Sunday cat pix
From the Sunday Cat Pix Archives: Musa and a gallon of milk.
A Response on Descartes
John Emerson has responded on his website to an entry on Descartes and doing history (see “Descartes without the boring parts”). That post and his earlier post on the Discourse are worth reading. I have since come across a passage in Huxley’s essay on the Discourse that summarizes nicely, and I think quite accurately, Descartes’ religious attitude. (I add some footnotes on matters of fact & interpretation.)
Descartes lived and died a good Catholic, and prided himself upon having demonstrated the existence of God and of the soul of man. As a reward for his exertions, his old friends the Jesuits put his works upon the “Index”, and called him an Atheist (↓1); while the Protestant divines of Holland declared him to be both a Jesuit and an Atheist (↓2). His books narrowly escaped being burned by the hangman; the fate of Vanini (↓3) was dangled before is eyes; and the misfortunes of Galileo so alarmed him (↓4), that he well-nigh renounced the pursuits by which the world has so greatly benefited, and was driven into subterfuges and evasions that were not worthy of him (↓5).
“Very cowardly”, you might say; and so it was. But you must make allowance for the fact that, in the seventeenth century, not only did heresy mean possible burning, or imprisonment, but the very suspicion of it destroyed a man’s peace, and rendered the calm pursuit of truth difficult or impossible. I fancy that Descartes was a man to care more about being worried and disturbed, than about being burned outright; and, like many other men, sacrificed for the same of peace and quietness, what he would have stubbornly maintained against downright violence. However this may be, let those who are sure they would have done better throw stones at him. I have no feelings but those of gratitude and reverence for the man who did what he did, when he did; and a sort of shame that any one should repine against taking a fair share of such treatment as the world thought good enough for him.
Addendum 7 May 2005: for more on the quarrel of Utrecht and on condemnations of Descartes’ works, see “Descartes rehabilitated”.
(↑1) Descartes’ works were put on the Index of prohibited books (Index librorum prohibitorum in 1663. It is thought that the Jesuit philosopher and mathematician Honoré Fabri (1607–1688) had a role. Fabri seems to have gotten into difficulties himself in 1647 for “concessions” to Cartesianism in his teaching in Lyon and in 1670 for attacks on the Jansenists; he was briefly imprisoned in the 1660s for espousing heliocentrism. His own work against the Jansenists was placed on the Index. (See the entry on Fabri at Scholasticon.) I don’t know of any Jesuit text in which Descartes is called an atheist. The placing of his works on the Index was probably owing primarily to his explanation of the Eucharist in a late letter to Arnauld. There Descartes proposes a theory that, while it preserves the Real Presence of Christ, amounts to a rejection of transubstantiation. Various Cartesian theses had already been condemned by the theologians at Louvain, including the identification of matter with extended substance.
(↑2) Huxley is probably thinking of the controversy between Descartes and Gisbertus Voetius in 1642–1643. Voetius recruited Martinus Schoock, professor at Groningen, to write against Descartes. In his Admiranda methodus novae philosophiae Renati Des-Cartes, Schoock attacks both the philosophy and the person, comparing Descartes to Vanini.
(↑3) Giulio Cesare Vanini (1585–1619), after renouncing Catholicism in 1612, then returning to it in 1613, published two heterodox works, the Amphitheatrum aeternae providentiae divino-magicum (1615), and De admirandis naturae reginae deaeque mortalium arcanis (1616). Although he had a gift for attracting powerful patrons, he was executed in Toulouse in 1619.
(↑4) After the condemnation of Galileo, Descartes in a letter to Mersenne writes that “if [the movement of the Earth] is false, all the foundations of my philosophy are false too”. Still, he says, “I would not for anything in the world have any discourse come from me, in which the least word could be found of which the Church would disapprove” (to Mersenne, end of November 1633; AT 1:271). Three months later he wants to know whether the authority of the Congregation of Cardinals in charge of censorship “was sufficient to make it [the condemnation of Copernicanism] an article of faith” (to Mersenne, Feb 1634; AT 1:281). In August he has obtained a copy of the condemnation (to Mersenne, 14 Aug 1634; AT 1:306). It is clear that for philosophical reasons, the condemnation did distress him; on the other hand, he indicates always his intention not to contradict any article of faith.
(↑5) Huxley may have had in mind Descartes’ treatment of the motion of the Earth in the Principles. Descartes finds in favor of the system of Tycho Brahe (in which the Sun revolves around the Earth and the remaining planets, other than the Moon, around the Sun); nevertheless, it follows from the vortex theory that the Earth, though at rest within its own ciel, revolves with its ciel around the Sun. It’s worth noting that Gassendi, after refuting anti-Copernican arguments, leaves it open to his readers to hold true the system of Tycho. These are indeed subterfuges of a sort that I would guess commonly occur under regimes that, though they will brook no active, public opposition, are content with merely nominal agreement. The issue is first of all one of authority, not truth. Philosophers like Descartes and Gassendi would have regarded their acts as prudent; it would not have entered their minds that anyone would regard them as cowardly. (An interesting question: certainly it would have been brave to oppose the Church in those areas where opposition met with sanctions; but was it cowardly not to oppose the Church? ‘Cowardly’ and ‘brave’ are certainly contraries; but I’m not sure they are contradictories.)
Gereformeerde Theologen Studentenvereniging “Voetius”. Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676), wie was hij? (in Dutch).
“Voetius, Gisbert” In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon. The original is in v. 12, col. 1549–1554 (published 1997).
Galileo Project. “Vanini, Giulio”.
Emile Namer. La vie et l’oeuvre de J.-C. Vanini. Vrin, 2000. · 2711641120
On Tycho’s system:
Galileo Project. “Tycho Brahe (1546–1601)”. Includes a reproduction of an engraving of Tycho’s system.
Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza (Florence). “Tycho Brahe’s system”. Also . Includes an animation of Tycho’s system.
“Gassendi”. Catholic Encyclopedia (1911).
Olivier Bloch. La philosophie de Gassendi. La Haye: Martinus Nijhoff, 1971. (See especially pp. 327–329.)
Wednesday Garden Pic
Each of the purple tulips has a dwarf companion blooming beside it.
In Le Monde, an article announces that the University of Utrecht has lifted a ban on the teaching of Descartes, 363 years after it was instituted. The rehabilitation occurred as part of a conference
in March on Descartes and the Academy of Utrecht.
Nicolas Weill, “Le philosophe René Descartes vient d’être «réhabilité» aux Pays-Bas”, Le Monde 25 Mar 2005; see also, in German, Christoph Lüthy, “Bis in alle Ewigkeit”, Neue Zürcher Zeitung 23 Mar 2005). For those who read Dutch, there is more in Erik Hardeman, “Descartes was snel op zijn teentjes getrapt en kon met name Voetius niet luchten of zien”, Ublad Online (Utrecht) 24 Mar 2005. For the conference, see Descartes en de Utrechtse Academie 1636-2005), whose proceedings have been published in Née Cartésienne / Cartesiaansch Gebooren, ed. W. Koops, L. Dorsman, T. Verbeek (Van Gorcum, 2005 · 9023241347).
This happy ending gives me the occasion to mention again Theo Verbeek’s project on the correspondence of Descartes. For generations, Descartes scholars have depended on the Adam-Tannery edition, which was last updated in volumes published from 1987 to 1991. Glad though we are to have such an edition (which is lacking, or has been until recently, for other major figures like Spinoza and Leibniz), it has numerous shortcomings, both in the text and in the apparatus. Verbeek and his group have done excellent work not only in editing the letters themselves, but in supplying the apparatus needed to understand them. A sample volume has been published for the year 1643, the year of Descartes’ Epistola ad Dinetum, the Admiranda methodus, a violent attack on Descartes and his philosophy by Martin Schoock,
Theo Verbeek, Erik-Jan Bos, Jeroen van de Ven, eds., The correspondence of René Descartes: 1643 (Utrecht: Zeno Institute, 2003; Quæstiones Infinitæ 45).and Descartes’ response, the Epistola ad Voetium. The volume includes an eighty-page “Biographical Lexicon” which is itself an important contribution.
Another fruit of the project is the publication of a new edition of the correspondence between Descartes and Regius (Erik-Jan Bos, The Correspondence between Descartes and Henricus Regius, available in its entirety as a pdf). In an appendix are the disputations published by Regius under the title Physiologia, sive cognitio sanitatis (Physiology, or the knowledge of health) in 1641.
See Theo Verbeek, La querelle d’Utrecht (Les Impressions Nouvelles, Paris, 1988); Dennis Des Chene, “Cartesiomania”, Perspectives on science 3 (1995), 534-581.Those disputations, with which Descartes was publicly associated, were one of the factors leading to the “quarrel of Utrecht” between Descartes and Regius, representing the new philosophy, and Voetius and Schoock, defending the old (and true religion). The recently lifted ban on the teaching of Descartes was one upshot of that quarrel. (In fact the Cartesian philosophy has been taught at Utrecht since 1650.)
Note. A new letter of Descartes was discovered by Erik-Jan Bos at the Berlin Staatsbibliothek in 2003, the first in 25 years. See “Nieuwe brief Descartes ontdekt”, Ublad Online 6.35 (10 Feb 2003). In the letter, addressed to Joachim de Wicqefort ‘op de Cinghel’ in Amsterdam and dated 2 Oct 1640, Descartes, then in Leiden, inquires about a manuscript that was in fact received by him three days later. The discovery was celebrated with champagne in Utrecht: “Je hoopt er wel op, maar als het dan echt gebeurt, is het toch iets bijzonders. We hebben hier toen wel even de champagne opengemaakt”. The article notes that in 2001 a Descartes letter sold in Germany for DM180,000 and that another was being offered in Basel for €130,000.
(This is an addendum to “A response on Descartes”.) New documents on the censure of Descartes’ works by the Catholic Church were published by Jean-Robert Armogathe and Vincent Carraud in Bulletin Cartésien 30 (2002, reviewing publications of 1999). The same issue of the Bulletin includes a report by Verbeek, Bos, and Matthijs van Otegem on the correspondance of Descartes; in it is the (Latin) text of the 1643 statutes which forbade the teaching, public or private of any philosophy departing from Aristotle’s.
Conservative is the new black, pt. 3
This is the third in a series of posts on issues raised by Mark Bauerlein’s Chronicle piece. See Part 1, Part II, Appendix (Colorado).
My slow reading of Bauerlein’s piece continues.
The public has now picked up the message that “campuses are havens for left-leaning activists,” according to a Chronicle poll of 1,000 adult Americans this year. Half of those surveyed — 68 percent who call themselves “conservative” and even 30 percent who say they are “liberal” — agreed that colleges improperly introduce a liberal bias into what they teach (↓1). The matter, however, is clearly not just one of perception. Indeed, in another recent survey, this one conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute of the University of California at Los Angeles, faculty members themselves chose as their commitment “far left” or “liberal” more than two and a half times as often as “far right” or “conservative.” As a Chronicle article last month put it: “On left-leaning campuses around the country, professors on the right feel disenfranchised.”
I like that ‘picked up’. As if conservative authors and foundations hadn’t been promoting this “message” (which is, for once, the right word) for years. I also like the bit about perception. Here’s glory for you:
Academia is perceived as liberal.
Therefore something needs to be done.
It’s a bogus argument. Especially if the perceptions are being created by interested parties.
Bauerlein tries to back up those carefully nurtured perceptions with hard facts. I’ve mentioned the UCLA survey: Bauerlein omits the one-third who identify themselves as middle-of-the-road. I don’t know what “middle-of-the-road” means in the survey. But one could just as well have said that a faculty member is about as likely to be center-right as to be liberal-left. Not quite so alarming, is it?
The Chronicle story is entitled “Conservatives in a Liberal Landscape/On left-leaning campuses around the country, professors on the right feel disenfranchised” (↓2). It details the hard times undergone by three conservative professors, including John Yoo, co-author of one of the memos on torture that surfaced in the summer of 2004 (quote: “I’m a big believer in decentralized government”). The stories are in the usual quote-both-sides style. Bauerlein’s quotation, you’ll notice, is from the subheadline. It is not supported by the story itself, most of which is devoted to the three unfortunate professors. The only claims about “campuses around the country” come in a paragraph on the same UCLA survey mentioned by Bauerlein (but being in the minority is not “disenfranchisement”), and from—who else?—David Horowitz and Stephen Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars. Suffice it to say that these are not disinterested, impartial observers of the academic scene.
In sum: we have a irrelevant claim about perceptions, naïve at best, disingenuous at worst; a survey; and a quotation pulled from a story that in fact doesn’t bear it out. Not much! But we are, after all, in Op-Ed Land. In Op-Ed Land, the important thing is to have an Op. Verdict first, trial later, as the Red Queen said.
Sunday Cat Pix
From the Archives: LG curled.
Wednesday Garden Pic
A hollyhock waiting to be transplanted.
I — therefore I —
“Surfing”, borrowed from TV-watching, is not the aptest metaphor for the distracted viewing of web pages—and especially of weblogs. It’s more like riding the elevator in a tall building or travelling on the subway. The doors open, the train stops: a minute’s glimpse of conversations or merely of groups of people; the mind, as is its habit, begins to weave narratives to account for what it sees. But no sooner does it begin than the doors close or the train starts, and on to another collection of never-to-be-completed vignettes.
Photo weblogs are especially good for this, and sites like Flickr. With Flickr you can build “tag streams”—RSS feeds of photos to which a particular tag has been attached. For example:
gets you photos that for some reason have been tagged ‘Descartes’. To create your own feed, just copy the URL for the link and substitute another word for ‘Descartes’.
Today’s harvest includes two parodies of the cogito:
- Jag klottrar alltså fims jag
Graffiti. (See Victoria & Albert do graffiti for some history of graffiti.)
- I-pod therefore I am
Lower Haight, San Francisco. “I think therefore iPod” is also instantiated, but not, as far as I know, in graffiti.
A quick search on “I think therefore” and not “am” yields 36,800 hits on Google, 17,200 on Teoma.
How about “philosophy”?
- Carpe diem
More graffiti. Apparently whoever wrote this attributes the phrase to Aristotle.
A “philosophy cat”.
- Hotel de Filosoof
“The Philosopher”—a ★★★ hotel in Amsterdam. “Each of the 38 rooms is decorated in different philosophical and cultural themes”. Thales (the “Water” room), Bataille (“Passion”), Confucius, Thoreau, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Spinoza (my favorite),…
Addendum 15 May: A twofer: the cogito and Roy Lichtenstein (or a close imitation) in “one of the meeting rooms of a well-known US company”. I’m guessing it’s not Wal-Mart.
Sunday cat pix
HS out back.
Wednesday Garden Pic
Our old maple had to be cut down. This slice of the trunk shows why: it was rotted out inside. A count of rings gives an age of at least sixty years.