mind is an indivisible unity. In fact, though of this Descartes is not conscious, the determination of the one is mediated by its opposition to the other; the ideas of object and subject, the self and not-self, are terms of a relation distinguishable but inseparable. But in the idea of God we must find a unity which transcends this difference in one way or another, whether by combining the two under a higher notion, or, as it would be more natural to expect on Cartesian principles, by abstracting equally from the particular characteristics of both. Descartes really does neither, or rather he acts partly on the one principle and partly on the other. In his idea of God he abstracts from the properties of matter but not from those of mind. “God,” he says, “contains in himself formaliter all that is in mind, but only eminenter all that is in matter”; or, as he elsewhere expresses it more popularly, he is mind, but he is only the creator of matter. And for this he gives as his reason, that matter as being divisible and passive is essentially imperfect. Ipsa natura corporis multas imperfectiones involvit, and, therefore, “there is more analogy between sounds and colours than there is between material things and God.” But the real imperfection here lies in the abstractness of the Cartesian conception of matter as merely extended, merely passive; and this is balanced by the equal abstractness of the conception of mind or self-consciousness as an absolutely simple activity, a pure intelligence without any object but itself. If matter as absolutely opposed to mind is imperfect, mind as absolutely opposed to matter is equally imperfect. In fact they are the elements or factors of a unity, and lose all meaning when severed from each other, and if we are to seek this unity by abstraction, we must equally abstract from both.
The result of this one-sidedness is seen in the fact that Descartes, who begins by separating mind from matter, ends by finding the essence of mind in pure will, i.e. in pure formal self-determination. Hence God’s will is conceived as absolutely Reason and will. arbitrary, not determined by any end or law, for all laws, even the necessary truths that constitute reason, spring from God’s determination, and do not precede it. “He is the author of the essence of things no less than their existence,” and his will has no reason but his will. In man there is an intelligence with eternal laws or truths involved in its structure, which so far limits his will. “He finds the nature of good and truth already determined by God, and his will cannot be moved by anything else.” His highest freedom consists in having his will determined by a clear perception of the nature of good and truth, and “he is never indifferent except when he is ignorant of it, or at least does not see it so clearly as to be lifted above the possibility of doubt.” Indifference of will is to him “the lowest grade of liberty,” yet, on the other hand, in nothing does the image of God in him show itself more clearly than in the fact that his will is not limited by his clear and distinct knowledge, but is “in a manner infinite.” For “there is no object of any will, even the infinite will of God, to which our will does not extend.” Belief is a free act, for as we can yield our assent to the obscure conceptions presented by sense and the imagination, and thus allow ourselves to be led into error, so on the other hand we can refuse to give this assent, or allow ourselves to be determined by anything but the clear and distinct ideas of intelligence. That which makes it possible for us to err is that also in which the divine image in us is most clearly seen. We cannot have the freedom of God whose will creates the object of his knowledge; but in reserving our assent for the clear and distinct perceptions of intelligence, we, as it were, re-enact for ourselves the divine law, and repeat, so far as is possible to finite beings, the transcendent act of will in which truth and good had their origin.
The inherent defect of this view is the divorce it makes between the form and the matter of intelligence. It implies that reason or self-consciousness is one thing, and that truth is another and quite different thing, which has been united to it by the arbitrary will of God. The same external conception of the relation of truth to the mind is involved in the doctrine of innate ideas. It is true that Descartes did not hold that doctrine in the coarse form in which it was attributed to him by Locke, but expressly declares that he has “never said or thought at any time that the mind required innate ideas which were separated from the faculty of thinking. He had simply used the word innate to distinguish those ideas which are derived from that faculty, and not from external objects or the determination of the will. Just as when we say generosity is innate in certain families, and in certain others diseases, like the gout or the stone, we do not mean to imply that infants in their mother’s womb are affected with these complaints.” Yet Descartes, as we have seen, does not hold that these truths are involved in the very nature of intelligence as such, so that we cannot conceive a self-conscious being without them. On the contrary, we are to regard the divine intelligence as by arbitrary act determining that two and two should be four, or that envy should be a vice. We are “not to conceive eternal truth flowing from God as rays from the sun.” In other words, we are not to conceive all particular truths as different aspects of one truth. It is part of the imperfection of man’s finite nature that he “finds truth and good determined for him.” It is something given,—given, indeed, along with his very faculty of thinking, but still given as an external limit to it. It belongs not to his nature as spirit, but to his finitude as man.
After what has been said, it is obvious that the transition from God to matter must be somewhat arbitrary and external. God’s truthfulness is pledged for the reality of that of which we have clear and distinct ideas; and we have clear and Truth of external world. distinct ideas of the external world so long as we conceive it simply as extended matter, infinitely divisible, and moved entirely from without,—so long, in short, as we conceive it as the direct opposite of mind, and do not attribute to it any one of the properties of mind. “Omnes proprietates, quas in ea clare percipimus, ad hoc unum reducuntur, quod sit partibilis et mobilis, secundum partes.” We must, therefore, free ourselves from the obscure and confused modes of thought which arise whenever we attribute any of the secondary qualities, which exist merely in our sensations, to the objects that cause these sensations. The subjective character of such qualities is proved by the constant change which takes place in them, without any change of the object in which they are perceived. A piece of wax cannot lose its extension; but its colour, its hardness, and all the other qualities whereby it is presented to sense, may be easily altered. What is objective in all this is merely an extended substance, and the modes of motion or rest through which it is made to pass. In like manner we must separate from our notion of matter all ideas of actio in distans—e.g. we must explain weight not as a tendency to the centre of the earth or an attraction of distant particles of matter, but as a consequence of the pressure of other bodies, immediately surrounding that which is felt to be heavy. For the only conceivable actio in distans is that which is mediated by thought, and it is only in so far as we suppose matter to have in it a principle of activity like thought, that we can accept such explanations of its motion. Again, while we must thus keep our conception of matter clear of all elements that do not belong to it, we must also be careful not to take away from it those that do belong to it. It is a defect of distinctness in our ideas when we conceive an attribute as existing apart from its substance, or a substance without its attribute; for this is to treat elements that are only separated by a “distinction of reason,” as if they were distinct things. The conception of the possibility of a vacuum or empty space arises merely from our confusing the possible separation of any mode or form of matter from matter in general with the impossible separation of matter in general from its own essential attribute. Accordingly, in his physical philosophy, Descartes attempts to explain everything on mechanical principles, starting with the hypothesis that a certain quantity of motion has been impressed on the material universe by God at the first, a quantity which can never be lost or diminished, and that space is an absolute plenum in which motion propagates itself in circles.
It is unnecessary to follow Descartes into the detail of the theory of vortices. It is more to the purpose to notice the nature of the reasons by which he is driven to regard such a mechanical explanation of the universe as necessary. A real or substantive Material universe a mechanism. existence is, in his view, a res completa, a thing that can be conceived as a whole in itself without relations to any other thing. Now matter and mind are, he thinks, such complete existences, so long as we conceive them, as pure intelligence must conceive them, as abstract opposites of each other; and do not permit ourselves to be confused by those mixed modes of thought which are due to sense or imagination. Descartes does not see that in this very abstract opposition there is a bond of union between mind and matter, that they are correlative opposites, and therefore in their separation res incompletae. In other words, they are merely elements of reality substantiated by abstract thought into independent realities. He indeed partly retracts his assertion that mind and matter severed from each other are res completae, when he declares that neither can be conceived as existing apart from God, and that therefore, strictly speaking, God alone is a substance. But, as we have seen, he avoids the necessary inference that in God the opposition between mind and matter is reconciled or transcended, by conceiving God as abstract self-consciousness or will, and the material world not as his necessary manifestation, but simply as his creation,—as having its origin in an act of bare volition and that only. His God is the God of monotheism and not of Christianity, and therefore the world is to God always a foreign matter which he brings into being, and acts on from without, but in which he is not revealed.It is a natural consequence of this view that nature is essentially dead matter, that beyond the motion it has received from God at the beginning, and which it transmits from part to part without increase or diminution, it has no principle of Animals automata. activity in it. Every trace of vitality in it must be explained away as a mere false reflection upon it of the nature of mind. The world is thus “cut in two with a hatchet,” and there is no attraction to overcome the mutual repulsion of its severed parts. Nothing can be admitted in the material half that savours of self-determination, all its energy must be communicated, not self-originated; there is no room for gravitation, still less for magnetism or chemical affinity, in this theory. A fortiori, animal life must be
- Resp. ad sec. object. pp. 72-73.
- Resp. Sextae, 160-163.
- Principia, i. 35.
- Notae in Programma, p. 184.
- Epistolae, i. 110.
- Resp. Sextae, pp. 165-166.