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

It may be objected, These oppositions might be profitable, as well to make me know my faults, as if any thing of mine were good to make others by that means come to a better understanding thereof; and as many may see more then one man, beginning from this time to make use of my grounds, they might also help me with their invention. But although I know my self extremely subject to fail, and do never almost trust my first thoughts; yet the experience I have of the objections which may be made unto me, hinder me from hoping for any profit from them; For I have often tried the judgments as well of those whom I esteem’d my friends, as of others whom I thought indifferent, and even also of some, whose malignity and envie did sufficiently discover what the affection of my friends might hide. But it seldom happened that any thing was objected against me, which I had not altogether foreseen, unless it were very remote from my Subject: So that I never almost met with any Censurer of my opinions, that seemed unto me either less rigorous, or less equitable then my self. Neither did I ever observe, that by the disputations practiced in the Schools any Truth which was formerly unknown, was ever discovered. For whilest every one seeks to overcome, men strive more to maintain probabilities, then to weigh the reasons on both sides; and those who for a long time have been good Advocates, are not therefore the better Judges afterwards.

As for the benefit which others may receive from the communication of my thoughts, it cannot also be very great, forasmuch as I have not yet perfected them, but that it is necessary to add many things thereunto, before a usefull application can be made of them. And I think I may say without vanity, That if there be any one capable thereof, it must be my self, rather then any other. Not but that there may be divers wits in the world incomparably better then mine; but because men cannot so well conceive a thing and make it their own, when they learn it of another, as when they invent it themselves: which is so true in this Subject, that although I have often explain’d some of my opinions to very understanding men, and who, whilest I spake to them, seem’d very distinctly to conceive them; yet when they repeated them, I observ’d, that they chang’d them almost always in such a manner, that I could no longer own them for mine. Upon which occasion, I shall gladly here desire those who come after me, never to beleeve those things which may be delivered to them for mine, when I have not published them my self. And I do not at all wonder at the extravagancies which are attributed to all those ancient Philosophers, whose Writings we have not; neither do I thereby judge, that their thoughts were very irrationall, seeing they were the best Wits of their time; but onely that they have been ill convey’d to us: as it appears also, that never any of their followers surpass’d them. And I assure my self, that the most passionate of those, who now follow Aristotle, would beleeve himself happy, had he but as much knowledge of Nature as he had, although it were on condition that he never might have more: They are like the ivie, which seeks to climb no higher then the trees which support it, and ever after tends downwards again when it hath attain’d to the height thereof: for, me thinks also, that such men sink downwards; that is to say, render themselves in some manner lesse knowing, then if they did abstain from studying; who being not content to know all which is intelligibly set down in their Authour, will besides that, finde out the solution of divers difficulties of which he says nothing, and perhaps never thought of them: yet their way of Philosophy is very fit for those who have but mean capacities: For the obscurity of the distinctions and principles which they use causeth them to speak of all things as boldly, as if they knew them, and maintain all which they say, against the most subtill and most able; so that there is no means left to convince them. Wherein they seem like to a blinde man, who, to fight without disadvantage against one that sees, should challenge him down into the bottom of a very dark cellar: And I may say, that it is these mens interest, that I should abstain from publishing the principles of the Philosophy I use, for being most simple and most evident, as they are, I should even do the same in publishing of them, as if I opened some windows, to let the day into this cellar, into which they go down to fight. But even the best Wits have no reason to wish for the knowledge of them: for if they will be able to speak of all things, and acquire the reputation of being learned, they will easily attain to it by contenting themselves with probability, which without much trouble may be found in all kinde of matters; then in seeking the Truth, which discovers it self but by little and little, in some few things; and which, when we are to speak of others, oblige us freely to confesse our ignorance of them. But if they prefer the knowledge of some few truths to the vanity of seeming to be ignorant of nothing, as without doubt they ought to do, and will undertake a designe like mine, I need not tell them any more for this purpose, but what I have already said in this Discourse: For if they have a capacity to advance farther then I have done, they may with greater consequence finde out of themselves whatsoever I think I have found; Forasmuch as having never examined any thing but by order, it’s certain, that what remains yet for me to discover, is in it self more difficult and more hid, then what I have already here before met with; and they would receive much less satisfaction in learning it from me, then from themselves. Besides that, the habit which they would get by seeking first of all the easie things, and passing by degrees to others more difficult, will be more usefull to them, then all my instructions. As I for my part am perswaded, that had I been taught from my youth all the Truths whose demonstrations I have discovered since, and had taken no pains to learn them, perhaps I should never have known any other, or at least, I should never have acquired that habit, and that faculty which I think I have, still to finde out new ones, as I apply my self to the search of them. And in a word, if there be in the world any work which cannot be so well ended by any other, as by the same who began it, it’s that which I am now about.

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