Descartes (le Franz Hals, 1649) Leibniz (le Christoph Bernhard Francke, 1700)
Am πέρας agus an ἂπειρον. An fhritèis le idèal àrsaidh na beatha.
The πέρας and the ἂπειρον. The antithesis with the ancient ideal of life.
For modern man the πέρας, the limited, is no longer the highest principle that it was for the contemplative classical metaphysics of Greece. The highest principle is rather the ἂπειρον, the endless, the Platonic μῆ ὂν. Modern man is obsessed and enticed by the endless, and believes that he can rediscover himself in it, in his boundless impulse of activity (CUSANUS, BRUNO).
This tendency towards the infinite is not a passing attitude of the Renaissance. It became more deeply entrenched in the following period. In LEIBNIZ, the limited even became "metaphysical evil" (1).
Even though the difference on this point remains within the immanence-standpoint and therefore is relative, this characteristic of the modern ideal of personality cannot be explained in terms of the conception of personality found in antiquity.
In the flourishing period of Greek and Roman culture, personality was considered as being harmoniously bound to an objective rational world-order. And in accordance with its appointed destiny it was dedicated to the all embracing state. Nominalistic subjectivism and individualism are here phenomena of decadence which were viewed as a mortal danger to the polis.
The Humanistic ideal of personality, however, was born in close contact with the Christian Idea of freedom. Humanism secularized the latter and animated its ideal of the free autonomous man with a strong belief in a great future of mankind.
The Cartesian "Cogito" in contra-distinction to the theoretic nous as the Archimedian point of Greek metaphysics.
After much preparation in various sorts of directions (especially in the system of NICOLAUS CUSANUS) the principles of Humanistic philosophical thought received their first clear formulation in the system of DESCARTES. The cogito in which this thinker supposed he had found his Archimedean point, is in no sense identical with the "logos" or "nous" of classic Greek philosophy. In the latter, human reason was conceived of as bound to an objective metaphysical order of being, in which the thinking subject only has a part. This metaphysical order was considered as the standard of truth in respect to theoretical thought. Quite different from this Greek conception of reason is that of the founder of Humanistic philosophy.
By means of the "cogito", DESCARTES called to a halt the universal methodical scepticism with respect to all the data of experience. The given world should be broken up in a methodical theoretical way in order to reconstruct it from autonomous mathematical thought. It is the new ideal of personality which is active behind this philosophical experiment. It does not accept any order or law that the sovereign personality of man had not itself prescribed in rational thought. Although DESCARTES substantialized this cogito to a "res cogitans" and thereby seemed to fall back upon scholastic metaphysics, no one should fail to recognize, that in his new regulatives for methodical thought the Humanistic motive of freedom and of the domination of nature is the driving force.
From his "cogito, ergo sum" the French thinker directly proceeds to the Idea of God, and therein discovers the foundation of all further knowledge. This Idea of God is nothing but the absolutizing of mathematical thought to divine thought, which cannot mislead us. The whole Idea of God serves to imprint upon the new mathematical method the mark of infallibility.
The Jansenists of Port Royal who accepted Cartesianism as an exact method of thinking, supposed they had found an inner affinity between DESCARTES' founding of all knowledge in self-consciousness and the immanent Idea of God, and AUGUSTINE'S "Deum et animam scire volo". This was a grave error.
There is no relationship between DESCARTES' and AUGUSTINE'S Archimedean point. The misconception of the Jansenists of Port Royal on this issue.
For this inner affinity does not exist, in spite of the appearance of the contrary. In an unsurpassed manner CALVIN expounded in his Institutio the authentic Christian conception of AUGUSTINE which made all knowledge of the cosmos dependent upon self-knowledge, and made our self-knowledge dependent upon our knowledge of God. Moreover, CALVIN dissociated this conception from AUGUSTINE'S scholastic standpoint with regard to philosophy as "ancilla theologiae". This view is radically opposed to the conception of DESCARTES. In his "cogito", the latter implicitly proclaimed the sovereignty of mathematical thought and deified it in his Idea of God, in a typically Humanistic attitude towards knowledge.
Consequently, there is no inner connection between AUGUSTINE'S refutation of scepticism by referring to the certainty of thought which doubts, and DESCARTES' "cogito, ergo sum". AUGUSTINE never intended to declare the naturalis ratio to be autonomous and unaffected by the fall.
The connection between DESCARTES' methodological scepticism and the discovery of analytical geometry. The creation-motive in the Cartesian "cogito".
Let us not forget, that DESCARTES' universal scepticism with respect to the reliability of all experience except self-consciousness, was very closely connected with his discovery of analytical geometry. The latter became for him the methodological model of all systematic philosophy. By the introduction of coordinates it became possible to determine every point of space by three numbers and every spatial figure by an equation between the coordinates of its points. In this way geometrical propositions were proven by means of arithmetical calculation apparently without any pre-supposition other than the laws of arithmetic. And the origin of the latter was sought in sovereign thought.
DESCARTES found the original pattern for clear and distinct thought in this method. According to the latter, thought does not take as its foundation anything which it did not itself produce in a supposed logical process of creation. In the Preface to his De Corpore the English thinker THOMAS HOBBES describes, completely in terms of the story of creation in the first chapter of the book Genesis, the methodological demolition of all given reality executed by human reason in order to reconstruct the cosmos out of the simplest elements of thought. The logical activity of the philosopher must create, just like the artist or as God, Who gives order to chaos (2). This motive of logical creation — inspired by the deification of mathematical thought in the Idea of the intellectus arche-typus — was continually carried through in the first phase of Humanistic philosophy, especially by LEIBNIZ.
This motive is modern and Humanistic. It is not found in ancient, patristic, or medieval philosophy. It can only be explained in terms of a secularization of the Christian Idea of creation in the Humanistic ideal of personality.
Modern philosophy proclaimed sovereign reason to be the origin of the theoretically construed cosmos. But, in this conception of sovereign reason, the two mutually antagonistic motives of "nature" and "freedom" were active. And the polar tension between them reveals itself evermore intensively in the further development of Humanistic thought.
The polar tension between the ideal of personality and the ideal of science in the basic structure of the Humanistic transcendental Idea.
As we observed above, the ideal of personality is itself the religious root of the classical naturalistic science-ideal. As soon as the former began to unfold its tendency to dominate nature, it evoked this philosophical science-ideal with an inner necessity. However, the latter soon became the bitterest enemy of the ideal of personality.
To be sure, at the outset Humanism borrowed many motives of its life- and world-view from the Stoic ideal of the self-sufficient sage, from Epicurean ethics (VALLA) and from other sources. But because of its inherent Faustian impulse to dominate nature, it had an inner predisposition to a deterministic view of the world of an entirely new character. Since the rise of mathematical natural science, the new mathematical ideal of knowledge became the transcendental ideal of cosmic order. It appeared to endow philosophical thought with the scepter of legislator of the world. In this way the new science-ideal only gradually became a basic factor in the Humanistic transcendental ground-Idea. It is true, that the thirst after the newly discovered infinite nature, with all its mysteries, had from the very first manifested itself in the painting and poetry of the Renaissance.
It is true also, that before the rise of the new natural science, the Faustian passion to dominate had revealed itself in a flourishing growth of alchemy, by which it was hoped, that the mysteries of nature could be laid bare.
The French thinker PETRUS RAMUS had even developed a new semi-Platonic mathematical method in logic in which — in contradistinction to the Aristotelian syllogism — "invention" should play a main part. This Ramistic method, which soon acquired a great influence, doubtless manifested a new spirit in scientific thought.
Nevertheless, originally, nature was not in any way conceived of as a mechanical system, but as filled with beauty, force, and life. Even LEONARDO DA VINCI, who anticipated GALILEO'S mathematical-mechanical analysis of empirical phenomena, conceived of nature as a teleological whole animated with life.
LORENZO VALLA had deified nature as the sphere of expansion of the ideal of personality: "Idem est natura, quod Deus, aut fere idem" (De Voluptate 1, 13).
Since the Copernican revolution in astronomy unlimited possibilities seemed to be opened to the investigating mind. Modern man discovered in nature a macrocosmos which found its reflected image in his own personality as microcosmos (3).
The tendency towards infinity in GIORDIANO BRUNO'S pantheism.
GIORDANO BRUNO, in his pantheistic philosophy, joined NICOLAUS CUSANUS' doctrine of the infinite and his metaphysical mathematical doctrine of the coincidentia oppositorum; he religiously interpreted COPERNICUS' theory in a dithyrambic glorification of the infinity of the universe, and of its reflection in human personality as a monadic microcosmos. Here we see how the Humanistic ideal of personality becomes conscious of its power of expansion. The immeasurable space of the cosmos waited to be ruled by man. "Nature" as "natura naturata" is the self-development of God (natura naturans). The new ideal of personality here discloses itself in the original aesthetic character of the Italian Renaissance. It does not yet experience the close oppression of the deterministic science-ideal. The seeds of modern-astronomical thought are still shrouded in the aesthetic phantasy of the poet. BRUNO'S system is only a prelude to the development of the classic Humanistic ideal of science. The new ideal of personality assumes the new view of "infinite nature" without perceptible tensions.
The entire opposition between the "Jenseits" and the "Diesseits" of Christian dogmatics was considered here as anthropocentric (in the sense of the astronomical theory which had been refuted by COPERNICUS) and ascribed to the standpoint of sensory appearance and imagination, a standpoint that ought to be conquered by philosophic consciousness.
In this view the religious freedom-motive is still in complete accordance with the nature-motive.
The former permeated the new Humanistic view of nature which as yet betrayed nothing of its later mechanization. The future tension between the ideal of science and the ideal of personality is at best intimated in BRUNO by the trouble he takes to reconcile the unity and homogeneousness of infinite nature in all its parts to the Idea of the creating individuality of the monads, in which Idea the new ideal of personality is concentrated.
The decisive turn did not come before the mathematical conception of natural phenomena, which the Renaissance ascribed to PLATO and DEMOCRITUS, was made fruitful in an exact method of analysis and synthesis capable of dominating nature by means of the functional concept of mechanic causality.
Henceforth, the ideal of the free self-sufficient personality acquired a veritable counter-pole in the mechanical view of nature.
The proclamation of the creative sovereignty of the mathematical method implied the intention to logically construct the coherence of the world out of the continuous movement of thought. Directly after the rise of mathematical natural science the latter became the sheet-anchor of the new ideal of knowledge, which originally had been entirely orientated to this methodical pattern.
(1) In this connection the comparison is interesting which WINDELBAND makes in his Geschichte der neueren Phil. I, 508, between the metaphysics of LEIBNIZ and that of PLATO, ARISTOTLE and Neo-Platonism: "das Chaos der Kosmogonien, das μῆ ὂν des PLATON, die ὕλη des ARISTOTELES, das βάθος des Neu-platonismus — sie sind in der rationalistischen Philosophie zu der "région des vérités éternelles" als der bindenden Möglichkeit der Weltschöpfung geworden." ["The "Chaos" of the cosmogonies, the μῆ ὂν of PLATO, the ὕλη of ARISTOTLE, the βάθος of Neo-Platonism — therefore, in rationalistic philosophy, have become the "région des vérités éternelles" (the region of eternal truths), as the binding possibility of the creation of the world"]. And yet WINDELBAND in an inconceivable manner speaks of a "Platonic idealism" in LEIBNIZ.
(2) Opera latina, Vol. I, De Corpore Praef. The biblical conception of creation is evidently confused here with the Greek Idea of the divine demiurge.
(3) Compare what CASSIRER in his Erkenntnisproblem I, 18 and following, observes concerning the relation between the new Humanistic concept of the ego and the new concept of nature.
(Herman Dooyeweerd, New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Vol I Part 2/2 pp 194-200)