Friday, June 24, 2005

Modernity and Descartes

From Alfred Webber's History of Philosophy (New York: Scribner's Sons, 1908) (, my emphasis added:

In order to understand Descartes the philosopher, we must remember that he was an emulator of Gassendi, Galileo, Pascal, and Newton, the successor of Vi├Ęte, and one of the founders of analytical geometry. Descartes was a mathematician above everything else; a geometrician with a taste for metaphysics rather than a philosopher with a leaning for geometry and algebra. Indeed, his philosophy simply aims to be a generalization of mathematics; it is his ambition to apply the geometric method to universal science, to make it the method of metaphysics. The Discourse on Method does not leave us in doubt on this point: "Above all," he says, "I was delighted with the mathematics on account of the certainty and evidence of their demonstrations, but I had not as yet found out their true use, and although I supposed that they were of service only in the mechanic arts, I was surprised that upon foundations so solid and stable no loftier structure had been raised." And again: "Those long chains of reasoning, quite simple and easy, which geometers are wont to employ in the accomplishment of their most difficult demonstrations, led me to think that everything which might fall under the cognizance of the human mind might be connected together in the same manner, and that, provided only one should take care not to receive anything as true which was not so, and if one were always careful to preserve the order necessary for deducing one truth from another, there would be none so remote at which he might not at last arrive, nor so concealed which he might not discover."


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