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

My second Maxime was, To be the most constant and resolute in my actions that I could; and to follow with no less perseverance the most doubtfull opinions, when I had once determined them, then if they had been the most certain. Imitating herein Travellers, who having lost their way in a Forrest, ought not to wander, turning now this way, and then that, and less to abide in one place; but stil advance straight forwards, towards one way, and not to change on slight occasions, although perhaps at first Chance only mov’d them to determine that choice: For by that means, if they do not go directly whither they desire, they will at least arrive somewhere where they will probably be better then in the midst of a Forrest. So the actions of this life admitting often of no delay, its a most certain Truth, That when it is not in our power to discern the truest opinions, we are to follow the most probable: Yea, although we finde no more probability in the one then in the other, we yet ought to determine some way, considering them afterwards no more as doubtful in what they relate to practice; but as most true and certain; forasmuch as the reason was so, which made us determine it. And this was sufficient for that time to free me from all the remorse and repentance which useth to perplex the consciences of those weak and staggering minds, which inconstantly suffer themselves to passe to the practice of those things as good, which they afterwards judge evill.

My third Maxime was, To endevour always rather to conquer my self then Fortune; and to change my desires, rather then the order of the world: and generally to accustome my self to beleeve, That there is nothing wholly in our power but our thoughts; so that after we have done our best, touching things which are without us, all whats wanting of success in respect of us is absolutely impossible. And this alone seem’d sufficient to hinder me from desiring any thing which I could not acquire, and so to render me content. For our will naturally moving us to desire nothing, but those things which our understanding presents in some manner as possible, certain it is, that if we consider all the good which is without us, as equally distant from our power, we should have no more regret for the want of those which seem due to our births, when without any fault of ours we shall be deprived of them, then we have in wanting the possessions of the Kingdoms of China or Mexico. And making (as we say) vertue of necessity, we should no more desire to be in health being sick, or free being in prison, then we now do, to have bodies of as incorruptible a matter as diamonds, or wings to fly like birds. But I confess, that a long exercise, and an often reiterated meditation, is necessary to accustom us to look on all things with that byass: And I beleeve, in this principally consists, the secret of those Philosophers who formerly could snatch themselves from the Empire of Fortune, and in spight of pains and poverty, dispute felicity with their Gods, for imploying themselves incessantly in considering the bounds which Nature had prescribed them, they so perfectly perswaded themselves, That nothing was in their power but their thoughts, that, that onely was enough to hinder them from having any affection for other things. And they disposed so absolutely of them, that therein they had some reason to esteem themselves more rich and powerfull, more free and happy then any other men; who wanting this Philosophy, though they were never so much favoured by Nature and Fortune, could never dispose of all things so well as they desired.

Lastly, To conclude these Morals, I thought fit to make a review of mens severall imployments in this life, that I might endeavour to make choice of the best, and without prejudice to other mens, I thought I could not do better then to continue in the same wherein I was, that is, to imploy all my life in cultivating my Reason, and advancing my self, as far as I could in the knowledge of Truth, following the Method I had prescribed myself. I was sensible of such extreme contentment since I began to use this Method, that I thought none could in this life be capable of any more sweet and innocent: and daily discovering by means thereof, some Truths which seemed to me of importance, and commonly such as other men were ignorant of, the satisfaction I thereby received did so possesse my minde, as if all things else concern’d me not. Besides, that the three preceding Maximes were grounded only on the designe I had, to continue the instruction of my self. For God having given to every one of us a light to discern truth from falsehood, I could not beleeve I ought to content my self one moment with the opinions of others, unlesse I had proposed to my self in due time to imploy my judgment in the examination of them. Neither could I have exempted my self from scruple in following them, had I not hoped to lose no occasion of finding out better, if there were any.

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