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CARTESIANISM


passions, like the senses, have no relation to the higher life of the soul; their value is only in relation to the union of soul and body, a union which is purely accidental or due to the arbitrary will of God. The more silently they discharge their provisional function, and the less they disturb or interfere with the pure activity of spirit, the more nearly they approach to the only perfection that is possible for them. Their ideal state is to remain or become again simple instincts that act mechanically like the circulation of the blood. Universal light of reason casts no ray into the obscurity of sense; its universal love cannot embrace any of the objects of particular passion. It is indeed recognized by Malebranche that sensation in man is mixed with thought, that the passions in him are forms of the love of good in general. But this union of the rational with the sensuous nature is regarded merely as a confusion which is to be cleared up, not in a higher unity of the two elements, but simply by the withdrawal of the spirit from contact with that which darkens and defiles it. Of a transformation of sense into thought, of passion into duty—an elevation of the life of sense till it becomes the embodiment and expression of the life of reason—Malebranche has no conception. Hence the life of reason turns with him to mysticism in theory and to asceticism in practice. His universal is abstract and opposed to the particular; instead of explaining it, it explains it away.

A certain tender beauty as of twilight is spread over the world as we view it through the eyes of this cloistered philosopher, and we do not at first see that the softness and ideality of the picture is due to the gathering darkness. Abstraction seems only to be purifying, and not destroying, till it has done its perfect work. Malebranche conceived himself to be presenting to the world only the purest and most refined expression of Christian ethics and theology. But if we obey his own continual advice to think clearly and distinctly, if we divest his system of all the sensuous and imaginative forms in which he has clothed it, and reduce it to the naked simplicity of its central thought, what we find is not a God that reveals himself in the finite, and to the finite, but the absolute substance which has no revelation, and whose existence is the negation of all but itself. Thus to tear away the veil, however, there was needed a stronger, simpler, and freer spirit—a spirit less influenced by opinion, less inclined to practical compromise, and gifted with a stronger “faith in the whispers of the lonely muse” of speculation than Malebranche.

The Philosophy of Spinoza.—It is a remark of Hegel’s that Spinoza, as a Jew, first brought into European thought the idea of an absolute unity in which the difference of finite and infinite is lost. Some later writers have gone further, and attempted to show that the main doctrines by which his philosophy is distinguished from that of Descartes were due to the direct influences of Jewish writers like Maimonides, Gersonides, and Hasdai Crescas, rather than to the necessary development of Cartesian ideas. And it is undoubtedly true that many points of similarity with such writers, reaching down even to verbal coincidence, may be detected in the works of Spinoza, although it is not so easy to determine how much he owed to their teaching. His own view of his obligations is sufficiently indicated by the fact, that while in his ethics he carries on a continual polemic against Descartes, and strives at every point to show that his own doctrines are legitimately derived from Cartesian principles, he only once refers to Jewish philosophy as containing an obscure and unreasoned anticipation of these doctrines. “Quod quidam Hebraeorum quasi per nebulam vidisse videntur qui scilicet statuunt Deum Dei intellectum resque ab ipso intellectas unum et idem esse.”[1] It may be that the undeveloped pantheism and rationalism of the Jewish philosophers had a deeper influence than he himself was aware of, in emancipating him from the traditions of the synagogue, and giving to his mind its first philosophical bias. In his earlier work there are Neoplatonic ideas and expressions which in the Ethics are rejected or remoulded into a form more suitable to the spirit of Cartesianism. But the question, after all, has little more than a biographical interest. In the Spinozistic philosophy there are few differences from Descartes which cannot be traced to the necessary development of Cartesian principles; and the comparison of Malebranche shows that a similar development might take place under the most diverse intellectual conditions. What is most remarkable in Spinoza is just the freedom and security with which these principles are followed out to their last result. His Jewish origin and his breach with Judaism completely isolated him from every influence but that of the thought that possesses him. And no scruple or hesitation, no respect for the institutions or feelings of his time interferes with his speculative consequence. He exhibits to us the almost perfect type of a mind without superstitions, which has freed itself from all but reasoned and intelligent convictions, or, in the Cartesian phrase, “clear and distinct ideas”; and when he fails, it is not by any inconsistency, or arbitrary stopping short of the necessary conclusions of his logic, but by the essential defect of his principles.

Spinoza takes his idea of method from mathematics, and after the manner of Euclid, places at the head of each book of his Ethics a certain number of definitions, axioms, and postulates which are supposed to be intuitively certain, and to form Geometrical method applied to meta-physics. a sufficient basis for all that follows. Altogether there are twenty-seven definitions, twenty axioms, and eight postulates. If Spinoza is regarded as the most consequent of philosophers it cannot be because he has based his system upon so many fragmentary views of truth; it must be because a deeper unity has been discerned in the system than is visible on the first aspect of it. We must, therefore, to a certain extent distinguish between the form and the matter of his thought, though it is also true that the defective form itself involves a defect in the matter.

What in the first instance recommends the geometrical method to Spinoza is, not only its apparent exactness and the necessity of its sequence, but, so to speak, its disinterestedness. Confusion of thought arises from the fact that we put ourselves, our desires and feelings and interests, into our view of things; that we do not regard them as they are in themselves, in their essential nature, but look for some final cause, that is, some relation to ourselves by which they may be explained. For this reason, he says, “the truth might for ever have remained hid from the human race, if mathematics, which looks not to the final cause of figures, but to their essential nature and the properties involved in it, had not set another type of knowledge before them.” To understand things is to see how all that is true of them flows from the clear and distinct idea expressed in their definition, and ultimately, it is to see how all truth flows from the essentia Dei as all geometrical truth flows from the idea of quantity. To take a mathematical view of the universe, therefore, is to raise ourselves above all consideration of the end or tendency of things, above the fears and hopes of mortality into the region of truth and necessity. “When I turned my mind to this subject,” he says in the beginning of his treatise on politics, “I did not propose to myself any novel or strange aim, but simply to demonstrate by certain and indubitable reason those things which agree best with practice. And in order that I might inquire into the matters of this science with the same freedom of mind with which we are wont to treat lines and surfaces in mathematics, I determined not to laugh or to weep over the actions of men, but simply to understand them; and to contemplate their affections and passions, such as love, hate, anger, envy, arrogance, pity and all other disturbances of soul not as vices of human nature, but as properties pertaining to it in the same way as heat, cold, storm, thunder pertain to the nature of the atmosphere. For these, though troublesome, are yet necessary, and have certain causes through which we may come to understand them, and thus, by contemplating them in their truth, gain for our minds as much joy as by the knowledge of things that are pleasing to the senses.” All our errors as to the nature of things arise from our judging them from the point of view of the part and not of the whole, from appoint of view determined by their relation to our own individual being, and not from a point of view determined by the nature of the things themselves; or, to put the same thing in another way, from the point of view of sense and imagination, and not from the point of view of intelligence. Mathematics shows us the inadequacy of such knowledge when it takes us out of ourselves into things, and when it presents these things to us as objects of universal intelligence apart from all special relation to our individual feelings. And Spinoza only wishes that the same universality and freedom of thought which belongs to mathematics, because its objects do not interest the passions, should be extended to those objects that do interest them. Purity from interest is the first condition of the philosopher’s being; he must get beyond the illusion of sense and passion that makes our own lives so supremely important and interesting to us simply because they are our own. He must look at the present as it were through an inverted telescope of reason, that will reduce it to its due proportion and place in the sum of things. To the heat of passion and the higher heat of imagination, Spinoza has only one advice—“Acquaint yourself with God and be at peace.” Look not to the particular but to the universal, view things not under the form of the finite and temporal, but sub quadam specie aeternitatis.

The illusion of the finite—the illusion of sense, imagination and passion, which, in Bacon’s language, tends to make men judge of things ex analogia hominis and not ex analogia universi, which raises the individual life, and even the present Sense the source of error. moment of the individual life, with its passing feelings, into the standard for measuring the universe—this, in the eyes of Spinoza, is the source of all error and evil to man. On the other hand, his highest good is to live the universal life of reason, or what is the same thing, to view all things from

  1. Eth. ii. schol. 7.