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

As for other Sciences, since they borrow their Principles from Philosophy, I judg’d that nothing which was solid could be built upon such unsound foundations; and neither honour nor wealth were sufficient to invite me to the study of them. For (I thank God) I found not my self in a condition which obliged me to make a Trade of Letters for the relief of my fortune. And although I made it not my profession to despise glory with the Cynick; yet did I little value that which I could not acquire but by false pretences. And lastly, for unwarrantable Studies, I thought I already too well understood what they were, to be any more subject to be deceived, either by the promises of an Alchymist, or by the predictions of an Astrologer, or by the impostures of a Magician, or by the artifice or brags of those who profess to know more then they do.

By reason whereof, as soon as my years freed me from the subjection of my Tutors, I wholly gave over the study of Letters, and resolving to seek no other knowledge but what I could finde in my self, or in the great book of the World, I imployed the rest of my youth in Travell, to see Courts and Armies, to frequent people of severall humors and conditions, to gain experience, to hazard my self in those encounters of fortune which should occurr; and every—where to make such a reflection on those things which presented themselves to me, that I might draw profit from them. For (me thought) I could meet with far more truth in the discourses which every man makes touching those affairs which concern him, whose event would quickly condemn him, if he had judg’d amisse; then amongst those which letter’d Men make in their closets touching speculations, which produce no effect, and are of no consequence to them, but that perhaps they may gain so much the more vanity, as they are farther different from the common understanding: Forasmuch as he must have imployed the more wit and subtilty in endeavouring to render them probable. And I had always an extreme desire to learn to distinguish Truth from Falshood, that I might see cleerly into my actions, and passe this life with assurance.

Its true, that whiles I did but consider the Manners of other men, I found little or nothing wherein I might confirm my self: And I observ’d in them even as much diversity as I had found before in the opinions of the Philosophers: So that the greatest profit I could reap from them was, that seeing divers things, which although they seem to us very extravagant and ridiculous, are nevertheless commonly received and approved by other great Nations, I learn’d to beleeve nothing too firmly, of what had been onely perswaded me by example or by custom, and so by little and little I freed my self from many errors, which might eclipse our naturall light, and render us lesse able to comprehend reason. But after I had imployed some years in thus studying the Book of the World, and endeavouring to get experience, I took one day a resolution to study also within my self, and to employ all the forces of my minde in the choice of the way I was to follow: which (me thought) succeeded much better, then if I had never estranged my self from my Country, or from my Books.


I was then in Germany, whither the occasion of the Wars (which are not yet finished) call’d me; and as I return’d from the Emperors Coronation towards the Army, the beginning of Winter stopt me in a place, where finding no conversation to divert me and on the other sides having by good fortune no cares nor passions which troubled me, I stayd alone the whole day, shut up in my Stove, where I had leasure enough to entertain my self with my thoughts. Among which one of the first was that I betook my self to consider, That oft times there is not so much perfection in works compos’d of divers peeces, and made by the hands of severall masters, as in those that were wrought by one only: So we may observe that those buildings which were undertaken and finished by one onely, are commonly fairer and better ordered then those which divers have laboured to patch up, making use of old wals, which were built for other purposes; So those ancient Cities which of boroughs, became in a succession of time great Towns, are commonly so ill girt in comparison of other regular Places, which were design’d on a flatt according to the fancy of an Engeneer; and although considering their buildings severally, we often find as much or more art, then in those of other places; Yet to see how they are rank’d here a great one, there a little one, and how they make the streets crooked and uneven, One would say, That it was rather Fortune, then the will of Men indued with reason, that had so disposed them. And if we consider, that there hath always been certain Officers, whose charge it was, to take care of private buildings, to make them serve for the publique ornament; We may well perceive, that it’s very difficult, working on the works of others, to make things compleat. So also did I imagine, that those people who formerly had been half wilde, and civiliz’d but by degrees, made their laws but according to the incommodities which their crimes and their quarrels constrain’d them to, could not be so wel pollic’d, as those who from the beginning of their association, observ’d the constitutions of some prudent Legislator. As it is very certain, that the state of the true Religion, whose Ordinances God alone hath made, must be incomparably better regulated then all others. And to speak of humane things, I beleeve that if Sparta hath formerly been most flourishing, it was not by reason of the goodness of every of their laws in particular, many of them being very strange, and even contrary to good manners, but because they were invented by one only, They all tended to One End. And so I thought the sciences in Books, at least those whose reasons are but probable, and which have no demonstrations, having been compos’d of, and by little and little enlarg’d with, the opinions of divers persons, come not so near the Truth, as those simple reasonings which an understanding Man can naturally make, touching those things which occurr. And I thought besides also, That since we have all been children, before we were Men; and that we must have been a long time govern’d by our appetites, and by our Tutors, who were often contrary to one another, and neither of which alwayes counsel’d us for the best; It’s almost impossible that our judgment could be so clear or so solid, as it might have been, had we had the intire use of our reason from the time of our birth, and been always guided by it alone.

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