Superphysics Superphysics
Preface 1

To The French Translator

by Rene Descartes Icon
4 minutes  • 700 words
Table of contents

To The French Translator:

Sir, the version of my principles which you have been at pains to make, is so elegant. It makes me believe that it will be more generally read and better understood in French than in Latin.

My only apprehension is lest the title should deter some who have not been brought up to letters, or with whom philosophy is in bad repute, because the kind they were taught has proved unsatisfactory.

Please add a preface for showingL

  • what the work is about
  • what is its end goal
  • what use may be derived from it.

I know these particulars better than any person. But I want you to do it. If I do it, then it will just be a summary.

I want the preface to explain what philosophy is, by commencing with the most common matters. For example, that the word PHILOSOPHY signifies the study of wisdom.

Wisdom is not merely prudence in the management of affairs. It is a perfect knowledge of all that man can know.

That knowledge must necessarily be deduced from first causes.

In order to study the acquisition of it (which is properly called philosophizing), we must commence with the investigation of those first causes which are called PRINCIPLES.

These principles must possess TWO CONDITIONS:

  1. They must be so clear and evident that the human mind cannot doubt their truth

  2. The knowledge of other things must be so dependent on them.

The principles themselves may be known apart from what depends on them. But the latter cannot be known apart from the knowledge of the principles.

Thus, we should endeavour to deduce from those principles the knowledge of the things that depend on them.

God is in truth the only being who possesses a perfect knowledge of all things.

  • Men are more or less wise as their knowledge of the most important truths is greater or less.

The Use of Philosophy


  • embraces all that the human mind can know.
  • distinguishes us from savages and barbarians
  • is nourished by the of a nation

True philosophy regulates and nourishes the degree of a nation’s civilisation and culture.

  • Accordingly, to contain true philosophers is the highest privilege a state can enjoy.

People should interact with true philosophers.

  • But it is better for people to learn true philosophy themselves, just as a man should use his own eyes to direct his steps and enjoy the beauties of colour than to blindly follow others.

Blindly following others is certainly better than to keep one’s eyes closed with no guide except one’s self.

But to live without philosophizing is the same as keeping the eyes closed without attempting to open them.

The pleasure of seeing all that sight discloses is not to be compared with the satisfaction afforded by the discoveries of philosophy.

Philosophy is more imperatively needed:

  • to regulate our manners, and
  • for conducting us through life, than we need our eyes to direct our steps.

The brutes have only their bodies to presrve.

  • They are continually occupied in seeking sources of nourishment.

But men, whose chief part is the mind, should make the search for wisdom their principal care.

  • This is because wisdom is the true nourishment of the mind.

Very many would succeed in the search if they:

  • would but hope for success in it, and
  • knew the degree of their capabilities for it.

No mind, no matter how ignoble it is, remains so bound up in sense-objects as not at some time turn itself away from them to aspire for some higher good even without knowing what is that good.

The greatest favourites of fortune are those who have abundant health, honours, and riches.

They are not more exempt from aspirations of this nature than others.

They sigh the most deeply after another good greater and more perfect still than any they already possess.

But the supreme good, considered by natural reason without the light of faith, is nothing more than the knowledge of truth through its first causes, in other words, the wisdom of which philosophy is the study.

All these particulars are indisputably true, all that is required to gain assent to their truth is that they be well stated.

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