise certain other faculties, as the power of changing place, of assuming diverse figures, and the like, that cannot be conceived and cannot therefore exist, any more than the preceding, apart from a substance in which they inhere. It is very evident, however, that these faculties, if they really exist, must belong to some corporeal or extended substance, since in their clear and distinct concept there is contained some sort of extension, but no intellection at all. Further, I cannot doubt but that there is in me a certain passive faculty of perception, that is, of receiving and taking knowledge of the ideas of sensible things; but this would be useless to me, if there did not also exist in me, or in some other thing, another active faculty capable of forming and producing those ideas. But this active faculty cannot be in me [in as far as I am but a thinking thing], seeing that it does not presuppose thought, and also that those ideas are frequently produced in my mind without my contributing to it in any way, and even frequently contrary to my will. This faculty must therefore exist in some substance different from me, in which all the objective reality of the ideas that are produced by this faculty, is contained formally or eminently, as I before remarked: and this substance is either a body, that is to say, a corporeal nature in which is contained formally [and in effect] all that is objectively [and by representation] in those ideas; or it is God himself, or some other creature, of a rank superior to body, in which the same is contained eminently. But as God is no deceiver, it is manifest that he does not of himself and immediately communicate those ideas to me, nor even by the intervention of any creature in which their objective reality is not formally, but only eminently, contained. For as he has given me no faculty whereby I can discover this to be the case, but, on the contrary, a very strong inclination to believe that those ideas arise from corporeal objects, I do not see how he could be vindicated from the charge of deceit, if in truth they proceeded from any other source, or were produced by other causes than corporeal things: and accordingly it must be concluded, that corporeal objects exist. Nevertheless, they are not perhaps exactly such as we perceive by the senses, for their comprehension by the senses is, in many instances, very obscure and confused; but it is at least necessary to admit that all which I clearly and distinctly conceive as in them, that is, generally speaking, all that is comprehended in the object of speculative geometry, really exists external to me.
But with respect to other things which are either only particular, as, for example, that the sun is of such a size and figure, etc., or are conceived with less clearness and distinctness, as light, sound, pain, and the like, although they are highly dubious and uncertain, nevertheless on the ground alone that God is no deceiver, and that consequently he has permitted no falsity in my opinions which he has not likewise given me a faculty of correcting, I think I may with safety conclude that I possess in myself the means of arriving at the truth. And, in the first place, it cannot be doubted that in each of the dictates of nature there is some truth: for by nature, considered in general, I now understand nothing more than God himself, or the order and disposition established by God in created things; and by my nature in particular I understand the assemblage of all that God has given me.
But there is nothing which that nature teaches me more expressly [or more sensibly] than that I have a body which is ill affected when I feel pain, and stands in need of food and drink when I experience the sensations of hunger and thirst, etc. And therefore I ought not to doubt but that there is some truth in these informations.
Nature likewise teaches me by these sensations of pain, hunger, thirst, etc., that I am not only lodged in my body as a pilot in a vessel, but that I am besides so intimately conjoined, and as it were intermixed with it, that my mind and body compose a certain unity. For if this were not the case, I should not feel pain when my body is hurt, seeing I am merely a thinking thing, but should perceive the wound by the understanding alone, just as a pilot perceives by sight when any part of his vessel is damaged; and when my body has need of food or drink, I should have a clear knowledge of this, and not be made aware of it by the confused sensations of hunger and thirst: for, in truth, all these sensations of hunger, thirst, pain, etc., are nothing more than certain confused modes of thinking, arising from the union and apparent fusion of mind and body.
Besides this, nature teaches me that my own body is surrounded by many other bodies, some of which I have to seek after, and others to shun. And indeed, as I perceive different sorts of colors, sounds, odors, tastes, heat, hardness, etc., I safely conclude that there are in the bodies from which the diverse perceptions of the senses proceed, certain varieties corresponding to them, although, perhaps, not in reality like them; and since, among these diverse perceptions of the senses, some are agreeable, and others disagreeable, there can be no doubt that my body, or rather my entire self, in as far as I am composed of body and mind, may be variously affected, both beneficially and hurtfully, by surrounding bodies.
But there are many other beliefs which though seemingly the teaching of nature, are not in reality so, but which obtained a place in my mind through a habit of judging inconsiderately of things. It may thus easily happen that such judgments shall contain error: thus, for example, the opinion I have that all space in which there is nothing to affect [or make an impression on] my senses is void; that in a hot body there is something in every respect similar to the idea of heat in my mind; that in a white or green body there is the same whiteness or greenness which I perceive; that in a bitter or sweet body there is the same taste, and so in other instances; that the stars, towers, and all distant bodies, are of the same size and figure as they appear to our eyes. etc. But that I may avoid everything like indistinctness of conception, I must accurately define what I properly understand by being taught by nature. For nature is here taken in a narrower sense than when it signifies the sum of all the things which God has given me; seeing that in that meaning the notion comprehends much that belongs only to the mind [to which I am not here to be understood as referring when I use the term nature]; as, for example, the notion I have of the truth, that what is done cannot be undone, and all the other truths I discern by the natural light [without the aid of the body]; and seeing that it comprehends likewise much besides that belongs only to body, and is not here any more contained under the name nature, as the quality of heaviness, and the like, of which I do not speak, the term being reserved exclusively to designate the things which God has given to me as a being composed of mind and body. But nature, taking the term in the sense explained, teaches me to shun what causes in me the sensation of pain, and to pursue what affords me the sensation of pleasure, and other things of this sort; but I do not discover that it teaches me, in addition to this, from these diverse perceptions of the senses, to draw any conclusions respecting external objects without a previous [careful and mature] consideration of them by the mind: for it is, as appears to me, the office of the mind alone, and not of the composite whole of mind and body, to discern the truth in those matters. Thus, although the impression a star makes on my eye is not larger than that from the flame of a candle, I do not, nevertheless, experience any real or positive impulse determining me to believe that the star is not greater than the flame; the true account of the matter being merely that I have so judged from my youth without any rational ground. And, though on approaching the fire I feel heat, and even pain on approaching it too closely, I have, however, from this no ground for holding that something resembling the heat I feel is in the fire, any more than that there is something similar to the pain; all that I have ground for believing is, that there is something in it, whatever it may be, which excites in me those sensations of heat or pain. So also, although there are spaces in which I find nothing to excite and affect my senses, I must not therefore conclude that those spaces contain in them no body; for I see that in this, as in many other similar matters, I have been accustomed to pervert the order of nature, because these perceptions of the senses, although given me by nature merely to signify to my mind what things are beneficial and hurtful to the composite whole of which it is a part, and being sufficiently clear and distinct for that purpose, arc nevertheless used by me as infallible rules by which to determine immediately the essence of the bodies that exist out of me, of which they can of course afford me only the most obscure and confused knowledge.
But I have already sufficiently considered how it happens that, notwithstanding the supreme goodness of God, there is falsity in my judgments. A difficulty, however, here presents itself, respecting the things which I am taught by nature must be pursued or avoided, and also respecting the internal sensations in which I seem to have occasionally detected error, [and thus to be directly deceived by nature]: thus, for example, I may be so deceived by the agreeable taste of some viand with which poison has been mixed, as to be induced to take the poison. In this case, however, nature may be excused, for it simply leads me to desire the viand for its agreeable taste, and not the poison, which is unknown to it; and thus we can infer nothing from this circumstance beyond that our nature is not omniscient; at which there is assuredly no ground for surprise, since, man being of a finite nature, his knowledge must likewise be of a limited perfection. But we also not unfrequently err in that to which we are directly impelled by nature, as is the case with invalids who desire drink or food that would be hurtful to them. It will here, perhaps, be alleged that the reason why such persons are deceived is that their nature is corrupted; but this leaves the difficulty untouched, for a sick man is not less really the creature of God than a man who is in full health; and therefore it is as repugnant to the goodness of God that the nature of the former should be deceitful as it is for that of the latter to be so. And as a clock, composed of wheels and counter weights, observes not the less accurately all the laws of nature when it is ill made, and points out the hours incorrectly, than when it satisfies the desire of the maker in every respect; so likewise if the body of man be considered as a kind of machine, so made up and composed of bones, nerves, muscles, veins, blood, and skin, that although there were in it no mind, it would still exhibit the same motions which it at present manifests involuntarily, and therefore without the aid of the mind, [and simply by the dispositions of its organs], I easily discern that it would also be as natural for such a body, supposing it dropsical, for example, to experience the parchedness of the throat that is usually accompanied in the mind by the sensation of thirst, and to be disposed by this parchedness to move its nerves and its other parts in the way required for drinking, and thus increase its malady and do itself harm, as it is natural for it, when it is not indisposed to be stimulated to drink for its good by a similar cause; and although looking to the use for which a clock was destined by its maker, I may say that it is deflected from its proper nature when it incorrectly indicates the hours, and on the same principle, considering the machine of the human body as having been formed by God for the sake of the motions which it usually manifests, although I may likewise have ground for thinking that it does not follow the order of its nature when the throat is parched and drink does not tend to its preservation, nevertheless I yet plainly discern that this latter acceptation of the term nature is very different from the other: for this is nothing more than a certain denomination, depending entirely on my thought, and hence called extrinsic, by which I compare a sick man and an imperfectly constructed clock with the idea I have of a man in good health and a well made clock; while by the other acceptation of nature is understood something which is truly found in things, and therefore possessed of some truth.
But certainly, although in respect of a dropsical body, it is only by way of exterior denomination that we say its nature is corrupted, when, without requiring drink, the throat is parched; yet, in respect of the composite whole, that is, of the mind in its union with the body, it is not a pure denomination, but really an error of nature, for it to feel thirst when drink would be hurtful to it: and, accordingly, it still remains to be considered why it is that the goodness of God does not prevent the nature of man thus taken from being fallacious.
To commence this examination accordingly, I here remark, in the first place, that there is a vast difference between mind and body, in respect that body, from its nature, is always divisible, and that mind is entirely indivisible. For in truth, when I consider the mind, that is, when I consider myself in so far only as I am a thinking thing, I can distinguish in myself no parts, but I very clearly discern that I am somewhat absolutely one and entire; and although the whole mind seems to be united to the whole body, yet, when a foot, an arm, or any other part is cut off, I am conscious that nothing has been taken from my mind; nor can the faculties of willing, perceiving, conceiving, etc., properly be called its parts, for it is the same mind that is exercised [all entire] in willing, in perceiving, and in conceiving, etc But quite the opposite holds in corporeal or extended things; for I cannot imagine any one of them [how small soever it may be], which I cannot easily sunder in thought, and which, therefore, I do not know to be divisible. This would be sufficient to teach me that the mind or soul of man is entirely different from the body, if I had not already been apprised of it on other grounds.
I remark, in the next place, that the mind does not immediately receive the impression from all the parts of the body, but only from the brain, or perhaps even from one small part of it, viz, that in which the common sense (sensus communis) is said to be, which as often as it is affected in the same way gives rise to the same perception in the mind, although meanwhile the other parts of the body may be diversely disposed, as is proved by innumerable experiments, which it is unnecessary here to enumerate.
I remark, besides, that the nature of body is such that none of its parts can be moved by another part a little removed from the other, which cannot likewise be moved in the same way by any one of the parts that lie between those two, although the most remote part does not act at all. As, for example, in the cord a, b, c, d, [which is in tension], if its last part d, be pulled, the first part a, will not be moved in a different way than it would be were one of the intermediate parts b or c to be pulled, and the last part d meanwhile to remain fixed. And in the same way, when I feel pain in the foot, the science of physics teaches me that this sensation is experienced by means of the nerves dispersed over the foot, which, extending like cords from it to the brain, when they are contracted in the foot, contract at the same time the inmost parts of the brain in which they have their origin, and excite in these parts a certain motion appointed by nature to cause in the mind a sensation of pain, as if existing in the foot; but as these nerves must pass through the tibia, the leg, the loins, the back, and neck, in order to reach the brain, it may happen that although their extremities in the foot are not affected, but only certain of their parts that pass through the loins or neck, the same movements, nevertheless, are excited in the brain by this motion as would have been caused there by a hurt received in the foot, and hence the mind will necessarily feel pain in the foot, just as if it had been hurt; and the same is true of all the other perceptions of our senses.
I remark, finally, that as each of the movements that are made in the part of the brain by which the mind is immediately affected, impresses it with but a single sensation, the most likely supposition in the circumstances is, that this movement causes the mind to experience, among all the sensations which it is capable of impressing upon it, that one which is the best fitted, and generally the most useful for the preservation of the human body when it is in full health. But experience shows us that all the perceptions which nature has given us are of such a kind as I have mentioned; and accordingly, there is nothing found in them that does not manifest the power and goodness of God. Thus, for example, when the nerves of the foot are violently or more than usually shaken, the motion passing through the medulla of the spine to the innermost parts of the brain affords a sign to the mind on which it experiences a sensation, viz., of pain, as if it were in the foot, by which the mind is admonished and excited to do its utmost to remove the cause of it as dangerous and hurtful to the foot. It is true that God could have so constituted the nature of man as that the same motion in the brain would have informed the mind of something altogether different: the motion might, for example, have been the occasion on which the mind became conscious of itself, in so far as it is in the brain, or in so far as it is in some place intermediate between the foot and the brain, or, finally, the occasion on which it perceived some other object quite different, whatever that might be; but nothing of all this would have so well contributed to the preservation of the body as that which the mind actually feels. In the same way, when we stand in need of drink, there arises from this want a certain parchedness in the throat that moves its nerves, and by means of them the internal parts of the brain; and this movement affects the mind with the sensation of thirst, because there is nothing on that occasion which is more useful for us than to be made aware that we have need of drink for the preservation of our health; and so in other instances.
Whence it is quite manifest that, notwithstanding the sovereign goodness of God, the nature of man, in so far as it is composed of mind and body, cannot but be sometimes fallacious. For, if there is any cause which excites, not in the foot, but in some one of the parts of the nerves that stretch from the foot to the brain, or even in the brain itself, the same movement that is ordinarily created when the foot is ill affected, pain will be felt, as it were, in the foot, and the sense will thus be naturally deceived; for as the same movement in the brain can but impress the mind with the same sensation, and as this sensation is much more frequently excited by a cause which hurts the foot than by one acting in a different quarter, it is reasonable that it should lead the mind to feel pain in the foot rather than in any other part of the body. And if it sometimes happens that the parchedness of the throat does not arise, as is usual, from drink being necessary for the health of the body, but from quite the opposite cause, as is the case with the dropsical, yet it is much better that it should be deceitful in that instance, than if, on the contrary, it were continually fallacious when the body is well-disposed; and the same holds true in other cases.
And certainly this consideration is of great service, not only in enabling me to recognize the errors to which my nature is liable, but likewise in rendering it more easy to avoid or correct them: for, knowing that all my senses more usually indicate to me what is true than what is false, in matters relating to the advantage of the body, and being able almost always to make use of more than a single sense in examining the same object, and besides this, being able to use my memory in connecting present with past knowledge, and my understanding which has already discovered all the causes of my errors, I ought no longer to fear that falsity may be met with in what is daily presented to me by the senses. And I ought to reject all the doubts of those bygone days, as hyperbolical and ridiculous, especially the general uncertainty respecting sleep, which I could not distinguish from the waking state: for I now find a very marked difference between the two states, in respect that our memory can never connect our dreams with each other and with the course of life, in the way it is in the habit of doing with events that occur when we are awake. And, in truth, if some one, when I am awake, appeared to me all of a sudden and as suddenly disappeared, as do the images I see in sleep, so that I could not observe either whence he came or whither he went, I should not without reason esteem it either a specter or phantom formed in my brain, rather than a real man. But when I perceive objects with regard to which I can distinctly determine both the place whence they come, and that in which they are, and the time at which they appear to me, and when, without interruption, I can connect the perception I have of them with the whole of the other parts of my life, I am perfectly sure that what I thus perceive occurs while I am awake and not during sleep. And I ought not in the least degree to doubt of the truth of these presentations, if, after having called together all my senses, my memory, and my understanding for the purpose of examining them, no deliverance is given by any one of these faculties which is repugnant to that of any other: for since God is no deceiver, it necessarily follows that I am not herein deceived. But because the necessities of action frequently oblige us to come to a determination before we have had leisure for so careful an examination, it must be confessed that the life of man is frequently obnoxious to error with respect to individual objects; and we must, in conclusion, acknowledge the weakness of our nature.
LETTER OF THE AUTHOR
FRENCH TRANSLATOR OF THE PRINCIPLES OF
PHILOSOPHY SERVING FOR A PREFACE.
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 endeavor 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 civilization and culture of a nation is regulated by the degree in which true philosophy flourishes 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 color 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 favorites of fortune — those who have health, honors, 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 endeavored to find a fifth road to wisdom, incomparably more sure and elevated than the other four. The path they assayed 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 endeavored to account for the other things. Aristotle, on the other hand, characterized by less candor, 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 anyone to whom it was known, from neglect of it, the majority of those who in these latter 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 recognize 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 toward 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 honor 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 traveling, when we turn our back upon the place to which we are 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 afterward brought back to the right way, we cannot nevertheless arrive at the destined place as soon as if we had not moved backward 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 deduce 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 arc 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 afterward, 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 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 endeavor 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 practicing 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 endeavoring 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 that are useful to life, because the invention of the telescope, of which I there gave an explanation, is one of the most difficult that has ever been made. In the treatise of Meteors, I desired to exhibit the difference that subsists between the philosophy I cultivate and that taught in the schools, in which the same matters are usually discussed. In fine, in the Geometry, I professed to demonstrate that I had discovered many things that were before unknown, and thus afford ground for believing that we may still discover many others, with the view of thus stimulating all to the investigation of truth. Since that period, anticipating the difficulty which many would experience in apprehending the foundations of the Metaphysics, I endeavored to explain the chief points of them in a book of Meditations, which is not in itself large, but the size of which has been increased, and the matter greatly illustrated, by the Objections which several very learned persons sent to me on occasion of it, and by the Replies which I made to them. At length, after it appeared to me that those preceding treatises had sufficiently prepared the minds of my readers for the ≪Principles of Philosophy,≫ I also published it; and I have divided this work into four parts, the first of which contains the principles of human knowledge, and which may be called the First Philosophy, or Metaphysics. That this part, accordingly, may be properly understood, it will be necessary to read beforehand the book of Meditations I wrote on the same subject. The other three parts contain all that is most general in Physics, namely, the explication of the first laws or principles of nature, and the way in which the heavens, the fixed stars, the planets, comets, and generally the whole universe, were composed; in the next place, the explication, in particular, of the nature of this earth, the air, water, fire, the magnet, which are the bodies we most commonly find everywhere around it, and of all the qualities we observe in these bodies, as light, heat, gravity, and the like. In this way, it seems to me, I have commenced the orderly explanation of the whole of philosophy, without omitting any of the matters that ought to precede the last which I discussed.
But to bring this undertaking to its conclusion, I ought hereafter to explain, in the same manner, the nature of the other more particular bodies that are on the earth, namely, minerals, plants, animals, and especially man; finally to treat thereafter with accuracy of Medicine, Ethics, and Mechanics. I should require to do this in order to give to the world a complete body of philosophy; and I do not yet feel myself so old, I do not so much distrust my strength, nor do I find myself so far removed from the knowledge of what remains, as that I should not dare to undertake to complete this design, provided I were in a position to make all the experiments which I should require for the basis and verification of my reasonings. But seeing that would demand a great expenditure, to which the resources of a private individual like myself would not be adequate, unless aided by the public, and as I have no ground to expect this aid, I believe that I ought for the future to content myself with studying for my own instruction, and posterity will excuse me if I fail hereafter to labor for them.
Meanwhile, that it may be seen wherein I think I have already promoted the general good, I will here mention the fruits that may be gathered from my Principles. The first is the satisfaction which the mind will experience on finding in the work many truths before unknown; for although frequently truth does not so greatly affect our imagination as falsity and fiction, because it seems less wonderful and is more simple, yet the gratification it affords is always more durable and solid. The second fruit is, that in studying these principles we will become accustomed by degrees to judge better of all the things we come in contact with, and thus be made wiser, in which respect the effect will be quite the opposite to the common philosophy, for we may easily remark in those we call pedants that it renders them less capable of rightly exercising their reason than they would have been if they had never known it. The third is, that the truths which they contain, being highly clear and certain, will take away all ground of dispute, and thus dispose men's minds to gentleness and concord; whereas the contrary is the effect of the controversies of the schools, which, as they insensibly render those who are exercised in them more wrangling and opinionative, are perhaps the prime cause of the heresies and dissensions that now harass the world. The last and chief fruit of these Principles is, that one will be able, by cultivating them, to discover many truths I myself have not unfolded, and thus passing by degrees from one to another, to acquire in course of time a perfect knowledge of the whole of philosophy, and to rise to the highest degree of wisdom. For just as all the arts, though in their beginnings they are rude and imperfect, are yet gradually perfected by practice, from their containing at first something true, and whose effect experience evinces; so in philosophy, when we have true principles, we cannot fail by following them to meet sometimes with other truths; and we could not better prove the falsity of those of Aristotle, than by saying that men made no progress in knowledge by their means during the many ages they prosecuted them.
I well know that there are some men so precipitate and accustomed to use so little circumspection in what they do, that, even with the most solid foundations, they could not rear a firm superstructure; and as it is usually those who are the readiest to make books, they would in a short time mar all that I have done, and introduce uncertainty and doubt into my manner of philosophizing, from which I have carefully endeavored to banish them, if people were to receive their writings as mine, or as representing my opinions. I had, not long ago, some experience of this in one of those who were believed desirous of following me the most closely, and one too of whom I had somewhere said that I had such confidence in his genius as to believe that he adhered to no opinions which I should not be ready to avow as mine; for he last year published a book entitled ≪ Fundamenta Physicæ,≫ in which, although he seems to have written nothing on the subject of Physics and Medicine which he did not take from my writings, as well from those I have published as from another still imperfect on the nature of animals, which fell into his hands; nevertheless, because he has copied them badly, and changed the order, and denied certain metaphysical truths upon which all Physics ought to be based, I am obliged wholly to disavow his work, and here to request readers not to attribute to me any opinion unless they find it expressly stated in my own writings, and to receive no opinion as true, whether in my writings or elsewhere, unless they see that it is very clearly deduced from true principles.
I well know, likewise, that many ages may elapse ere all the truths deducible from these principles are evolved out of them, as well because the greater number of such as remain to be discovered depend on certain particular experiments that never occur by chance, but which require to be investigated with care and expense by men of the highest intelligence, as because it will hardly happen that the same persons who have the sagacity to make a right use of them, will possess also the means of making them, and also because the majority of the best minds have formed so low an estimate of philosophy in general, from the imperfections they have remarked in the kind in vogue up to the present time, that they cannot apply themselves to the search after truth.
But in conclusion, if the difference discernible between the principles in question and those of every other system, and the great array of truths deducible from them, lead them to discern the importance of continuing the search after these truths, and to observe the degree of wisdom, the perfection and felicity of life, to which they are fitted to conduct us, I venture to believe that there will not be found one who is not ready to labor hard in so profitable a study, or at least to favor and aid with all his might those who shall devote themselves to it with success.
The height of my wishes is, that posterity may sometime behold the happy issue of it, etc.
to the most serene princess,
Eldest DaughterofFrederick, KingofBohemia,
Count Palatine, andElectorof the
Sacred Roman Empire.
The greatest advantage I have derived from the writings which I have already published, has arisen from my having, through means of them, become known to your Highness, and thus been privileged to hold occasional converse with one in whom so many rare and estimable qualities are united, as to lead me to believe I should do service to the public by proposing them as an example to posterity. It would ill become me to flatter, or to give expression to anything of which I had no certain knowledge, especially in the first pages of a work in which I aim at laying down the principles of truth. And the generous modesty that is conspicuous in all your actions, assures me that the frank and simple judgment of a man who only writes what he believes will be more agreeable to you than the ornate laudations of those who have studied the art of compliment. For this reason, I will give insertion to nothing in this letter for which I have not the certainty both of experience and reason; and in the exordium, as in the rest of the work, I will write only as becomes a philosopher. There is a vast difference between real and apparent virtues; and there is also a great discrepancy between those real virtues that proceed from an accurate knowledge of the truth, and such as are accompanied with ignorance or error. The virtues I call apparent are only, properly speaking, vices, which, as they are less frequent than the vices that are opposed to them, and are farther removed from them than the intermediate virtues, are usually held in higher esteem than those virtues. Thus, because those who fear dangers too much are more numerous than they who fear them too little, temerity is frequently opposed to the vice of timidity, and taken for a virtue, and is commonly more highly esteemed than true fortitude. Thus, also, the prodigal are in ordinary more praised than the liberal; and none more easily acquire a great reputation for piety than the superstitious and hypocritical. With regard to true virtues, these do not all proceed from true knowledge, for there are some that likewise spring from defect or error: thus, simplicity is frequently the source of goodness, fear of devotion, and despair of courage. The virtues that are thus accompanied with some imperfections differ from each other, and have received diverse appellations. But those pure and perfect virtues that arise from the knowledge of good alone, are all of the same nature, and may be comprised under the single term wisdom. For, whoever owns the firm and constant resolution of always using his reason as well as lies in his power, and in all his actions of doing what he judges to be best, is truly wise, as far as his nature permits; and by this alone he is just, courageous, temperate, and possesses all the other virtues, but so well balanced as that none of them appears more prominent than another: and for this reason, although they are much more perfect than the virtues that blaze forth through the mixture of some defect, yet, because the crowd thus observes them less, they are not usually extolled so highly. Besides, of the two things that are requisite for the wisdom thus described, namely, the perception of the understanding and the disposition of the will, it is only that which lies in the will which all men can possess equally, inasmuch as the understanding of some is inferior to that of others. But although those who have only an inferior understanding may be as perfectly wise as their nature permits, and may render themselves highly acceptable to God by their virtue, provided they preserve always a firm and constant resolution to do all that they shall judge to be right, and to omit nothing that may lead them to the knowledge of the duties of which they are ignorant; nevertheless, those who preserve a constant resolution of performing the right, and are especially careful in instructing themselves, and who possess also a highly perspicacious intellect, arrive doubtless at a higher degree of wisdom than others; and I see that these three particulars are found in great perfection in your Highness. For, in the first place, your desire of self-instruction is manifest, from the circumstance that neither the amusements of the court, nor the accustomed mode of educating ladies, which ordinarily condemns them to ignorance, have been sufficient to prevent you from studying with much care all that is best in the arts and sciences; and the incomparable perspicacity of your intellect is evinced by this, that you penetrated the secrets of the sciences and acquired an accurate knowledge of them in a very short period. But of the vigor of your intellect I have a still stronger proof, and one peculiar to myself, in that I have never yet met any one who understood so generally and so well as yourself all that is contained in my writings. For there are several, even among men of the highest intellect and learning, who find them very obscure. And I remark, in almost all those who are versant in Metaphysics, that they are wholly disinclined from Geometry; and, on the other hand, that the cultivators of Geometry have no ability for the investigations of the First Philosophy: insomuch that I can say with truth I know but one mind, and that is your own, to which both studies are alike congenial, and which I therefore, with propriety, designate incomparable. But what most of all enhances my admiration is, that so accurate and varied an acquaintance with the whole circle of the sciences is not found in some aged doctor who has employed many years in contemplation, but in a Princess still young, and whose countenance and years would more fitly represent one of the Graces than a Muse or the sage Minerva. In conclusion, I not only remark in your Highness all that is requisite on the part of the mind to perfect and sublime wisdom, but also all that can be required on the part of the will or the manners, in which benignity and gentleness are so conjoined with majesty that, though fortune has attacked you with continued injustice, it has failed either to irritate or crush you. And this constrains me to such veneration that I not only think this work due to you, since it treats of philosophy which is the study of wisdom, but likewise feel not more zeal for my reputation as a philosopher than pleasure in subscribing myself,
Of your most Serene Highness,
The most devoted servant,
THE PRINCIPLES OF PHILOSOPHY.