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

I also observ’d touching Experiments, that they are still so much the more necessary, as we are more advanc’d in knowledg. For in the beginning it’s better to use those only which of themselves are presented to our senses, and which we cannot be ignorant of, if we do but make the least reflections upon them, then to seek out the rarest and most studied ones. The reason whereof is, that those which are rarest, doe often deceive, when we seldome know the same of the most common ones, and that the circumstances on which they depend, are, as it were, always so particular, and so small, that it’s very uneasie to finde them out. But the order I observed herein was this. First, I endevoured to finde in generall the Principles or first Causes of whatsoever is or may be in the world, without considering any thing for this end, but God alone who created it, or drawing them elsewhere, then from certain seeds of Truth which naturally are in our souls. After this, I examined what were the first and most ordinary Effects which might be deduced from these Causes: And me thinks that thereby I found out Heavens, Starrs, an Earth; and even on the Earth, Water, Air and Fire, Minerals, and some other such like things, which are the most common, and the most simple of all, and consequently the most easie to be understood. Afterwards, when I would descend to those which were more particular, there were so many severall ones presented themselves to me, that I did beleeve it impossible for a humane understanding to distinguish the forms and species of Bodies which are on the earth, from an infinite number of others which might be there, had it been the will of God so to place them: Nor by consequence to apply them to our use, unless we set the Effects before the Causes, and make use of divers particular experiments; In relation to which, revolving in my minde all those objects which ever were presented to my senses, I dare boldly say, I observed nothing which I could not fitly enough explain by the principles I had found. But I must also confesse that the power of Nature is so ample and vast, and these principles are so simple and generall, that I can observe almost no particular Effect, but that I presently know it might be deduced from thence in many severall ways: and that commonly my greatest difficulty is to finde in which of these ways it depends thereon; for I know no other expedient for that, but again to seek some experiments, which may be such, that their event may not be the same, if it be in one of those ways which is to be exprest, as if it were in another. In fine, I am gotten so far, That (me thinks) I see well enough what course we ought to hold to make the most part of those experiments which may tend to this effect. But I also see they are such, and of so great a number, that neither my hands nor my estate (though I had a thousand times more then I have) could ever suffice for all. So that according as I shall hereafter have conveniency to make more or fewer of them, I shall also advance more or lesse in the knowledge of Nature, which I hop’d I should make known by the Treatise which I had written; and therein so clearly shew the benefit which the Publick may receive thereby, that I should oblige all those in general who desire the good of Mankinde; that is to say, all those who are indeed vertuous, (and not so seemingly, or by opinion only) aswell to communicate such experiments as they have already made, as to help me in the enquiry of those which are to be made.

But since that time, other reasons have made me alter my opinion, and think that I truly ought to continue to write of all those things which I judg’d of any importance, according as I should discover the truth of them, and take the same care, as if I were to print them; as well that I might have so much the more occasion throughly to examine them; as without doubt, we always look more narrowly to what we offer to the publick view, then to what we compose onely for our own use: and oftentimes the same things which seemed true to me when I first conceived them, appear’d afterwards false to me, when I was committing them to paper: as also that I might lose no occasion of benefiting the Publick, if I were able, and that if my Writings were of any value, those to whose hands they should come after my death, might to make what use of them they think fit.

But that I ought not any wayes to consent that they should be published during my life; That neither the opposition and controversies, whereto perhaps they might be obnoxious, nor even the reputation whatsoever it were, which they might acquire me, might give me any occasion of mispending the time I had design’d to employ for my instruction; for although it be true that every Man is oblig’d to procure, as much as in him lies, the good of others; and that to be profitable to no body, is properly to be good for nothing: Yet it’s as true, that our care ought to reach beyond the present time; and that it were good to omit those things which might perhaps conduce to the benefit of those who are alive, when our designe is, to doe others which shall prove farr more advantagious to our posterity; As indeed I desire it may be known that the little I have learnt hitherto, is almost nothing in comparison of what I am ignorant of; and I doe not despair to be able to learn: For it’s even the same with those, who by little and little discover the truth in Learning; as with those who beginning to grow rich, are less troubled to make great purchases, then they were before when they were poorer, to make little ones. Or else one may compare them to Generals of Armies, whose Forces usually encrease porportionably to their Victories; and who have need of more conduct to maintain themselves after the loss of a battail, then after the gaining one, to take Towns and Provinces. For to endeavour to overcome all the difficulties and errours which hinder us to come to the knowledg of the Truth, is truly to fight battails. And to receive any false opinion touching a generall or weighty matter, is as much as to lose one; there is far more dexterity required to recover our former condition, then to make great progresses where our Principles are already certain. For my part, if I formerly have discovered some Truths in Learning, as I hope my Discourse will make it appear I have, I may say, they are but the products and dependances of five or six principall difficulties which I have overcome, and which I reckon for so many won Battails on my side. Neither will I forbear to say; That I think, It’s only necessary for me to win two or three more such, wholly to perfect my design. And that I am not so old, but according to the ordinary course of Nature, I may have time enough to effect it. But I beleeve I am so much the more obliged to husband the rest of my time, as I have more hopes to employ it well; without doubt, I should have divers occasions of impeding it, should I publish the grounds of my Physicks. For although they are almost all so evident, that to beleeve them, it’s needfull onely to understand them; and that there is none whereof I think my self unable to give demonstration. Yet because it’s impossible that they should agree with all the severall opinions of other men, I foresee I should often be diverted by the opposition they would occasion.

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