VI. RENÉ DESCARTES: 1596–1650

First of all, he had a Jesuit education, which has been the starting point and whetstone of French heretics from Descartes through Voltaire to Renan and Anatole France; “In the Temple were forged the hammers which destroyed the Temple.”78

He was born at La Haye in Touraine. His mother died of tuberculosis a few days later; he inherited the disease from her; as an infant he was so pale and weak and coughed so pitifully that the physician offered no hope of saving him. A nurse would not give him up as lost; she gave him the warmth and nourishment of her body. He came back to life, and perhaps for that reason he was called René—Renatus—reborn. His father was a prosperous lawyer, a councilor of the Parlement of Rennes, who at his death left his son an income of six thousand francs per year.

At the age of eight he was entered in the Jesuit College of La Flèche, which, says an ardent freethinker and famous mathematician, “seems to have given him a much better grounding in mathematics than he could have got at most universities at that time.”79 His teachers recognized his physical weakness and mental alertness. They allowed him to remain in bed beyond rising hours and noted that he used the time to devour one book after another. In all his metaphysical wanderings he never lost his admiration for the Jesuits, and in their turn they took his doubts with paternal indulgence.

At seventeen he went to Paris to sow wild oats; he found that he had none to sow, being as yet indifferent to women; but as a devoted mathematician he took to gambling, figuring that he could break the casino bank. He went on to the University of Poitiers, where he received degrees in civil and canon law. Having gained health and strength, he amazed his friends by enlisting in the army of Prince Maurice of Nassau (1618). When the Thirty Years’ War gathered impetus, he joined the forces of Maximilian, Duke of Bavaria; an uncertain tradition pictures him as having taken part in the battle of the White Mountain.

Amid these campaigns, and especially in the long months when winter interrupted slaughter, Descartes continued his studies, especially of mathematics. One day (November 10, 1619), at Neuburg (near Ulm in Bavaria), he escaped the cold by shutting himself up in a “stove” (probably an especially heated room). There, he tells us, he had three visions or dreams, in which he saw flashes of light and heard thunder; it seemed to him that some divine spirit was revealing to him a new philosophy. When he emerged from that “stove” he had (he assures us) formulated analytical geometry, and had conceived the idea of applying the mathematical method to philosophy.80

He returned to France in 1622, arranged his finances, and set out again on travels. He spent almost a year in Italy: went (some say on foot) from Venice to Lore to, paid his tribute to the Virgin, saw Rome in the 1625 jubilee, passed through Florence, did not visit Galileo, and came back to Paris. There and in the countryside he pursued scientific studies. He accompanied the mathematician and military engineer Gérard Desargues to the siege of La Rochelle (1628). Later in that year he moved to Holland; and barring some visits to France for business purposes, he spent nearly all the remainder of his life in the United Provinces.

We do not know why he left France. Possibly, “having shown forth” his “reasons for doubting many things,”81 he feared accusations of heresy; and yet he had many ecclesiastical friends there, like Mersenne and Bérulle. Perhaps he sought to avoid friends as well as enemies, hoping to find in an alien land the social (but not intellectual) isolation in which he could give form to the philosophy that was seething within him. He disliked the bustle and prattle of Paris, but did not mind the busy traffic—soft-pedaled by canals—of Amsterdam; there, “in the crowded throng of a great and very active people,” he says, he could “live as solitary and retired as in deserts the most remote.”82 It may have been to conceal himself still further that he changed his habitat twenty-four times in the next twenty years—from Franeker to Amsterdam to Deventer to Amsterdam to Utrecht to Leiden, but usually near a university or a library. His income allowed him to live comfortably in a small château, with several servants. He avoided marriage, but took a mistress (1634), who bore him a daughter. We are pleased to hear that when this daughter died at the age of five, Descartes wept humanly. We should err if we thought of him as coldly unconcerned with mundane affairs. We shall find him justifying many of the passions that moralists normally condemn. He had some himself, being subject to pride, anger, and vanity.83

It took a proud spirit to dare his scope. Consider what he undertook: mathematics, physics, astronomy, anatomy, physiology, psychology, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, theology; who would venture today on such a circumnavigation? For this he coveted seclusion, made experiments, equations, diagrams, weighed his chances of escaping or appeasing the Inquisition, and sought to give mathematical method to his philosophy, and philosophical method to his life.

Where should he commence? In the epochal Discours de la méthode,III he announced a first principle that in itself could have brought the world of authority down upon his head; all the more so since the essay was written in readily intelligible French, and in an animated, captivating, firstperson style; here were many revolutions! He would begin, he said, by rejecting all doctrines and dogmas, putting aside all authorities, especially of ille philosophus, the philosopher, Aristotle; he would start with a clean slate and doubt everything—de omnibus dubitandum. “The chief cause of our errors is to be found in the prejudices of our childhood84… principles of which I allowed myself in youth to be persuaded without having inquired into their truth.”85

But if he doubted everything, how could he proceed? In love with mathematics, above all with geometry, which his own genius was transforming, he aspired to find, after his initial and universal doubt, some fact which would be admitted as generally and readily as the axioms of Euclid. “Archimedes, in order that he might draw the terrestrial globe out of its place and transport it elsewhere, demanded that only one point should be fixed and immovable; in the same way I shall have the right to conceive high hopes if I am happy enough to discover one thing only which is certain and indisputable.”86 He hit upon it exultingly: Je pense, donc je suis, Cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am”87—the most famous sentence in philosophy.IV It was intended not as a syllogism but as an immediate and irrefragable experience, the clearest and most distinct idea that we can ever have. Other ideas should be considered “true” in proportion as they approach this primal intuition—this direct perception—in distinctness and clarity. Descartes’ new “method” in philosophy, his novum organum, was to analyze complex conceptions into their constituents until the irreducible elements are simple, clear, distinct ideas, and to show that all such basic ideas can be derived from, or can depend upon, the primary consciousness of a being that it thinks. Conversely, we should try to deduce from this primary perception all the fundamental principles of philosophy.

It was again a revolution in philosophy that Descartes took as his starting point not external objects supposedly known but the conscious self. The Renaissance had rediscovered the individual; Descartes made him the hitching post of his philosophy. “I see clearly that there is nothing which is easier for me to know than my own mind.”89 If we begin with matter and rise through levels of organic life to man, we shall be tempted by the logic of continuity to interpret mind as material. But matter is known to us only through mind; only mind is known directly. Here begins modern idea-lism, not as ideal-ism in an ethical sense, but as a philosophy that starts with the immediate fact of ideas, rather than with things known through ideas. Descartes sets the epistemological theme of modern European philosophy: “No more useful inquiry can be proposed than that which seeks to determine the nature and scope of human knowledge.”90 Now for three centuries philosophy would wonder if the “external world” exists except as idea.

For just as it is difficult to pass from body to mind with any theory that does justice both to the apparently material source and agency of sensations and to the apparently immaterial nature of ideas, so Descartes, having begun with the self, finds it difficult to pass from mind to things. How does the mind know that the sensations that seem to attest an external world are anything more than its own states? How can it trust the senses, which so often deceive us, or the mental images that are just as vivid when “false” in sleep as when “true” in the day?

To escape from this “solipsistic” prison of the self, Descartes appeals to God, who surely would not make our whole sensory equipment a deception. But when did God come into this system that began so boldly by doubting all received beliefs? Descartes cannot prove the existence of God from evidences of design in the external world, for he has not yet shown the existence of that world. So Descartes evolves God out of the knowing self, very much as Anselm had done in the “ontological proof” six centuries before. I have, he says, a conception of a perfect being, omniscient, omnipotent, necessary, and eternal. But that which exists is more nearly perfect than that which does not; therefore a perfect being must include existence among his attributes. And who could have put that idea into me but God Himself? “It is not possible that… I should have in myself the idea of a God if God did not veritably exist.”91 For if God were a deceiver He would not be perfect. Therefore he does not deceive us when we have clear and distinct ideas, nor when He allows our senses to reveal to us an external world. “I do not see how He could be defended from the accusation of deceit if these ideas were produced by causes other than corporeal objects. Hence we must allow that corporeal things exist.”92 So the gap between mind and matter, subject and object, is marvelously closed, and Descartes, by the help of God, becomes a real-ist. Science itself—our confident belief in a logical, orderly, law-abiding, calculable universe—becomes possible only because God exists and cannot lie.

As we follow Descartes we see the infant Age of Reason recoiling in fear from the hazards of thought and seeking to re-enter the warm womb of faith. The Meditationes was reassuringly entitled The Meditations of René Descartes on First Philosophy, in Which the Existence of God and the Immortality of the Soul Are Demonstrated; and the book was dedicated to “the very sage and illustrious dean of the Sacred Faculty of Theology of Paris”—i.e., the Sorbonne. The dean accepted the dedication, but in 1662 the volume was placed on the Index of Prohibited Books “until it is corrected.” It began on the same brave note as the Discours: “Today … since I have procured for myself an assured leisure in a peaceful retreat, I shall at last freely and seriously address myself to the general upheaval of all my former opinions.”93 He throws them out the window and then lets them in at the door. And not only the belief in a just and omnipotent God, but also in a human will free amid universal mechanism, and a soul immortal despite its apparent dependence upon mortal flesh. Yield as we must to the logic of an unbreakable chain of cause and effect in the world of matter and body, the freedom of our wills is one of those innate ideas which are so clear and distinct, so vivid and immediate, that no one ever doubts them in practice, however much he may play with them in abstract theory.94

The idea of God, of the self, of space, time, and motion, and the axioms of mathematics—all these are innate; that is, the soul derives them not from sensation or experience but from its own essence and rationality. (Here Locke would demur and Kant would applaud.) However, these innate ideas may remain unconscious until experience startles them into conscious form. The soul, then, is not a product of experience, but its active and originative partner in the production of thought. This “rational soul”—the ability to reason—is clearly immaterial; its ideas have no length, breadth, position, weight, or any other of the qualities that belong to matter.95 “This ‘me,’ that is to say, the soul by which I am what I am, is essentially distinct from the body, and is even easier to know than the latter.”96 Therefore this immaterial mind or soul can, and surely does, survive the body.

Were these orthodox conclusions sincere, or were they protective coloration? Was Descartes so anxious to pursue his scientific studies in unpersecuted peace that he exuded metaphysics like some befuddling mist to hamper birds of prey? We cannot say. It is possible for a man to be a good scientist—at least in physics, chemistry, and astronomy, if not in biology—and at the same time accept the basic doctrines of Christianity. In one passage Descartes affirmed that reason “does not prevent us from believing matters that have been divinely revealed as being more certain than our surest knowledge.”97 His correspondence with Princess Palatine Elizabeth is eloquently pious and orthodox. Salmasius, visiting him at Leiden in 1637, described him as “a most zealous Catholic.”98

And yet the last decade of his life was dedicated to science. He turned his rooms into a laboratory and made experiments in physics and physiology. When a visitor asked to see his library Descartes pointed to a quarter of veal that he was dissecting.99 At times he spoke like Bacon of the great practical benefits that would accrue to mankind when science had made men “the masters and possessors of nature.”100 His subjective emphasis and his confidence in deduction often led him to dubious conclusions, but he worked creatively in several sciences. He insisted that science should replace the vague and qualitative abstractions of medieval physics with quantitative explanations in mathematical form. We have noted his development of analytical geometry and his adumbration of infinitesimal calculus. He solved the problems of doubling a cube and trisecting an angle. He established the use of the first letters of the alphabet to represent known, and of the last letters to represent unknown, quantities. He seems to have discovered the law of refraction independently of Snell. He studied fruitfully great forces exerted by small means, as by the pulley, the wedge, the lever, the vise, and the wheel, and he formulated laws of inertia, impact, and impetus. He may have suggested to Pascal that atmospheric pressure decreases with altitude,101 though he was mistaken in declaring that a vacuum existed nowhere except in Pascal’s head.102 He suggested that every body is surrounded by vortices of particles whirling about it in spherical layers—a conception not unlike the present theory of magnetic fields. In optics he correctly calculated the angle of refraction; he analyzed the changes to which light is subjected by the crystalline lens of the eye; he solved the problem of correcting spherical aberration in telescopes, and designed lenses with elliptical or hyperbolic curvature free from such aberration.103

He dissected and anatomically described a foetus. He dissected (he tells us) “the heads of various animals in order to ascertain in what memory, imagination, etc., consist.”104 He made experiments in reflex action, and explained the mechanism by which the eye winks at the approach of a blow.105 He developed a theory of the emotions resembling that of William James and Carl Lange: the external cause of the emotion (e.g., our sight of a dangerous animal) automatically and simultaneously generates a responsive action (flight) and the corresponding emotion (fear); the emotion is the accompaniment, not the cause, of the action. The passions are rooted in physiology and should be studied and explained as mechanical operations. They are not in themselves bad, for they are the wind in our sails; but when not moderated by reason they can enslave and ruin a personality.

The whole universe, except God and the rational soul, may be viewed as mechanical. Remembering Galileo and the Inquisition, Descartes is careful to present the idea as hypothetical: assuming that God has created matter and endowed it with motion, we can imagine the world evolving thereafter by the laws of mechanics, without interference. The natural movement of material particles, in a universe without a vacuum, would take a circular form, resulting in diverse vortices or whirlpools of motion. The sun, the planets, and the stars may have been formed by the concentration of particles at the centers of these vortices. Just as every body is surrounded by a whirl of fine atoms—which explains cohesion and attraction—so each planet is enclosed in a vortex of particles that holds its satellites in orbit. The sun is the center of a vast vortex in which the planets are swept around it in circles. It was an ingenious theory, but it fell apart when Kepler proved that the planetary orbits are elliptical.

Descartes proposed that if our knowledge were complete we should be able to reduce not only astronomy and physics and chemistry, but all the operations of life, except reason itself, to mechanical laws. Respiration, digestion, even sensation, are mechanical; see how beneficently this principle worked in Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood. Descartes confidently applied the mechanical conception to all the operations of animals, for he refused to credit them with the power of reasoning. He may have felt religiously compelled to do this injustice to animals; for he had based the immortality of the soul upon the immateriality of the rational mind, and if animals too had such minds they too would be immortal—which might be an inconvenience, if not to dog lovers, at least to theologians.

But if the human body is a material machine, how can the immaterial mind act upon it, or govern it by so unmechanical a power as free will? At this point Descartes lost his confidence; he answered desperately that God arranges the interaction of body and mind in mysterious ways, beyond our finite understanding. Perhaps, he suggested, the mind acts upon the body through the pineal gland, which is appropriately situated at the middle base of the brain.

The rashest act in Descartes’ life was his request to Mersenne to send advance copies of the Meditationes to various thinkers with an invitation to submit criticisms. Gassendi, in reply, demolished Descartes’ contentions with Gallic courtesy;106 the priest was not convinced by the ontological argument for the existence of God. Hobbes objected that Descartes had not proved the mind’s independence of matter and the brain. Privately (according to Aubrey) Hobbes “was wont to say that had Descartes kept himself wholly to geometry … he had been the best geometer in the world, but that his head did not lie for philosophy.”107 Huygens agreed with Hobbes, and thought that Descartes had woven a romance out of metaphysical webs.

It is simple now, profiting from three centuries of discussion, to point out weaknesses in this brave first modern “system” of philosophy. The idea of reducing philosophy to geometrical form condemned Descartes to a deductive method in which, despite his experiments, he relied too recklessly on his flair for reasoning. To make the clarity, distinctness, vividness, and immediacy of an idea the test of its truth was suicidal, for on that basis who would dare deny the revolution of the sun around the earth? To argue that God exists because we have a clear and distinct idea of a perfect and infinite being (do we?), and then to argue that clear and distinct ideas are trustworthy because God would not deceive us, is a form of reasoning as circular and dubious as Descartes’ planetary orbits. This philosophy is dripping with the medieval Scholastic conceptions that it proposed to reject. Montaigne’s doubt was more basic and lasting than that of Descartes, who merely removed traditional nonsense to make room for his own.

Even so there remained enough in his science, if not in his metaphysics, to make him fear persecution. His theory of universal mechanism left miracles and free will in a parlous state despite his professions of orthodox belief. When he heard of Galileo’s condemnation (June 1633) he put aside the major work, Le Monde, in which he had planned to unite all his scientific work and results; and he wrote sadly to Mersenne:

This has so strongly affected me that I have almost resolved to burn all my ms., or at least to show it to no one. … If it [the motion of the earth] is false, all the principles of my philosophy [of world mechanism] are erroneous, since they mutually support one another…. But on no account will I publish anything that contains a word that might displease the Church.108

At his death only a few fragments of Le Monde could be found.

The attack came not (in his lifetime) from the Roman Church but from the Calvinist theologians in the universities of Utrecht and Leiden. They considered his defense of free will as a heresy dangerous to predestinarianism, and they saw in his mechanical cosmogony a descent to within a step of atheism. If the universe could get along with merely an initial impetus from God, it was only a matter of time till God would be absolved from that inaugural push. In 1641, when a Utrecht professor adopted the Cartesian system, the rector of the university, Gisbert Voetius, persuaded the city magistrates to ban the new philosophy. Descartes retorted with an attack upon Voetius, who answered bitterly and was rebutted by Descartes. The magistrates summoned the philosopher to appear before them (1643). He refused to come; judgment was passed against him, but his friends at The Hague intervened, and the magistrates contented themselves with a decree forbidding any further public argument either for or against Descartes’ ideas.

He was consoled by the friendship of Princess Elizabeth, who with her mother, Electress Palatine Elizabeth, the dethroned Queen of Bohemia, was living at The Hague. The Princess was nineteen when the Discours appeared (1637); she read it with delighted surprise that philosophy could be so intelligible; and Descartes, meeting her, saw with delight that metaphysics could be beautiful. He dedicated to her the Principia philosophiae in terms of enraptured flattery. She ended as an abbess in Westphalia (1680).

Not quite so happy in Holland as before, Descartes now frequently visited France (1644, 1647, 1648). His patriotism was stirred by a pension from the new government of Louis XIV (1646). He angled for a post in the administration, but the approach of civil war—the Fronde—frightened him back to Holland. In February 1649 he received an invitation from Queen Christina of Sweden to come and teach her philosophy. He hesitated, but was attracted by her letters, which revealed in excellent French an eager mind already won to the “dear delight.” She sent an admiral to coax him, then a warship to fetch him. He yielded, and in September he sailed from Amsterdam for Stockholm.

He was received with every honor, but was alarmed to find that the Queen wished to be instructed three times a week, always at five o’clock in the morning; Descartes had long been accustomed to lie late in bed. For two months he conformed to the royal schedule, walking through the winter dawn and snow from his rooms to the Queen’s library. On February 1, 1650, he caught a cold, which became pneumonia; on February 11 he died, after receiving the last rites of the Catholic Church.

He had taken as a motto Bene vixit qui bene latuit—”He has lived well who has hidden well”; but his fame had become international many years before his death. The universities rejected his philosophy, and the clergy sniffed heresy in his piety; but scientists applauded his mathematics and physics, and the fashionable world in Paris took up with pleasure the works that he had written in lucid and engaging French. Molière laughed at the femmes savantes who bandied vortices in salons but “could not endure a vacuum.” The Jesuits had heretofore been tolerant of their brilliant pupil; they had silenced one of their number who had attacked him;109 but after 1640 they withdrew their protection, and in 1663 they were instrumental in having his works placed on the Index. Bossuet and Fénelon welcomed Descartes’ proofs of the basic Christian beliefs, but saw danger to faith in resting it on reason. Pascal denounced the reliance on reason as a reed shaken by the wind.

It was precisely this Cartesian trust in reason that stirred the mind of Europe. Fontenelle summed up the matter: “It is Descartes … who gave us a new method of reasoning, much more admirable than his philosophy itself, in which a large part is false or very doubtful according to the very rules that he has taught us.”110 The Cartesian doubt did for France—for the Continent in general—what Bacon had done for England: it freed philosophy from the barnacles of time and set it bravely sailing the open sea, even if, in Descartes, it soon returned to safe and familiar ports. Not that there was any immediate victory for reason; through France’s most brilliant age, the grand siècle of Louis XIV, tradition and Scripture more than held their own; it was the epoch of Port-Royal, Pascal, and Bossuet rather than of Descartes’ inheritors. But in Holland that same period was the age of Spinoza and Bayle, and in England it was the time of Hobbes and Locke. The seed was sprouting.

Descartes’ work had some influence on French literature and art. His style was a refreshing innovation. Here was philosophy in the vernacular, dangerously open to all, and seldom had a philosopher spoken with such charming intimacy, recounting the adventures of reason as vividly as Froissart recounting an exploit in chivalry. That brief and digestible Discours de la méthode was not only a masterpiece of French prose; it set the tone, both in its language and in its ideas, for the classic age in France—for order, intelligence, and moderation in letters and arts, in manners and speech. Its emphasis on clear and distinct ideas suited the Gallic mind; its exaltation of reason became in Boileau the first principle of the classic style:

Aimez donc la raison; que toujours vos écrits

Empruntent d’elle seule et leur lustre et leur prix.

(“Love reason, then; let your writings ever derive from it alone their luster and their worth.”)111 For two centuries the French drama became the rhetoric of reason competing with the turbulence of passion. Perhaps French poetry suffered from Descartes: his mood and his mechanisms left small scope for imagination or feeling. After him the ebullient chaos of Rabelais, the formless meandering of Montaigne, even the violent disorders of the Religious Wars, gave way to the rational arguments of Corneille, the rigid unities of Racine, the logical piety of Bossuet, the law and order, form and manners, of the monarchy and the court under Louis XIV. Unwittingly Descartes had shared in inaugurating a new style in French life as well as in philosophy.

His influence in philosophy was probably greater than that of any other modern thinker before Kant. Malebranche stemmed from him. Spinoza schooled himself in the Cartesian logic and found its weaknesses in expounding it. He imitated the Discours in his autobiographical fragment On the Improvement of the Understanding; he adopted the geometrical ideal of philosophy in his Ethics; he based his discussion of “human bondage” on Descartes’ Traité des passions. The idealistic tradition in modern philosophy from Berkeley to Fichte started with the Cartesian emphasis on thought as the only reality directly known, just as the empirical tradition flowed from Hobbes to Spencer. But Descartes offered an antidote to idealism—the conception of an objective world completely mechanical. His attempt to understand organic as well as inorganic operations in mechanical terms gave a reckless but fruitful impetus to biology and physiology; and his mechanical analysis of sensation, imagination, memory, and volition became a major source of modern psychology. After the seventeenth century in France had buttressed orthodoxy with Descartes, the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century found rich roots in his methodical doubt, his trust in reason, his interpretation of all animal life in the same terms as physics and chemistry.112 All the upholding pride of the expatriated Frenchman justified itself in his proliferating influence upon the mind of France.

The Great Debate between reason and faith was taking conscious form, but its modern history had only begun. Looking back over those ninety years from 1558 to 1648, from Elizabeth to Richelieu, from Shakespeare to Descartes, we perceive that the absorbing issues were still within the confines of Christianity, between competing varieties of religious faith based upon a Bible that all accepted as the word of God. Only in stray voices was there a suggestion that Christianity itself might be put on trial, and that philosophy might soon reject all forms of supernatural belief.

After these first steps in the conflict Catholicism remained supreme in Spain and Portugal, where the Inquisition still spread its terror and pall. In Italy the old religion had taken a humaner form, beautifying life with art and anointing mortality with hope. France compromised: Christianity survived vigorous and fruitful among the people, Catholic or Huguenot, while the upper classes frolicked with doubt, postponing piety to the eve of death. The Netherlands made a geographical compromise: the southern provinces kept Catholicism, while Calvinism triumphed in the north. In Germany Protestantism was saved by a French cardinal; but Bavaria and Austria were confirmed in their former allegiance, while Hungary and Bohemia were recaptured for the papacy. In Scandinavia Protestantism became the law of the land, but the Queen of Sweden preferred the ceremonies of Rome. In England Elizabeth proposed a gracious union of Roman ritual with national liberty, but English Protestantism, dividing into a swarm of sects, displayed its vitality and risked its life.

Amid this clash of armies and creeds the International of Science was laboring to lessen superstition and fear. It was inventing or improving the microscope, the telescope, the thermometer, and the barometer. It was devising the logarithmic and decimal systems, reforming the calendar, and developing analytical geometry; it was already dreaming of reducing all reality to an algebraic equation. Tycho Brahe had made the patiently repeated observations that enabled Kepler to formulate those laws of planetary motion which were to illuminate Newton’s vision of one universal law. Galileo was revealing new and vaster worlds through his ever larger telescopes, and was dramatizing the conflict of science and theology in the halls of the Inquisition. In philosophy Giordano Bruno was letting himself be burned to death in the attempt to reconceive deity and the cosmos in terms worthy of Copernicus; Francis Bacon, summoning the wits to science, was mapping its tasks for centuries to come; and Descartes, with his universal doubt, was giving another cue to the Age of Reason. Morals and manners were molded by the vicissitudes of belief. Literature itself was touched by the conflict, and the ideas of philosophers echoed in the poetry of Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Donne. Soon all the wars and revolutions of the rival states would sink into minor significance compared with that mounting, spreading contest between faith and reason which was to agitate and transform the mind of Europe, perhaps of the world.


I. La cena de le Ceneri (1584) (“The Ash Wednesday Supper”).

De la causa, principio, et uno (1584) (“Of Cause, Beginning, and the One”).

De l’infinito universo et mundi (1584) (“Of the Infinite Universe and the Worlds”).

Spaccio de la bestia trionfante (1584) (“Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast”).

Degl’ heroici furori (1585) (“Of the Heroic Frenzies”).

Cabal del cavallo Pegaseo (1585) (“The Revelation of the Horse of Pegasus”).

De magia (1590) (“Of Magic”).

De rerum principiis et elementis et causis (1590).

De monade, numero, et figura (1591).

De innumerabilibus, immenso, et infigurabili

II. Chiefly Francisco a Victoria, professor of theology at Salamanca, in Relectiones (Lectures, 1557); Alberico Gentili, professor of civil law at Oxford, whose De iure belli (The Law of War, 1588; anticipated Grotius’ plea for freedom of the seas; and Francisco Suárez, whose massive Tractatus de legibus (1613) outlined a league of nations bound by international laws.

III.Written in 1629, published in 1637 in a volume containing also treatises on geometry, dioptrics, and meteors. Meditationes de prima philosophia followed in 1641, Principia philosophiae in 1644, Traite des passions de l’áme in 1650, Traité de l’homme in 1662.

IV.St. Augustine had used the same starting point in seeking to refute the pagan skeptics, who professed to doubt everything. But who “doubts that he lives and thinks?” he asked. “For if he doubts, he lives.”88 Montaigne used the same argument against the Pyrrhonists in his “Apologie de Raimond Scbond.” Descartes had read Montaigne.

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