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               Meditations on First Philosophy

                        Rene Descartes

                             1641

Copyright: 1996, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. This
file is of the 1911 edition of The Philosophical Works of
Descartes (Cambridge University Press), translated by
Elizabeth S. Haldane.1

              Prefatory Note To The Meditations.

     The first edition of the Meditations was published in
Latin by Michael Soly of Paris "at the Sign of the Phoenix" in
1641 cum Privilegio et Approbatione Doctorum.  The Royal
"privilege" was indeed given, but the "approbation" seems to
have been of a most indefinite kind.  The reason of the book
being published in France and not in Holland, where Descartes
was living in a charming country house at Endegeest near
Leiden, was apparently his fear that the Dutch ministers might
in some way lay hold of it.  His friend, Pere Mersenne, took
charge of its publication in Paris and wrote to him about any
difficulties that occurred in the course of its progress
through the press.  The second edition was however published
at Amsterdam in 1642 by Louis Elzevir, and this edition was
accompanied by the now completed "Objections and Replies."2
The edition from which the present translation is made is the
second just mentioned, and is that adopted by MM. Adam and
Tannery as the more correct, for reasons that they state in
detail in the preface to their edition.  The work was
translated into French by the Duc de Luynes in 1642 and
Descartes considered the translation so excellent that he had
it published some years later.  Clerselier, to complete
matters, had the "Objections" also published in French with
the "Replies," and this, like the other, was subject to
Descartes' revision and correction.  This revision renders the
French edition specially valuable.  Where it seems desirable
an alternative reading from the French is given in square
brackets.

                     Elizabeth S. Haldane

             TO THE MOST WISE AND ILLUSTRIOUS THE

                DEAN AND DOCTORS OF THE SACRED

                FACULTY OF THEOLOGY IN PARIS.

     The motive which induces me to present to you this
Treatise is so excellent, and, when you become acquainted with
its design, I am convinced that you will also have so
excellent a motive for taking it under your protection, that I
feel that I cannot do better, in order to render it in some
sort acceptable to you, than in a few words to state what I
have set myself to do.

     I have always considered that the two questions
respecting God and the Soul were the chief of those that ought
to be demonstrated by philosophical rather than theological
argument.  For although it is quite enough for us faithful
ones to accept by means of faith the fact that the human soul
does not perish with the body, and that God exists, it
certainly does not seem possible ever to persuade infidels of
any religion, indeed, we may almost say, of any moral virtue,
unless, to begin with, we prove these two facts by means of
the natural reason.  And inasmuch as often in this life
greater rewards are offered for vice than for virtue, few
people would prefer the right to the useful, were they
restrained neither by the fear of God nor the expectation of
another life; and although it is absolutely true that we must
believe that there is a God, because we are so taught in the
Holy Scriptures, and, on the other hand, that we must believe
the Holy Scriptures because they come from God (the reason of
this is, that, faith being a gift of God, He who gives the
grace to cause us to believe other things can likewise give it
to cause us to believe that He exists), we nevertheless could
not place this argument before infidels, who might accuse us
of reasoning in a circle.  And, in truth, I have noticed that
you, along with all the theologians, did not only affirm that
the existence of God may be proved by the natural reason, but
also that it may be inferred from the Holy Scriptures, that
knowledge about Him is much clearer than that which we have of
many created things, and, as a matter of fact, is so easy to
acquire, that those who have it not are culpable in their
ignorance.  This indeed appears from the Wisdom of Solomon,
chapter xiii., where it is said "Howbeit they are not to be
excused; for if their understanding was so great that they
could discern the world and the creatures, why did they not
rather find out the Lord thereof?"  and in Romans, chapter i.,
it is said that they are "without excuse"; and again in the
same place, by these words "that which may be known of God is
manifest in them," it seems as through we were shown that all
that which can be known of God may be made manifest by means
which are not derived from anywhere but from ourselves, and
from the simple consideration of the nature of our minds.
Hence I thought it not beside my purpose to inquire how this
is so, and how God may be more easily and certainly known than
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