Superphysics Superphysics
Preface 4

To Princess Elizabeth

by Rene Descartes Icon
3 minutes  • 565 words

To Princess Elizabeth, Eldest Daughter Of Frederick, King Of Bohemia:

The greatest advantage I have derived from my published writings was being known to you and being able to talk to you.

There is a vast difference between real and apparent virtues.

There is also a great discrepancy between those real virtues that proceed from an accurate knowledge of the truth, and such as are accompanied with ignorance or error.

The virtues I call apparent are only, properly speaking, vices, which, as they are less frequent than the vices that are opposed to them, and are farther removed from them than the intermediate virtues, are usually held in higher esteem than those virtues.

Thus, because those who fear dangers too much are more numerous than they who fear them too little, temerity is frequently opposed to the vice of timidity, and taken for a virtue, and is commonly more highly esteemed than true fortitude.

Thus, also, the prodigal are in ordinary more praised than the liberal.

None more easily acquire a great reputation for piety than the superstitious and hypocritical. With regard to true virtues, these do not all proceed from true knowledge, for there are some that likewise spring from defect or error; thus, simplicity is frequently the source of goodness, fear of devotion, and despair of courage.

The virtues that are thus accompanied with some imperfections differ from each other, and have received diverse appellations.

But those pure and perfect virtues that arise from the knowledge of good alone are all of the same nature, and may be comprised under the single term wisdom.

For, whoever owns the firm and constant resolution of always using his reason as well as lies in his power, and in all his actions of doing what he judges to be best, is truly wise, as far as his nature permits.

By this alone he is just, courageous, temperate, and possesses all the other virtues, but so well balanced as that none of them appears more prominent than another: and for this reason, although they are much more perfect than the virtues that blaze forth through the mixture of some defect, yet, because the crowd thus observes them less, they are not usually extolled so highly.

Two things are needed for the wisdom thus described:

  1. The perception of the understanding

  2. The disposition of the will

All men can have willpower. But people have different degrees of willpower for the understanding.

A person is wiser than others if he:

  • has a constant resolve of performing the right
  • is especially careful in instructing themselves
  • has a highly perspicacious intellect

I see that these 3 are in great perfection in you.

Your desire of self-instruction is manifest.

You penetrated the secrets of the sciences and acquired an accurate knowledge of them in a very short period.

You understood my writings.

  • Some men of the highest intellect and learning find them very obscure.

Almost all who are versant in Metaphysics are wholly disinclined from Geometry.

On the other hand, the cultivators of Geometry have no ability to investigate First Philosophy.

I know only you who find both studies congenial.

But most admirable is the fact that you achieved this at a young age.

In conclusion, all that is needed for the mind to perfect wisdom and will is to be found in you. This is why I dedicate this work to you.

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