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 in effect I dare say, That the exact observation of those few precepts I had chosen, gave me such a facility to resolve all the questions whereto these two sciences extend; That in two or three months space which I employed in the examination of them, having begun by the most simple and most generall, and every Truth which I found being a rule which afterwards served me to discover others; I did not only compasse divers truths which I had formerly judged most difficult, But me thought also that towards the end I could determin even in those which I was ignorant of, by what means and how farr it was possible to resolve them. Wherein perhaps I shall not appear to be very vain if you consider, That there being but one truth of every thing, who ever finds it, knows as much of it as one can know; And that for example a child instructed in Arithmatick having made an addition according to his rules, may be sure to have found, touching the sum he examined, all what the wit of man could finde out. In a word the method which teacheth to folow a right order, and exactly to enumerate all the circumstances of what we seek, contains, whatsoever ascertains the rules of Arithmatick.

But that which pleas’d me most in this Method was the assurance I had, wholly to use my reason, if not perfectly, at least as much as it was in my power; Besides this, I perceived in the practice of it, my minde by little and little accustom’d it self to conceive its objects more clearly and distinctly; and having not subjected it to any particular matter, I promised my self to apply it also as profitable to the difficulties, of other sciences as I had to Algebra: Not that I therefore durst at first undertake to examine all which might present themselves, for that were contrary to the order it prescribes. But having observ’d that all their principles were to be borrowed from Philosophy, in which I had yet found none that were certain, I thought it were needfull for me in the first place to endevor to establish some, and that this being the most important thing in the world, wherein precipitation and prevention were the most to be feared, I should not undertake to performe it, till I had attain’d to a riper Age then XXIII. which was then mine. Before I had formerly employed a long time in preparing my self thereunto, aswel in rooting out of my minde all the ill opinions I had before that time received, as in getting a stock of experience to serve afterwards for the subject of my reasonings, and in exercising my self always in the Method I had prescribed. That I might the more and more confine my self therein.

PART. III.

But as it is not enough to pull down the house where we dwell, before we begin to re—edify it, and to make provision of materials and architects, or performe that office our selves; nor yet to have carefully laid the design of it; but we must also have provided our selves of some other place of abode during the time of the rebuilding: So that I might not remain irresolute in my actions, while reason would oblige me to be so in my judgments, and that I might continue to live the most happily I could, I form’d for my own use in the interim a Moral, which consisted but of three or four Maximes, which I shall communicate unto you.

The first was to obey the lawes and customes of my Country, constantly adhaering to that Religion wherein by the grace of God I had from mine infancy bin bred. And in all other things behaving my self according to the most moderate opinions and those which were farthest from excesse, which were commonly received in practice by the most judicious Men, amongst whom I was to live: For beginning from that very time, to reckon mine own for nothing, because I could bring them all to the test, I was confident I could not do better then follow those of the deepest sense; and although perhaps there are as understanding men amongst the Persians or Chineses as amongst us, yet I thought it was more fit to regulate my self by those with whom I was to live, and that I might truly know what their opinions were, I was rather to observe what they practic’d, then what they taught. Not only by reason of the corruption of our manners, there are but few who will say, all they beleeve, but also because divers are themselves ignorant of it; for the act of the thought by which we beleeve a thing, being different from that whereby we know that we believe it, the one often is without the other. And amongst divers opinions equally receiv’d, I made choise of the most moderate only, as well because they are always the most fit for practice, and probably the best, all excess being commonly ill; As also that I might less err from the right way, if I should perhaps miss it, then if having chosen one of the extremes, it might prove to be the other, which I should have followed. And particularly I plac’d amongst extremities, all those promises by which we somwhat restrain our liberty. Not that I disapproved the laws, which to cure the inconstancy of weak minds, permit us when we have any good design, or else for the preservation of Commerce, one that is but indifferent, to make vows or contracts, which oblige us to persevere in them: But because I saw nothing in the world remain always in the same state; and forming own particular, promised my self to perfect more and more my judgment, and not to impair it, I should have thought my self guilty of a great fault against right understanding, if because I then approved any thing, I were also afterwards oblig’d to take it for good, when perhaps it ceased to be so, or that I had ceased to esteem it so.

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