Superphysics Superphysics
Preface by Florentius Schuyl

To The Reader

by Rene Descartes Icon
12 minutes  • 2551 words

The leaders of more solid doctrine have long complained that simple and clear Truth has been obscured and overshadowed by obscure, intricate, and thorny subtleties, through a sort of misplaced diligence.

To them, nothing seemed more unjust than the barren mask of truth, lying with difficult trifles and the subtleties of shadowy disputes and contentions, pretending to be true Wisdom, having invaded the sacred seat of truth.

And nothing is more shameful than to give undoubted assent to slippery opinions solely for the sake of custom or sect, or some other prejudice.

To judge imprudently before things are clearly and distinctly understood. And so, from the Intellect, the Lord and Dictator of all things, to make itself a slave to its own inconstancy and to the desires of others.

Thus detesting the yoke of received servitude, they ardently desired with the most fervent wishes that divine Wisdom might finally be liberated from the deceptions of opinions. Yet very few have lent helping hands to this noble work.

Of those driven by a desire for Truth of a nobler kind, some have aimed only to uncover errors, not to correct them: they have hesitated and disputed, not learnedly demonstrated, and have stopped at refutations.

But others, even after rejecting certain false opinions, have substituted true ones, but soon, by the same fate as those attempts, which decorate a new roof while threatening ruin, they have proven to be perishable. Until finally, by God’s favor, Renatus Des Cartes, after various trials, restored oppressed Sophia to her former freedom and dignity.

He began the reformation from the very foundations. For he first restored the mind, which was preoccupied and hindered by the deceitful coverings of phantasms, obscure, confused, doubtful, and false prejudices. He clearly showed the true functions of the Intellect and Will, and openly displayed their highest pinnacle of perfection. He elegantly distinguished innate ideas or concepts, emanating from our own minds, from adventitious ones: both from fictitious and arbitrarily formed ones.

He taught the method of understanding clearly and distinctively, and the rules for rightly judging without doubt.

Lastly, he made the excellence of his method manifest by unprecedented examples, both in Mathematics and in other parts of Wisdom, paving the safest, shortest, and easiest way to all that man can achieve by the powers of nature. For which reason, immortal praises are certainly due to him. Especially for the triumph reported against the atheists: having indeed proved the spirituality of the human mind and the existence of the Most High God, and the total dependence of all creatures on the Creator, Preserver, and Helper.

He exhibited that Incomprehensible Being of Beings, the Most High God, so clearly and distinctly to our thoughts that nothing is seen more accurately by the eyes or other senses: and not even mathematical truths can be demonstrated more clearly and distinctly.

He clearly proved by that light how the essences and operations of creatures depend entirely on the knowledge of God himself.

Thus God is Alpha and Omega in every respect. Towards which all his labors aim alone: as they openly declare according to his pious preface prefixed to his sublime Meditations, all his philosophical endeavors: of which he seeks glory not from anywhere else but from the glory of God himself.

But indeed, having laid this most solid foundation of Piety, that is, of all virtues, to utterly destroy Atheism, he wanted to defeat that most abominable opinion which, by profaning the incorporeal and incorruptible Mind, by which reason man is said to be the special image of God, attempts, by an excessive affinity with beasts, to change man into beasts, and beasts into men, by a certain vile metamorphosis and metempsychosis.

Which vanity, as a sort of invention of the Devil, is rightly detested by Blessed Chrysostom. Homily 4. Acts.

Rejecting it; for philosophers have always acted in this way, that they may show that our race differs in no way from beasts. And indeed, it is more notorious than many philosophers of no small note have held this opinion, as it is well known that Zoroaster, Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, Plato, Pliny, Plutarch, Porphyry, Lipsius, and almost innumerable others have.

And it seems not far removed from this error that Aristotle, in Book VIII. of his History of Animals, indeed almost sets forth that the human soul, in childhood, differs in nothing from the soul of beasts: which he also declares in Book I. of Metaphysics, although elsewhere he endeavors to separate the souls of beasts from human souls by a distinction, which we reject shortly afterward, attributing the faculty of estimation to the faculty of thought or reason, and seeking to separate the souls of beasts from human souls.

There are not lacking even now many followers of Encratism. Indeed, even the whole world is so enveloped in these shadows that they strive to redeem the life of a flea or louse with prayers and silver in a superstitious manner.

This heresy, cutting all the nerves of piety, must be refuted all the more carefully, as it is more inclined to fall into it. For it easily happens to the imprudent what happens to tender age, which attributes true motion to the deceptive indication of life, observing their limbs, somewhat like its own, to be moved by a similar motion, thinking that motion, a deceptive indication of life, is determined alike by the soul and in men.

Peripateticism also, through imprudence and prodigality, beyond the intention of the Creator, endowed plants with a soul and life. Not only that which consists in the disposition of parts, is meant for vegetation, but also another, which, through ignorance of true causes, as if it were mind, or a substance different from the matter or body of plants, he attached to them arbitrarily. This error is easily refuted.

For the exercises of all the faculties of plants can easily be conceived without any such soul.

For it is not hidden from anyone how, by what means, with the alternation of heat, days, and nights, the juice or nourishment in plants, previously rarefied by heat, subsequently forced through the pores of the roots, is driven upward and distributed everywhere, fermented, and effervesces with the returning heat, and is elaborated.

Hence the plant is distended, and finally the eyes, leaves, branches, flowers, seeds, and fruits boil up, condense, and crystallize as it were. Different indeed for the diversity of juice and pores through which it passes.

This diversity of pores, peculiar to each species of plants, arises from the diversity of the pores of the mother seed of each seed, and of the plant; and of the maternal juice perforating them, just as the Maker of Nature first established them. Nor is there anything that might perhaps hold anyone back from the more intricate generation of plants if no soul of that kind is supposed.

For it is entirely clear that the seed of plants is nothing else than a little branch, enclosed in some pulp, as is evident from observation. Hence it follows in exactly the same way that branches and seeds are produced, nourished, and grown. As for the distinction of sex, and the conjugal love of plants, which Pliny and many botanists have often recommended with a more licentious color, these are easily dissolved by the stream of reason.

These are not to be understood properly, but tropically. Nor does it seem much different from this error that Aristotle, in Book 8 of his History of Animals, namely, almost from the beginning, seems to establish that the human soul differs in no way from the soul of beasts when one comes to consider them.

He says that it is capable of prudence and discipline in Book I. of Metaphysics, although elsewhere he tries to separate the souls of beasts from human souls by a distinction which we shortly afterward reject, attributing the faculty of estimation to the faculty of thought or reason, and seeking to separate the souls of beasts from human souls.

At this very time, there are still many who are caught in the nets of Encratism.

Even the whole world is so enveloped in these shadows that they strive to redeem the life of a flea or louse with prayers and silver in a superstitious manner.

This heresy, cutting all the nerves of piety, must be refuted all the more carefully, as it is more inclined to fall into it. For it easily happens to the imprudent what happens to tender age, which attributes true motion to the deceptive indication of life, observing their limbs, somewhat like its own, to be moved by a similar motion, thinking that motion, a deceptive indication of life, is determined alike by the soul and in men.

Peripateticism also, through imprudence and prodigality, beyond the intention of the Creator, endowed plants with a soul and life.

Not only that which consists in the disposition of parts, is meant for vegetation, but also another, which, through ignorance of true causes, as if it were mind, or a substance different from the matter or body of plants, he attached to them arbitrarily.

This error is easily refuted.

The exercises of all the faculties of plants can easily be conceived without any such soul.

It is not hidden from anyone how, by what means, with the alternation of heat, days, and nights, the juice or nourishment in plants, previously rarefied by heat, subsequently forced through the pores of the roots, is driven upward and distributed everywhere, fermented, and effervesces with the returning heat, and is elaborated.

Hence the plant expands, and finally buds, leaves, branches, flowers, seeds, and fruits bubble up, condense, and crystallize as it were.

Different according to the diversity of sap and pores through which they pass. This diversity of pores, proper to each species of plants, arises from the diversity of the pores of the mother seed of each plant, and the plant itself: and of the maternal sap penetrating those pores, just as the Nature Fabricator first laid them down. There is no need for anyone to be delayed by the more obscure generation of plants if such a soul is not considered at all. Indeed, it is entirely evident that the seed of plants is nothing other than a little branch enclosed in a certain pulp, like a capsule. Hence it follows in exactly the same way that branches and seeds are produced, nourished, and grown. However, Pliny and many botanists, with a more liberal touch of rhetoric, have commended in memory the differences of sex and the conjugal love of plants, these, of course, are to be understood not strictly, but tropically.

You might with a not dissimilar metaphor say that the sky, by its constant influence, fertilizes the earth subject to it with a variety of things, performing the role of a husband; just as Aristotle also calls the sky Father and the earth Mother in his book On the Generation of Animals, chapter 2. Moreover, the Marpesian cliffs and anything else of a sterner nature, burn with a mutual affection.

Since nothing is untouched by some kind of sympathy, as not only the Peripatetics teach but also prescribe as if by edict, they are accustomed to cut many insoluble knots with this sword of ignorance. However, they are not so prodigal with souls as to grant them to stones. Hence Aristotle in his book On the Soul, text 32, reckons as absurd the opinions of philosophers who claim that the magnet, because it attracts iron, is animate. Therefore, since in the catalog of herbs and stones not only various species of corals are mentioned but also coral-like substances, it is necessary to concede that some herbs are devoid of a soul: which, since they can grow and thrive without a soul, are manifestly an argument that souls are attached to others not out of necessity, but out of mere arbitrariness.

Seeds composed of metals are often made, from which plants of various forms suddenly sprout, of coral and coral-like species. So long ago, therefore, the opinion that plants were endowed with a true soul has disappeared. Which both Epicureans and Stoics once rejected: hence Lucretius says in his book On the Nature of Things, “Trees do not grow with a soul in them.” And Galen, too, repeatedly classifies plants among inanimate things: as does Augustine in his book On the Magnitude of the Soul. Just as the excessive opinion of a few, who believe the universe to be full of souls, has long been exploded; or even with the Manicheans, who think that all things are vivified by a common soul of the world: unless perhaps they jest, improperly understanding God beneath the surface of the soul. However, those who still adhere to this error will not be able, I think, to maintain their opinion once they have learned to demonstrate any work of nature from Descartes’ principles, which are clear and accepted by all. For reason does not allow things that are manifestly demonstrated to be neglected in favor of things fictitious and hidden at will. Nor does nature or its explanation need the rash inventions of men. But because a greater similarity of organs and bodily actions is observed in humans and animals than in any other things, a deep-rooted prejudice arose, whereby cognizant souls are said to consist in animals. This evil, indeed, the wisest Man advises should be rooted out thoroughly: first of all, every trace of ambiguity must be removed, and indeed, he willingly grants life to animals, as Holy Scripture often does; however, only that life which consists solely in the required disposition of the body and warmth; and sensation, but the one that is completed only by the affection of bodily organs, without any cognition; and finally, soul, but only that which is itself blood, and the subtler part of it, suitable for exercises of this kind of life and sensations. Indeed, he denies to animals a soul that is a knowing substance, or really different from matter or body. Therefore, he also denies that they possess true cognition, appetite, and truly spontaneous movement. Moreover, to cure this disease, with which almost the whole world is afflicted, he takes a remedy from the human body that each one carries around, whence the occasion of evil arose. First of all, therefore, he distinguishes between Mind, or the incorporeal principle, and Body: and the operations and determinations which depend on both. So that it is established that thoughts indeed proceed from the soul, but movement and warmth of the limbs proceed from the body. See Descartes’ Principles of the Passions of the Soul, Part I, Articles 4 and 5. Moreover, indeed, various movements of the limbs are determined by the will. However, besides all these, and other movements of the human body are observed, not determined by the mind or knowing soul. These, mediated by nerves and muscles, by the benefit of animal spirits, whose impetus is easily determined either by the occasion of objects or by a particular disposition of the brain through the conarium or pineal gland, with no other principle assisting, they are determined conveniently. These, therefore, are exercised in humans, but not through humans, as our Author speaks, Vol. II, Epistle III.

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