DESCARTES had proved his existence to be that of a thing that thinks. Being a geometer, the only oppor- tunity he had now to make any headway was to discover, within the nature of his mind, other natures which he could submit to his analysis. What is it, to be a thing that thinks ? It was, to be knowing a few things, ignoring many others, willing, desiring, imagining and perceiv- ing. For a psychologist, such as Locke for instance, what a wonderful field for exploration! But Descartes was working towards something else, and the incredible variety of psychological facts was of little interest to him, because he knew that all of them were nothing but particular varieties of thought, that is to say, that they were fundamentally one and the same thing.
After wandering to and fro among his ideas, unable to decide which one he should single out as coming next in the order of deduction, Descartes made up his mind to go back to his starting point. After all, the only thing he was sure of was that he was a doubting thing, that is, a thinking substance, a mind. But there might be more knowledge involved in the act of doubting than the bare certitude of mind and of its existence. He who doubts knows that he does not know as perfectly as he would like to know. He must therefore have in mind at
176
CARTESIAN IDEALISM
least some confused feeling of what perfect knowledge
should be, that is to say, the idea of perfection. Now,
by carefully observing that new notion, he rapidly be-
comes aware that there is, present to his mind, a very
remarkable idea: that of a perfect being, in other words,
of a being in which all conceivable perfections are to
be found. Such is God, whom we conceive as a supreme
being, eternal, infinite, immutable, all-knowing, all-
powerful, and creator of all things which are outside
1
himself. What is there, in us, which is the origin of
such an idea?
It cannot be our mind, for a doubting, and conse-
quently imperfect, mind cannot be the model from which it draws its own idea of perfection. It cannot be any of the material things existing outside our mind. True, philosophers commonly believe that the best proofs, not to say the only proofs, of the existence of God, are those that prove Him to be the necessary cause of the physical order. But, first, even could such demonstra- tions be made, we, at least, could not attempt to make them; all we know, so far, is the existence of our own mind, and since we are not yet sure that there is an external world, how could we use it to prove the existence of God? Furthermore, supposing that it could be done, such a proof would still not be a demonstration of the existence of a perfect thing, for the world of matter is not perfect, or eternal, or actually infinite in perfection. W h y then should its first cause, if there be one, be infinite and perfect?
!R. M. Eaton, Descartes Selections, p. 113.
177
THE CARTESIAN EXPERIMENT
And yet, as everything has a cause, there should be a cause of our idea of God. It should be such a cause as contains within itself at least as much perfection as there is to be found in its effect; in other words, the model from which our idea of perfection is copied should be at least as perfect as the copy itself. It must there- fore be a perfect being, endowed with all the perfections that are found in our idea of its nature: supreme, eternal, infinite, all-knowing, all-powerful, creator of
all things which are outside of Himself; in short, such a being must necessarily be that which we call God.
T h e very idea of perfection, which is identical with our idea of God, is therefore in our minds as an objective reality, for whose existence no other conceivable cause can possibly be found but that of an actually existing God. That it is a reality, and not a fiction of the mind, is obvious from the fact that it appears to us as a true “nature,” endowed with a necessity of its own, just as our ideas of a circle, or of a square. Some people say they do not know whether or not there is a God, but even these people would agree that, if there is a God, He must of necessity be a perfect and infinite substance, and that, together with the principle of causality, is the only thing required for our demonstration of His ex- istence.
Let us therefore conclude that God, in creating us, placed the idea of perfection within us “to be as the mark of the workman imprinted on his work.” Nothing, after all, is more natural, for, as Descartes says in his second Meditation on First Philosophy, “from the sole
178
CARTESIAN IDEALISM
fact that God created me, it is most probable that in some way He placed his image and likeness upon me, and that I perceive this likeness (in which the idea of God is contained) by means of the same faculty by
2
which I perceive myself.” In other words, as is always
the case when we are dealing with truly geometrical deductions, we are not so much deducing as perceiv- ing intuitions within other intuitions; for since the very act of doubting implies the notion of perfection, which is one with the notion of God, we have just as much right to say: I doubt, hence God is, as to say: 7 doubt, hence I am.
Even at this distance from Descartes, it seems to me that we still can understand his philosophy as he him- self understood it: an initial intuition, then more in- tuitions flowing from the first by means of a deductive process; and finally, a powerful effort of the mind to eliminate deduction itself by reintegrating its successive stages in that first single intuition. The whole body of human knowledge was present to his mind, and he could see it at a glance, grounded as it was on the truth of its first principle, and sharing in its evidence. What else, and what more is there to be found in mathematical certitude? Nothing at all. Here, for instance, is the idea of God; it is possible to prove, as we have done, that an actually existing God is its only conceivable cause; but a mere analysis of the content of that idea would be enough in itself to prove the existence of God. For if our notion of God is identical with the notion of perfection,
zibid., p. 125.
179
THE CARTESIAN EXPERIMENT
how could we not see that existence is involved in that idea, as one of the perfections which it signifies or con- notes ? I am no more free to think of God as non-existent, than I am to think of a triangle whose three angles would not be equal to two right angles. Existence per- tains to God, whether or not I wish it, as necessarily as geometrical properties pertain to geometrical figures.
3
I cannot think then of God otherwise than as existent, and since all that is true of the idea of a thing is true of the thing itself, existence belongs not only to the idea of God, but also to God.
We are now in a better position to understand in what sense Descartes could say that “it is at least as certain that God, who is a being so perfect, is, or exists,
4
as any demonstration of geometry can possibly be.” It is even more certain than any mathematical truth, for as long as I did not know God as a perfect being, I could not be sure that my Creator was not systemati- cally deceiving me in mathematics as in everything else. At any rate, it is an obvious fact that the existence of God is better known to me than even the existence of the external world, since I know that there is a God, but I do not yet know whether or not there is an ex- ternal world.
This was precisely the point at which Descartes found himself confronted with an entirely new and very difficult task. Up to his time, no philosopher had denied flatly the existence of material things; Descartes him-
3Eaton, ibid. {Vth Meditation), pp. 138-139.
4
Eaton, op. cit., p. 33. 180
CARTESIAN IDEALISM
self, of course, had never entertained any real doubt as to their actual existence; but he was forbidden by his own principles to take it as an established fact. Like the rest, it was in need of being proved, and it could not have been proved at an earlier stage of the deduc- tion. The mind first, God next, then, and only then, the external world. Such was the order. W h y should Descartes have worried about it? He himself believed in the existence of matter, and he knew that every one else would keep on believing in it anyway. Besides, was he not about to prove it? The only difference would be
that men, henceforward, would know it instead of be- lieving it, and for a philosopher at least, that was the proper thing to do.
Having thus made up his mind, Descartes looked about for a proper starting point towards that new goal. Of course, as he still was but a mind, he could begin only with an idea, and the idea to be tried first was obviously that of matter. What is matter? Taken in itself, that is, as a clear and distinct idea, it is pure extension in space according to the three dimensions. Now, however carefully I examine that idea, I cannot find in it anything from which I can deduce the ex- istence of its object. Unlike the idea of God, it does not represent anything so perfect that I could not be the cause of my idea of it. Why should not a mind be able to form the notion of matter, even though there were no actually existing matter? We shall therefore have to try something else.
Besides his idea of matter, Descartes could find in his 181
THE CARTESIAN EXPERIMENT
mind another representation of the same object, for which he was indebted, not to his reason, but to his imagination. Apart from our abstract notion of ex- tended bodies, we can picture them to ourselves, as we do circles, triangles, and so on, when we begin to study geometry. Now here, the problem is different; for there is nothing in the mind, taken as a mind, to account for its having an imagination. According to its nature, it should not have images, but ideas only. In order to ac- count for the obvious difference between pure intellec- tion and imagination, we might be tempted therefore to suppose, that there is a body, to which mind is con- joined and united. Pure intellection then would be a turning of the mind inward upon itself, while imagining would be a turning outward towards the body and be-
holding there something that is foreign to its own nature. To tell the whole truth, there is no other convenient explanation for the presence of an imagination within a mind. It is therefore highly probable that body exists; but we do not yet have a demonstration of its existence; even that idea of corporeal natures which I find in my imagination is a distinct idea, since geometers had noth- ing else whereon to build their science until analytical geometry was discovered. If it is a distinct idea of some- thing which, unlike God, is only equal and even rather inferior in perfection to the mind, how could we deduce from its presence in the mind the actual existence of its object?
Our last hope then rests with sensation, and, this time, we are bound to succeed in our undertaking. It is
182
CARTESIAN IDEALISM
true that sensations like our ideas and images are to be found within the mind, and that is why we can use them as a new starting point, but they are very dif- ferent from all our other thoughts, both in their content and in their origin. First of all, they are but confused representations of some qualities, to which no distinct idea can be attached. Let us take, for instance, the feel- ing of pain. Where is pain, and what is it? If I am hurt by a piece of wood, or steel, it is obvious that the pain itself is not in the wood, or the steel. It cannot be anywhere else but in my mind; but how are we to account for the fact that a mind experiences such a feel- ing? A mind is a thing that thinks, not a thing that feels; as such, it can form clear and distinct ideas, as for instance the idea of extension, but it cannot form sensations like pain and pleasure, or smell, or taste, which cannot be measured and numbered, or become the fitting objects of any true science. Besides, it is a fact that the mind does not form sensations at will, as it does ideas, and even images; sensations come to the mind in the most various and unexpected ways, as though they were caused in it by something that is out- side of it. In this case, then, we can safely say, that the mind not only surmises but actually experiences its union with something foreign to its own nature, i.e., a body, through which it becomes related to all other bodies. We might still fear of being deceived in our
conclusion, did we not know that God’s existence, proved in the way in which we have proved it, entails the ex- istence of a supremely perfect being, who cannot allow
183
THE CARTESIAN EXPERIMENT
us to be deceived. Now he would deceive us if, while we have both a natural inclination to believe that there is a world and a rational justification for that belief, that world did not exist.
Descartes’ demonstration was as good as it possibly could be; its only defect was that it was a demonstration. As soon as Descartes published it, it became apparent that, like Caesar’s wife, the existence of the world should be above suspicion. As long as it never occurred to any one to prove it, every one was sure of it, but the first attempt to prove it turned out to be the first step towards the denial of its existence. Descartes had en- deavoured to prove something that could not be proved, not because it is not true, but on the contrary, because it is evident. Let us add that it is evident to a soul, not to a mind; and since Descartes was but a mind, he could no longer accept as evidence that which is such only to a soul, to a spiritual principle substantially united to a body; nor could he hope to find in mind, that is in a thinking substance distinct from, and exclusive of, the body, ground for the demonstration of its existence.
If sensations belong to the mind itself, nothing but the mind should be needed to account for their existence, but then there would be no reason to suppose that there is a material world. If, on the contrary, sensations are in us as coming not from the mind, but entering it from without, the so-called mind is not a true mind, but a soul, which immediately perceives the existence of bodies, as a certainty that neither can be proved, nor needs proof. Descartes had tried to find some possible position
184
CARTESIAN IDEALISM
between the two horns of the dilemma; but there was none. He wanted a mind, at once so radically distinct from matter that the existence of matter would have to be proved, and so intimately conjoined with matter, through feeling, that the existence of matter could be proved. Even metaphysicians know that you cannot eat your cake, and have it; so, as soon as Descartes’ suc- cessors realized his failure, they devoted themselves to the task of finding a new answer to the questions.
These successors were three in number, and all three were great metaphysicians: Leibniz, who was at the same time a great mathematician, for he discovered the dif- ferential calculus; Spinoza and Malebranche. All three were fully alive to the fact that Descartes had failed to account for the existence of sensations; as Leibniz said: ” A t that point, Monsieur Descartes withdrew from the game.” And yet, not one of them was able to perceive that Descartes’ failure was due to the fact that he had dealt with concrete substances as geometers deal with abstract definitions. They took up the game at exactly the same point where Descartes had dropped it, they kept the same hand with the same three cards, the mind, matter and God, and as Descartes himself had already played the first two, and failed, they had but one card
left; which accounts for the fact that all three of them played the same card. They had to explain everything by God. The problem, as they saw it after Descartes, could be reduced to very simple terms. Mind and mat- ter are in reality two completely distinct substances; that, at least, Descartes had fully demonstrated. On the
185
THE CARTESIAN EXPERIMENT
other hand, it seemed to be a fact that there was some sort of connection between mind and matter; but the pos- sibility of such a connection could never be found in those two substances themselves, since they were by definition mutually exclusive. Now outside of those two substances, there was still another one, and only one, namely God; through God, therefore, should proceed the unknown force that linked mind to matter and mat- ter to mind.
T h a t is the reason why Leibniz, Spinoza and Male- branche, despite the fact that they spent a good deal of their time in refuting each other, can be considered as having formed a distinct school, the Cartesian school. Leibniz said that God, in His perfect wisdom, had or- dered all things from the very beginning, in such a way that every modification in a certain body would be ac- companied by a certain modification in a corresponding
5
soul. He called his system pre-established harmony. Spinoza went still further: he decided that thought and extension were two attributes of one and the same in- finite substance, flowing from that substance with the same necessity, and according to the same law, so that every mode of extension had to find its equivalent in a corresponding mode of thought. God, being the only true substance, was therefore the common source of those
6
parallel attributes. For this reason His system was often
called metaphysical parallelism. As to Malebranche, he rejected Leibniz’ solution on the ground that if God
B
«Spinoza, Ethics, Pt. II, prop. 1-3; in B. Rand, pp. 168-169.
Leibniz, The Monadology, A r t . 80.
186
CARTESIAN IDEALISM
has pre-established a universal harmony, there was no room left for free will; and he rejected the system of Spinoza (whom he once called: “le miserable Spinoza,” the wretched Spinoza) because to conceive mind and body as two finite modes of two attributes of the divine substance was to identify them with God. It was pan- theism. But where could he find another solution?
Malebranche was greatly helped in finding one, by an expression that had already been used, but only in a casual way, by Descartes, and even by Saint Augustine. Why not say that God has established such laws, that on the occasion of some change taking place in our bodies, some other change should necessarily take place in our souls? According to such a doctrine, which is commonly called occasionalism, matter and its modifica- tions are but occasions for God to give us corresponding sensations and corresponding ideas. In a way, it can be said that Malebranche had answered the question, but his answer was fraught with fearful consequences, some of which he had not been able to foresee.
Let us begin with those which he himself perceived, and accepted. The first consequence is, that since we know everything through God, or, as Malebranche would say, in God, our knowledge is not directly re- lated to actually existing things, but only to their ideas in God. Of course, we know that things are, and what they are; but since material substances, by their own natures, are entirely foreign to thinking substances, it might perhaps be better to say that, owing to God, we know everything about them, but do not know them.
187
THE CARTESIAN EXPERIMENT
This is so true that even were the external world an- nihilated by an act of the divine will, the character of physics as an exact science would not be changed. For indeed, physics is not a knowledge of the external world in its actual existence and its own reality, but rather a science of that intelligible idea of matter which is in God, and through which alone we know the properties of matter as well as its laws. Science is what it is, and al- ways will remain such, whether there be an external world or not.
The second consequence of occasionalism is, that I do not know my own body any more than I know other bodies. To me, my own body is just as much part of the external world, that is to say, just as foreign to my mind, as every other body. I do not see my body, except through the ideas and sensations I have of it impressed upon my mind by God. Another way of expressing the same fact would be to say that the body which our soul sees is not the same as the body which our soul animates; for the body it animates is a concrete and material thing which, as such, can be neither felt nor known by the mind, whereas the body the mind knows is but the intel- ligible nature of the same body, in God.
From those two consequences there follows a third, the importance of which for the ulterior development of metaphysics was immediately perceived by some of Male- branche’s contemporaries. It is that Descartes was wrong in saying that God would be a deceiver, if He made us falsely believe that external bodies make themselves known to us through sensations. What had happened
188
CARTESIAN IDEALISM
was simply this: Descartes admitted that sensations were actually caused in us by external bodies. T h a t he ad- mitted it, is strange; for, just as he had been the first to prove the real distinction of mind and body, he also should have been the first to realize that no action of a body upon a mind is conceivable; but he did admit it, and as he felt sure that he was right, he decreed that if he, Descartes, could be wrong when he was sure he was right, then God would be a deceiver. Unfortunately there was a third possibility, which Malebranche was not slow to see. On Descartes’ principles, we know, as an evident truth, that the external world is not the cause of our knowledge of it; on the other hand we know, with equal certainty, once more from Descartes’ own demon- strations, that God is not a deceiver. Whence it follows, as a third evident truth, that Descartes was wrong. He was wrong in considering as an evident truth
our natural inclination to believe that bodies can act upon our minds. True, there is in us such an inclination, and it was put in us by God, and it is a deceiving inclina- tion, yet the presence in our mind of such an inclination is no proof that God is a deceiver. To ask why it was put there by God is irrelevant to the question; the only thing that matters is the fact that God has not given us that inclination, as a rational evidence to be accepted by reason. On the contrary, God has given us, together
with that natural inclination, the natural light of rea- son, by which we can question the truth-value of that inclination, and prove that it has none. Descartes should have reached that conclusion from his own principles;
189
THE CARTESIAN EXPERIMENT
if he did not reach it, it is because he was deceiving him-
7
self, not because he was being deceived by God.
Now let us recall what has already been said about Descartes’ demonstration of the existence of an external
world. It is well worth remarking that Descartes himself
had considered Malebranche’s vision in God as a possi-
bility, but had rejected it on the ground that “since God
is not a deceiver, it is very manifest that He does not
communicate to me these ideas immediately and by Him-
8
self. . . .” On the contrary, Descartes had said, God
not only did not give me a faculty with which to recog- nize that this is the case, but he gave me rather a very great inclination to believe that these ideas were sent to me by corporeal objects. Hence his conclusion: as I have that natural inclination, and, on the other hand, as I have no evident knowledge that it is a deceitful one, “I do not see how He [God] could be defended against the accusation of deceit, if these ideas were produced by causes other than corporeal objects. Hence we must allow
9
that corporeal things exist.” It is clear that, with the
failure of this last argument, the whole Cartesian demon- stration of the existence of an external world goes to pieces. How then are we going to prove it?
To that question, Malebranche’s answer was sim- ply : we are not going to prove it, because it cannot be
7
by his rejection of secondary qualities, had been obliged to admit
that: “notwithstanding the supreme goodness of God, the nature of
man, as it is composed of mind and body, cannot be otherwise than
sometimes a source of deception.” Eaton, op. cit., p. 163.
Malebranche’s argument is the stronger, for Descartes himself,
8
nbid., p . 154.
Eaton, op cit., p. 154.
190
CARTESIAN IDEALISM
proven. It was a very bold step, but at the same time it was obviously an inevitable one for any one who wanted to be truer to Descartes’ principles than Descartes him- self had been. As a matter of fact, the founder of the school lived long enough to see one of his first disciples arrive at the same conclusion. Regius, a Dutch professor of philosophy, and a great admirer of Descartes, said, and even printed, that according to the new philosophy: “it was naturally doubtful, whether or not corporeal things were actually perceived by us.” But, he added, “that doubt is removed by the divine Revelation in Holy Scriptures, since it cannot be doubted that God has
10
When he read that state- ment, Descartes was furious; reminding Regius that he had given conclusive proof of the existence of the world in his writings, he added that his proofs could be under- stood at least by such people as “are not like the horse
11
created heaven and earth.”
and the mule which have no understandings.” least, could be proved by the Bible.
That, at
Unfortunately, there soon appeared another Car- tesian horse, or mule, in the person of Geraud de Corde- moy, who in his interesting essay: On the Distinction of Mind and Body, 6th Discourse, expressed surprise to hear that some people are not quite sure of having a soul; the real problem, says Cordemoy, is rather to prove that we have a body; without faith in divine revelation, how could we be sure of it? Thus, when Malebranche came
10
R. Descartes, (Ewvres, ed. Adam-Tannery, Vol. VIII, 2nd Pt., p. 344, n. ix.
UDescartes, op. cit., pp. 356-357. Cf. Ps. xxi: 9, in the revised Douay edition.
191
THE CARTESIAN EXPERIMENT
third in the series, there was very little left for him to do, except confirm, by deeper and more convincing proofs, an opinion generally received in the French Cartesian school.
I n his Conversations on Metaphysics and on Religion (1688), Malebranche devoted the VTth Conversation to a proof of the existence of bodies by means of divine
Revelation. The obvious objection was, that by doing so he was substituting religion for philosophy; but Male- branche knew several answers to that reproach. Since he had already proved that we receive our sensations di- rectly from God, he was bound to consider sensations
12
This was even the reason why Malebranche, far from being
themselves, as some sort of natural revelations.
ashamed because he could not find a demonstration of the existence of matter, took great pride in proving at
13
Bodies cannot be directly perceived by our minds; on the other hand (and this is where Spinoza was wrong), their existence can- not be concluded from the nature of God, since God has created them, not by any necessity of nature, but rather by a free decision of His will. How then could we prove an existence that can be neither perceived nor deduced? It is a radical impossibility. But we know there is a God, and we believe that He is the Christian God; conse- quently, we should also believe that what He says in the Holy Scriptures is true. We are, then, bound in con- science to believe that “in the beginning, God created
least that it is impossible to prove it.
12
trans. M. Ginsberg, G. Allen and Unwin, London, 1923; p. 165.
MaIebranche, Dialogues on Metaphysics and on Religion, VI, 3; Wlbid., VI, 4, p. 166.
192
sion in God.
CARTESIAN IDEALISM
heaven and earth,” together with the millions and mil- lions of creatures contained therein. We should therefore hold, as an article of faith, that the external world is, or exists.
Just as Descartes had been labelled a “Dreamer,” so
Malebranche was commonly to be called a “Visionary.”
Yet he immediately found an audience, even in Eng-
land, where J. Norris supported Malebranche’s views,
in his Conduct of Human Life (1690), with the unex-
pected result that the Quakers immediately recognized
their own doctrine in Malebranche’s doctrine of the Vi-
14
Norris himself, who was a good scientist, was then accused of being a Quaker, which he denied, not however without adding, that were the Friends able to elaborate their doctrine into a clear system, it would not
15
be so different from his own opinions. This is why, in his
I l n d Philosophical Letter, V oltaire introduces the fa- mous Quaker, who justifies his own doctrine of inspira- tion by saying, that God gives us all our ideas: “Eh!” Voltaire says, “here is Father Malebranche true to life.” — ” I know thy Malebranche,” the Quaker rejoins, “he
16
Such was Male- branche’s reward for having pledged himself always to follow the pure evidence of reason. As Faydit said of
him in a then oft-quoted verse:
“He who sees all in God, there, sees not he is mad.”
14
He Asserts P. Malebranche’s Opinion of our Seeing all Things in God;
in J. A. St. John’s edit., Vol. II, pp. 459-471.
15
VoItaire, Lettres philosophiques, ed. G. Lanson, Vol. I, p. 31, note 14.
TMIbid., Vol. I, p. 25.
was a bit of a Quaker, but not enough.”
C/. J. Locke, Remarks upon some of Mr. Norris’s Books, wherein
193
minds.”
THE CARTESIAN EXPERIMENT
That was not the worst. According to an old tradition, when Malebranche was in the last year of his life (1715), and already very weak, a young Irish philosopher waited upon him. His name was George Berkeley. Having pub- lished his own Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision
(1709), it was only natural that he should carry on a
serious philosophical discussion with Malebranche. W e
are not sure what the topic of the discussion was, but we
should not be very far from the mark in supposing that
it ran something like this: “Father, I quite agree with
you that God gives us all our ideas, including sensations,
and that, consequently, the existence of a material world
cannot be proved. But then, why are you so keen on up-
holding its existence? The existence of what? You have
proved conclusively to us that the so-called matter
‘neither acts, nor perceives, nor is perceived.’ Then,
what is it? You say it is an occasion. But since matter
has nothing in common with mind, God could not pos-
sibly find there even an occasion to do something in our
17
“Then you add that we should at least believe what Revelation tells us about it; but Revelation tells us nothing at all about it; all it says is, that God created heaven and earth, not that he created an unknown and unknowable substance, called matter, that lies hidden behind our own ideas and our own feelings. Nothing will be changed in the usual interpretation of Holy Writ
18
Ideas, then, and spirits, make up the whole of reality, and
whether there be, or be not, external things.”
17
Cf. G. Berkeley, Of the Principles of Human Knowledge, Part I,
n. 67-79; ed. A. C. Fraser, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1901; Vol. I, p. 43. IBIbid., Part I, n. 82-85; Vol. I, pp. 302-304.
194
CARTESIAN IDEALISM
outside of them, there is nothing; nay, not even an out-
19
side.
If young Berkeley did use such an argument, which I
have borrowed from his later criticism of Malebranche, the account given by Stock of their interview is not en- tirely lacking in probability: “In the heat of the dispu- tation,” says Stock, “he [Malebranche] raised his voice so high, and gave way so freely to the natural impetu- osity of a man of parts, and a Frenchman, that he brought on himself a violent increase of his disorder,
20
which carried him off a few days after.”
If the story
is true, it is a good one; if it is not true, it is better than
true, for it should have happened. No wonder then, that
DeQuincey inserted it in his famous Essay on Murder
21
as One of the Fine Arts. What a murder case, indeed:
“Murder by Metaphysics!”
Whether the sudden revelation that he had always
been an unconscious idealist actually killed Malebranche or not, the fact remains, that while Locke was bringing Descartes’ reign to an end on the continent, the geo- metrical distinction of mind and body was reaching on
19
The idealistic implications of Malebranche’s vision in God had already been seen by Locke: “What he (Malebranche) here means by the sun is hard to conceive; and according to his hypothesis of seeing all things in God, how can he know that there is any such real being in the world as the sun? Did he ever see the sun? No; how then does he know that there is a sun which he never saw?” J. Locke, An Examination of P. Malebranche’s Opinion of Seeing all Things in Ood, n. 20; ed. J. A. St. John, Vol. II, p. 425.
20A. C. Fraser, The Works of Berkeley, Clarendon Press. Oxford,
1871; Vol. IV, p. 73. Of. a shorter account of the same story in the
1901 edition, Vol. I, p. 43.
21
DeQuincey’s Works, Riverside editions, Boston, 1877; V ol. I I ,
p. 551
195
THE CARTESIAN EXPERIMENT
Irish soil the last stage of its natural evolution. Like all philosophers, Berkeley felt rather interested in those points of his own system on which he was at variance with Malebranche and Descartes, but his radical idealism was none the less a natural and necessary offspring of the “I think, hence I am.” In spite of Berkeley’s own pro- tests, his contemporaries, and particularly his friend Doctor Clayton, had no difficulty in finding him a place among the members of the Cartesian family. In the Essay on Spirit, printed in 1750, and attributed to
Clayton, we read that the opinion of Spinoza was, that “there is no other substance in nature but God; that modes cannot subsist, or be conceived, without a sub- stance; that there is nothing in nature but modes and substances; and that therefore everything must be con- ceived as subsisting in God. Which opinion, with some few alterations, has been embraced and cultivated by
22
Clayton was right, save only in this, that if Malebranche, Berke- ley, and let us add Leibniz, had made God the only knowing, acting, and subsisting reality, Spinoza had played no part in their decision. The responsibility for so much metaphysical trouble behind all those systems rests with Descartes and his geometrical metaphysics. Every one is free to decide whether he shall begin to philosophize as a pure mind; if he should elect to do so the difficulty will be not how to get into the mind, but
how to get out of it. Four great men had tried it, and 22A. C. Fraser, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 324, n. 83. Cf. J. Locke, Re-
marks upon some of Mr. Norris’s books, n. 16; Vol. II, pp. 468-469. 196
Father Malebranche and Bishop Berkeley.”
CARTESIAN IDEALISM
failed. Berkeley’s own achievement was to realize at last, that it was a useless and foolish thing even to try it. In this sense at least, it is true to say that Berkeley brought Descartes’ “noble experiment” to a close, and for that reason his work should always remain as a landmark in the history of philosophy. But Descartes was not only a metaphysician, he was also a physicist; and we shall now see how, after destroying our natural belief in the existence of the world, Descartes’ mathematicism was to destroy our natural belief in physical causality.

Etienne Gilson

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