Appendices to Lecture Supplements on Descartes' Meditations:

         Copyright © 2014 Bruce W. Hauptli

 Appendix I. Aristotelian Science and the Medieval World-View
 Appendix II. Descartes' Method of Doubt
 Appendix III. Descartes and Modernism
 Appendix IV. Augustine's Cogito Argument:

Appendix I. Aristotelian Science and the Medieval World-View:


In his “Introduction,” Paul Janet maintains that:


when Descartes, in the first half of the seventeenth century, said that there are only two kinds of things or substances in nature, namely, extended substances and thinking substances, or bodies and spirits; that, in bodies, everything is reducible to extension with its modifications of form, divisibility, rest and motion, while in the soul everything is reducible to thinking with its various modes of pleasure, pain, affirmation, reasoning, will, etc...; when he in fact reduced all nature to a vast mechanism, outside of which there is nothing but the soul which manifests to itself its existence and its independence through the consciousness of its thinking, he brought about the most important revolution in modern philosophy.  To understand its significance however an account must be given of the philosophical standpoint of the time. 

  In all the schools at that time the dominant theory was that of the Peripatetics, altered by time and misunderstood, the theory of substantial forms.  It posited in each kind of substance a special entity which constituted the reality and the specific difference of that substance independently of the relation of its parts.  For example, according to a Peripatetic of the time, “fire differs from water not only through the position of its parts but through an entity which belongs to it quite distinct from the materials.  When a body changes its condition, there is no change in the parts, but one form is supplanted by another.”[1]  Thus, when water becomes ice, the Peripatetics claimed that a new form substituted itself in place of the preceding form to constitute a new body.  Not only did they admit primary or basal entities, or substantial forms to explain the differences in substances, but for small changes also, and for all the sensible qualities they had what they called accidental forms: thus hardness, heat, light were beings quite different from the bodies in which they were found. 

  To avoid the difficulties inherent in this theory, the Schoolmen were led to adopt infinite divisions among the substantial forms.  In this way the Jesuits of Colmbre admitted three kinds of these forms: first, the being which does not receive its existence from a superior being and is not received into the inferior subject,—this being is God; second, the forces which receive their being from elsewhere without being themselves received into matter,—these are the forms which are entirely free from any corporeal concretion; third, the forms which depend in every respect, which obtain their being from a superior cause and are received into a subject,—these are the accidents and the substantial forms which determine matter. 

  Other Schoolmen adopted divisions still more minute and distinguished six classes of substantial forms, as follows: first, the forms of primary matter or of the elements; second those of inferior compounds, like stones; third, those of higher compounds, like drugs; fourth those of living beings, like plants; fifth, those of sensible beings, like animals; sixth above all the rest, the reasoning (rationalis) substantial form which is like the others in so far as it is the form of a body but which does not derive from the body its special function of thinking. 

  Some have thought, perhaps, that Moliere, Nichole, Malbranche and all those who in the seventeenth century ridiculed the substantial forms, calumniated the Peripatetic Schoolmen and gratuitously imputed absurdities to them.  But they should read the following explanation, given by Toletus, of the production of fire: “The substantial form of fire,” says Toletus “is an active principle by which fire with heat for an instrument produces fire.”  Is not this explanation even more absurd than the virtus dormitiva?  The author goes on to raise an objection, that fire does not always come from fire.  To explain this he proceeds, “I reply that there is the greatest difference between the accidental and the substantial forms.  The accidental forms have not only a repugnance but a definite repugnance, as between white and black, while between substantial forms there is a certain repugnance but it is not definite, because the substantial form repels equally all things.  Therefore it follows that white which is an accidental form results only from white and not from black, while fire can result from all the substantial forms capable of producing it in air, in water or in any other thing.” 

  The theory of substantial or accidental forms did more than to lead to nonsense like the above; it introduced errors which stood in the way of any clear investigation of real causes.  For example, since some bodies fell toward the earth while others rose in the air, it was said that gravity was the substantial form of the former and lightness of the latter.  Thus heavy and light bodies were distinguished as two classes of bodies having properties essentially different, and they where kept from the inquiry whether these apparently different phenomena did not have an identical cause and could not be explained by the same law.  It was thus, again, that seeing water rise in an empty tube, instead of inquiring under what more general fact this phenomena could be subserved, they imagined a virtue, an occult quality, a hatred on the part of the vacuum, and this not only concealed the ignorance under a word void of sense but it made science impossible because a metaphor was taken for an explanation. 

  So great had become the abuse of the substantial forms, the occult qualities, the sympathetic virtues, etc., that it was a true deliverance when Gassendi on the one hand and Descartes on the other founded a new physics on the principle that there is noting in the body which is not contained in the mere conception of bodies, namely extension.  According to these new philosophers, all the phenomena of bodies are only modifications of extension and should be explained by the properties inherent in extension, namely, form, position, and motion.  Upon this principle nothing happens in bodies of which the understanding is not able to form a clear and distinct idea.  Modern physics seems to have partially confirmed this theory, when it explains sound and light by movements (vibrations, undulations, oscillations, etc.), either of air or of ether. 

  It has often been said that the march of modern science has been in the opposite direction from the Cartesian philosophy, in that the latter conceives of matter as a dead and inert substance while the former represents it as animated by forces, activities and energies of every kind.  This it seems to me is to confuse two wholly different points of view, that is the physical and the metaphysical points of view.  The fact seems to be that from the physical point of view, science has rather followed the line of Descartes, reducing the number of occult qualities and as far as possible explaining all the phenomena in terms of motion.  In this way all the problems tend to become problems of mechanics; change of position, change of form, change of motion—these are the principles to which our physicists and our chemists have recourse whenever they can. 

  ....For the physicist and for the chemist, forces are only words representing unknown causes.  For the metaphysician they are real activities.  It is metaphysics, therefore, and not physics which is rising above mechanicalism.  It is in metaphysics that mechanicalism has found, not its contradiction, but its completion through the doctrine of dynamics.  It is this latter direction that philosophy has taken since Descartes and in this the prime mover was Leibniz.[2] 

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Appendix II. Descartes' "Method of Doubt:"

Descartes’ “method of doubt” is:


Universal—he doubts (or tries to doubt “everything”. 


Methodic—it is practiced not for its own sake, but as a method which is to lead us to certainty. 


Provisional—later he will accept many of the things which he doubts at first.  Remember he is seeking a ground for our knowledge and until he has found it nothing can stand but once it is found much of what was doubted may be reaffirmed.  Of course, what stands firm will depend on the character of the certainty he uncovers. 


Theoretical—he does not apply it to his conduct or his practical life.  He makes this clear in his Rules for the Direction of the Mind—the doubt is to apply only to us as we do epistemology.  It would not be at all politic for us to act against the customs or morals of our society as we carry out our studies. 


Bernard Williams’ “fungus example” clarifies the doubt as follows:


Descartes, as Pure Enquirer, refrains from assenting to each belief in which he detects the possibility of doubt.  If he refrains from each such belief, and every perceptual belief contains, severally, the possibility of doubt, then he refrains from all of them, without necessarily having to believe that they are all false, or indeed that they could, all, be false.  Two men are in a forest, in which there are various species of fungi.  One of them believes that all these fungi are poisonous.  The other of them believes that some, but not all, of the fungi are poisonous, but he cannot tell which are and which are not.  He reasonably adopts the policy of not eating any fungus which is possibly poisonous.  He will refrain from eating any, which is also the course of action adopted by the first man.  So the courses of action coincide, though the beliefs from which they stem are different.  In fact Descartes does hold the strong collective proposition about perceptual judgements, but the fungus analogy suggests that he does not have to do so, in order consistently to pursue the Method of Doubt with similarly radical effect.[3] 


Williams’ example builds upon Descartes’ discussion in his “The Seventh Set of Objections With The Author’s Annotations Thereon, Otherwise A Dissertation Concerning First Philosophy,” where he says that:


supposing he had a basket of apples and, fearing that some of them were rotten, wanted to take those out lest they might make the rest go wrong, how could he do that?  Would he not first turn the whole of the apples out of the basket and look them over one by one, and then having selected those which he saw not to be rotten, place them again in the basket and leave out the others?  It is therefore just in the same way that those who would never rightly philosophized have in their mind a variety of opinions some of which they justly fear not to be true....They then try to separate the false from the true lest the presence of the former should produce a general uncertainty about all.  Now there is no better way of doing this than to reject all at once together as uncertain or false, and then having inspected each singly and in order, to reinstate only those they know to be true and indubitable.  Thus it was no bad course to reject everything at the outset, and then, noticing that I knew nothing more certainly and evidently than that in virtue of my thinking I existed, it was not wrong to assert this first.[4] 


     In his Metaepistemology and Skepticism, Richard Fumerton maintains that:


...if we understand knowledge in terms of the inconceivability of error, the skeptical challenge becomes uninteresting because it is just too obvious who is going to win the debate.[5] 


Fummerton’s point is that when skepticism is given such a broad license, it is impossible to defeat it.  Like many contemporary philosophers, he contends that Descartes goes wrong in conceiving of knowledge as requiring the sort of certainty he requires, and in believing that one can not justly claim to know unless one’s claim survives the indicated sort of skeptical challenge.   

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Appendix III. Descartes and Modernism:  

In his “Idealism and Greek Philosophy: What Descartes Saw and Berkeley Missed” M.F. Burnyeat notes that: is no accident that in Descartes’ philosophy the following elements are found in the closest association: hyperbolical doubt and the problem of the existence of the external world, subjective knowledge and truth, the dualism which makes one’s own body part of the external world—and the refutation of the ancient skeptical tradition.  All these are substantially new with Descartes, and derive from the very seriousness (in one sense) with which he took the traditional skeptical materials.  It is essential here that this seriousness is entirely methodological.[6] 


Burnyeat then goes on to say that: is no accident that in Descartes’ philosophy the following elements are found in the closest association: hyperbolical doubt and the problem of the existence of the external world, subjective knowledge and truth, the dualism which makes one’s own body part of the external world—and the refutation of the ancient skeptical tradition.  All these are substantially new with Descartes, and derive from the very seriousness (in one sense) with which he took the traditional skeptical materials.  It is essential here that this seriousness is entirely methodological.[7] 


Burnyeat concludes his treatment with the following:


...Descartes’ hyperbolical doubt, going beyond all ancient precedent in its use of the idea of a powerful malignant deity, brought into the open and questioned for the first time the realist assumption, as I have called it, which Greek thought even at its most radical never quite managed to throw off.  That was what Berkeley missed.  He failed to see that Descartes had achieved a decisive shift of perspective without with no one, not even Berkeley, could have entertained the thought that esse est percipi.[8]


     Stephen Toulmin contends that there are ten or so central problems with the Cartesian (and early modern) world-view: the quest for certainty; the equation of rationality and logic; the emphasis upon theoretical rationality and a deemphasis upon the emotions (the role of self-command and rationality); the retreat from the practical to the theoretical; the mind-body problem and the distinction between mechanical causation and rational explanation; and the problems of representationalism, interactionism, explanation, and freedom.[9] 


Toulmin cites Walter Lippmann who said:


the seduction of High Modernity lay in its abstract neatness and theoretical simplicity: both of these features blinded the successors of Descartes to the unavoidable complexities of concrete human experience.[10] 


Toulmin contends that in many ways, the Modern period constitutes a retreat from the Renaissance:


“from the oral to the written,” “from the particular to the universal,” “from the local to the general,” and “from the timely to the timeless:” “all of them reflected a historical shift from practical philosophy, whose issues arose out of clinical medicine, juridical procedure, moral case analysis, or the rhetorical force of oral reasoning, to a theoretical conception of philosophy: the effects of this shift were so deep and long-lasting that the revival of practical philosophy in our own day has taken many people by surprise. 

  It is no accident that diagnostics and due process, case ethics and rhetoric, topics and poetics, were sidelined and called in question at the same time.  In practical disciplines, questions of rational adequacy are timely not timeless, concrete not abstract, local not general, particular not universal.  They are the concern of people whose work is centered in practical and pastoral activities, and 17th-century philosophers were theory-centered not practical-minded.  Procedures for handling specific types of problems, or limited classes of cases, have never been a central concern of modern philosophy; rather, it has concentrated on timeless methods of deriving general solutions to universal problems.  Thus, from 1630 on, the focus of philosophical inquiries has ignored the particular, concrete, timely and local details of everyday human affairs: instead, it has shifted to a higher, stratospheric plane, on which nature and ethics conform to abstract, timeless, general, and universal theories.”[11] 


  The 17th-century philosophers’ “Quest for Certainty” was no mere proposal to construct timeless intellectual schemas, dreamed up as objects of pure, detached intellectual study.  Instead, it was a timely response to a specific historical challenge—the political, social, and theological chaos embodied in the Thirty Years’ War.  Read in this way, the projects of Descartes and his successors are no longer arbitrary creations of lonely individuals in separate ivory towers, as the orthodox texts in the history of philosophy suggest.  The standard picture of Descartes’ philosophical development as unfolding of a pure espirt untouched by the historical events of his time, so graphically presented in the Grande Encycolpedie, gives way to what is surely a more lifelike and flattening alternative: that of a young intellectual whose reflections opened up for people in his generation a real hope of reasoning their way out of political and theological chaos, at a time when no one else saw anything to do but continue fighting an interminable war.[12] 


  ...we need to balance the hope for certainty and clarity in theory with the impossibility of avoiding uncertainty and ambiguity in practice.  But the received view of Modernity rested not only on the Quest for Certainty and the equation of Rationality with respect for formal logic: it took over the rationalists’ belief that the modern, rational way of dealing with problems is to sweep away the inherited clutter from traditions, clean the slate, and start again from scratch.[13]   

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Appendix IV. Augustine's "Cogito Argument:"  

In his City of God [426], St. Augustine offers a version of the cogito:


but, without any illusion of image, fancy, or phantasm, I am certain that I am, that I know that I am, and that I love to be and to know. 

  In the face of these truths, the quibbles of the skeptics lose their force.  If they say: “What if you are mistaken?—well, if I am mistaken, I am.  For, if one does not exist, he can by no means be mistaken.  Therefore, I am, if I am mistaken.  Because, therefore, I am, if I am mistaken, how can I be mistaken that I am, since it is certain that I am, if I am mistaken?  And because, if I could be mistaken, I would have to be the one who is mistaken, therefore, I am most certainly not mistaken in knowing that I am.  Nor, as a consequence, am I mistaken in knowing that I know.  For, just as I know that I am, I also know that I know.  And when I love both to be and to know, then I add to the things I know a third and equally important knowledge, the fact that I love. 

  Nor am I mistaken that I love, since I am not mistaken concerning the objects of my love.  For, even though these objects were false, it would still be true that I loved illusions.[14] 


On November 14, 1640 Descartes writes to Andres Covius, a Dutch Minister who brought Augustine’s argument to his attention:


you have obliged me by bringing to my notice the passage of Saint Augustine which bears some relation to my “I think, therefore I am.”  Today I have been to read it at the library of this city [Leiden], and I do indeed find that he makes use of it to prove the certainty of our being, and then to show that there is in us a kind of image of the Trinity, in that we exist, we know that we exist, and we love this being and the knowledge that is in us.  On the other hand, I use it to make it known that this I who is thinking is an immaterial substance, and has noting in it that is incorporeal.  These are two very different things….[15] 


In his A Brief History of the Paradox, Roy Sorensen maintains that:


when [Augustine’s] passage was pointed out to Descartes, he replied…that Augustine fails to use the argument to show that “this I which thinks is an immaterial substance with no bodily element.”  However, in The Trinity (10.10.16), Augustine does seem to gravitate toward this conclusion from the premise that he can doubt that he has a body but not that he has a mind. 

  Descartes claimed that he had never heard of Augustine’s cogito.  Descartes’s Catholic education at La Flèche makes this unlikely.  Augustine’s writings were popular among Descartes’s Jesuit instructors.  Augustine presents his cogito seven times in such intensively studied works such a The Trinity and City of God. 

  Augustine’s loosely strung anticipations of Descartes’s Meditations do not constitute an attempt to systematically found a philosophy inside out à la Descartes.  Descartes is far and away the more precise and organized thinker.  Yet Augustine clearly had more than a lucky premonition of the Cartesian mind set. [16] 


While Augustine’s and Descartes’ arguments are very similar, their orientations are very different.  Descartes seeks rational certainty—he wants to know what we can be absolutely certain of on our own.  He wants to construct the edifice of human scientific knowledge on this foundation, and he believes that it is in knowledge that our “good” lies.  1,215 years earlier, Augustine (like the early modern philosophers) also sought certainty in a world where the old order (the Roman world) has fallen apart—he wrote his City of God, in part, to explain why his deity allowed Rome to fall to the barbarians [410 C.E.].  Between Augustine and Descartes stands the Middle Ages, however.  As the “first of the Medievals,” Augustine finds his certainty (as well as peace and security) in his faith.  He contends that his City of God “...shuns [universal skepticism] as a form of insanity” and “...believes the Old and New canonical.  Out of these he formulates that faith according to which the just man lives.  And in light of this faith we walk forward without fear of stumbling....”[17]  As his Confessions make clear, Augustine has an acute sense of sin—one which is almost “abnormal” to the modern eye.[18]  It is important to remember what the first sin is (Adam’s sin), and to note that Augustine constantly tried to avoid the sin of intellectual pride. 


     Descartes, who is on the “modern” side of the Middle Ages, is also a sincere and believing Catholic, but he would find certainty, peace, and security in human rational knowledge.  While both are writing at a time when the security provided by an earlier era (the Roman and the Medieval, respectively), has come undone, and a “new methodology” is sought, their orientations toward reality, knowledge, religion, and the deity they both worship is radically different.  As W.T. Jones notes:


...Augustine was not greatly interested in the problem of knowledge....his consuming interest...was “peace”—the desire for security....Second...he held that reason is an inadequate instrument for reaching the truth, which can be attained only through faith.  Knowledge, he thought, is validated by faith in God’s goodness and providence, not by logical reasoning or geometrical demonstration.  It is thus characteristic of Augustine’s whole point of view that the passage just quoted [above] about self-knowledge was merely incidental to his account of the nature of the Trinity.[19] 


In his The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, Peter Gay maintains that:


Augustine sees man as unhappy; puzzled by himself, his world, and his destiny.  All men want happiness, and all philosophers seek the way to it, but without divine aid all fail: “Thou has made us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it rest in Thee”—this famous exclamation from the Confessions is the exclamation of a tormented soul weary of mere thought, weary of autonomy, yearning for the sheltering security found in dependence on higher powers.  When Augustine speaks of understanding or reason, these words have a religious admixture: philosophy to him is touched by the divine.[20] 


...Augustine’s dictum stands the traditional method of classical philosophizing on its head: God, who to the ancients was the result of thought, now becomes its presupposition.  Faith is not the reward of understanding; understanding is the reward of faith.  Man may search for the explanation of his situation by his humble reason; he may even try to order his moral conduct through the understanding.  But the explanation for the human condition is a myth—the Fall; the guide to his salvation is a supernatural being—Jesus Christ; the proof text for the primacy of faith over reason is a divinely inspired book—the Bible; and the interpreter of this Book is an infallible authority—the Church.  All four testify to the collapse of confidence in man’s unaided intellect. 

  Hence, nisi credideritis, non intelligetis: unless you believe, you will not understand.[21]  This injunction is the center of Augustine’s doctrine on the relation of philosophy to theology, and through its enormous authority, it became the center of medieval speculation on the same subject, although the Scholastics, as the philosophes knew, provided intellect with much room for play.[22] 


Clearly, there is a difference in the use which these two thinkers would make of their common argument.  In these differing contexts, one might contend, they are (or, better, almost are) different arguments. 


     In his “Idealism and Greek Philosophy: What Descartes Saw and Berkeley Missed” M.F. Burnyeat offers a discussion which can help us see yet more clearly these differing contexts.  He maintains that:


Greek philosophy does not know the problem of proving in a general way the existence of an external world.  That problem is a modern invention....The problem which typifies ancient philosophical enquiry in a way that the external world problem has come to typify philosophical enquiry in modern times is quite the opposite.  It is the problem of understanding how thought can be of nothing or what is not, how our minds can be exercised on falsehoods, fictions, and illusions.[23] 


As noted above in Appendix III, Burnyeat notes that idealism is the one position in modern philosophy which has no antecedent in ancient philosophy. 


Notes: (click on note number to return to the text for the note)

[1] Janet cites L.P. Lagrange as follows: Les Principes de la Philosophie contre les Nouveaux Philosophes.—See Bouillier’s Historie de la Philosophie Cartesienne, Vol. I. Chap. 26. 

[2] Paul Janet, “Introduction,” to Leibniz: Discourse on Metaphysics, Correspondence With Arnauld, and Monadology, trans. George Montgomery (LaSalle: Open Court, 1968), pp. vii-xxiii, p. vii-x. 

[3] Bernard Williams, Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978), pp. 54-55. 

[4] Rene Descartes, “The Seventh Set of Objections With The Author’s Annotations Thereon, Otherwise A Dissertation Concerning First Philosophy,” in The Philosophical Works of Descartes v. 2, op. cit., p. 282. 

[5]Richard Fumerton, Metaepistemology and Skepticism (Lanham: Rowman, 1995), p. 4. 

[6] M.F. Burnyeat, “Idealism and Greek Philosophy: What Descartes Saw and Berkeley Missed,” The Philosophical Review v. 91 (1982), pp. 3-40, p. 39. 

[7] Ibid., p. 39. 

[8] Ibid., p. 40. 

[9] The following citations are from Stephen Toulmin’s Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1990). 

[10] Cited in ibid., p. 201. 

[11] Ibid., pp. 34-35. 

[12] Ibid., p. 70. 

[13] Ibid., p. 175—emphasis added to passage. 

[14] St. Augustine, The City of God [426] XI 26, abridged and translated by Gerald Walsh, Demetrius Zema, Grace Monahan, and Daniel Honan (Garden City: Image, 1958), pp. 235-236. 

[15] From Rene Descartes: Philosophical Essays and Correspondence, ed. Roger Ariew, trans. Roger Ariew and Marjorie Grene (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002), pp. 90-91. 

[16] Roy Sorensen, A Brief History of the Paradox (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 2003), pp. 170-171. 

[17] Ibid., p. 466. 

[18] Cf., St. Augustine, Confessions [398], trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin (Baltimore: Penguin, 1961). 

[19] W.T. Jones, A History of Western Philosophy: The Medieval Mind v. 2 (second edition) (N.Y.: Harcourt, 1969), p. 88. 

[20] Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (N.Y.: W.W. Norton, 1966), p. 230. 

[21] Gay’s footnote here reads: “this much-quoted passage is from the Septuagint version of the Bible, from Isaiah, VII, 9.  All other versions translate the Hebrew differently.  The King James Version has, “If you will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.” 

[22] Ibid., pp. 230-231. 

[23] M.F. Burnyeat, “Idealism and Greek Philosophy: What Descartes Saw and Berkeley Missed,” The Philosophical Review v. 91 (1982), pp. 3-40, p. 19. 

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