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According to one panoramic view of modern philosophy, René Descartes is the father and Cartesianism an inherited characteristic or family trait. With no disparagement intended of this assessment of Descartes's influence, the term Cartesianism will be used here in a less contentious way to refer to the multifarious, more or less self-conscious efforts on the part of his contemporaries and immediate successors to supply what they found lacking in his ambitious attempt to reconstitute human knowledge. Three directions of their activities can be distinguished and, corresponding to them, three particular applications of the term Cartesianism.

(1) It was evident that Descartes's project of a universal and all-encompassing science of nature was not fully realized. His intended summa philosophiae, Principia Philosophiae (Principles of Philosophy, Amsterdam, 1644), lacked the proposed parts on plants and animals and man; and his posthumously published and widely read Traité de l'homme (Treatise on Man, Paris, 1664) ended abruptly. Moreover, in his Discours de la méthode (Discourse on Method, Leiden, 1637) and in the letter prefacing the French translation of the Principles (Paris, 1647), he asked for assistance in carrying out his program for the sciences, suggesting that cooperative endeavor in the acquisition of expériences would be necessary to decide among equally possible explanations of the more particular facets of nature. His early admirers, attracted as muchand often far moreby his physics than by his metaphysics, accepted the invitation, and, working within the framework of his methodological prescriptions and cosmologic theory, distinguished themselves not only from their scholastic opponents of the academic establishment but also from other non-Aristotelian scientists of the time whose work went against views they had inherited. In the seventeenth century, les cartésiens were predominantly Descartes's followers in physics; and the term Cartesianism has acquired some of its less favorable associations from its application to this maligned movement in the history of science.

(2) A second line of development can be traced from Descartes's novel use of the term idea in presenting what has sometimes been considered the characteristically Cartesian view that knowledge is attained by way of ideas. These "as it were images of things" (tanquam rerum imagines, veluti quasdam imagines ), as they were introduced in the Third Meditation, were variously described in his works, and a host of questions arose about their origin and nature. "Orthodox" Cartesians differed in their interpretations of Descartes's answers to these questions, while the more independently minded, accepting the thesis that knowledge is attained by way of ideas, produced deviant answers of great subtlety and originality. Since John Locke and his followers accepted Descartes's general thesis although they disagreed on the subject of innate ideas, Cartesianism, in a second application of the term, has been taken to cover a considerable domain, including family squabbles among rationalists and empiricists as well as more recent disputes, such as that about the genesis and status of sense data. (It should be noted that this use of "Cartesianism" to refer to the "way of ideas" differs from another use, in which "Cartesianism" and "rationalism" are roughly coextensive and connote a view or views about innate ideas or principles.)

(3) When Descartes was presented with objections to his metaphysics framed in terms of traditional categories and distinctions, a number of thorny problems became apparent; notably, concerning the substantiality and causal efficacy of his seemingly formless and inert corporeal things and concerning the union in man of a body and a soul, or mind, that is alleged to be really distinct from the body. In these sensitive areas, Descartes's teachings were interpreted and developed in various ways; and those who chose to follow the natural light rather than Descartes came to conclusions far removed from, and incompatible with, his. Yet, because of a common view concerning the distinction of mind and matter, Nicolas Malebranche and Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza, as well as some less celebrated metaphysicians, have been called Cartesians; and Cartesianism, in a third acceptation of the term, comprises various monist, pluralist, and occasionalist variations on a common metaphysical theme. Within the limits of this general survey of Descartes's influence, Cartesianism will be mapped in each of the three general areas to which the term has been applied.

Physics and Derivative Sciences

Like Descartes, the Cartesians attracted to his program for the sciences thought of themselves as possessing a powerful method for investigating nature; and, though they disagreed with him and among themselves on particular applications, they accepted a general theory in physics, salient features of which were the laws of motion in Part II of the Principles ; the theory of vortices in Part III; and the doctrine of subtle matter that underlies explanations of various phenomena, both celestial and terrestrial, in Parts III and IV of the Principles. Although Descartes's laws of motion became increasingly troublesomeMalebranche accepted them at first but was later forced to modify them beyond recognitionthe cosmogonic picture of which they were part was altered but not effaced. It was an integral feature of the picture that Earth, like the other planets, was transported in a whirlpool that centered about the sun; and, while Descartes took pains in the Principles to distinguish his view from that of Nicolas Copernicus and to point out that, in his view and according to his definitions, Earth, though indeed a planet, was, strictly speaking, at rest, his followers were less concerned to establish a difference. They, too, rejected the possibility of unoccupied space or a vacuum, and claimed that apparently empty spacesthe heavens, the "pores" of bodies, and experimentally produced vacuumswere actually filled with subtle matter. Like Descartes, they made free use of the adaptable particles of subtle matter in their jigsaw-puzzle explanations of the workings of nature. There was some question as to what they conceived the vaunted "true" method to be, as evidenced by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz' skeptical queries. Nonetheless, some general characteristics of their practice were apparent.

Following the rule of evidence in the Discourse, they understood Descartes's injunctions against preconception and precipitancy as condemnations of merely accepted opinion and of idle speculation; and contrary to a popular conception of their apriorism, they were keenly interested in the detailed observation of nature and in experiments, thinking of themselves as countering the bookish physics of the Scholastics and the wanton practices of alchemists, astrologers, and the like. Lenses, Torricellian tubes, and sundry apparatus were much in evidence; and, like Descartes, many of them took pleasure in anatomical and physiological investigations. To what use they put their observations and experiments is one thing; their cult of expériences, anotherand an indisputable fact. The requirement of clear and distinct ideas was met in the doctrine that matter is extension and the corollary that change is local motion, or translatio. The methodological implications of these complex views were manifold. Negatively, they ruled out explanations involving qualitative entities or "real" qualities, such as light, heat, and weight, in physics, and substantial forms, such as vegetative and sensitive souls, in biology. Also banished were final causes, including natural place, gravitation, and attraction; faculties, virtues, and powers as causes of change; and sensible qualities supposed to inhere in bodies and to be mysteriously purveyed to us by intentional species. Distinctly conceived, bodies were geometrical solids occupying parts of space and were subject to alteration by the crowding, or impact and pressure, of their neighbors. A vacuum, or void, was thought impossible, as were, at least for the "orthodox" Cartesians, indivisible particles or atoms. Sharing corpuscular and mechanistic assumptions with other nonscholastic scientists, they showed the mark of the master in their geometrical notions ofor, as some would have it, their lack of concepts ofmass and force. Quantity of matter was volume; weight was a centripetal reaction in a vortex of bodies of a certain size. Force, as effort or action on the part of bodies, was as suspect as were the powers and virtues of the Scholastics. Distinctly conceived, it was derived from a principle of inertia, and the force of a body in motion was reckoned as the product of mass (volume) and velocity.

holland: regius and clauberg

During Des-cartes's long expatriation in Holland, he made a number of converts to his program for the sciences; and despite outbreaks of official opposition, Cartesianism made an impression on academic life that it did not make in France.


Of special note is Descartes's sometime friend and disciple Henry de Roy, or Regius (15981679), professor of medicine at the University of Utrecht, who typified Cartesian scientists in following the master more or less closely in physics and the derivative sciences while departing from his views in metaphysics. His Fundamenta Physices (Amsterdam, 1646), which appeared two years after the Principles, recapitulated the physics of Parts II, III, and IV, to which were added views from the earlier Meteors and Dioptric and also from unpublished work. Regius's physics, unlike Descartes's in the Principles, was not represented as derived from metaphysical principles. Moreover, in the concluding chapter on man, adverting to issues concerning the soul, he presented views to which Descartes could only take exception. In the preface to the French translation of the Principles (1647), Descartes disowned both the physics and the metaphysics of his disciple; and Regius in turn circulated a defense of his metaphysical theses, arguing for an empiricist view of the origin of ideas and against the necessity of a real distinction of mind and body. Descartes's reply to Regius, his Notae in Programma (1648), contained the prototype of later defenses of innate ideas against empiricist incursions. Innate ideas, he maintained, need not be actually present in the mind. Moreover, certain ideasfor example, of Goddiffer in kind from "adventitious" ideas; and even the latter do not, strictly speaking, come to us from the senses, that is, the sense organs.


From Holland, Cartesianism was taken to Germany by Johannes Clauberg, who attempted to explain and defend both Descartes's physics and his metaphysics. Working out apparent implications of the metaphysics in De Cognitione Dei et Nostri (Duisberg, 1656), he too came to hold a deviant view of the relation of mind and body (though not Regius's), a view linking him with the occasionalists. Clauberg also faced the problem of the relation of traditional logic and Cartesian methodology, and his work in logic anticipated the more famous Logique, ou L'art de penser (Port-Royal Logic, 1662) of Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole, which was the chief contribution of the Cartesians (Leibniz, of course, excluded) to logic.

france: rohault and rÉgis

In France, Cartesianism, though it was not received in the universities and was, in effect, interdicted in 1671, flourished in extra-academic circles. Dissemination of Descartes's unpublished works and letters was in the hands of his devoted admirer Claude Clerselier (16141684), while leadership of his scientific enterprise devolved upon Jacques Rohault.


The most gifted of the Cartesian scientists, Rohault devised ingenious experiments for his popular weekly meetings and presented the results of his work in his influential Traité de physique (Paris, 1671; translated by John Clarke as System of Natural Philosophy, London, 1723). Like Regius, he was inclined to separate Descartes's physics from his metaphysics; and, in line with this, he developed Descartes's notion of hypothesis or supposition, eliminating, however, any qualification to the effect that hypotheses were to be accepted for lack of something better.


Pierre-Sylvain Régis succeeded Rohault as leader of the Cartesian school. In his Système de philosophie (Paris, 1690), a comprehensive work containing sections on logic, metaphysics, and moral philosophy as well as his extensive physics, he assimilated work that had been done since Descartes's death. The apogee of the Cartesian movement in physics has been set at about the time of Régis's Système and of Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle's imaginative exploration of the vortices in his Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (Paris, 1686).

critical reception

While receiving acclamation, the Cartesians were simultaneously threatenedand eventually discreditedby discoveries, such as that of the finite velocity of light, that contravened crucial parts of their system and by the objections and strictures of Leibniz and of Isaac Newton and his followers. These adverse judgments have been generally accepted. It is commonplace (and true) that Newton showed beyond the shadow of a doubt the incompatibility of the theory of vortices and Johannes Kepler's laws, while Leibniz neatly proved the inconsistency of Descartes's laws of motion with Galileo Galilei's. Citing Leibniz' derogatory characterization of the Cartesians, the not unsympathetic historian Charles Adam has reiterated comments on the paucity of equations in their work and on the uncontrolled play of their imagination in assigning jobs to the ubiquitous particles of subtle matter. His verdict was that Descartes's physics threatened to become as harmful to the progress of science as Aristotle's had been.

Yet, more recently, some less disparaging comments have been made. The picture is considerably brightened when Malebranche and especially Christiaan Huygens (16291695) are, by virtue of obvious influences, included among the Cartesians (as in Paul Mouy's [1934] account.) It has also been suggested that the attempted geometrization of physics was premature rather than perverse (Mouy; Max Jammer, Concepts of Force, Cambridge, U.K., 1957) and that the unstable and indeterminate particles of the Cartesians, not the billiard-ball atoms of the opposition, were in line with things to come (Geneviève [Rodis-] Lewis, L'individualité selon Descartes, Paris, 1950). Nonetheless, Descartes's followers in physics and the derivative sciences, Malebranche and Huygens aside, have not, on the whole, enhanced his reputation.

Theory of Knowledge

Proposing, in the Third Meditation, the term idea for those of his thoughts that are the "as it were images of things," Descartes proceeded to classify ideas according to their apparent originas innate or adventitious or made by him. He introduced distinctions bearing on their naturebetween formal and material truth or falsity, and between objective and formal reality. Discussions generated by these passages concerned both Descartes's intent and the tenability of the views attributed to him. Four main problems can be distinguished, two relating to the tentative classification of ideas according to origin and two having to do with the distinctions bearing on their nature.

innate ideas

The contratraditional notion of innate ideasthat is, of ideas not derived in some way from the senses but instead having their source in the mind itselfpresented an obvious difficulty; namely, how could such an idea, taken to be the form of a thought, exist or preexist in a person's mind if he did not in fact have the thought or indeed never had it? It seemed that Descartes's metaphor of a treasure house in which these ideas were stored needed to be casheda process that he attempted and that was carried out in various ways, in the face of some formidable difficulties, by supporters of his doctrine of innate ideas.

adventitious ideas

It was evident that ideas provisionally classified as adventitiousfor instance, of a sound, the sun, or a firecould not, strictly speaking, come to us from external objects; for, in Descartes's view, there was nothing in the objects or in the sense organs exactly like these ideas, or at least like many of them. Although these ideas could, in some sense, be said to be caused by external objects, they could not, strictly speaking, originate there; and some other cause or source more in keeping with their nature seemed to be necessary. Descartes suggested that the mind had the faculty or power of forming these ideas on the occasion of motions in the brain and that ideas seeming to come to us from without were in fact innate. Both suggestions were explored by his successors.

materially false ideas

Noting that falsity (formal falsity) was to be found in judgments and not in ideas, Descartes added that nonetheless certain ideasfor instance, the idea of coldmight be materially false; that is, if cold were a privation, then the idea of cold, representing a privation or what is not a thing, as if it were a thing would be materially false. The implications to be drawn from this remark were that, in his view, ideas of sensible qualitiesof heat as well as cold, of sounds, colors, and the likewere materially false; and questions arose as to whether the notion of a materially false idea (literally, an idea misrepresenting what is not a thing) made sense, and whether sensations of heat, cold, and the like were, in a strict sense of the term, ideas. Two models seemed to be at work in Descartes's account of sense perception, and a problem bequeathed to his followers was that of specifying the latent distinction between the nonrepresentational and the representational elementssensations and ideas properly so calledthat were supposed to be ingredients of sense experience.

ideas of extended things

There was also a problem concerning ideas of extended things derived from the dual realityobjective and formalaccorded them. As representations, it seemed that they must have something in common with, or be in some respect like, the extended things they represented. Nevertheless, it was taken to follow from their formal reality as modes of thought that they were totally unlike extended things. A dilemma presented itself: Either ideas of extended things were totally unlike extended things, in which case they could not represent them; or, if they were in some respect like extended things, then they could not be accommodated in the mind.


Malebranche, among others, addressed himself to these problems; and, in his elaborate discussions of the nature and origin of ideas and in the numerous polemics to which they gave rise, various answers were surveyed and the major lines of development of Descartes's theory of knowledge were represented. Regarding the problem of materially false ideas and the difficulty concerning ideas of extended things, Malebranche, in the numerous editions of De la Recherche de la vérité (first published 16741675) and in the Éclaircissements added to them, drew a sharp distinction between the perception of heat, color, and the like and the perception of objects as extended. The former consisted in sensations or feelings (sentiments ), nonrepresentational modifications of the mind conceived on the analogy of feelings of pain, and did not, in his precise use of the term, involve ideas (idées ). The latter required ideas, which were distinguished from the mind's awareness of them and were not, in his view, modifications of the soul. Approaching the problem of the location or status of these ideas, Malebranche investigated a number of possibilities suggested by Descartes's tripartite classification (adventitious, made by the mind, and innate). Finding difficulties in the suggested sources, he concluded that ideas of extended things were neither adventitious nor made by the mind nor innate. The arguments against these possibilities served as indirect evidence for his own thesis: that these ideas were (as in a medieval use of the term) archetypes of created things in the Divine Understanding and that the human mind, intimately united with God, perceived created, extended things by way of ideas in him. Because, in this theory, ideas of extended things were not modifications of the human mind, the problem of their existence in an unextended mind did not arise, though, as became evident in the ensuing controversies, there was a related problem about the possibility of their existence in God.


Two of the polemics were especially revealing. In his Critique de la recherche de la vérité (Paris, 1675) and subsequent writings, Simon Foucher, though he misunderstood parts of Malebranche's tortuous theory, raised problems worthy of serious consideration. First, he urged that, if ideas of extended things had to have something in common with what they represented, they could not be, as he at first wrongly interpreted Malebranche, modifications of the mind oras Malebranche in fact believedinhabitants of the divine understanding. Second, granted that ideas of extended things were not modifications of the human mind but were divinely situated, could they be immediately perceived? The basis of the question was that, if immediate perception were tied to Descartes's views about indubitability and the cogito, then we could not be immediately aware of anything outside or apart from the mind. Third, he also questioned the distinction (to use Locke's terms) of primary and secondary qualities along lines that were continued by Pierre Bayle and George Berkeley, noting what, in Malebranche's distinction of sensation and idea, seemed to require explanation: that, when we perceive an object, we are aware of one uniform appearance of something having both shape and color. Unfortunately, Malebranche was inclined to dismiss Foucher's criticisms on the ground of misinterpretation, but Dom Robert Desgabets (d. 1678), in his Critique de la Critique de la recherche de la vérité (Paris, 1675), attempted to defend Cartesian views (though not Malebranche's peculiar versions of them) against this attack.


The most interesting controversy was with Arnauld, who, in Des Vrayes et des Fausses Idées (Cologne, 1683), attacked Malebranche's view of ideas as entities distinct from the mind's perception of them by tracing the source of this view to a misconceived analogy with ocular vision and a confusion of presence in the mind with local presence. For Arnauld, as for Descartes, ideas were modes of thought; and, as Descartes was content to explain the objective presence of objects in the mind as the way they were wont to be there, so Arnauld took it to be the nature of thought or mind, requiring no explanation of the kind Malebranche proffered, to represent objectsnear or at a distance, present or absent, real or imaginary. Though Malebranche was not moved by this attempt to impugn his theory as the answer to a pseudo problem, in the course of the controversy he was forced to articulate his view that we perceive extended things in God, not by way of individual archetypes but by way of infinite, intelligible extension, which is the common archetype of all extended things, actual or possible.

locke and leibniz

A significant event in the annals of the Cartesian theory of knowledge was the publication of Locke's An Essay concerning Human Understanding (London, 1690). Locke's attack on innate ideas and principles and Leibniz' defense in his Nouveaux essais sur l'entendement (published posthumously, Amsterdam and Leipzig, 1765) are a long story, that cannot be told here. Suffice it to say that, in this division of Cartesianism into empiricism and rationalism, Leibniz used arguments like Descartes's in the Notae in Programma and, on this question, represented the orthodox Cartesian point of view.


The occasionalist, monist, and pluralist developments included in the third application of the term Cartesianism were foreshadowed in Descartes's views about corporeal substance.


In the Principles (II, 36), maintaining that God was the primary and universal cause of motion, Descartes explained that, when God created matter or extension, he created it with motion and rest; and Descartes implied that, but for God's imparting motion to matter, it would have been motionless and undifferentiated, and that motion and rest, and the resulting differentiation of matter, did not follow necessarily from its nature or essence. He further explained that, in conserving matter from moment to moment, God preserved the same quantity of motion that He originally introduced; and it seemed to follow that God's continuing to impart motion to matter was a necessary condition of the continued existence of motion and that bodies of themselves did not have the power of remaining in motion or of producing motion in other bodies. The conclusion toward which Descartes was drawn was that, although motion (translatio ) was a characteristic or mode of bodies, the moving force of bodies was not in bodies themselves but in God. He did not, however, draw this conclusion. In a letter to Henry More, he noted that he was reluctant to discuss the question of the moving force (vis movens ) of bodies in his published works, for fear that his view might be confused with that of God as anima mundi ; and the view that he apparently wished to maintain was that, though the moving force of bodies was from God and in a sense was in God, it was also a characteristic or mode of bodies.

The occasionalists, taking the views that matter was inert and that the motion ascribed to bodies was simply change of position, did not hesitate before the conclusion that the force required to move bodies was not in bodies themselves but in the primary and universal Cause of motion, God. According to their conclusion, when a billiard ball that was in motion came in contact with a second ball that was at rest, there was no power or force in the first ball capable of moving the second, and the movement of the second ball required the action of God, who, on the occasion of impact, moved the second ball in accordance with rules that he had established for the motion of bodies. By virtue of the uniformity of God's action, the first ball could be called the causethe particular or occasional causeof the second ball's moving; but, without God's action, it was inefficacious, and the primary and universal cause of motion, that is, God, was the effectual cause of the second ball's moving. The occasionalists took it to be true a fortiori that bodies of themselves lacked the power of producing, as in sense perception, changes in the mind; and they offered a number of arguments to show that the mind in turn lacked the power, as in volition, of moving the body. The true cause of both sensations and voluntary movements was God, who instituted laws for the union of mind and body and acted accordingly in particular instances.

The originators of the occasionalist movement were Louis de La Forge and Géraud de Cordemoy.

La Forge

In the Traité de l'esprit de l'homme (Paris, 1666), La Forge represented himself as continuing work that Descartes had left unfinished in his Treatise on Man and undertook to explain and develop the notion of a mind or soul distinct from, yet united to, the body. Facing problems concerning the possibility of the body acting on the mind and vice versa, he noted that these problems were not isolated and that there was a related problem concerning the possibility of one body acting on another. In his discussion of these problems, La Forge did not deny that bodies acted on one another or on the mind, or that the mind acted on the body; on the contrary, he insisted that God in his omnipotence could delegate the power of acting to created things. Yet, distinguishing two senses of "cause," he denied that created things were unambiguously the causes of the effects attributed to them and called them the "occasional" or "equivocal" causes.


In Le discernement du corps et de l'âme (Paris, 1666), Cordemoy, unlike La Forge, was not concerned with presenting views necessarily in harmony with Descartes's, and he denied outright the action of bodies on one another or on the mind and the action of the human mind on the body. In his formally presented proof that God was the true cause of the movement of bodies, he made use of principles that Descartes would have accepted but drew conclusions from them that it would be safe to say would have greatly disturbed Descartes. Descartes had written of a motion in the brain as giving occasion (donnera occasion ) to the soul to have a certain sensation or thought, and Cordemoy may have had these passages in mind in employing the expression cause occasionelle to refer to what, as in the case of a motion in the brain, might be thought to be the true cause of an event. But, unlike Descartes, he denied that the occasion or occasional cause was, strictly speaking, the cause of the event and maintained that the true cause was God.


Arnold Geulincx apparently developed his version of occasionalism independently of La Forge and Cordemoy. Illustrating the lack of causal relation between mind and body, he used the analogy of synchronized clocks, which was later taken up by Leibniz; and, to prove a lack of genuine causation, he made use of the principle that nothing can be done unless there is knowledge on the part of the putative agent or cause of how it is done.


Malebranche, the most celebrated of the occasionalists, was familiar with the work of Cordemoy and adapted, for his own purposes and with great originality, the theory of causation he found in Cordemoy. He added powerful arguments, extended the view to cover volitions not pertaining to bodily movements (such as the volition to form an idea), and presented it as an integral part of his theocentric vision of the universe.

monism and pluralism

It has been argued that the dualisms and pluralism found in Descartes's statements about substanceof uncreated and created substance, corporeal and spiritual substance, and individual substancescontradicted his own definitions and principles and that Spinoza's doctrine of the unity of substance was the consistent and pure form of Cartesianism. It has also been maintained that Spinoza's monism and Leibniz' pluralism were the opposite poles to which philosophers accepting a notion of substance like that of Descartes were inescapably driven. Discussions of these views and of Spinoza's and Leibniz's metaphysics of substance is beyond the limits of this article, though it need hardly be added that the historical and logical relations of Descartes's assertions about substance and those of Spinoza and Leibniz have figured importantly in discussions of Cartesianism and that the essence of Cartesianism has sometimes been located in a common notion of, or presupposition about, substantiality.

It may be noted, however, that Descartes's assertions about corporeal substance also gave rise to conflicting theories among less renowned students of his metaphysics. On the one side, Geulincx, following Descartes's inclination to think of particular bodies as portions of a common stuff or substance, contended that "body itself" (corpus ipsum ) was primary and substantial and that particular bodies were limitations or modes of corporeal substance. On the other side, Cordemoy, sharing Descartes's inclination to think of particular bodies as objects really distinct from one another, came to the unorthodox conclusion that body in general, or matter, was an aggregate and that the parts of which it was composed were indivisible extended substances, or atoms.

See also Arnauld, Antoine; Bayle, Pierre; Berkeley, George; Clauberg, Johannes; Copernicus, Nicolas; Cordemoy, Géraud de; Descartes, René; Desgabets, Robert; Dualism in the Philosophy of Mind; Fontenelle, Bernard Le Bovier de; Foucher, Simon; Geulincx, Arnold; Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm; Locke, John; Malebranche, Nicolas; Monism and Pluralism; Newton, Isaac; Nicole, Pierre; Régis, Pierre-Sylvain; Regius, Henricus (Henry de Roy); Rohault, Jacques.


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Willis Doney (1967)

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When René Descartes died in 1650, his work had already attracted both critics and followers. In 1632 Cartesian philosophy was being taught in the Netherlands by his disciple Henri Reneri (15931639), and by the mid-1630s the far more independently minded Henri Regius (15981679) was setting out his own version of Cartesianism in a less guarded and more polemical way than had Descartes himself. Indeed it was Regius who attracted the first condemnation of Cartesianism, from the Dutch theologian Gisbert Voetius (15891676), in 1641, and in 1642 Voetius turned on Descartes himself, drawing him into a very public controversy. Cartesianism first flourished as a movement in the Netherlands, being established as early as the 1650s at Leiden and Utrechtwhere there was a Cartesian club, the College der Savantenas well as at other Dutch universities. It was through a member of one of these Dutch groups, Johannes Clauberg (16221665), that Cartesianism came to be established in Germany: he took up the chair of theology and philosophy at the University of Duisberg in 1651, a new university set up by the cousin of Princess Elizabeth, Descartes's correspondent and staunch defender.

Responses to Descartes

In England there was less enthusiasm. In 1644 Kenelm Digby (16031665) set out his own eclectic version of Descartes's philosophy (and invited Descartes to come and live in England), and later in the decade Henry More (16141687), the Cambridge Platonist, explored various features of Cartesianism in his correspondence with Descartes. But Cartesianism soon developed a reputation for heterodoxy in England, above all because of his rejection of any aims or ends acting in nature, and his writings were widely attacked in the second half of the seventeenth century. In France, Louis XIV banned the teaching of Cartesian philosophy, and Cartesians were excluded from the Académie des Sciences. While these attacks were directed at the perceived radical nature of Cartesianism, others such as Daniel Huet (16301721), a patron of the Jesuits, were charging him with plagiarism: Huet claimed he took his epistemology from the Greek skeptics, the cogito from Augustine, and the ontological argument from Anselm.

However, Descartes had disciples in France, including Claude Clerselier (16141684), who oversaw the publication of his letters and other hitherto unpublished works (a laborious undertaking, which included retrieving the trunk containing them from the sea and drying them out), establishing a vital resource for scholars all over Europe and in the New World. Moreover, there was a strong French Cartesian movement in natural philosophy, centered on Jacques Rohault (16201672) and Pierre-Sylvain Régis (16321707), in the second half of the century, and by the 1670s there was a movement applying the Cartesian principle of "clear and distinct ideas" to social and political questions, with radical consequences: François Poulain de la Barre (16471723) was defending the equality of the sexes on this basis, and Descartes's niece, Catherine, was proposing Cartesianism as an alternative (with women particularly in mind) to the philosophy of the universities. The peculiar political circumstances in FranceLouis in effect brought a delayed Counter-Reformation to Franceresulted in a radicalization of Cartesianism in the late seventeenth century. By the early decades of the eighteenth century, there were Cartesians in painting (Charles Le Brun), architecture (the Perrault brothers), and music (Jean-Philippe Rameau), and Descartes had become almost an establishment figure in France, as the famous attack on him by Voltaire indicates, where he was castigated for being out of date in comparison with developments in English philosophy. Yet by the 1770s he was radicalized again, as the Enlightenment philosophes claimed him as a corevolutionary.

Descartes had a deep concern for orthodoxyeven his advocacy of mechanism, in the form of the doctrine of the inertness of nature, can be seen as a response to the heterodox naturalism of the Renaissance, where the powers attributed to nature leave little room for a divine roleand had written his Principles of Philosophy with a view to having it adopted as a textbook in Jesuit colleges. Nevertheless, much of his work was bitterly condemned by the Catholic Church after his death. His writings were placed on the Index of Prohibited Books in 1663, primarily it would seem because of his heterodox account of transubstantiation, but his view that ours is not the only solar system also elicited explicit condemnations from religious authorities throughout the remainder of the seventeenth century.

Aspects of Cartesianism

In some areas, Descartes's work was accepted as pathbreaking: above all his geometrical optics and his algebra (Isaac Newton learned his advanced mathematics in the first instance from Descartes's Geometry ). But other areas attracted a more partisan response. We can distinguish three different kinds of concern in the Cartesian corpus in this respect: epistemology and metaphysics, cosmology, and physiology.

Although the Meditations is for modern readers the canonical text by Descartes, this focus is really a nineteenth-century development, and the most widely read and discussed of his works in the eighteenth century were the Discourse on Method, Principles of Philosophy, and the posthumously published Treatise on Man. Moreover, Descartes himself had played down the epistemological and metaphysical concerns that characterize the Meditations. Two themes dominate the Meditations a skeptically driven epistemology and the mind/body problemand the fortunes of these differ radically among later philosophers. Neither Baruch Spinoza (16321677) nor Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (16461716) could see any value or legitimacy in beginning epistemology by answering radical skeptical problems (and Blaise Pascal [16231662] referred to Descartes's philosophy as "useless and uncertain"), and they abandoned the idea of a skeptically driven epistemology. Nicolas Malebranche (16381715) was a little closer to Descartes, although still at variance with him on key doctrines, and he was not so dismissive of skeptical beginnings for epistemology, but they work in a rather different way in his philosophy than they do in Descartes. Malebranche's philosophy vied with that of John Locke (16321794) at the end of the seventeenth century, and his influence on George Berkeley (16851753) and David Hume (17111776) was at least as great as that of Locke, putting skeptical issues to the fore. On the mind/body question, no one was satisfied with Cartesian dualism. Spinoza, Malebranche, and Leibniz each saw the question as being the key to success, and each offered their own distinctive solution to the question: neutral monism, occasionalism, and preestablished harmony, respectively. By the eighteenth century, epistemologically oriented issues of mind had receded from the philosophical arena to some extent, and Cartesianism was less associated with dualism.

Two natural-philosophical topics on which Descartes's views had caused immense controversy were his account of the solar system in book 3 of the Principles of Philosophy and his account of the formation of the earth in book 4. Descartes's response to the Copernicanism problem was not to make the sun the center of the cosmos, as Copernicus had done, but to make the sun one of an indefinite (perhaps infinite) number of solar systems, each containing planets like ours that may harbor beings with souls. The idea that our sun was simply one star among many and could not be held to be the center of the cosmos gained credence in the course of the later seventeenth century (for those who held that the universe was infinite there was no issue, of course, since something infinite cannot have a center since every point is equidistant from an infinitely remote boundary). Even more radical was his view of the formation of the earth. The Bible had presented a creation story in which the fabric of the earth, plants, and animals, had a function in a unique, highly designed system. Descartes, by contrast, has a general theory of planet formation: planets derive from stars that have formed a coating of hard matter around their periphery and are squeezed out by surrounding solar systems, in effect becoming massive pieces of refuse that find a home in other solar systems in orbits that depend on their size and speed. No exception is made for the Earth in Descartes's account, which completely robs the formation of earth of any teleology. The account was the first nonmythological treatment of the formation of the earth and was of great influence in the eighteenth century, not least in Georges-Louis Buffon's (17071778) account.

More generally, Descartes's cosmologyin which planets were carried around their suns by means of the vortical motion of a swiftly circulating medium in which they were immersedwas taken very seriously, and was the dominant cosmological system before Newton's Principia. Indeed, in continental Europe, it was not abandoned in favor of Newtonianism for some time, primarily because it did not involve any appeal to action at a distance, which was universally perceived to be the most problematic general feature of Newton's system. Moreover, Descartes's system was far more comprehensive than Newton's, tying his vortex theory of planetary motion in with phenomena such as magnetism and static electricity.

Descartes's rejection of teleology was also manifest in his account of embryology, set out in the Treatise on Man and in more detail in The Description of the Human Body. There he insists on a radically mechanistic approach, denying that the fetus strives to realize an end or goal in the development process. The inert and initially undifferentiated matter making up the horse fetus, for example, develops into a horse not because it somehow contains "horseness" or because it is able to shape itself into a horse but because the distinctive mechanical and physio-chemical processes in the womb of a horse cause the matter to develop in a certain way. In this way, Descartes opened up the question of the physiology of fetal development. Embryology is in fact just one topic in Descartes's comprehensive attempt to mechanize physiology, and in the Treatise on Man a variety of physiological processes are construed in such a way that we need only postulate inert matter being acted upon by mechanical forces. From this derives his infamous doctrine of bêtes machines (animal machines), whereby the behavior of animals, who lack minds (in the sense of awareness of their "cognitive" states) in Descartes's account, can be accounted for fully in terms of the mechanically describable interaction between their constituent parts. In 1747 Julien Offray de La Mettrie (17091751) published his Man Machine, in which he purported to apply the Cartesian theory of animal machines to human beings (actually his materialism was different from Cartesian mechanism), claiming that this could be done successfully, so that it was unnecessary to postulate a human soul to account for human thoughts and behavior. This solidified the image of Descartes as a dangerous materialist, and it was only in the nineteenth century that the idea of Descartes as a dualist was generally revived.

By the twentieth century, interest in Descartes in Anglo-phone philosophy was largely confined to his skeptically driven epistemology and his dualist account of mind. The revival of interest in empiricist epistemology, helped by the rise of positivism, resulted in skepticism being taken much more seriously as a philosophical problem (for example, in A. J. Ayer). In the philosophy of mind, various alternatives to dualismsuch as epiphenomenalism, behaviorism, and materialismwere devised, with the effect that Cartesian dualism was often set up as a straw man by which to contrast one's own theory (as in Gilbert Ryle's defense of behaviorism). By contrast, in French and German philosophy, interest centered rather on Descartes's idea of a self as independent of the world in which it finds itself, as a locus of subjectivity that is given prior to any interactions that it has with other subjects. The ethical and political aspects of this understanding have been explored either in their own right (by Jean-Paul Sartre, for example) or in combination with a Kantian account of ethical autonomy (such as by Jürgen Habermas).

See also Dualism ; Epistemology ; Materialism in Eighteenth-Century European Thought ; Newtonianism ; Philosophy, History of ; Skepticism .


Balz, Albert G. A. Cartesian Studies. New York: Columbia University Press, 1951.

Clarke, Desmond M. Occult Powers and Hypotheses: Cartesian Natural Philosophy under Louis XIV. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

Gaukroger, Stephen, John Schuster, and John Sutton, eds. Descartes' Natural Philosophy. London: Routledge, 2000.

Harth, Erica. Cartesian Women: Versions and Subversions of Rational Discourse in the Old Regime. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992.

Mouy, Paul. Le développment de la physique cartésienne, 16461712. Paris: Vrin, 1934. Reprint, New York: Arno, 1981.

Tournadre, Géraud. L'orientation de la science cartésienne. Paris: Vrin, 1982.

Verbeek, Theo. Descartes and the Dutch: Early Reactions to Cartesian Philosophy. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992.

Stephen Gaukroger

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CARTESIANISM. Cartesianism was a set of philosophical theses, a scientific program, and a broad intellectual movement that dominated the European scene in the seventeenth century. The foremost philosophical paradigm of the period, it was the subject of passionate debate and strong opposition both within the universities and in society at large.

The philosophical theses of Cartesianism have their origins in the thought of René Descartes (15961650), who first sought in a systematic manner to replace the dominant Aristotelian philosophy of the Schools with a new philosophy, one wedded not to conformity with some ancient or medieval thinkers or a particular religious tradition but to a rationally justified confidence in our own natural cognitive faculties. The new philosophy would liberate society from unreflective obedience to authority, prejudice, and philosophical (and maybe even theological) dogma and contribute to scientific and social progressnot to mention material well-beingby advancing our understanding of nature and the universe

The most prominent and perhaps defining thesis of the Cartesian philosophy is what has come to be called "mind-body dualism." Descartes insisted on the real distinction between mind and matter. Mind (or soul) and matter (or body) are, according to Descartes, two essentially and radically different kinds of substance. Mind is unextended, indivisible, simple thinking. Its modes or properties are particular ideas or thoughts including beliefs, volitions, sensations, and emotions. Matter, on the other hand, is nothing but extension or dimensional space and is therefore divisible, its modes being shape, size, and mobility. There is nothing materialistic about the mind and nothing mental or spiritual about the body.

This doctrine is of great importance not only for understanding the nature of the human being, who is a compositeor, to use Descartes's phrase, a "substantial union"of these two substances, but also for science. According to Descartes, the physical world is nothing but passive matter or extension, divisible ad infinitum into parts. This was, he believed, a great advance over the Aristotelian world picture. The spiritlike forms and qualities that were used by the Scholastics to explain the behaviors of physical bodies have been banished from nature. All natural phenomena, no matter how complex and regardless of whether they are terrestrial or celestial, are henceforth to be explained solely in terms of matter and the motion, rest, and impact of its parts. Descartes's separation of mind and matter was a crucial step in the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, and laid the metaphysical foundations for the mechanical philosophy that dominated the period until Newton. (Descartes also believed, at least as a matter of public record, that dualism offered the strongest possible foundation for the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, since the mind as a simple, thinking substance was not subject to the process of decay and destruction that brought about the demise of complex and divisible bodies.)

Descartes's philosophy bequeathed to his many devoted followers a host of difficult philosophical (and theological) problems. If mind and body are so radically different in nature, how do they causally engage one another and interact in the way they seem to do in a human being? If matter is nothing but inert, passive extension, what explains the motion, interaction, and dynamic behavior of bodies? Moreover, Descartes believed that, since matter is pure extension, body is not distinct from space, and a truly empty space (or vacuum) is therefore impossible in nature; the universe is a material plenum. How, then, does there arise a multiplicity of individual bodies, and how is their motion possible? Most distressing to religious authoritiesand one of the issues that led to Descartes's works being placed by the Catholic Church on the Index of Prohibited Books in 1663were the apparent consequences of Descartes's metaphysics for the Catholic dogma of the Eucharist. If any particular body (such as a piece of bread) is just a specific parcel of extension and there are no "real qualities" that are distinct and separable from an underlying substance, how can the Cartesian philosophy account for the miracle of transubstantiation? According to the traditional Aristotelian account adopted by the Church, at the moment of consecration the sensible qualities of the bread remain while its substance is replaced by the substance of Christ's body. Descartes has done away with such qualities, and a body is now just its extension; if the substance of Christ's body takes on the extended dimensions of bread, then, according to Descartes's metaphysics of body, it is just bread.

The first generation of Cartesians included men like Henricus Regius (15981679), Johannes de Raey (16721702), and Adriaan Heereboord (16141661). These Dutch academics' introduction of Cartesian principles into their university courses in medicine, physics, and even theology incited a bitter backlash from the authorities. The new philosophy was perceived as a threat to the established (Aristotelian) order. The Reformed theologian and rector of the University of Utrecht, Gibertus Voetius (15891676), was only the most outspoken and determined of Descartes's numerous foes, and his institution was the first among many to issue condemnations of Cartesian philosophy and to prohibit its teaching. The controversy over Cartesianism in the Netherlands raged not only in the academy, but in the broader intellectual culture as well. It spilled over into the social and political realm and became enmeshed in the battles that deeply divided factions of the Reformed Church and opposing political camps of the Republic.

In France, the Saumur physician Louis de la Forge (16321666), one of Descartes's early and most faithful followers, produced an illustrated and annotated edition of Descartes's Treatise on Man, a work on the physiology of the human body, and supplemented it with his own Treatise on Man's Soul (1666), in which he explains, on strict Cartesian principles, the workings of the human mind and its relationship to the body. La Forge recognized some of the metaphysical problems inherent in Cartesian dualism and the physics of extended bodies and was among the first to defend a limited version of the doctrine called "occasionalism." According to La Forge, the motion of extended bodies, which are intrinsically passive, is explained by the causal activity of God. The moving force of a body in motion is nothing but the divine will, which moves the body by recreating it in a different relative place from one moment to the next. Another occasionalist Cartesian, somewhat less orthodox in his fealty to Descartes than La Forge, was the Parisian lawyer Géraud de Cordemoy (16261684), who insistedcontrary to Descartes, for whom any parcel of extension, no matter how small, was in principle divisiblethat there were atoms, or ultimately indivisible parts, in nature. The Dominican friar Robert Desgabets (16101678) pursued his own Cartesian program in the realm of theology and offered suggestions as to how to reconcile Descartes's metaphysics with the Eucharistic doctrine of "real presence." The physicists Jacques Rohault (16201672) and Pierre-Sylvain Régis (16321707) sought the mechanistic explanations of natural phenomena, experimentally verified, in an attempt to complete those particular and more detailed aspects of physics that Descartes left open.

While united by their adherence to a broad philosophical program, these Cartesians did not constitute an organized group but worked independently to further what they saw as the right and progressive philosophy. By far the most important Cartesian of the seventeenth century, however, was a French Oratorian named Nicolas Malebranche (16381715). A bolder and more systematic thinker than the others, Malebranche was not afraid to modify and even depart from Descartes's ideas in highly unorthodox ways. His occasionalism was thoroughgoing: God is the only real causal agent in the universe. All finite things are created and sustained in being by God, and all events, whether mental or physical, are brought about by the divine will. Creatures and their states are only secondary causes, or "occasions," for God to exercise genuine power. Malebranche also argued that the clear and distinct ideas that serve as the objects of human intellectual understanding are not modes or properties of the human mind but rather ideal archetypes in the divine understanding. With his theory of the Vision in God Malebranche sought to make human beings as dependent upon God for their knowledge as all creatures are dependent upon God for their being and activity. His doctrines were attacked by other Cartesians, most notably the Jansenist fire-brand Antoine Arnauld (16121694), who thought Malebranche's ideas represented not only an unacceptable departure from the true principles of Descartes's philosophy, but also a serious threat to Christian faith.

By the third quarter of the century, Cartesianism, while vigorously condemned by leading religious and political authorities (in 1667 the French court prohibited a public funeral oration from being delivered at the ceremony for the reburial of his remains in Paris), enjoyed immense success. Nonetheless, it suffered from serious internal weaknesses and obvious explanatory failures. The advent of Newtonianism at the end of the century, with its alternative conception of scientific understanding, powerful mathematical presentation, and explicit critique of Cartesianism, brought about the final downfall of this formidable scientific paradigm.

See also Aristotelianism ; Descartes, René ; Scholasticism .


Des Chene, Dennis. Physiologia: Natural Philosophy in Late Aristotelian and Cartesian Thought. Ithaca, N.Y., 1996.

Garber, Daniel. Descartes's Metaphysical Physics. Chicago, 1992.

Nadler, Steven M., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Malebranche. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2000.

Schmaltz, Tad M. Radical Cartesianism: The French Reception of Descartes. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2002.

Watson, Richard A. The Breakdown of Cartesian Metaphysics. Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1987.

Steven Nadler

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A philosophical doctrine initiated by René descartes and subsequently developed by a number of his disciples and later philosophers. Although the term is used in a general way to designate the fundamental tenets of rationalism, it is more properly applied to the movement that was closely associated with Descartes and consciously sought to propagate his thought. In this article, such terminological usage is first explained and then a survey given of the development of the movement, in its stricter sense, as this took place in Holland, France, and England.

Terminological usage. The specialists who were collaborators on the classic Vocabulaire technique et critique de la philosophie (ed. A. Lalande, Paris 1st ed. 1926, 8th ed. 1960) refused to authorize an article setting out the theses of Cartesianism because, in their view, the editorial committee could not agree on the thinkers, or the characteristics of the doctrine, that could be properly called Cartesian. This incident illustrates the change of climate in the historical exegesis of authors since the time when E. Caird (18351908) wrote the article "Cartesianism" for the eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (191011) and gave simply a masterly exposition of Descartes, N. malebranche, G. W. leibniz and B. spinoza.

If by the term "Cartesian" is meant a thinker who accepts the fundamental theses of Descartes himself, then it must be objected that the extent to which Leibniz and Spinoza withdrew from the principles radically weakens their affiliations with him. Despite the important formative influence Descartes exercised upon their thought, it is only by a traditional "historical" usage that they can

be called Cartesians, a usage that presents many opportunities for misunderstanding. It is true that Leibniz insisted that Spinoza's philosophy was an exaggerated Cartesianism, but he equally denied that he himself was a Cartesian. In some ways, the fourth book of Locke's Essay has more claim to be called Cartesian than any work of Leibniz or Spinoza. Malebranche alone, of the important thinkers, both in his expressed intentions and in much of his doctrine, would perhaps qualify as a disciple.

Possibly owing to the influence of G. W. F. hegel, in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, it has become customary to divide the seventeenth century into two schoolsthe rationalist, of which Descartes was the founder, and the empiricist, with John locke as its progenitor. Moreover, it has been widely accepted that the French philosophes of the eighteenth century (Voltaire, Diderot, etc.) based their theories on the empiricist doctrines of Locke and Newton and brought about the downfall of the rationalist doctrines of Cartesianism. As has been suggested, rationalism is as an essential element of Locke's theories, as it is of Descartes's theories. The conventional linkage between Newtonianism and French materialism, accepted by F. Bouillier (181399) in his Histoire de la philosophie cartésienne (Paris 1854), can no longer be regarded as acceptable in view of recent scholarship. It is therefore more accurate to restrict the term "Cartesian" to those thinkers, mostly minor figures, who claimed the title for themselves and attempted to be, in varying degrees, disciples of Descartes.

Holland. It is natural that the first Cartesians were to be found in Holland, where Descartes was living and where most of his works were first published. Their activities were centered at the Universities of Utrecht and Leyden.

Utrecht. At the University of Utrecht, Henri Reneri (15931638), professor of philosophy, was one of the first to defend publicly the new doctrine, as did his successor, Regius (Henri de Roy, 15981679), who was in frequent communication with Descartes and read through the manuscript of the Meditations. Voëtius (Gijsbert Voët, 15891676), professor of theology at the same university, was a bitter opponent of the new theories, which were forbidden by a university decree. Descartes himself feared that Regius might become "the first martyr of his philosophy." When Regius published his own Fundamenta Physices in 1646, there was a break in the close friendship. The fundamental criticism that Descartes made of Regius's views was that he reversed the order of his philosophy, putting his metaphysics after, and not before, his physics. The Notae in programma quoddam, published by Descartes in 1647, are a refutation of certain theses elaborated by Regius as an attack on the nature of soul as this is expounded in the Meditations.

Leyden. At the University of Leyden, as early as 1647 there were bitter attacks on the doctrine of Descartes, mainly on the use of methodological doubt and the guarantee of human veracity based on the proof of the existence of God. The chief exponents of these attacks were Revius (Jacques de Rèves, d. 1658), who was the regent of the theological faculty and a pastor, and Triglandius (Jacobus Trigland, d. 1654), professor of theology. The first publicly accused Descartes of Pelagianism; the second damned him as an atheist. There were a number who replied on behalf of Descartes. Among them was J. Clauberg (162265), who was professor in several German universities and wrote Defensio Cartesiana adversus Jacobum Revium (1652), as well as several commentaries on the major works of Descartes. In his latter works, he gave his attention especially to the problem of the relations of body and soul and denied that there could be any real interaction between the two: the interaction he described as"procatarctic," after a theory akin to occasionalism. Other defenders were Andriaan Heereboord (161461); C. Wittich (162587), who later attacked Spinoza in terms of orthodox Cartesian doctrine; and Heldanus (A. van der Heiden, 15971678), who protested so strongly that he lost his professorial chair.

Arnold geulincx was professor at the University of Louvain, but he went to Leyden in 1658 and there became a Protestant. His most important work is his Ethica, which was not published in complete form until after his death. Starting from the dualistic division of matter and mind, he argued that a material thing cannot be a true cause, since it cannot know that it acts. It follows then that the soul does not really produce the effects on bodies that it thinks it does. Descartes, it may be noted, had denied action in the sense of causing the existence of a change or movement, but he admitted that action could determine the character a change could assume or the direction of a motion. Regius and Clauberg follow their master in allowing the second sense of action: Geulincx, and later Malebranche, deny action in both senses. The denial of interaction, even in the second sense, leads Geulincx to the theory of occasionalism. When one perceives a certain change occurring in his body and wills a certain action designed, for instance, to ensure its alteration, and then performs the action willed, the occurrence of the perception and the occurrence of the bodily behavior are both effects of divine intervention. A person's act of will is due wholly to himself; the perception is caused by God. The self-caused volition is the occasion on which God caused the bodily behavior (Malebranche differs here in attributing both volitional and bodily states to God). The volitional act itself is accordingly an occasional cause. The analogy of the two clocks, synchronized by God to keep perfect time, is found to be the most apt illustration. For Geulincx, then, only two substances manifest their essential nature in real causal activity, that is, finite selves and God.

France. The reaction to Descartes's philosophy in France, if not so openly violent, was equally mixed. A typical composite of opinions is to be found in the Objections published as an appendix to the Meditations, the manuscript having been circulated to various individuals and groups by Father Marin Mersenne, of the Order of Minims, who was aptly called "the great businessman of letters" of the seventeenth century. Descartes published a series of replies to each set of objections.

The third set of objections is by Thomas hobbes, but they merely serve to show that the English philosopher, rather characteristically, was rooted in his own radical empiricism and understood little of the text he was criticizing.

The fourth set are due to Antoine arnauld, who was to prove himself one of the most ardent defenders of the Cartesian doctrine, and one of the authors, together with Pierre nicole, of the textbook known as the Logic of Port Royal, an attempt to formulate a logic according to Descartes's principles (see logic, history of). Even when official opposition to the new doctrine was widespread, especially after Descartes's works had been placed on the Index donec corrigantur in 1663, he continued his polemic in their favor and was forced to flee to Holland later before the threat of civil intervention. Despite his general acceptance of the main doctrine, Arnauld was the only critic to call attention to the confusion caused by Descartes's theory of representative ideas and to note the essential difference between his view and the scholastic doctrine of species.

Pierre gassendi, the author of the fifth set of objections, was a canon of Dijon and later professor of mathematics in Paris. Although he was himself opposed to Aristotelian scholasticism, he nevertheless was a bitter opponent of Descartes. His own doctrine was a revival of atomism, akin to that of Epicurus, but essentially empirical in outlook. He rejected entirely the dualistic distinction of body and soul. Locke was very sympathetic to his views.

Jesuit Reaction. The seventh set of objections, published only in the second edition of the Meditations, were made by a Jesuit professor, Pierre Bourdin (15951653). The objections in themselves were not notably pertinent, but they illustrate the effort Descartes made to stay on good terms with his previous teachers at La Flèche. Father Jacques Dinet (15801653), who had taught Descartes, was instrumental in keeping good relations with the philosopher. At the college of La Flèche, where Descartes had been a pupil, he found two fervent advocates in Fathers Antoine Vatier (15911659) and Pierre Mesland (15961639); but this was exceptional and, on the whole, the Society of Jesus showed reserve, if not open hostility, to him. A general congregation of 1682 forbade the teaching of any Cartesian doctrines. Other religious orders had adepts of the Cartesian philosophy in their midst, notably, of course, the Oratorians with Malebranche. In the famous Benedictine monastery of St. Maur was the erudite Jean mabillon, who recommended the study of Descartes in his treatise on monastic studies.

Other Views. At the University of Paris were other exponents of Cartesian doctrine. Jacques Rohault (162075), a professor of physics, was one of the most successful. His weekly lectures were attended by all the leading personalities of the time, and his Traité de Physique (Paris 1671) became the textbook of most European universities. He also published Entretiens de philosophie (Paris 1671), a philosophical work of almost literal Cartesian orthodoxy. His pupil, Pierre Sylvain rÉgis, first taught in Montpellier and Toulouse but came to Paris in 1680, where he continued to expound his views, published in his Système de Philosophie (Paris 1690). He differed from Descartes in maintaining that the existence of bodies is as evident as the existence of selves, and that ideas arise from the union of body and soul and are not innate. Mention should also be made of Claude Clerselier (161484), who edited the letters of Descartes, as well as the posthumous works of Rohault, a pious Catholic whose main concern was to defend the doctrines of Descartes against accusations of atheism and libertinism.

In the 1660s, two works appeared that had a short-lived but widespread influence in France. The first was the Traité de l'esprit de l'homme (Paris 1661) by Louis de la Forge; the second, by Géraud de Cordemoy (162084), was Le discernement du corps et de l'âme (Paris 1666). Cordemoy, a lawyer by profession, had been chosen by J. bossuet as tutor to the elder son of Louis XIV. He was thoroughly convinced of the dualistic distinction between soul and body, although he introduced atomic divisions into the definition of matter; in attempting to solve the problems thereby raised, he arrived at a theory of interaction that presupposes the instrumentality of God as its efficient cause, a form of occasionalism akin to that developed later by Malebranche. For De la Forge, a doctor who had edited Descartes's posthumous Traité de l'homme, Cartesian dualism was a vital innovation and most important discovery, although he insisted that it was in principle identical to the doctrine of St. augustine. He also defended the doctrine of representative ideas and placed the cause of the substantial union of body and soul in the will of God, arriving then at a theory of psychophysical parallelism. According to De la Forge, the difference between the philosophy of Descartes and that of his spiritual forebears was that Descartes alone had given an adequate definition of matter. (see soul-body relationship.)

England. The works of Descartes were translated rapidly into English. Cambridge was slightly sympathetic toward the new doctrine. Henry More, a fellow of Christ's College and a correspondent of Descartes, professed himself an ardent disciple but later publicly renounced his adhesion. Ralph Cudworth, professor of Hebrew and master of Christ's College, while making a distinction between the conscious object and unconscious tendency of Descartes's doctrine, denounced it as a mechanistic atheism. Although these and other cambridge platonists read Descartes's works, it cannot be asserted that their views are colored, except negatively, by his philosophical principles.

At Oxford, Anthony Legrand (d. 1699) published Institutio Philosophiae (London 1672), but he was violently opposed by Samuel Parker (164088), bishop of Oxford, who confounded Descartes and Hobbes in the same imprecation. Despite this condemnation, the works of Descartes were widely read at the university, and Locke began to study them immediately after his graduation; the extent of his debt can be measured by the great number of references in his notebooks and journals.

Growth and decline. The doctrine of Descartes spread among the society of Paris, as well as among the Cartesians of Port Royal, in the midst of whom Blaise pascal was an outstanding exception. De la Forge noted the names of four Cartesian "salons," later to be satirized by Molière in Les Femmes Savantes. Descartes's funeral in 1667, at the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, became a kind of manifestation on behalf of the new doctrine. But official opposition grew, especially after the publication of the decree of 1663 which placed his works on the Index; in 1669, candidates for doctorates were obliged to defend anti-Cartesian theses at the Sorbonne; in 1671, the archbishop of Paris forbade the teaching of Descartes's opinions, and a further decree of the Parlement of Paris was stopped only by a clever satire of N. Boileau-Despréaux. Pierre Daniel huet, bishop of Avranches, who had himself professed Cartesian views, made an elaborate attack in his famous Censura (Paris 1689), and Father Gabriel Daniel, in his Voyage du monde de Descartes (Paris 1690), presented a semiserious novel deriding the philosophy and science of Descartes.

The heyday of the new doctrine can be placed between 1660 and 1690. Afterward there was a steady decline of Descartes's influence, which became almostat least directly and openlya dead letter in the eighteenth century. It is noteworthy that no work of Descartes was printed in France between 1724 and 1824, when Victor cousin once more drew attention to the greatest of French philosophers.

See Also: philosophy, history of; descartes, renÉ; dualism; innatism; subjectivism.

Bibliography: c. l. thijssen-schoute, Nederlands Cartesianisme (Amsterdam 1954). a. g. a. balz, Cartesian Studies (New York 1951). e. j. dijksterhuis et al., Descartes et le cartésianisme Hollandais (Paris 1950). g. cohen, Écrivains français en Hollande (Paris 1920). w. h. barber, Leibniz in France (Oxford 1955). r. pintard, Le Libertinage érudit, 2 v. in 1 (Paris 1943). g. sortais, La Philosophie moderne, 2 v. (Paris 192022). j. b. bordasdemoulin, Le Cartésianisme, 2 v. (Paris 1843). r. lenoble, Mersenne (Paris 1943). m. mersenne, Correspondence, ed. c. de waard, 4 v. (Paris 194555).

[l. j. beck]

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Cartesianism is the name given to the philosophical movement initiated by French mathematician and philosopher René Descartes (15961650) on the basis of two key innovations. The first is Descartes's claim that material events, including most biological phenomena, can and must be explained without appeal to teleological principles or occult qualities, through laws of motion acting mechanically on microcorpuscular bodies having no properties beyond spatial extension and shape. Descartes's second claim, his dualism, is that the distinctive human properties of selective intentionality and free volition, dramatically manifest in the creative freedom of language, mark human beings off from other animals as innately possessed of an immaterial soul or mind that is ontologically independent of matter, characterized by infinite moral freedom, susceptible of a distinct happiness, and capable of continued existence after the body's demise.

In Descartes's day, the first claim was by far the most controversial: how can living, breathing beings, plants and bees and horses, emerge from purely mechanical laws acting invariably on inert matter? As a program for physics, Descartes's elegant reductionism was fatally undermined when Isaac Newton in 1687 successfully accounted for universal gravitation by adding without metaphysical justification the notion of force. However, Cartesian mechanistic parameters continued fruitfully to guide biology and experimental physiology, shaping the speculative outlook of such diverse scientists as Julien de la Mettrie (17091751) and Claude Bernard (18131878). Today, Cartesianism survives in the methodological premise, also adopted by Newtonians, that a large part of sensible phenomena derives from causes acting invariably, without intention or free volition.

See also Descartes, RenÉ; Dualism; Materialism; Naturalism; Physicalism, Reductive and Nonreductive; Reductionism


gerber, daniel. descartes' metaphysical physics. chicago: university of chicago press, 1992.

marion, jean-luc. on descartes' metaphysical prism: the constitution and the limits of onto-theo-logy in cartesian thought, trans. jeffrey l. kosky. chicago: university of chicago press, 1999.

nadler, stephen. causation in early modern philosophy: cartesianism, occasionalism, and preestablished harmony. university park: pennsylvania state university press, 1993.

anne a. davenport