Born in Rouen and educated in the Jesuit college of Caen, Huet was a noted literary scholar and linguist. He alternated between Paris and Caen for most of his life, but spent a year in the court of Queen Christina of Sweden in 1652 (two years after Descartes’ death there). He returned to Caen to work on an edition of Origen's commentaries, having found some rare texts of his in Sweden. In 1662 he helped found an academy of science in Caen. Huet was appointed tutor (sous-précepteur) to the dauphin (under précepteur Jacques Bossuet) in 1670 and elected to the French Academy in 1674. He was named Abbé d'Aunay in 1680, shortly after his ordination, and then nominated bishop of Soissons in 1685. However, as a result of troubles between Paris and Rome, his consecration at Soissons never took place. Instead, he was named bishop of Avranches in 1689, a position he assumed in 1692. He resigned his bishopric and took on the title of Abbé de Fontenay in 1699, retiring soon thereafter to the Paris house of the Jesuits that held the huge personal library he had bequeathed to them (and which ultimately was incorporated into the collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale). Huet died there in 1721 after a remarkably long life.
Huet reported in his Mémoires (1718) that he was initially a supporter of Cartesian philosophy but that he turned against it once he realized that “it was a baseless structure that tottered from the very ground.” He became disenchanted with Descartes’ philosophy because of its disdain for humanist values, the study of history, geography, and dead languages. This change of opinion resulted in Huet's critique of Descartes, the Censura philosophiae cartesianae (1689), whose chapters discuss a wide range of Cartesian topics, including doubt, the cogito, the criterion of truth, the human mind, arguments for the existence of God, body and void, the origin of the world, and the cause of gravity.
Morin was born in Villefranche-en-Beaujolais and died in Paris. After studying philosophy in Aix and receiving a doctorate from Avignon in 1613, he became physician and astrologer and, ultimately, professor of mathematics at the Collège de France (1629–56). Early on, Morin went to Hungary and Transylvania to inspect mines. As a result of his trip, he wrote a short treatise, Nova Mundi sublunaris anatomia (1619), in which he argued for a new theory of the earth's “anatomy.” In 1623 he published Astrologicarum domorum cabala detecta, an argument for the twelve houses of the Zodiac based mainly on Cabalistic and numerological principles. Morin also made a name for himself with a number of astrological predictions, some of which were borne out.
In 1624 Morin distributed a pamphlet defending Aristotle against some atomist and alchemical theses. Though not a rigid Aristotelian, he also attacked the Copernican opinion of the earth's motion (De Telluris motu, 1631; Responsio pro Telluris quiete, 1634) (see earth, motion of the). He became involved in further polemics when he published his solution to the problem of determining longitude, rejected by Richelieu's experts. He also wrote circulars attacking Pierre Gassendi. Morin's principal work was Astrologia Gallica (1661), though he was also known for a short treatise on God, Quod Deus sit (1635), which consisted of a proof for the existence of God given in a geometrical fashion (using definitions, axioms, and theorems).
Descartes knew Morin, and they exchanged letters. Descartes sent a copy of the Discourse on Method to him, and this precipitated another exchange between them in which Morin articulated criticisms of Descartes’ theory of light. After a few letters, however, Descartes cut off the correspondence. Descartes also read Quod Deus sit when Mersenne sent it to him, but indicated his dissatisfaction with the work in a letter written shortly before the publication of the Meditations: “I have read through Mr. Morin's booklet. Its chief defect is that he treats of the infinite everywhere as if his mind were above it and he could comprehend its properties. That is a common fault with nearly everyone…. And thus all that he says right up to the end is far removed from the geometrical evidence and certitude that he would seem to be promising at the beginning” (AT III 293–94, CSMK 171–72).
Picot was born at Moulins as the eldest son of a tax officer and died in the small town of Limeil. Although he seems to have frequented libertine circles, he entered the church and was appointed prior of the Abbey of Le Rouvre. Together with two libertine friends, Picot visited Descartes in the Netherlands in 1641. He familiarized himself with Cartesian philosophy – which, Descartes suggests, led to Picot's “conversion” to his metaphysics (AT III 340) – and temporarily settled in Utrecht where he was introduced to Descartes’ mathematics. When Picot returned to France in November 1642, he started a correspondence with Descartes, most of which is now known only through the abstracts and short quotations by Adrien Baillet. The correspondence was personal and intimate, discussing details such as Descartes’ health, diet, and dress. It shows that Picot often assisted Descartes in financial matters and that Descartes roomed with Picot while in Paris in 1644 and 1647. Almost immediately after the publication of the Principles (1644), Picot began a French translation of it, published in 1647. He was also involved in the distribution of Descartes’ Passions of the Soul (1649) in France and seems to have written two of the four letters that form the preface to that work.
See also Baillet, Adrien; Principles of Philosophy; Passions of the Soul
In the aftermath of Galileo's condemnation for upholding the motion of the earth, Descartes decided that he would not publish The World, containing the condemned proposition, or anything else that might be controversial: “This so startled me that I almost resolved myself to burn all of my papers, or at least not to let anyone see them…. There are already so many plausible opinions in philosophy, which can be upheld in debate, that if mine do not have anything more certain and cannot be approved of without controversy, I never want to publish them” (AT I 270–72, CSMK 40–41). But he continued to work on his scientific treatises, and his friends urged him to reconsider his decision. Ultimately, he determined “that it was easy for me to choose some matters that, without being subject to much controversy nor obliging me to declare more of my principles than I desire, would nevertheless allow me to show quite clearly what I can or cannot do in the sciences” (AT VI 75, CSM I 149). Thus, in October 1635 Descartes decided to publish the Dioptrics, adding the Meteors to the project in November, and resolving to set off the two treatises with a short preface. The project took greater shape in March 1636 when Descartes reported that he would include some other works as well; as he said, he wished to publish anonymously “four Treatises all in French, and the general title will be: The Project of a Universal Science that can Elevate our Nature to its Highest Degree of Perfection. Then the Dioptrics, Meteors, and Geometry, in which the most curious Matters that the Author could have chosen to serve as proof of the universal Science he proposes are explained in such a way that even those who have never studied can understand them.”
Fromondus was born in Haccourt sur Meuse, Belgium, near Liège, and was educated in humanities at the Jesuit college in Liège. He left in 1604 to study philosophy and languages at the Collège de Faucon in Louvain; there he befriended a Dutch student, Cornelius Jansen of Acquoy, the future Jansenius. Fromondus then taught philosophy at the Abbey Saint-Michel in Anvers. He returned to Louvain in 1609, where he taught rhetoric (1609–14) and philosophy (1614–28), while pursuing the scientific interests that led to the publication of several astronomical treatises; these included the astronomical fantasy Coenae saturnalitiae, variatiae Somnio sive Peregrinatione coelesti (1616), Dissertatio de cometa anni 1618 (1619), and Meterologicum libri VI (1627). In the latter two treatises, Fromondus argued against Aristotle (and in the Meteors also against Galileo) that comets are superlunary phenomena. In the 1620s, he resumed his studies in theology under Cornelius Jansen (with whom he would remain closely associated) and obtained a doctorate in theology in 1628. He published in this period, among other works, Labyrinthus sive de compositione continui, a defense of Aristotle and attack on atomism (1631), and Ant-Aristarchus sive Orbis terræ immobilis, a critique on the work of the Dutch Copernican Philip van Lansbergen (1631); Jacob Lansbergen replied with Apologia … (1633), a defense of his father's work, and Fromondus replied with Vesta, sive Ant-Aristarchi vindex (1634). When Jansenius was appointed bishop of Ypres in 1636, Fromondus assumed his chair as professor of Sacred Scripture. During his fatal illness in 1638, Jansenius entrusted the manuscript of his Augustinus to Fromondus, who arranged for its publication in 1640. Fromondus subsequently published several theological works in defense of Jansenism. He died in 1653 in Louvain.
Fromondus was one of the small circle of savants to whom Descartes sent a copy of his Discourse on Method. Fromondus replied by sending to Descartes his Labyrinthus sive de compositione continui, his tract against Epicureans and atomists, and provided him with a series of objections against what he saw as Descartes’ overreliance on atomistic and mechanical principles. Concerning Descartes’ account of body in the Meteors, Fromondus commented: “This composition of bodies made up of parts with different shapes … by which they cohere among themselves as if by little hooks, seems excessively crass and mechanical” (AT I 406). Descartes clearly respected Fromondus, although he thought him too philosophically conservative. His attitude toward his critic nevertheless remained cordial. In a 1638 letter, Descartes explained that his disagreement with Fromondus was “conducted like a chess game: we remained good friends after the match was over, and now we send each other nothing but compliments” (AT II 660).
See also Atom; Body; Jansenism; Plempius, Vopiscus Fortunatus
Mesland was born at Orléans and died at Santa Fe, Bogotá. He was a Jesuit, becoming a novitiate in Paris and studying rhetoric there, 1630–33. He then took the course in philosophy, 1633–36, at the Collège Henri IV, the Jesuit school in La Flèche Descartes had attended; he taught letters and studied theology there, 1636–46. His correspondence with Descartes began in 1644, after he informed Descartes that he wrote an abridgment of the Meditations in a form that would be fit for teaching students at a Jesuit college. Descartes was delighted, believing that the paraphrase would be effective for getting it approved (AT IV 122, CSMK 236). The correspondence ended in 1645, when Mesland left La Flèche to become a missionary in the New World.
The Mesland correspondence directly addresses the theologically sensitive topic of the nature of human freedom: whether our freedom of action involves an “indifference” that allows our will to act otherwise than it does. Jesuits insisted that such indifference is needed to ward off the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, and others argued that it would compromise the Augustinian doctrine that meritorious action follows from God's irresistible grace. Descartes seems to have favored different sides at different times. Early on he stated that his account of freedom agreed perfectly with the one written by the Sorbonne Oratorian Guillaume Gibieuf (AT I 153, CSMK 26). He insisted in the Fourth Meditation that “the indifference I experience when there is no reason moving me more in one direction than in another is the lowest grade of freedom,” and that our will is most free when it is led to embrace the true and the good either by clear and distinct perception or by divine grace (AT VII 57–58, CSM II 40). However, in a 1644 letter, presumably to Mesland, Descartes claimed that there is only “a verbal difference” between Mesland's position and his own since, according to him, our free action involves “a real and positive power to determine” that action (AT IV 116, CSMK 234).
Descartes presented the Meditations to a select group of scholars before publication so that their comments and his replies would be issued with the work in a single volume. Marin Mersenne, Descartes’ primary correspondent, was initially instructed to submit it to “three or four” trusted theologians only. Their approval would be enough to dedicate the book to the Sorbonne, “in order to ask them to be my protectors in the cause of God” (AT III 183–85). But the project grew into something more ambitious. Initially, Descartes asked his friends J. A. Bannius and A. A. Bloemaert to write some objections; they, in turn, asked the Dutch priest Johannes Caterus to do so. Caterus's First Set of Objections, together with Descartes’ Replies and the manuscript of the Meditations, was then sent to France to be printed, with Descartes leaving Mersenne to organize the rest and telling him that he would be “glad if people make as many objections as possible and the strongest they can find” (AT III 297). Descartes had already tried to promote his works by making them a focus of discussion; he previously requested objections to the Discourse to be sent to his publisher, promising to have them published with his response (AT VI 75). This time he was collecting objections before publication. Mersenne obtained five more sets, making six altogether in the first edition; a seventh set followed in the second edition of 1642. In a somewhat rare show of modesty, Descartes decided that his own responses should be called “Replies to the Objections” rather than “Solutions” “so as to leave the reader to judge whether they provide solutions or not” (AT III 340, CSMK 170).
The objectors are as follows:
2.“Theologians and philosophers,” represented as “collected by Mersenne”
3.Thomas Hobbes, later described as “a famous English philosopher”
4.Antoine Arnauld, a theology doctorate student at the Sorbonne, whose objections are addressed to Mersenne as intermediary
5.Pierre Gassendi, philosopher and historian
6.A group described as “various theologians and philosophers,” once more collected by Mersenne, together with an appendix containing the arguments of “a group of philosophers and geometers”
7.The Jesuit mathematician Pierre Bourdin
Philosophy, more perhaps than any other discipline, has always been preoccupied with itself – with what kind of activity it is, or should be. In dissections of the current state of the subject, a distinction is often deployed between approaches to philosophy that take pride in meticulous attention to its history, and those that disdain the close study of past ideas as irrelevant to the cutting edge of modern philosophical research. Though each of these polar stereotypes has its instantiations, the sharp contrast can mislead, since many, if not most, practitioners of the subject fall somewhere between the extremes – and so much the better for that. For the truth is that the history of philosophy can easily turn sterile if it lacks a sense of how the great issues of the past are related to the continuing philosophical debates of our own time; and conversely, the practice of “up-to date” analytic philosophy risks becoming obsessive and shortsighted unless it is informed by a lively awareness of the philosophical tradition that delivered us where we are today. Fruitful philosophical analysis, like individual self-discovery, operates at a point of interplay between the struggle toward a future not yet achieved, and the effort to recover and understand the past we have (partly) left behind.
Yet to acknowledge the vital role of inherited tradition for productive philosophical inquiry is immediately to confront the problem of how that tradition is itself generated.
Descartes made converts to his new philosophy with the publication of the Principles, the systematic exposition of his thought, set out in Scholastic style, but, on the whole, he did not succeed in getting the work adopted in the curriculum of the schools. Here and there one can find Cartesian principles taught, as with the ill-fated Oratorians at Angers in the 1670s and Edmond Pourchot at Paris in the 1690s. One can also find Cartesian propositions included in some disputations, but the discussion is mostly negative. The official response to Descartes' philosophy was unfavorable for most of the seventeenth century. At various times, Descartes waged fierce battles with his opponents. In the 1640s, he thought himself “at war” with the Jesuits, a war precipitated by a Jesuit disputation at Clermont College and continuing through Pierre Bourdin's Seventh Set of Objections, published, together with Descartes' Replies and the Letter to Dinet, in the second edition of the Meditations (1642). There were troubles and official condemnations by Protestants at Utrecht, circa 1642, and Leyden, 1647. The battles continued and intensified after Descartes' death in 1650. There were condemnations by Catholics at Louvain in 1662, culminating with Descartes' works being put on the Index of Prohibited Books by the censors of Rome in 1663. The fighting raged in the second half of the seventeenth century: the Jesuits held more anti-Cartesian disputations at Clermont College in 1665, some clearly intended to make Descartes look ridiculous.
The planning and execution of this volume has been very much a joint venture. The hard decisions about which texts to include, and how much of them, were made at a series of virtual and actual meetings, and the work of translation was divided up between the three of us (the initials of the relevant translator appear in square brackets at the end of the introduction to each text). All the work was then checked by at least one other member of the team before the final version was prepared. In the case of the extracts from Dupleix and de Silhon, Roger Ariew was joined as translator by Marjorie Grene, and her invaluable work on this material is gratefully acknowledged here. We have tried in the introductions to each text to provide the reader with essential historical information about the authors and the provenance of the materials, and also to give a brief indication of some of the main points of philosophical importance, and the principal ways in which the materials shed light on the intellectual context of Descartes' philosophy. The explanatory footnotes appended to the texts have all been added by the present editors, unless otherwise stated. Constraints of space, as well as considerations of philosophical relevance, have made it necessary to abridge much of the material, and deletions are indicated throughout by ellipses.
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