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ART. I.-1. Euvres de Descartes. Nouvelle Edition, collationée sur les
meilleurs Textes, et précédée d'une Introduction par M. Jules
Simon. Paris : Charpentier. 1851. 2. Histoire et Critique de la Révolution Cartésienne. Ouvrage
couronné par l'Institut. Par M. Francisque Bouillier, Ancien
Elève de l'Ecole Normale. Paris : Joubert. 1842. 3. Fragments de Philosophie Cartésienne. Par Victor Cousin.
Paris : Charpentier. 1845. 4. Discourse on the Method of rightly conducting the Reason, and
seeking Truth in the Sciences. By Descartes. Translated from the French, with an Introduction. Edinburgh : Sutherland
and Knox. 1850. In the estimation of many large and sanguine minds, metaphysics, in the old-fashioned sense of the term, has long ceased to possess claim on attention. The assumptions of alchemy and astrology have vanished before the generalizations of those positive sciences of which they were the forerunners. Augury has given place to physiology; the law of the supposed transmutation of metals is now superseded by the law of definite proportions ; and the occult influences of the stars by the registered perturbations of the planets. The science of metaphysics, it is assumed, bears to the investigations of modern psychology precisely the same relationship, and must soon abdicate the
N. S.-VOL. II.
tottering throne on which it has been dreaming for ages. Philosophy, these great men contend, has long since renounced all hope of arriving at the nature of things, or at the knowledge of things per se; and even Bacon understood by forma, by the latens schematismus, and the latens processus, nothing more than we mean by the elements of which anybody is composed, the laws that govern its action, and the facts that are developed in its study; and, therefore, philosophy should, by becoming strictly inductive, renounce all opinion, and all hope of forming opinion, on the nature of mind, or the relations of mind and matter, of God and the universe.
It is not within our province to enter, at much length, into these discussions; but we cannot resist the conviction that to entertain them at all is to acknowledge that we have a greater power than the conclusions of the anti-metaphysicians seem to allow. We cannot defend the opinion that philosophy is only the science of laws without assuming a contradiction of that maxim, without involving ourselves in deeper problems than we profess to consider consistent with it.
It appears to us that metaphysics can never become a purely inductive science of laws, will never end in a mere register of antecedents and consequents, of Baconian causes and effects, that the mind is never sufficiently isolated from all influences but
one, for us to calculate upon the actual effects of that one. If we could put pure mind into some crucible, and subject it to the influence of separate causes; if we could stand upon the border land of mind and matter, and survey each separately and trace their mutual action; if we could form a calculus with which safely to analyze our mental operations; if, independently of consciousness, we could experiment on our own thoughts, and unwind the genesis of ideas, and if the combining elements of our calculation were generic instead of individual—mere determinate constants, instead of variable and complicated factors, the thing would be done; but this condition would satisfy the metaphysician as much as the mere mental physiologist; and it is because this eminence has always seemed inaccessible, and because the attempts to sketch the wide panorama from its summit have ever proved hopeless, that the course of philosophical enterprise has been so circular, and has appeared so frequently to return to the very point from which it started some centuries ago. It is granted that the explanations of those who have looked upon philosophy as the science of being ' have frequently been absurd, and when subjected to the sledgehammer of a merciless logic, have been shivered for a while into a thousand pieces ; stretched on the inquisitorial rack, 'the thews of Anakim' have snapped, the joints of very Samsons
have been dislocated, and systems after systems of ponderous pretension have gone the way of all absurdities; yet, the re-appearance of them, age after age, has proved, either that they did not know they were dead or that they really survived because they contained an amount of truth which their opponents have determinately ignored.
It may be considered late in the day to be raking from their long resting-place the silent ashes of Descartes ; it may be said, that we are not now bound to declare ourselves Cartesians or anti-Cartesians, any more than we are to range ourselves under the old banners of Nominalist and Realist, or to contend that we are not Eleatics, Peripatetics, or Platonists; yet it seems to us that the great controversies to which the writings of Descartes gave a new birth, are being forced again on our attention, and that we are beginning to feel once more the recoil which every previous philosophical era has exhibited from the dogmatism of the sceptic.
Jules Simon, the able editor of one of the volumes whose titles are prefixed to this article, tells us that Cartesianism is as living and powerful as ever.*' It would seem that refuge is taken from many of the dreams of German constructors of the universe, not in the baseless hypotheses of Descartes, but in the veritable psychological method, in the strong common sense -the clear-headed and generally perspicuous style, and the healthy, devout, and inspiring assurances of his Discourse on Method, his Meditations, and Principia.'
The influence of Descartes may be seen in this fact—that from 1637, the date of the “Discourse on Method," to the end of that century, no philosophical work, of any importance, made its appearance, which was not for, against, or on Descartes.'+ This great man, the founder of modern philosophy, did for metaphysics that which Francis Bacon accomplished for natural science, when he established its first principles and developed the method of its successful treatment. If we would see the true source of modern idealism-if we would trace the Pantheism of modern schools to its philosophical origin-if we would whet our swords for the long conflict which awaits us with this great enemy of God and man-if we would understand the writings of the great French, English, Scotch, and German Schools of philosophy for the last two hundred years—if we would unravel the pedigree of many opinions and much phraseology-we must
Le Cartesianisme est aujourd'hui aussi vivant et aussi puissant que jamais. Introduction, note, p. 2.
† Fragments de Philosophie Cartésienne. Par V. Cousin.
be familiar with the historical position and philosophical claims of René Descartes.
Descartes has scarcely received from Englishmen the respect or attention which his influence upon them should have commanded. Cyclopædias and the histories of philosophy that are current among us have not, indeed, forgotten him ; but we have no translation of his works, with the exception of the tractate mentioned at the head of this article. Whether a natural enmity to Frenchmen is the cause of this neglect, or the intense nationality which makes us stickle for the superiority of his great opponents, Bacon and Locke, has deafened the ears of Englishmen to his claims, we hope that some of our enterprising publishers will not allow this disgrace to cling much longer to our nation in general, or to themselves in particular.
Descartes was certainly not the first who innovated upon the established modes of thinking which scholasticism had introduced into the mind of Europe ; but, in metaphysical science, he was the first who so innovated as to create a great and permanent alteration.
There had existed, from the period of the introduction of Aristotelian logic into the teaching of the Church, the most extraordinary combination of freedom of discussion with servile deference to authority; and hence the wire-drawing and distinctions were introduced, which threatened to split into infinitesimal fractions the truth that had not already evaporated in the voluminous productions of this learned father, or that angelical doctor.
Some new light had shone during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and, strange to say, Italy was its birthplace. The veritable ghost of Aristotle was summoned from his grave; the bag of bones that had often passed for the Stagyrite, was ground to powder and scattered to the winds by Pomponatus and by Vanini, who had studied his writings for themselves, and had declared themselves his true disciples; while the revival of Greek literature, the discovery of Plato's Dialogues, the magnificent results of the Copernican theory of the heavens, the immortal ridicule of Erasmus, Rabelais and Montaigne, compelled scholasticism to hide its wizened head.
Marsilius Ficinus, the philosophical chief of the Neo-Platonist school, chosen by the Medici family to preside at Florence over an academy formed for the study of Plato, together with his Latin translations of Plato, Proclus, and Plotinus, executed in a style that has given them European fame ;-the Platonic furor
Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, &c. Translated from the French. Sutherland and Knox.