Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
414
CARTESIANISM

and John, Lord Berkeley, and in Carteret’s honour this tract received the name of New Jersey. Sir George’s relative, Philip Carteret (d. 1682), was sent over as governor in 1665, but was temporarily deposed in 1672 by the discontented colonists, who chose James Carteret (perhaps a natural son of Sir George) as “president.” Philip Carteret was restored to his office in 1674. In this year Lord Berkeley disposed of his share of the grant, which finally fell under the control of William Penn and his associates. With them Carteret agreed (1676) upon a boundary line which divided the colony into East and West Jersey. He died in January 1680, and two years later his heirs disposed of his New Jersey holdings to Penn and other Quakers.


CARTESIANISM,[1] the general name given to the philosophy developed principally in the works of Descartes, Malebranche and Spinoza. It is impossible to exhibit the full meaning of these authors except in connexion, for they are all ruled by one and the same thought in different stages of its evolution. It may be true that Malebranche and Spinoza were prepared, the former by the study of Augustine, the latter by the study of Jewish philosophy, to draw from Cartesian principles consequences which Descartes never anticipated. But the foreign light did not alter the picture on which it was cast, but only let it be seen more clearly. The consequences were legitimately drawn. It may be shown that they lay in the system from the first, and that they were evolved by nothing but its own immanent dialectic. At the same time it is not likely that they would ever have been brought into such clear consciousness, or expressed with such consistency, except by a philosopher whose circumstances and character had completely detached him from all the convictions and prejudices of the age. In Malebranche, Cartesianism found an interpreter whose meditative spirit was fostered by the cloister, but whose speculative boldness was restrained by the traditions of the Catholic church. In Spinoza it found one who was in spirit and position more completely isolated than any monk, who was removed from the influence of the religious as well as the secular world of his time, and who in his solitude seemed scarcely ever to hear any voice but the voice of philosophy. It is because Cartesianism found such a pure organ of expression that its development is, in some sense, complete and typical. Its principles have been carried to their ultimate result, and we have before us all the data necessary to determine their value.

The Philosophy of Descartes.—Descartes was, in the full sense of the word, a partaker of the modern spirit. He was equally moved by the tendencies that produced the Reformation, and the tendencies that produced the revival of letters and science. Like Erasmus and Bacon, he sought to escape from a transcendent and unreal philosophy of the other world, to the knowledge of man and the world he lives in. But like Luther, he found within human experience, among the matters nearest to man, the consciousness of God, and therefore his renunciation of scholasticism did not end either in materialism or in that absolute distinction between faith and reason which inevitably leads to the downfall of faith. What was peculiar to Descartes, however, was the speculative interest which made it impossible for him to rest in mere experience, whether of things spiritual or of things secular, which made him search, both in our consciousness of God and our consciousness of the world, for the links by which they are bound to the consciousness of self. In both Principle
of doubt.
cases it is his aim to go back to the beginning, to retrace the unconscious process by which the world of experience was built up, to discover the hidden logic that connects the different parts of the structure of belief, to substitute a reasoned system, all whose elements are interdependent, for an unreasoned congeries of opinions. Hence his first step involves reflection, doubt and abstraction. Turning the eye of reason upon itself, he tries to measure the value of that collection of beliefs of which he finds himself possessed; and the first thing that reflection seems to discover is its accidental and unconnected character. It is a mass of incongruous materials, accumulated without system and untested. Its elements have been put together under all kinds of influences, without any conscious intellectual process, and therefore we can have no assurance of them. In order that we may have such assurance we must unweave the web of experience and thought which we have woven in our sleep, that we may begin again at the beginning and weave it over again with “clear and distinct” consciousness of what we are doing. De omnibus dubitandum est. We must free ourselves by one decisive effort from the weight of custom, prejudice and tradition with which our consciousness of the world has been overlaid, that in that consciousness in its simplest and most elementary form we may find the true beginning of knowledge. The method of doubt is at the same time a method of abstraction, by which Descartes rises above the thought of the particular objects of knowledge, in order that he may find the primary truth in which lies the very definition of knowledge, of the reason why anything can be said to be true. First disappears the whole mass of dogmas and opinions as to God and man which are confessedly received on mere authority. Then the supposed evidence of sense is rejected, for external reality is not immediately given in sensation. It is acknowledged by all that the senses often mislead us as to the nature of things without us, and perhaps they may also mislead us as to there being anything without us at all. Nay, by an effort, we can even carry doubt beyond this point; we can doubt even mathematical truth. When, indeed, we have our thoughts directed to the geometrical demonstration, when the steps of the process are immediately before our minds, we cannot but assent to the proposition that the angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles; but when we forget or turn away our thoughts from such demonstration, we can imagine that God or some powerful spirit is playing upon our minds to deceive them, also that even our most certain judgments may be illusory. In this naïve manner does Descartes express the idea that there are necessities of thought prior to, and presupposed in the truth of geometry. He is seeking to strip thought of all the “lendings” that seem to come to it from anything but itself, of all relation to being that can be supposed to be given to it from without, that he may discover the primary unity of thought and being on which all Certainty of the thinking self. knowledge depends. And this he finds in pure self-consciousness. Whatever I abstract from, I cannot abstract from self, from the “I think” that, as Kant puts it, accompanies all our ideas; for it was in fact the very independence of this universal element on the particulars that made all our previous abstraction possible. Even doubt rests on certitude; alone with self I cannot get rid of this self. By an effort of thought I separate my thinking self from all that I think, but the thinking self remains, and in thinking I am. Cogito, ergo sum: “I think, therefore I am.” The objective judgment of self-consciousness is bound up with or involved in the very faculty of judging, and therefore remains when we abstract from all other objective judgments. It is an assertion involved in the very process by which we dismiss all other assertions. Have we not then a right to regard it as a primitive unity of thought and being, in which is contained, or out of which may be developed, the very definition of truth?

The sense in which Descartes understood his first principle becomes clearer when we look at his answers to the objections made against it. On the one hand it was challenged by those who asked, like Gassendi, why the argument should be based especially Difficulties of the “cogito, ergo sum.” on thought, and why we might not say with as good a right, ambulo, ergo sum: “I walk, therefore I am.” Descartes explains that it is only as referred to consciousness that walking is an evidence of my existence; but if I say, “I am conscious of walking, therefore I exist,” this is equivalent to saying, “I think in one particular way, therefore I exist.” But it is not thinking in a particular way, but thinking in general that is coextensive with my existence. I am not always conscious of walking or of any other special state or object, but I am always conscious, for except in consciousness there is no ego or self, and where there is consciousness there is always an ego. “Do I then always think, even in sleep?” asks the objector; and Descartes exposes himself to the criticisms of Locke, by maintaining that it is impossible that there should ever be an interval in the activity of consciousness, and by insisting that as man is essentially a thinking substance, the child thinks, or is self-conscious, even in its mother’s womb. The difficulty disappears when we observe that the question as to the conditions under which self-consciousness is developed in

  1. For biographical details see Descartes; Malebranche; Spinoza.