Aolib.comFragment of Photochrom print of the front of Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany (ca. 1897)

A Discourse of a Method for the Well Guiding of Reason ... »


By Ren*escartes

Thence I went in search of other Truths; and having proposed Geometry for my object, which I conceived as a continued Body, or a space indefinitely spred in length, bredth, height or depth, divisible into divers parts, which might take severall figures and bignesses, and be moved and transposed every way. For the Geometricians suppose all this in their object. I past through some of their most simple demonstrations; and having observed that this great certaintie, which all the world grants them, is founded only on this, that men evidently conceived them, following the rule I already mentioned. I observed also that there was nothing at all in them which ascertain’d me of the existence of their object. As for example, I well perceive, that supposing a Triangle, three angles necessarily must be equall to two right ones: but yet nevertheless I saw nothing which assured me that there was a Triangle in the world. Whereas returning to examine the Idea which I had of a perfect Being, I found its existence comprised in it, in the same manner as it was comprised in that of a Triangle, where the three angles are equall to two right ones; or in that of a sphere, where all the parts are equally distant from the center. Or even yet more evidently, and that by consequence, it is at least as certain that God, who is that perfect Being, is, or exists, as any demonstration in Geometry can be.

But that which makes many perswade themselves that there is difficulty in knowing it, as also to know what their Soul is, ’tis that they never raise their thoughts beyond sensible things, and that they are so accustomed to consider nothing but by imagination, which is a particular manner of thinking on materiall things, that whatsoever is not imaginable seems to them not intelligible. Which is manifest enough from this, that even the Philosophers hold for a Maxime in the Schools, That there is nothing in the understanding which was not first in the sense; where notwithstanding its certain, that the Ideas of God and of the Soul never were. And (me thinks) those who use their imagination to comprehend them, are just as those, who to hear sounds, or smell odours, would make use of their eys; save that there is yet this difference, That the sense of seeing assures us no lesse of the truth of its objects, then those of smelling or hearing do: whereas neither our imagination, nor our senses, can ever assure us of any thing, if our understanding intervenes not.

To be short, if there remain any who are not enough perswaded of the existence of God, and of their soul, from the reasons I have produc’d, I would have them know, that all other things, whereof perhaps they think themselves more assured, as to have a body, and that there are Stars, and an earth, and the like, are less certain. For although we had such a morall assurance of these things, that without being extravagant we could not doubt of them. However, unless we be unreasonable when a metaphysicall certainty is in question, we cannot deny but we have cause enough not to be wholly confirmed in them, when we consider that in the same manner we may imagine being asleep, we have other bodies, and that we see other Stars, and another earth, though there be no such thing. For how doe we know that those thoughts which we have in our dreams, are rather false then the others, seeing often they are no less lively and significant, and let the ablest men study it as long as they please, I beleeve they can give no sufficient reason to remove this doubt, unless they presuppose the existence of God. For first of all, that which I even now took for a rule, to wit, that those things which were most clearly and distinctly conceived, are all true, is certain, only by reason, that God is or exists, and that he is a perfect being, and that all which we have comes from him. Whence it follows, that our Idea’s or notions, being reall things, and which come from God in all wherein they are clear and distinct, cannot therein be but true. So that if we have very often any which contain falshood, they cannot be but of such things which are somewhat confus’d and obscure, because that therein they signifie nothing to us, that’s to say, that they are thus confus’d in us only, because we are not wholly perfect. And it’s evident that there is no less contrariety that falshood and imperfection should proceed from God, as such, then there is in this, that truth and falshood proceed from nothing. But if we know not that whatsoever was true and reall in us comes from a perfect and infinite being, how clear and distinct soever our Idea’s were, we should have no reason to assure us, that they had the perfection to be true.

Now after that the knowledge of God, and of the Soul hath rendred us thus certain of this rule, it’s easie to know; that the extravaganceys which we imagin in our sleep, ought no way to make us doubt of the truth of those thoughts which we have being awake: For if it should happen, that even sleeping we should have a very distinct Idea; as for example, A Geometritian should invent some new demonstration, his sleeping would not hinder it to be true. And for the most ordinary error of our dreames, which consists in that they represent unto us severall objects in the same manner as our exterior senses doe, it matters not though it give us occasion to mistrust the truth of those Ideas, because that they may also often enough cozen us when we doe not sleep; As when to those who have the Jaundies, all they see seems yellow; or, as the Stars or other bodies at a distance, appear much less then they are. For in fine, whether we sleep or wake, we ought never to suffer our selves to be perswaded but by the evidence of our Reason; I say, (which is observable) Of our Reason, and not of our imagination, or of our senses. As although we see the Sun most clearly, we are not therefore to judge him to be of the bigness we see him of; and we may well distinctly imagine the head of a Lion, set on the body of a Goat, but therefore we ought not to conclude that there is a Chimera in the world. For reason doth not dictate to us, that what we see or imagine so, is true: But it dictates, that all our Idea’s or notions ought to have some grounds of truth; For it were not possible, that God who is all perfect, and all truth, should have put them in us without that: And because that our reasonings are never so evident, nor so entire while we sleep, as when we wake, although sometimes our imaginations be then as much or more lively and express. It also dictates to us, that our thoughts, seeing they cannot be all true by reason that we are not wholly perfect; what they have of truth, ought infallibly to occur in those which we have being awake, rather then in our dreams.

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