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A LETTER FROM
HENRY MORE TO A GENTLEMAN
which
contains an Apology for
DESCARTES and may stand for
an Introduction to the universal Cartesian Philosophy
London
Printed by J. Fletcher, and sold by G. Morden,
Bookseller at Cambridge
1664

Translated by A. R. Hall, with scholia translated by Christian Hengstermann[1]

1.[2] You make a serious request of me, Sir, in asking for my opinion of the Triumvirate of Philosophers who are most notable in this century.[3] Indeed, I can set down nothing about two of these because I have not read them through, nor do I believe it will ever be my business to do so. I wonder in fact that you should seek my opinion of the third, because I have more than once testified publicly to my high opinion of him. But as you further seek for my particular reasons for thus adopting this philosophy so readily, this more urgent request gives me occasion for a fuller reply. For the question is not simple and easy, carrying as it does the sting of some little accusation or other, as though I would allow and encourage all things Cartesian without reservation. In truth matters stand far otherwise from your suspicions. For although this incomparable philosopher so far surpasses the human lot in his innovation and the greater part of his reasoning as to be successful and ingenious in all things so that, because he is outstanding at almost every point, we seem forced to believe that he could never fail to be so, yet Nature gave me so sluggish and hesitant a mind that the authority of no mortal brain could ever so blunt its acuity that, being as being as it were bewitched, it would trust those propositions of whose truth it was not satisfied by solid arguments, much less those that are repugnant to the soul's special perceptions and also to reason. Accordingly, I can say briefly: so far is it from being the case that I would greedily swallow everything Cartesian, however crudely proposed, I freely oblige myself to confess to you that in that man's writings I have found not a few things that I can in no way accept. Therefore I think it important to inform you of these, so that after you have perused Descartes (which, you say, you mean to do soon) I may learn whether your judgement of these propositions coincides with my own.

2.[4] We can trace any lapse on Descartes's part to three types of cause. That is to say, either to sheer inadvertence which every mortal man falls into; or else to an excess either of caution or of a certain honest shrewdness -- these are not important; or lastly to a certain very high regard for mathematical certainty and the necessity of each of its conclusions; to which surely very few have aspired hitherto in natural philosophy and assuredly none have attained it nor perhaps will anyone ever attaint it.

3.[5] To the first kind we may refer his way of explaining refraction in Dioptrica Chapter II and the reason for the place of the image in reflection, Chapter 6, together with a few others about which we may perhaps say more soon.

4. There are two remarkable examples of the second kind of cause.[6] The first is, his explanation of the nature of motion which he affirms always to be relative. This particular notion has always seemed to me to be involved in many contradictions. He has chosen however rather to darken our knowledge with words in this manner in order that he shall not appear to attribute less motion to the earth than either Tycho or Copernicus did, indeed to take all motion from it in order to ingratiate his philosophy with those for whom fixed custom and blind obedience count for more than any really lucid argument, and to protect himself from such men. Beyond any doubt, he had planted in his mind the hard fate of Galileo, who by attributing such free revolutions about the sun to the earth, took away his own liberty and restricted his own freedom of movement to the confines of a prison.

Another example is provided by animals, which he imagines to be inanimate machines and automata lacking sensation. This pleasant invention he had to devise for his philosophy lest it should seem to conclude that the souls of animals are, like those of men, immortal. For because he was firmly confident that no act of thinking, however rudimentary, could occur in matter however much modified, if he had acknowledged that sensation exists in animals, he would have to allow that there is in them some substance distinct from matter: that is, an immortal soul. Accordingly he preferred to deprive animals of souls, rather than let himself be entangled and tormented by the hateful pettifogging of captious and unfeeling men about the status of animals after death.

To this kind of cause also .should be attributed what he says by the way in Principia Part II, Article 2 about his not investigating the purposes of those things which we see in the natural environment. By this warning he undoubtedly meant to protect himself against those importunate inquiries which idle-minded men can press, concerning the universal nature of both planets and comets, as also concerning the stars which he himself clearly acknowledges to be (as it were) just so many suns. For it would be very appropriate to pose further questions: why should God have created so many suns, and upon whom does their light fall? And because all planets have the same origin, that is, are suns that have solidified surfaces, and follow the same sort of development. there is in all of them earth, sea, air, lodestone, gold-mines etc.; one might further inquire whether upon each are not only animals but nobler dwellers, namely human beings. Lastly those wandering planets [comets] seeking to lodge as a guest in some vortex, is it credible or not that they are rejected essays at new terrestrial orbs? Descartes hoped to hasten away very easily from such questions as these, giving us a seasonable reminder of God's profound wisdom in the works of nature, so that it is the height of rashness to inquire into purposes. Descartes' critical intelligence knew that it was far better to feign ignorance than to make an inappropriate boast of knowledge.

5. To the third kind of cause belongs the argument which he brings forward in order to demonstrate that rarefaction and condensation are sponge-like processes; namely, that distance or space and body [or substance] are identical in reality , and that it is impossible to imagine any extension anywhere which is not a property of some body. This fundamental principle greatly pleased Descartes, because it gave a more than mathematical certainty (if such a thing might be) to his treatment of rarefaction and condensation, and moreover brought a wonderful confirmation to his doctrine of the vast number and size of the vortices, of the first-element particles divided infinitely small. But that principle enchants me not at all. In the first place because the reasons that Descartes gives in its favour are not convincing enough as I showed at some length in my letters [to Descartes]; in the second place, because it suggests that matter either exists in independence [of God] or at any rate has existed throughout all eternity along with God, being necessarily created by him and coeval with him. The first of these positions is plainly inconsistent with a true conception of the Deity, the second is at least harsh and rash; although it is not to be denied that there always have been and still are those who combine one or other of these two opinions with [belief in] the existence of God and true religious worship.

Furthermore, that splendid promise of Descartes, extending throughout his philosophy, that he will always deduce his conclusions from the mechanical necessity of motion is also to be traced to the mathematical disease and itch for absolute certainty. But this sagacious author did not think he could find sufficient certainty in those processes by which, he affirmed, the phenomena of nature were effected if the Divine Wisdom, which could effect the same phenomena by a variety of ways, were to be mingled with the laws of matter and motion. But this immense eagerness and zeal for deducing particular [cases] from this [universal], certain and inevitable law of matter and motion, that the quantity of the same within the universe is always constant, so captivated the noble mind of Descartes that not infrequently he imagined too hastily that he had furnished that which he so desperately wished to provide everywhere. Omitting other examples I offer one only, brilliantly clear and of the highest importance, namely the formation of screwed particles and their motion. For so far is it from being necessarily true that they be produced in the manner described by him, that it seems highly unlikely, indeed impossible perhaps, that they should be shaped as he says; or that if so shaped that they should move in accordance with laws of that kind.

For he affirms that the twisting of the screwed particles arises from the motion of the globules [particles of the second element] of the vortex through which they pass, and that they are more or less twisted in the ratio of the speed of the motion of the globules revolving about the axis of the vortex; that is to say, those which are distant from the axis are twisted more, and those close to the axis less twisted; just as is set down in Articles 90 and 91 of Part III of the Principia Philosophiae.

But there is surely no mechanical [7] necessity why those columns of triangular fragments borne in the common revolution of the vortex should rotate around their own axes. We can make a trial of this on any material we like, for choice what is long and round, placed in some channel parallel to the earth's axis. No one would dream that the earth's revolution would cause this material to spin round its own axis likewise. By like or even stronger arguments we are to understand that those triangular particles assembled into columns are swirled round by the motion of the common vortex, without their acquiring, however, any rotation about their own axes from this circumgyration. For it is equally certain (with all the certainty of mechanics) that all the globules are repelled by the force of that circumgyration from the axis of the vortex, the very force that drives heavy and dense particles towards the centre of he earth; so that all subterfuge seems to be out of the question here for the contriving of some useless answer. To this one might add that the very shape of these triangular fragments in columns will be a great obstacle to their rotation as imagined by Descartes. For just as the plasticity of this matter must be hardened so that they can retain their triangular form, the corners of the columnar fragments must be so firm (because of their thickness) that they will undergo twisting only with difficulty. Therefore these triangular columnar fragments will continue in a rectilinear but very swift motion through those triangular passages without any effect of twisting, in such a way that the angles of these passages one after the other will be found along the same almost straight line.

For if the angles of these triangular passages do not lie along the same straight lines, but rather the angles and sides meet each other in alternation (which surely seems to be the more easily done, the globules [of the second element] falling, in such an arrangement, into a more compact and stable situation), we may, however, see whether matters turn out more successfully in this way, and whether any mechanical necessity exists for the columnar fragments to be twisted into a screw-like shape. Accordingly, let us suppose matter of the first element to be passing through a triangular space or passage ABC and to have taken on a triangular shape, no sooner has it been thus shaped than it meets next the trianglar space DEF, with its angles meeting the sides of the former passage should the two be conjoined. Certainly it is very far from being the case that these particles can become twisted according to those laws by which Descartes says they become twisted. For even if the most subtle matter should be plastic enough necessarily to acquire a triangular shape in its passage, as through ABC, it is scarcely credible (because of its soft consistency and swift motion) but that when this little columnar fragment strikes the sides of the triangle DEF (that is, DE, EF, and FD), all the matter contained in the angles aAa, bBb, cCc, will be rubbed off and lost, so that the fragment will become not triangular but sexangular and almost round: thus the mechanical necessity for its twisting wholly disapppears. And surely if we allow that those angles formed on the columnar triangles are not rubbed off by [subsequent] compression, but rather are only displaced and twisted by the roundness of the globules enclosing the second space (which, as I have said, is in no way probable because of the rapidity of the passage [of the subtle matter] and the plasticity of the recently formed particle) it would nevertheless follow that mere chance would decide whether the columnar particles be twisted in these passages in the direction of the vortex GH or in the opposite sense. For, because the globules of the aether lying next to each other are of the same size the triangular passages formed between them are also equal and meet each other symmetrically, so that where the angle A meets the side DF it necessarily comes at its middle and so with the rest. And thus no reason exists why these columns of triangular fragments should be twisted towards H rather than towards G, or vice-versa. And so it may justly be concluded that the screwed particles will be twisted this way and that in their formation, and that by no means all of those issuing from the same Pole [of the earth] will be twisted in the same direction. In this manner those well known laws [of Descartes] about magnetism are overthrown, and the phenomena of his world must be modified. For that reason, it is needful to seek out some higher and more godly cause than mere mechanical matter and motion for this purpose, if those columns of triangular fragments are to be twisted into the shape of screws intended for such useful ends and formed by so ingenious and regular artifice.

The same may be posited of the flow and direction of these particles once they have twisted. For we may suppose them to continue in certain directions according to some law, which yet cannot be mechanical. So that when they pass through the subtle matter of a star which is beginning to be encrusted over by a solid layer, or is already firmly covered in this way, unless some guiding power more divine than mechanical controls and orders the passage of the screwed particles, it is impossible that they should not be thrust to one side away from the axis of the [capturing] star, and with the foremost end leading follow a line not parallel to the axis [of the vortex] but cutting it almost at right angles. For it is incredible that one end of the screwed particles should not be considerably heavier or more dense than the other. This at least is plain, that as these screwed particles revolve around the star it must be the case that they recede from its axis and are thrust out in a dense mass towards those parts farthest from the ecliptic; for this reason the magnetic force of the earth is found to be greatest at the equator and negligible near the Poles. Because if the matter of the first element had now become less pure and a little tainted by contaminants picked up, the screwed particles during their very long passage [through it] would lose a little of their motion, and become scattered [in passing] through this matter of a tainted and coarse consistency.

But supposing everything to go on smoothly and successfully, let us see what happens to these screwed particles issuing forth with all their vigour. To me, certainly, it is not credible that they can repeat their passage with so fortunate a departure and return, unless they are influenced by some guiding hand beyond mere mechanical law. For to say nothing of the ease with which southern particles might fall into northern apertures and northern particles into southern apertures, so causing damage to the magnetic channels (especially when these are still plastic wsm new), it seems to me to surpass all mechanical law that when trains or streams (as it were) of these particles have been formed they should follow so fixed a path from Pole to Pole and should not, while passing through the free aether, proceed in straight lines as does a dart or an arrow. For it would be more agreeable to mechanical laws that they should make ways for themselves through the air (even through we should suppose the air to have a little density), and should part with a little of their motion and force by overcoming this resistance, than that they should strive to return, directing their journey to the other Pole (so far distant) as if a task were set them. For as soon as they rush forth into the air from the magnetic areas of the globe, their path forward is blocked before them by particles of the air which are in every way identical with those that surround them. Whence it is manifest that there can be no corporeal reason why these particles, being in this manner surrounded on all sides by homogeneous particles of the air should burst out in this direction rather than that, nor why they should not prefer to go backwards rather than continue in a straight line, or be carried upwards; but there must be some higher or more divine Power that recalls strays and that at every point guides and controls their motion and direction towards determinate and appointed destinations.

Lastly, you may refer to this hair-splitting or mathematical petty-fogging his cautious and precise principle: That there is no mite less or more of motion in the universe at one time than at any other. A principle which (for all I know) can be defended by no reasons, either doubtful or imaginary; of which two kinds occur to me. The first is, that neither spirits nor human souls can move matter, but only direct its motion in this direction or that: this is plainly to declare, that any effective and active Essence (such as everyone supposes spiritual substance to be) has the power to drive, maintain and control matter in motion and yet has not the least power in any way to put matter into motion. The other is, That when some body impresses motion upon another body it always loses as much of its own motion as it impresses on the other; the same amount that it loses being transferred to the other body. This [conservation] principle I believe, had I leisure, I could very easily refute from the theory of the powers (as it is called) in mechanics. But as this opinion of the motion in the world being always constant, both in number and measure, belongs rather to certain followers of Descartes than to the philosopher himself, the blame for this rashness is to be assigned to them rather than to him. ,

You now perceive, Sir, that I do not devour all with undiscriminating gluttony all those rich banquets with which Descartes entices his friends.

[8] 6. After I have removed this suspicion, I would gladly reply to the question, if you would modify its phraseology and meaning slightly. Surely if you do not condemn me for too eager and firm an adoption of Cartesian innovations, but simply ask why I have pondered on Cartesian philosophy with so much eagerness and pleasure, I have much to offer by way of reply.

For, firstly, I have no doubt that everything within the external world affecting our senses (that is the effect of external objects which we commonly call phenomena in affecting our senses) is nothing other than the motion of bodies, in its various modification according to their size, shape and position of the particles of matter. This would appear obvious from a review of the senses and their objects.

It is clear in the case of touch, which is only stimulated by the pressure, rubbing, impact, bruising etc. of some body. Further, it is equally plain that anything brought into contact with our own body seems soft or hard, hot or cold, and so of the other qualities; this is to be attributed to motion. For sugar,salt and iron are made soft by being reduced to a fine powder or dust; water itself becomes hard when it is turned into ice by the deprivation of motion and the uniting of its particles when at rest. Whence it is established that hardness consist of a firm union of the particles at rest, softness in their separation, provided that they are fine enough and the softness [of the substance] will be the greater if motion be added to their fineness, a point which could (if it were worthwhile) be demonstrated at greater length. The same explanation applies to heat and cold, as is shown by the evolution of heat in varying degrees by increase of motion, and with its lessening [the heat] is reduced or removed. This we can clearly observe the boiling of a pot over the fire. And that the nature of fire itself lies in a very violent agitation of the particles we may readily infer from the fact that the greater part of its fuel is consumed in the flame, which is swept upwards by a violent motion and nimble vibration, and which divides the ashes of the fuel into very fine particles, which are themselves quite soft. By similar reasoning we may gather that the remaining tactile qualities may be accounted for from the nature of motion; but this would require a whole volume, not a letter.

However, as it is certain that touch is no more than a corporeal motion which in is contact with [the receptor], I can be confident that the same thing happens in taste, and that it varies in accordance with the variety of motions brought about in the subject, because taste is also a type of touch (as Aristotle also declares)[9] and the perceptions of it arise from the corporeal contact [of the receptive body] with objects or artefacts, and vary with the different motions within the object. For all food prepared in this or that manner by fire, since the nature of fire consists of a violent agitation of the particles, develops this or that savour and stimulates the taste in various ways. The same is equally true of drugs, both as to taste and as to strength for both are by the art of fire (whch as I have often said is nothing other than a modified movement of the particles) either increased or diminished or changed. And the same is true of the sun's warmth, which likewise by heat brings to ripeness all the fruits of the earth.

And as for odours, although these do not seem to arise from a similar contact with objects and instruments, that the sensation [of smell] is also caused by a corporeal motion is shown by the fact that smells are either borne to the nostrils by .firm wind, or are blown away. Whence it is plain that smells are particular particles floating in he air and so striking the organ of smell. This truth is more apparent in the process of fumigation, when the agitation due to fire causes the smells to be excited in greater quantity and bears then more strongly to our nostrils.

Sounds too are carried in the air; they are deflected by physical obstacles and impeded by contrary breezes. Whence they reveal their nature and indicate that they are certain special motions transmitted by the air. Their origin makes this still more evident. For sound is never heard save where there is the impact of some bodies; the same is made clear alike by both the calls of animals and the striking or plucking of musical instruments, as well as any loud noise or din. Echoes also point to this truth, since they are nothing more than sounds returned or reflected back from hollow bodies. What, I ask, can be reflected by a body which is not itself a body? Accordingly, sound is nothing more then a certain motion of the air, echoes are simply reverberations of this motion.

Indeed, just as we have learnt from echoes that sound is the motion of some physical body, so by similar reasoning we may conclude that whatever comes to our eyes from visible objects is nothing other than a motion of the same sort but obeying distinct physical laws. For those visible species (as they call them) are reflected by bodies, as all agree. However, nothing can be reflected from a body except another body, as we have posited before (and it seems obvious enough). Therefore it is universally true that Sensation is nothing more than the perception of corporeal motion.

This theorem is remarkably useful (as I will show throughout) in refuting those who dream of I know not what specific differences of matter, and feign certain groups of particles from which, setting aside all considerations of shape, motion, position and solidity, from its specific nature alone (immediate and immutable) they present all those various phenomena that the world offers to us. For it appears obvious from what has been stated already and many other considerations of the same kind that could be brought forward, both that all material species of this kind must very soon undergo change, and that they can only affect our senses by means of laws of shape, motion, size and position in the particles themselves.

And certainly as to the first, no one who feigns specific differences of this kind can deny that those things that seem (according to sense) very different from each other ought also to differ in the same species, unless he chooses to philosophize rashly and with no attention to reason. Now, I ask, can there be a greater difference to our senses than that between the stars and our opaque earth on which we tread? Which should be a great argument for demonstrating that the same matter can be associated with totally opposite species, if the Cartesian hypothesis about the alteration of stars into planets were not a bare hypothesis, but an acknowledged truth. For if so, it would be plain that any terrestrial body, however tough and solid, is made up of the most subtle of all materials (which originated from the fragments of the aetherial globules which are everywhere homogeneous, as appears from the uniform perception of light) and, though this cannot be accomplished by art, at any rate by course of nature, and the flow of times and fates, can be ground down or comminuted into the same tiny parts. Moreover, setting aside hypotheses, we may find support which is clearly of equal force in the observation of sunspots, which are undoubtedly formed from most subtle particles, more minute than [those of] the aether itself. But things nearer to hand show the same truth, even among solid bodies like tallow, wax or wood; for these transmute into most subtle and brilliant flames. In the same way grass and other plants turn into the blood, flesh bone and hides of cattle and sheep. For plants, if we may trust our senses, differ as greatly as is possible from the parts of animals, and hence (by the postulate laid down above) differ in species.

As for the alternative, making the distinct particles of matter differ in species as though the variety of phenomena were presented to our senses by this specific force only, setting aside modifications in motion, position, rest, shape and the rest, it seems to me thoroughly refuted by the above observations, from which it clearly appears: That everything stimulating our senses is a physical motion modified in some way or other as to size, shape and similar properties of the parts of matter. It is not worthwile to develop this point further here, after I have advised you that clear instances of this truth are furnished by the nature of light and colours. That light arises from motion appears from the fact that if it is made brighter or brought nearer a perceptible heat acompanies it. From the rainbow and the prism it is evident that colours are not certain specific qualities but a motion modified according to fixed laws,seeing that in neither the dewy drops of clouds nor in the prism itself (transparent as it is) is their any intrinsic colour, but light when it is reflected or refracted in various ways degenerates into that variety of colours. This is an indication, both that there are no specific colours in opaque bodies, and that light is reflected in this way and that from their surfaces according to the position of their particles; when this is changed, the colours change at once, as is evident in copper, iron and other metals the colour of whose surfaces is changed when they are attacked and fouled by corrosive fluids or the salt particles in the air. Assuredly, it must be that the position at least of the particles forming the surface of the copper, brass or iron is changed by the attack or onslaught (if not also the shape) and the shining globules of the aether are reflected in one manner by the [clean] copper (etc.) and in another manner by the tarnished metal.

For this reason, because it is plainly established that all phenomena in the world, in so far as they affect our senses, are effected by motion, it certainly appears to me that he observes the truest laws of philosophy who investigates the causes of these phenomena both accurately and deeply, so that he may be able to tell us precisely how all those motions, which affect our senses in various ways, are produced by modifications in the position, density or shape of the particles. This has indeed been done for us to a stupendous extent by Descartes, whose name is never too much praised by me.

7.[10] Furthermore, no one at all who has understood (even partially) the natures of matter and motion can fail to see clearly for himself that God has impressed a certain quantity of motion on matter (let us say, the same quantity The second that we now experience, from which various reason. phenomena have been produced. For it cannot be but that this measure of motion so shatters the matter and breaks it up into minute fragments that some may seem hard (as may happen when the degree of motion chances to be least), others soft, some cold to the touch, others hot, others quite fiery. And I believe that God of his own volition always allowed these two extremely simple principles of all things to revolve in their free and wandering circles, so long as they did not exceed the bounds suitable to the nature of things, and thus their violence was always curbed by a certain divine power and law, so that thereby the contemplation of the natural world should be made the more delightful to the human mind. For I could not consider anyone to be a philosopher if, being fully apprised of his own intention and purpose, he does not acknowledge that he searches into the effective physical causes of things, and that they if possible are deduced in a long chain and linked together by a necessary bond If indeed God should at every point carefully resist the natural and in themselves necessary laws of physical motion by means of some higher power, nothing of that [law-like] character could ever be discovered: No efficient cause could be investigated unless it is immaterial and to us wholly unintelligible, such as the substantial forms of the Peripatetics, which pervade individual things under almost the same concept and name, and which tell us nothing more than or own weakness and inadequacy; for when we are so bold as to ask of air, water, fire and so on what they are and whence they come, [the Peripatetics] reply with raised eyebrows: Fire and water are water and fire because certain substantial forms which constitute fire and water crept out of the heart of matter in I know not what material parts and thereby presented these two elements to the world. Away with these feeble and needless lamentations by which all the industry of the human mind is dulled and repressed, and all its acuity and wisdom are blunted and rendered futile! Yet God did not propose so dull an object for our natural contemplation; but he prudently permitted only so much in the laws of matter and motion as would incite us to the investigation of the causes of things in nature, and to outlining them with all the pleasure of discovery. Thus it is unnecessary to fly at every point to that blind refuge of idleness and ignorance, internal [ forsooth!) substantial forms. For what man who called himself a philosopher, when asked about the phases of the moon, or about eclipses of either sun or moon, would reply that all arise from the internal principles of the sun and moon and their essential forms, which cause the sun and moon to be deprived of light at certain times and the moon to be visible in this or that phase at stated times, thus passing over all the known mathematical and natural reasoning [on these matters]. Who, I ask among the tribe of philosophers making so cold and inept a reply would not be heard with shouts of laughter? (If the question should be about the stations, directions and retrogradations of the planetary motions, what would this wretched little philosopher make of it? For he would not be able to turn to Ptolemy's hypothesis because it abounds in very obvious contradictions, as everyone knows who has the first smattering of astronomy. Next comes the Tychonic system, where all the planets perform their rotations in the free aether; and then we may ask our friend why it is that Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, after hesitating on their march in the order of the signs, suddenly come to a halt as though transfixed in silent contemplation; and afterwards (as though recalling something forgotten) unexpectedly retrace their steps. No doubt this phenomenon would strike the same chord, and he would say that this was brought about by the internal forms of the planets which they had received from God at the creation, and that all their antics of forward motion, stations and retrogressions were natural to them from their original principles, just as is the case with the downward fall of stones and the upward motion of fire. What a remarkable answer, such that the respondent may be in no danger of showing ignorance or indolence! So dismissing this trifler of triflers, let us find out whether this question can be satisfactorily answered from the known and stated laws of motion, as Descartes has correctly stated them, as common to both nature and mechanical arts.

It is certain from its phases that Venus makes its circuits both on this side of the sun and beyond it, and the same reasoning applies to Mercury. Mars, however, like Jupiter and Saturn, revolves around the sun, as no one has yet doubted. That five planets come and go round the sun is therefore obvious. It remains, however, to discover next whether they move by cutting a path through the aetherial matter, or whether they are borne round by the motion of the aether itself. That the former cannot be true appears from the fact that the resistance of the heavens would impede the movement of such swiftly-moving planets and they would lose their motion in a short time to the fluid matter of the aether. It remains therefore that the planets are carried round by the motion of the aether itself, and that all the celestial matter in which they float gyrates round the sun like a vortex. Finally, let us find out what happens to the earth, which we must place within the bounds of this vortex. Can it remain at rest within this swift flow, or will it be moved? But by what hooks, ropes or anchors can it be held fast in this deep sea? Let us suppose it to be made fast and immobile by some supernatural and immaterial force. Good God! This will drive a coach and horses through the most sacred and acknowledged laws of nature! For the matter constituting this very swift celestial torrent will so bear down on the surface of the earth with its violence that animals, trees, towers and surely all buildings must be overthrown by it and wrenched away with it, indeed the whole earth must be stripped bare; smashing everything down at least to the metallic regions; it would bear away the earth's parts, carrying them away with itself as if it were a monstroud shipwreck in this vast ocean of the aether. Therefore the earth ought to be allowed, in accordance with Nature's laws of motion to be borne round the sun while floating quietly in the aether as the other planets do.

And if you should be concerned for the moon, as it is certain that it is perpetually circumnavigating the earth month by month as if it were the earth's dutiful maidservant, and as this could only be brought about by a vortex, as was demonstrated just now, it must be the case that the moon is carried round the earth by its own special vortex. And because the earth sits at the centre of this vortex and all its empty spaces or 'pores' are filled by the celestial matter that is revolving in this particular vortex, the laws of nature insist that the earth itself is forced to turn on its own axis by the strength of this vortex. In short, I say that it is impossible, if we consider the laws of physical motion, that the earth should not be transported with both a daily and an annual motion, just as Pythagoras, the wisest of the pagans, taught; and his teaching was revived by Nicholas Copernicus within the last century or two.

You see how, from clear and very simple principles, we are drawn almost contrary to our wishes to the same conclusion (if that can be called an hypothesis which is of necessity a part of the real fabric of nature), by positing which (not as possible or probable arguments and causes but as those which are necessary and inevitable) almost all the phenomena that the wits of astronomers have distorted for so many centuries are unfolded and made plain. For it is not more necessary that our bodies in sunlight should project a shadow than that all the known phenomena of the planets, which we shall briefly recite in order, should flow from this system of Pythagoras which we have demonstrated.

Of this kind are the motions in their epicycles of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury and Venus; which motion, however, is lacking to the sun.

That these said five planets are subject in their epicycles to stations and retrogradations, motions which have no place in the moon's epicycle.

That the circuits of the epicycles of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars have the same ratio to the [apparent] motion of the sun, so that they are always completed in the same space of time that elapses beween one conjunction of each with the sun and the next; and that at each of these conjunctions with the sun they are found in the apogees of their epicycles, whereas when they are in opposition they are found in the perigee of each [epicycle].

Moreover, that the periods of the epicycle of Saturn will be swifter than [those] of Jupiter, and Jupiter's quicker than that of Mars; the retrogradations of Mars are greater than those , of Jupiter which in turn are greater than those of Saturn.

Further, that Venus and Mercury are never very distant from the sun, and that the centres of the epicycles of both planets seem [Greek] isodroma [of the same speed] as the sun.

Lastly, the moon's nodes are movable and eclipses of the sun and moon occur in any sign of the zodiac whatever. To say nothing of the phenomena arising from the daily motion of the earth: for the stars and all the planets, though separated by immense spaces from the earth and from each other, circle the earth in the space of twenty-four hours with an ineffable velocity and force pursuing a contrary direction [to that of the Signs].

Of all these phenomena, not to say several others, the Pythagorean hypothesis offers evident and necessary causes of which no one but the stupid or insane need doubt, unless God should wish to conceive of deliberately upsetting the laws of nature where there is no occasion; that this is a stupid fiction we have sufficiently demonstrated above. We may be as certain that the Pythagorean hypothesis is true, as that the leaves falling from a tree into a stream are borne along in the direction of its flow, not contrary to it.

Now at last you may see, Sir, how beautiful and pleasing to the human intelligence is that way of philosophizing drawn from the necessary and changeless laws of nature, and since Descartes generally surpasses the rest of mortal men in this philosophy by an infinite number of leagues:

Who exceeded the intelligence of the human race And shone brighter than all, as the aetherial Sun extinguishes the stars[11]; you should be little surprised that I ordinarily indulge myself with the frequent study of his writings.

8. In truth, though I am very confident that a fair number of the phenomena of nature may be demonstrated from mechanical laws,[12] I have no less a confidence that not every one of them, perhaps not one in a thousand, can be explained in this way. For, first, consider merely that God stirred up and put in motion some certain quantity of matter thus making the whole frame of the world, with plants and animals and above all human beings, without exception; the creation of the universe is to be attributed only to the divine and omnipotent grace of God, not to say his knowledge. Unless one should think that no little knowledge was required in the plan for the creation of a material universe that should emerge as the unique product of necessary mechanical laws in this very beautiful form of things, which otherwise would require innumerable corrections and putting right of aberrant motions.

Then again, these laws of motion are so simple and (as it were) so clearly manifest that it seems quite incredible that this wonderful variety of things could possibly arise from them. For what could be more obvious of motion than that it should continue in a straight line, or at least endeavour so to do? Or that when a part of matter strikes another part, it should bear away that other with itself, communicating a part of its motion to it? And lastly that it [matter] should be divisible into a variety of minute parts distinct in size, shape and position? Accordingly, divide if you please any hard body and beat it into powder with a pestle, next examine individual dust particles with a microscope. You will surely see such particles as no different from coarser fragments, except that they are far smaller still; and particles of the first and second elements are no different from this very fine dust, except in being far more minute still; judge whether the beautiful form of things could arise from the chance encounters, impacts and coalitions of these mingled fragments, by what artifices they colour either the wings of butterflies or the tails of peacocks. To say nothing of the wisdom of the divine mind in shaping the internal parts of all animals, where nothing inappropriate occurs but every detail is perfected with so precise an art that we must allow that some principle far more holy than physical matter and motion has watched over this department [of the creation]. For although we might admit -- though I myself would in no way yield this point - that certain humble animalculae might be generated in this [material] manner, yet it is altogether impossible that every type of animal should be generated in this way, and that none of them should be malformed when produced by so chancy and haphazard a process. This I have demonstrated in my tract against Atheists.

To argue on this account that because pure material motion can exhibit certain phenomena everything may be generated by the same process is (it seems to me) most pitiful [Greek] hulolatreia [hylozoism, pantheism], that is, a most ridiculous and superstitious adoration and worship of some inert matter, not legitimate philosophical reasoning. As I was always pretty confident on this point, I now arise from the reading of Descartes fully persuaded as to everything. For I did not doubt that this incomparable philosopher excelled in pushing mechanical reasoning about things as far as it is possible for human wit to go. Yet I understood that often enough he went too far in those great promises of his about the eternal certainty of conclusions drawn from the necessary laws of mechanics, and that in giving the reasons for the more elementary and general phenomena of nature he did not transgress beyond those limits. For what would we have made of him if he had attempted to demonstrate the reproduction of human bodies or those of any animal from mechanical principles alone?

If Descartes should stumble, or if he should take a firm stride, in either case the spectacle is most agreeable to me. For if he strides firmly, by his step I encounter a necessary and purely natural speculation. If he stumbles, I can profit from this also. For this too contributes not a little to the certainty of metaphysical truth, and to the demonstration of the absolute distinction of essence from matter. For if phenomena are found in a world of this kind, the production of which exceeds the laws of matter, we must of necessity introduce some immaterial and incorporeal principle such as that commonly called spirit. No one is unaware that the philosophasters of this century, farouche and ancient as they are, have exclaimed in horror at his word, like children frightened by a ghost.

9.[13] But it is no injury to Descartes's wonderful intellect if every argument throughout his all-embracing philosophy does not cohere within the linkage of mechanism and necessity, so that everything can be shown to form one eternal and consistent chain; yet it must be confessed that not a few little golden linkages of this kind , skilfully forged, can found there. From all of these, not held together and bound by the bare laws of matter, but as it were brought together and forged by some more divine power, some fine and fairly secure chains of all the conclusions may be formed. For example: although we cannot from the laws of mechanics be certain that those screwed particles [which Descartes invokes] are formed only by the twisting of the vortex, just as we said before, we may easily suppose, I repeat, (unless carried away by a certain [Greek] hulomania [wild .madness]) and become crazy to the point of boldly asserting that absolutely all the phenomena of the universe can arise from physical motion, not excepting from this proviso living species, not even animals, we may easily suppose, I repeat, that a certain force analogous to that virtue by which the foetuses of animals are formed by an admirable artifice (either in the mother's womb or in the matrix of the common earth, parent of all things), a virtue that rules in the heavens just as it does on earth, that is to say the Divine Providence which is excluded from no place or space, but is everywhere ready (I warrant) so to moderate the weakened and uprooted motions of matter that nothing is anywhere either done or omitted that does not contribute either to the usefulness or to the elegance of the universe: and from this virtue (or soul, if with Descartes you prefer this word, or spirit) carefully watching over all things in all places and displaying its principal effects in the most subtle and fluid parts of matter from which were in due time formed those screw- like particles (without which the parallelism of the earth's axis, the turning-points of the seasons, navigation and commerce between nations could not exist).

Let the formation of these particles be granted, or let all those other matters handled by this outstanding philosopher, including his very rich demonstrations of the magnetic virtues, be postulated, they do agree wonderfully with each other. Although I do not wish to ackowledge as true, even here, the mechanical universe that is everywhere linked together by necessity, as I have said before. But on the other hand, to be brief, I rather suspect that in the production of these phenomena and many others, where a great variety of shapes in the particles contributes to some notable utility or elegance, the crude violence of matter and its unheeding propensities and tendencies are always governed or perfected by that divine virtue [of Providence]. For as to rainbows and haloes and other things of that kind that have their own elegance, they arise from the simplest of causes; and that variety of particles of which we have spoken is in no way involved in them. Much more deserving of admiration is that other [phenomenon of colour] which seems to resemble the eye or [the flame of] a lighted lamp, the peacock's feather. Whose workmanship seems to consist of so many and such agreeable colours now vanishing, now re-appearing, so skilfully modulated in form is its diversely coloured ellipse; that so laborious an effect should attributed to the mindless motion of matter or to chance rather than to wisdom seems to me the height of stupidity or madness. '

Accordingly, that same chain of events that is found in Descartes I too can safely acknowledge, but I do not everywhere [frame] the same logical connections between these events. For it is needful immediately to introduce into the question the ruling Divine Providence which generates the universe and all things in it.

10.[14] Although I do hold it as very certain that Descartes does not supply that which no mortal man could supply, namely the the deduction of the causes of all natural phenomena in one continuous set of [propositions] from beginning to end, embracing no agent beyond what is mechanical and absolutely corporeal, the recognition of the effect of which, I.think, is doubtless taken to be the pure science of nature: yet this at least he has effected with precision (to the immense satisfaction and convenience of the race of philosophers), that we clearly understand the immediate and effective causes of almost all the sensible problems of which he treats, and their like, [to be] always purely corporeal. This is clearly a difficult task and one that no one besides himself has undertaken save to his own cost.

11.[15] But to hide nothing from you, there remains one special reason that to my mind renders the Cartesian philosophy very pleasing, though this may perhaps seem paradoxical to others. This is its conformity with the Mosaic account of the creation of the world. Now you speak wonders, you will say. But believe me, it is exceedingly verisimilitudinous. For, as you know, there is a common tale that Pythagoras modelled his own knowledge upon that of the Jews. Moreover, in almost every century there have been those who have striven to apply these principles of philosophy or those to the Mosaic text, with what success I leave others to judge rather than myself. Therefore it is the universal opinion that some philosophical meaning is to be found therein: I add, one worthy of Moses and of God. For it is to be believed that Moses, that intimate friend of the most wise Deity, hid no mean or puerile matter under the cover of that most holy text but something of such a scale, so august and so brilliant that it was deservedly held in awe and as a matter not to be exposed to vulgar eyes. Yet Moses and his successors, I mean the prophets and the priests, freely communicated these matters to the wisest and most just men both of their own and of other nations.

This Cabbala received by the Jews and rendered complex by the labour of every day was much admired by Pythagoras; he did not lay these arcana before the multitude though perhaps his disciples did not refuse to talk about them sometimes even among the uninitiated, though hiding its meaning under symbolic numbers. Accordingly, keeping the nub of the matter to themselves, the disciples scattered some scraps of superficial matter among the [Greek] amuetos [profane people], some of whom received it with laughter, others with annoyance, others with a certain veneration. Thus they committed to writing very many of the truly Pythagorean numbers and names and virtues. But you ask: what is the point of all this? I will tell you briefly. It really seems to me that by means of these superficial fragments I have recovered the very heart of the matter. For while I was seriously meditating upon the meaning of the Mosaic [account of the] creation, while my eyes were turned now to the truest principles of all philosophy (to the best of my judgement), now to the [Mosaic] text itself, in truth I could come across nothing that agreed so exactly with Moses's pages as does the philosophy of Descartes.

I understood that his three elements were contained in them, not only from their number but from their natures plainly to be discerned. I also observed that the earth revolves around the sun, and that it with the rest of its planets was of such a nature as if they had formerly been suns; lastly, that the earth, the moon and the other stars of the universe were generated from the celestial matter. All these things I have demonstrated (to the best of my small ability in Hebrew) in the Defence of my Philosophical Cabbala to agree so well with the Mosaic text that there is no one, even though he should be as certain of the truth of Descartes's philosophy as many profess themselves to be of the philosophy of Aristotle, but that he may at once acknowledge me to have acted as a most true and faithful interpreter. Because if afterwards he should have noticed how exactly those things to which I have devoted my days agree in both names and properties with the Pythagorean numbers, he will certainly rejoice exultingly at finding a new argument -- not of the least force -- for believing the Cartesian philosophy to be true, and he will be astonished to find this most laborious discovery of the human mind so clearly proved by a divine calculus. I do not, however, trust excessively in this kind of demonstration. I would prefer to call it a conjecture, and I have postulated nothing more. But I assign the whole affair to the mature judgement of the wisest of men.

12.[16] As for those whispers and rumours which you say are spread abroad about Descartes, as someone who does not think of God correctly, I shall not spend time on them. For I have known that the most liberal and greatest of thinkers are almost always fated to be accused of atheism by the semi-learned. Nor will I conceal the fact that a few little matters are to be found in his writings which could be too easily twisted by ignorance or envy in that sense; of these there are three major types; viz.

13.[17] First: he embraces the contradiction that there is no space or extension which is not material; yet I remember that the Schoolmen themselves teach this unwholesome doctrine. Second, he holds that all natural phenomena can be demonstrated from the mechanical laws of the motion of matter. Lastly, he holds that the ends of phenomena are not to be investigated by the mind of man.

These three [propositions] they look upon with so distorted a glance and so sly a wink, as if God and Providence were in serious danger of being driven out of the world by them. But really nothing is to be feared from them in either thought or action. To that first criticism I have fully and firmly replied in my letters to Descartes, it seems to me. Of the second criticism the second part of my tract against atheists is a perpetual and irrefutable confutation. But I have contrived a second reply. Accordingly, I argue that the two former [errors] arise not from some atheistical disease but, as I gave notice above [Sections 2 and 5], only from some unrestrained longing to settle everything with mathematical certainty; the third opinion was held because his concern for prudence was too great. It is not needful to linger longer on these matters, since you can from what was said before [Sections 2 and 3] construct a full answer.

14.[18] I suspect that what you said in continuation is of all these [points] the most unjust [to Descartes] and the most insulting: that some grumble because he has ceased to conern himself with that course which he undertook, of demontrating the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. For as to the existence of God, that first argument which he addresses is not only the best of all that human reason can devise, but in truth is an absolute and most perfect demonstration and that of which Descartes was the most confident as may be seen somewhere in his Metaphysical Refutations. Whence it plain that he reinforced this first one with the powerful support of those two others (which offer less firm conclusions but do not lack their own probability and acuity), lest this first one should appear to stand by itself.

15.[19] However,in demonstrating the immortality of the soul almost no arrow missed its target, and since he so nearly attained his own goal I am quite unable to doubt that he always believed that he had attained it. To this confidence further strength was added by that misfortune of his mind (ingenii sui fatum) which so led him to concentrate upon the mechanical powers of matter that he could think attained his goal that of nothing but local motion, position, shape and such-like things; whence he was firmly confident that thinking in the whole heaven was different from these and must be attributed to other powers of some different substance.

16.[20] Further evidence of his having philosophised seriously on the immortality of the soul is provided by his own pious and noble addresses of joy to his soul, a little before his death, in which he urged it to suffer illness with patience and to await with joy its liberation from this imprisoning body.

17.[21] To all which it may be added on this subject of the existence of God and the state of the soul (if the soul should not exist, Descartes yet believed in this substance distinct from matter) that many passages occur in his writings (where, however, the circumstances themselves declare that he pursued the matter without any artifice or disguise) in which Descartes may be understood manifestly to contradict himself; of this kind are:

1. [The proposition] that matter is everywhere the same and perfectly homogeneous;

2.[That] from this we are certain that we do not mistake when we perceive clearly and distinctly; that we are not born by chance but created by a most benign Deity.

3. Substance is that which exists of its own self, and hence God and the universe do not agree as words of one meaning, while human minds and matter do agree as words of one meaning.

4. The intelligent thinking substance constitutes an extension of body. And just as local motion, position, shape are modes of the body, so imagination, memory, will, are modes of thinking substance.

5.Imagination is two fold, corporeal and incorporeal; by means of the brain it surpasses our minds, and this with- out the latter's assistance.

6. We excel in possessing free will; true nobility consists of its lawful use. _U 7

7. We have visual perception of objects by means of a certain image, quite small, but extended in various directions and impressed on the conarion.

8. In our minds there are certain common notions and ideas of things not taken from the senses but innate in it.

9. Lastly, by some other process which is quite different we conceive of magnitudes and shapes; by another pain, colour and the like.

All these matters are so closely bound up with, on the one hand, the existence of God and on the other with the real distinction of the soul from the body that unless he were raving Descartes must have embraced both concepts with his whole intellect.

For as to the first, it is manifest from common sense that properties which are the same in degree and kind must qualify simple substances of the same type. Therefore, just as we are certain that the ratio of the diameter to the circumference is everywhere the same for all circles of any size; so we may be sure that the properties of any part of matter are the same. For this reason should matter be capable of moving directly and continually by its own nature, where nothing prevents this, then all matter (supposing nothing prevents it) should be moved with the same degree of motion. Whence it is necessary that the earth and the rest of the planets should become fluid and like the subtle and liquid matter of the air or aether; or rather should never coalesce into so dense a consistency [as it possesses]. It is plain then that matter is of itself motionless, as that most far-sighted philosopher openly admitted in his letters to me. Whence it is impossible that he should not heartily acknowledge that God is the omnipotent mover of matter; and further that there is a real distinction between the body and our soul, unless everything material possesses sensation, which is a very absurd idea unworthy of so great a philosopher.

Then he attaches so great importance to that second principle [above] that he affirms it to be the main foundation of that degree of certainty that he believes himself to possess with respect to all his demonstrations of natural phenomena, as you may see in the Principia Philosophiae, Part 4, Article 206.

However, if you have reflected properly on this matter and have duly observed that distinct and sober style of writing that he employs (Part I, Articles 51, 52, 53, 54) you will not suspect that the third and fourth theorems were written playfully or as a joke, but in good faith; especially if you have in addition reflected that it is not at all probable that he would have wished to place the summary of his metaphysics before the Principia Philosophiae, unless he had felt that the whole was bound together by a single thread (as it were), and that most tightly and strongly.

Fifthly, it is plainly a Platonic judgement that philosophy is the most religious of all [studies]. And the four remaining [points] are almost of the same kind and clearly indicate that there dwells within us something far excelling and far more divine than matter.

18.[22] I might here heap up many things in his letters scattered here and there, of which I am inclined to think it worth while to rehearse several to you, so that thence you may perceive that Descartes is everywhere consistent and of one mind. Of regarding the this type are:

1. The soul sees, not the eyes.

2. The soul from its union with the body sees things as bigger [and] better than they really are.

3. In a particular way, the freedom of our will puts us on a level with God. Epistle 1 to the Queen of Sweden.

4. It is better to lose your life than your reason, since philosophy alone (although the last resort is trust in written materials) nourishes in us faith in a higher state after death, and causes our soul to foresee that nothing is more burdensone than to be bound to such a body [as ours], restricting its liberty.

5. There are two kinds of pleasure, those respecting the soul alone, and others respecting our human nature, that is, the soul as it is united with the body. The former are like our soul itself, immortal; the latter are transitory and fleeting.

6. There are three chief necessities to be comprehended for the life of the blessed; the existence of God, the immortality of the soul and the immensity of the Universe. See the sixth letter to the Princess Elizabeth.

7. When the soul attentively considers things that are both imaginable and intelligible, the soul is marked by a new impression; and with respect to the soul this is an active rather than a passive event; and this is properly to be called Imagination.

8. God's providence embraces all things both large and small. Epistle 8 to the same.

9. Love is twofold, either intellectual or corporeal; hence it is properly passive and hence it is fitting for the soul, even after it has left the body.

10. God is a Spirit or a thinking Being of infinite perfection, and our soul is, as it were, a certain imperfect image of Him. To Pierre Chanut, Letter 35.

11. Man is not to be understood from his body. His mind is hampered by his body; the latter clearly cannot take pleasure in abstract intellectual matters but only obstructs that pleasure. To Henri Regius, Letter 8l.

12. Activity and passivity in all physical bodies resides only in local motion; these terms can, however, be extended to the immaterial realm, when anything analogous to motion in it is under consideration; and thus Will in the mind can be called active and intellect or vision passive. To the same, Letter 83.

13. The perception of universals does not appertain to the imagination, but only to the intellect, which of itself infers the plurality from the individual cases. To the same, Letter 88.

There remain in the letters as well as in the Treatise on the Passions many other points relevant to this matter, which I willingly pass over lest their number should seem infinite. I add only that it is is no way likely that so pure and clean a mind, so full of modesty, kindness and moral integrity should fall into so filthy a hole or foul pit.

19.[23] There remains nothing else, so far as I know, on account of which Descartes might be accused of atheism, unless it is that he deservedly dared to excel in the whole of philosophy. For there is a certain fanatic kind of suspected of person, with whom the more knowledgeable and wise a philosopher is with respect to nature, so much more they think him devoid of religion; as if it were the case that a person is more notable for his worship of God, as his ignorance and stupidity are the greater. People once put about the fiction that the Jews worshipped a statue with an ass's head thinking, in this way to cover them with shame. The like insult is heaped on God, it seems to me, by those who imagine that true worship comes from none but the donkey-headed. Empty-headedness and ignorance are in no way linked with the worship of God but only an innocence as pure as any Snow or light.

20.[24] The other objections which you say are made over and over again are easier to bear with, but no less absurd; that the incomparable philosopher was surely out of his mind and carried away by his own lightheadness. I believe these inept pygmies to have alluded to the theory of vortices. A fine joke, worthy of Descartes's detractors! But they seriously insist that so many vague, ill-considered and far-fetched contrivances could occur in no man's mind unless that mind was impaired. For what sober, thinking man is there, they ask, who has ever dared to undertake to demonstrate the paths of the sun, stars and planets? To define in detail by what shapes and motions of matter light and the separate colours are formed? Or to affirm, lastly, that this hard and opaque earth, upon which we tread, was at some time a shining star? Truly I am in good hopes that I can prove that not Democritus but the populace was mad; no great insanity is to be attributed to Descartes because he devised such wonderful paradoxes, but rather those should be held foolish and dull who, in pursuing similar enquiries, did not hit upon them.

21.[25] Descartes thought of nothing in all these matters that was not in part from new and accurate observations [made] and conclusions [drawn] during the present or recent centuries, reflected upon by a mind well fitted for thinking. For various philosophers and astronomers, though workers at a lower level, had already provided the raw materials and prepared the substance for this sublime and truly architectonic genius.

Tycho [Brahe] had pulled from the sky its solid orbs and introduced a fluid aether into the whole of this space. The more noble astronomers and philosophers for the most part approved of the ancient doctrine of the motion of the earth renewed by Copernicus and with one voice placed the earth in the company of the planets (even embracing not only the idea of the earth's turning about the sun but of its reflecting light to the moon, at new moon and during eclipses). Galileo laid it down that the earth is a fixed star, and that the fixed stars are so many suns; and with his telescope disclosed Jupiter with its four satellites circling about it, like so many little moons crowding round. [Christoph] Scheiner, in an enormous volume, treated of a full and perfect theory of sunspots and their generation, dissipation and motion across the sun. Many have observed certain of the fixed stars which are seen now as larger, now smaller, or even to disappear and re-appear. Comets comparable to the earth in size, or even greater, run to and fro through the planetary spaces, as Tycho also demonstrated from very sound evidence. Lastly [William] Gilbert not only accounted for the magnetic power with great mwwwfi'mlmwsa:mdmw but also (to crown all) confirmed that the earth itself is a huge magnet, using very clear arguments.

22.[26] Let us, I beg, consider how Descartes found principles (neither vague nor far-fetched) which are obvious and are most exactly congruent with the aforesaid observations of the most excellent philosophers. Particularly we may note that the foundations of his philosophy seem to reside in a notion unwillingly wrested from Tycho by the perigee of Mars and the phases of Venus, namely that the heavens are filled with fluid matter. For Descartes very well understood what this fluid is and that it could not exist unless matter were broken down into the most minute particles, penetrating into all parts of space with the most vehement motion and in violent agitation in every direction; of these particles the greater number (whatever remains over from the wearing down caused by the constant agitation and friction) cannot but become spherical in the course of time; and the [nearly] triangular spaces between them will be filled up with [other] particles of matter, not much smaller, which are worn off in the production of the spherical ones. And lastly these fragments would not be so well fitted to the triangular spaces between the round ones unless their number was greater than that required to fill up these spaces, so that those spherical particles (which he calls globules) can float the more freely in that most subtle of all forms of matter.

23. Further, as it is agreed by all that the heavens are not only fluid but that the earth and planets are borne around in this celestial fluid, and as it is clearly contrary to the laws of nature that either the earth or the planets should be carried round the sun except by the real motion of the celestial matter, it plainly appeared to Descartes that the immense mass of celestial matter within which the earth and the planets are found must necessarily be carried around the sun.[27] Of this further evidence might be the rotation of the sun upon its own axis, just like a vortex in water carrying round at its edge blades of grass and leaves which serves as an example or humble instance of such rotation.

24.[28] Lastly, he could not fail to show how from this circulation of celestial matter around the sun which we have examined already, the sun itself was generated long ago, using that obvious experiment of a lead [ball] swung around in a sling. He had therefore forced rotation. to conclude that while the more solid parts of the vortex, that is the aetherial globules, were receding from the centre, the most subtle matter (which we just now described as a little over-large in quantity) would take their place, occupying all that volume where we now behold the sun; or, if you prefer, that space filled in this way by that most subtle matter is nothing else but that very body which we perceive as the sun. And when he had noticed how great an affinity there was between the sun and the fixed stars, such as both being luminous, it was an easy step to number our sun among the fixed stars (following the example of Galileo), to attribute the same origin to both, and so to partition all the matter of the visible universe, according to the number of the stars, into an almost infinite number of vortices.

25.[29] When these problems were overcome, he mastered the inner nature of the light common to both sun and stars: it must reside in the fact that the celestial globules are pressed towards our eyes, partly by their own motion and partly by that of the most subtle matter. Of this he could be very certain because sensation is nothing other than the motion of some body,[30] modified according to certain laws and transmitted from the object to the [perceptive] organ, a proposition that was clear to him and equally to others, unless they are plain stupid. With the nature of light thus clearly understood, colours also revealed themselves. It was very simple for him to reason that if light is the perception of motion transmitted through these globules, variations in perception would arise from variations in this motion. However, no variation appeared so easy and obvious as [that] in the ratio of the circular motion of the globules to their rectilinear motion; he himself worked this out thoroughly from an experiment with the prism and demonstrated it so firmly and ingeniously that he left hardly any room for doubt in future times of the certainty of this theorem.

26.[31] And as regards that last and greatest paradox of all, that is, the proposition that this earth which we tread with our feet and touch with our hands was at some time a sun or a fixed star, surely many [considerations] not only invited him think so, but almost compelled him to think so. For all philosophers except some of a lower court perhaps, boldly profess that the earth is a planet. The satellites of Jupiter plainly indicate that Jupiter, like the sun (which is now girdled by so many planets) once reigned from a brilliant throne and that its faithful companions shone round this shining body, not deserting it when it was deprived of its radiation. Whence may arise a reasonable suspicion that in the course of centuries suns and fixed stars may change into planets. How this might come about he learned from sunspots, sometimes covering its face so that its heat is barely enough to ripen crops and causing nervous mortals to fear the imminent end of the world. A most tragic instance of this was recorded by Virgil in his Georgics:

When the bright Lord was tinged with dark rust,

And the ungodly generation feared eternal night.

Further, that as a matter of fact the sun and stars may sometimes be so obscured and incrusted with spots that they are deprived of all light, and that these [incrustations] may harden into multiple strata he could readily predict from those new stars in Cassiopea and Cygnus which suddenly and unexpectedly shine forth brightly but afterwards grow dim and vanish. With which in addition you may link one of the Pleiades which has disappeared from the [ancient] seven stars.

With equal facility he inferred from the nature of vortices, in which he was thoroughly versed, what should afterwards happen to [celestial] spheres of this kind, encrusted over and opaque. He had an exact understanding of how the extinct star would enfeeble and weaken its vortex, and how it must thence happen that this vortex should be robbed and destroyed by neighbouring vortices, the encrusted star being soon captured by the most powerful of these neighbours; but in proportion to the degree of its solidity it may either escape its captor's grasp, or otherwise descend so close to the centre [of the neighbouring vortex] that it will be whirled round the sun (or star) at the centre of it.

This conjecture is rendered more probable by the fact that the planets revolve around our sun at various distances in proportion to their solidity, especially Jupiter, Saturn and the earth (their possession of satellite moons hinting that they were once suns or stars), as also the passage of comets wandering through the outer reaches of our own solar vortex. He was ready to guess from the sizes and distances of comets that they are stars crusted over, or roving planets, seeking for a fixed station in a vortex and endeavouring to descend to our planetary region. What now is to be made of this by a man both wise and . unprejudiced? How should he prevent himself being enticed by so much appealing language and so many plausible explanations?

27. Yet we have not come to the heart of the matter. Phenomena have for a long time hinted that all the planets were once suns: When this planet of ours (the earth, I mean) was examined closely it was actually interpreted as being a magnet according to the theory of William Gilbert;[32] yet this could not be unless it were covered by a hard layer of a ferrous nature; the chief force of the magnet seemed particularly to reside in this, that certain imperceptible particles were formed of such a shape that those entering one pole of a magnet could not also enter at the other (this was clear to him from both the mutual repulsion of like poles if pushed together and from the vortex pattern of magnetised iron filings); further, these particles must be so subtle that they can penetrate wood, glass, gold and any other body, however solid. And the flow of these particles from the sky in the direction of the earth's poles will have shown him the same thing, as did the fact of the greatest strength and abundance of these particles being found near the axes of the celestial vortices, and also both their manner of formation and their size when formed. For they must be formed when the matter of the first element is still rather soft, but beginning to become more dense because of the slower motion of the vortex, (which, of course, happens near the axis of the vortex, particularly at the poles), being formed indeed, whenever the first element particles wander far from the poles of the vortices (because these are the bigger ones and more sluggish than other particles of the first element) and are again thrust back towards the axes of the vortices; since, I say, he so clearly perceived these things it would have been strange if Descartes had not been, not so much induced, as compelled to acknowledge to himself that the earth had formerly been on the axis of some vortex, and there acquired its magnetism as though in the place best fitted for that purpose.

28.[33]But to go back to the rest of the heads of the arguments: Even greater still was the necessity for him to settle the universal matter of the visible world and especially that which he had divided with so great judgement into vortices which should consist of two elements only, that is to say the very subtle matter and the globules. Now the very shape and smoothness of the spherical globules taught him that they could never coalesce, whereas it appeared clearly from those spots so frequently observed on the sun that the very subtle matter could readily do so. In considering the laws of nature in relation to the immense quantity of this matter, which composes the huge mass of the earth besides what lies at the centre of some other vortices, [the problem] seemed quite impossible [of resolution].

Nor could he escape the force of this argument by feigning those very hard magnetic strata of the earth to be, in fact, not enveloping layers but already [present as] the interior core of the earth, of its own nature a hard and solid part of matter, that is, never yet divided into fine particles by that universal motion which assaults everything. Indeed this fiction is contradicted both by the earth's remaining with the sun and its magnetism. For if it were so very solid it would at once break away from the vortex and, hurled into another, it would escape immediately from that also; and thus it would forever wander from vortex to vortex and it would enter none, without at once leaving it, except by Cato's law. But it could in no way become a magnet. For how could those slender magnetic particles hollow out pores for themselves in so solid a body?

29.[34] It therefore seemed very clear to him that the interior layers of the earth were at some time soft, that is, they had coalesced from certain minute particles, nay more, from the most minute of all. This extreme fineness of the magnetic particles he gathered from experiments he had witnessed, from which he understood plainly that no body coagulated from particles larger than those of the first element was capable of receiving passages made by so fine and delicate a mechanism. For otherwise the intervals would be too wide and the particles themselves too hard and perhaps not broad enough to be bored out to form those twisted passages; and all matter consisting of a thicker texture than that which is finest of all would be far more unsuitable for receiving those most minute holes hollowed out by a very special technique than the robust oak or ash of receiving portraits of the Caesars of such small size as those customarily carved on precious stones. In the same way he demonstrated to his own satisfaction that the magnetic layers of the earth must be made of the first element. Since so great a quantity as would suffice for bringing the earth into existence cannot be found outside the centre of the vortex it was necessary that the first material of the earth should be collected on the axis of some vortex, so that in this manner a planet could well become the earth and a magnet after it had ceased to be a sun or star. 30.[35] Accordingly, if Descartes was mad it must be said that there was rationality in his madness. But he was not himself so mad, and neither was any one of his followers so far as I know, that he posited anything more (from very full evidence) than that the nature of things is so put together as if this earth which we inhabit were formerly a fixed star. You see Descartes's character, how sound and prudent he was, how cautious and modest.

31.[36] But if this most noble philosopher was culpable on any point, I judge him chiefly worthy of censure because he indulged his mathematical and mechanical genius to excess in explaining the phenomena of nature. Meanwhile, I acknowledge the happiness of the greatest intellects, that even their faults of character and mistakes have a certain merit and are fruitful. And indeed it seems to me wholly incredible that if [Descartes] had not framed this great plan of demonstrating almost all the phenomena of the world from the necessary laws of mechanics he would ever have planned to attempt so many and so great things, nor if he had attempted them could he have succeeded. However that may be, his success was so great that I must guess that has restored the greater part of ancient knowledge concerning nature. If a peaceful and far-sighted posterity shall judge that I have conjectured rightly in this business they may put the more trust in the rest of my Cabbala. In which, however, as in that other physical part, they may grasp that fact that I have proclaimed only a few of the principles or the conclusions; there are great yawning gaps remaining, which when filled up for the most part from the Platonic writings or else by some intellect greater than Plato's, will reveal to the world its final destiny. He, thoroughly searching into the nature of God and other incorporeal Beings, and viewing both forwards and backwards their innumerable states, and who, lastly, by reflecting upon all things in the light of the attributes of the most high God and also of the faculties belonging to the immaterial Orders, will resolve each of those riddles and complexities (with which the wicked and evil-spirited ensare the devoutedly religious) so easily afterwards nothing but the wretched narrowness of some minds, or a despicable dullness, or an impotent and deplorable tendency to commit every sort of disgraceful act (and, on the part of the offenders, unease and tormenting fear of future punishment) can raise an obstacle to mortal man's embracing the main fundamentals of religion with a sincere and firm assent. This hope [Descartes] did not conceal but spoke of these things in such terms that perhaps we cannot surpass him though (I confess) they may not appear so glorious to some; meanwhile, I do not all doubt that the ardour and zeal shown by him in passing for promoting the general welfare of the human race was honourable and that he did at least in a certain manner serve as a torch-bearer to succeeding generations.

32.[37] As for those who, you say, despise all philosophy because of Aristotle's trifling, and who assume that nothing can be known with confidence about any of those things of which philosophers treat, or, if they can be known, they bring no improvement to human 1ife. I have nothing more appropriate and subtle to utter by way of reply than Scaliger's retort to men of this stamp: Surely there can be no greater appearance of ignorance among the unlearned than an easy and scornful contempt. Although, indeed, this is to be seen less as a delight in censure than as a consolation for or soothing of the distress they feel, because of their own loss and sacrifice of the highest things. For we are all endowed by nature with a rather considerable longing to know, and it comprises not the least part of our natural consciousness; we should not be like brute beasts stupidly ignorant of things, nor yet cherish either impossible or useless knowledge. Whence it is manifest that those who can learn nothing make strident complaints less to attach shame to philosophical speculations than to seek a decent pretext for their own conduct, and to excuse themselves because they devote almost all their lives to luxury, avarice or ambition.

33.[38] However, Descartes has so clearly taught us that some things can be known in natural philosophy that no one can doubt it unless he necessarily has the same doubt of mathematical demonstrations. Indeed, to speak more freely and laying aside damaging modesty, if we in natural philosophy to place ourselves at the common be known. boundaries of the two philosophies [of Aristotle and Descartes], we ought to posit that Descartes knew as much of the investigation of the causes of things in Nature as Aristotle did not know. For one should not judge what can be achieved in philosophy by a severe and wise intellect from what has been achieved already by a man who was indeed acute, but unsound, to the extent that he had not discovered even the first principles of the true philosophy.

34.[39] But finally, they ask, after Descartes had made the discovery of the the true principles of philosophy and brought to light the effective natural and immediate causes of all phenomena, which were unknown to that puny Greek, of what use are they in life? If by "use in life" they mean [the pursuit of] honours, wealth and carnal pleasures, I willingly confess that I esteem them little; yet meanwhile I argue that there is to be found in the true way of philosophising something far higher than honours, more precious than gold, and far, far sweeter and more delightful than carnal pleasures. However, those who consider that whatever conduces to the improvement and nourishment of the mind and conduces to a certain divine joy by uplifting our spirits contributes nothing to human life truly seem to me to be forgetful of their own intellects and to openly proclaim themselves as leaders of a wholly bestial life.

Farewell, dear Sir, and if perhaps I have spread myself at too great length and with too much freedom upon these matters, forgive this excessive zeal in seeking to please you, and continue to love me as you wont.

H. M.

Scholia in Epistolam ad V.C.

Scholia on the Letter to V.C.

[Critical Notes on Descartes’ Mechanistic Philosophy of Nature]

Translated by Christian Hengstermann

Sect. 5: “For it is equally certain (and in a strictly mechanical sense)” that all the globules, etc., that is to say, if we accept the mechanical hypothesis, i.e. the assumption that worldly bodies are impelled by mechanical impulses of such kind, and are not in a vital traction and pull, or rather transmission and transfer (if I may put it in this way). They are moved and carried around by the spirit of nature. I, for one, find this view much more plausible.

Sect. 6: “Or can at least never be stirred without such a motion.” It is most obvious that there is some corporeal motion in all sensations. However, it is less plausible that these corporeal motions should everywhere be produced by mechanical, rather than vital causes, or that the so-called intentional species which the soul receives from the objects through the eye should consist in purely mechanical pressures.

“That the same numerically identical matter assumes the most opposite kinds and that there are no different kinds of matter anywhere”, i.e. this is quite robust proof that the matter of the natural world, namely the matter upon which the spirit of nature acts, nowhere differs in kind. However, it is not the right place here to discuss whether there might be a matter of a different kind, one more divine and incorruptible and interspersed within the other.

“Everything that hits our senses is a corporeal motion in one way or another”, etc. I certainly held this view when I wrote this letter. However, now that I am very firmly convinced of the existence of the spirit of nature, it seems probable to me that there are certain affections of the spirit of nature which, attaching themselves to the corporeal motion of matter, are transmitted to our sense organs from distinct objects. The affections in the spirit of nature itself are nearly the same as those in the plastic part of our soul which its perceptive part perceives as they are transmitted from the former. However, colours and the like are of such a kind. They are affections which, while not intrinsic to matter, can be stirred in the spirit of nature as well as in our own souls by the motion of matter.

Sect. 7: “For it is impossible that this measure of motion should break matter apart in such a way”, etc. I wrote this back then as a Cartesian, [40] supposing that parts of matter cohered by necessity if they did not move. However, I subsequently came to realize that Descartes’ thesis was unfounded and that parts of matter were not bound or kept together by their own power at all, but by some higher principle, as I explain in sufficient detail in the Enchiridium Metaphysicum.

“[God] has entrusted their free and vagrant circles to these two most simple principles of all things”, etc. Now I find it much more likely that nothing happens in such a vagrant and lax fashion, but that the motion of all worldly bodies is either constrained or, as it were, prevented by the vital law of the spirit of nature. In fact, I say that there is no mechanical motion at all unless one body, either by accident or by necessity, collides with another because of their ἀντιτυπία.[41] In fact, worldly matter is mostly stirred and governed by the spirit of nature, albeit in such a way that it never does anything against these two adamantine laws of nature, i.e. mobility and ἀντιτυπία, because both are intrinsic and essential to matter.

“He will acknowledge that he is examining the corporeal efficient causes”, etc. This could be acceptable if we refer it to external phenomena, i.e., to phenomena occurring for visible causes such as stellar eclipses, the flooding of the Nile, the lunar phases, annual climatic changes, symptoms of illnesses and the like. However, there are many other phenomena occurring not due to external corporeal causes, but to internal incorporeal principles such as the organization of plantal and animal bodies, the non-gravitation of elements in their own places, the descent of heavy bodies towards the centre of the earth and countless others where it would be the height of ignorance to expect efficient causes.

“If God everywhere assiduously obstructed the laws of corporeal motion which are both natural and necessary in themselves by means of some higher power [namely the force of the spirit of nature]”. Rarely does the spirit of nature, as we understand it, anywhere obstruct the necessary laws of corporeal motion, but rather it prevents them. Thus, in the rotation of the earth, for instance, the fragile parts of the earth would, according to the mechanical laws of corporeal motion, move away from its centre. However, the spirit of nature does not resist the striving of these parts to move away from the centre, because there is none at all, but rather prevents it in the first place. Instead, it makes the earth rotate not by a mechanical impulse, but rather by some vital conveyance or rather transmission, almost in the same way as the plastic part of the soul, in forming animals, is believed to move or transport the matter that is to be formed to this or that place. It exists as its special ἐντελέχεια or rather ἐνδελέχεια, just as the spirit of nature is the general ἐνδελέχεια of the universe.[42]

“Such is the substantial form of the Peripatetics”, etc. Such substantial forms as the Peripatetics posited in individual things are indeed not only obscure, but also false and ridiculous in reference both to inanimate things and to those souls which they believed to crawl out of the potentiality of matter. However, if every immaterial efficient cause must be reckoned less intelligible, it is nevertheless more advisable to have recourse to such less intelligible causes – provided there is at least some degree of certainty about them – than to false and perhaps even impossible mechanical causes.

“To seek refuge in that blind asylum of lazy ignorance, i.e. intrinsic substantial forms.” We must not do this anywhere. For we have already admitted above that there are certain phenomena brought about by external corporeal causes and there are two, as it were, adamantine laws of matter itself, namely mobility and ἀντιτυπία, which the spirit of nature itself obeys everywhere. However, not only does matter possess mobility by itself, but resistance as well. Otherwise, a large mass would move as easily as a small one. It is, therefore, intrinsic to matter that it cannot be penetrated by matter, that it resists all other matter in motion in some way and that it can only be moved when impacted by a larger mass of matter in motion. Hence, all these characteristics must be viewed as essential or, as it were, adamantine parts of matter. As such, they cannot be removed from it, nor must we believe that any other higher principle ever violates them.

“Therefore, we must allow the earth, according to the laws of matter and motion alike, ... with the other planets”, etc. For we could concoct no greater absurdity than the assumption that the essential characteristics of matter mentioned just now could be violated by the laws of the spirit of nature enacted by a most wise God. He had, by these laws, established that a certain ethereal mass should circle the sun and that the earth should be placed in this mass of ether. Hence, he could certainly not have allowed the earth, being in such a position, to be fixed in the spirit of nature by some higher law such that it should ward off the flux and the momentum of the ether rather than be carried around with the other ether by the spirit of nature. Thus, the laws of the spirit of nature are fashioned by the most wise God in such a way that they agree both with the good of the universe and the intrinsic laws of matter.

“That the earth should, by the power of this vortex”, etc. or rather by the vital revolving of the spirit of nature, as I have pointed out above.

Sect. 9: “One can find quite a few truly golden little chains”, etc. If “truly golden” is supposed to mean purely mechanical, I have come to believe now that one cannot even find “a few”, but rather none at all. On this question see what I have written in the second preface to the Enchiridion Ethicum, sects. 16 and 22.

“Whether you rather want to call it soul with Descartes”, etc. I should very much like to adduce a passage from “Descartes’ fragment”, which Claude Clerselier sent me (sect. 5). There he states: “However, the moving power may well be that of God himself preserving the same amount of transfer in matter which he put into it at the first moment of creation. Alternatively, it could be that of a created substance like our mind or some other thing to which he has given the power of moving a body. And that power in a created substance is certainly its own mode and not in God. Since everybody finds this difficult to understand, I chose not to deal with this question in my writings. I was afraid that I might seem to endorse the view of those who consider God the world soul united with matter.” Descartes, I must confess, is indeed quite abstruse and unforthcoming in these matters and rather reluctant to state and explain his view. However, from what I for one can gather from these words, he apparently wants to state roughly the following: for one thing, he is inclined to assume that there may be some created substance which receives its modes from a power like the one by which it moves worldly matter. It might, therefore, have to be considered something like the world soul. For another, however, he chose to conceal his view for fear that he might seem to lean towards the opinion of those who acknowledge no other God than this soul. Hence, suppressing this created principle, which he nevertheless silently admits for himself, he attributes the task of moving matter to God alone. However, we provide abundant evidence in the Enchriridium Metaphysicum that matter is moved by a created principle, which we call the “hylarchic principle”, and which is devoid of mind and reasoning. Therefore, it is not God, but the plastic spirit of the world created by God, to whose existence it witnesses with the greatest clarity. Descartes’ reference to “a created substance like our mind or some other thing to which he has given the power of moving a body” might very well be taken to denote this principle, as it points to a spirit devoid of mind, but not life.

“For, as regards halos and irises“, etc. Indeed, we have very clearly shown in the said Enchridium that these phenomena likewise transcend purely mechanical laws of matter and motion.

“That pure science of nature, by itself, must be held,” etc. Still, we must enquire whether the careful observation of the laws of the spirit of nature is not a pure science of nature as well, since these laws are as certain and stable as if they were simply material. And I do not doubt that many laws held to be mechanical have proceeded from this source.

“But truly an absolute and perfect demonstration.” Indeed it is. See the preface to the Enchiridium Metaphysicum, sect. 4, for how Descartes has further substantiated this.

Sect. 17: “To the entirely simple substances of the same species”, etc. This refers to matter as though it were a most simple substance and of one single kind everywhere. It would certainly be such if it were only extension, as Descartes contends. However, we have provided a sufficient rebuttal of this view above. Since, therefore, the nature of matter itself does not consist in extension alone, it is manifest that it can vary in species. Indeed, the arguments which we have put forward in our Enchiridium Metaphysicum are such that this supposition is not harmful in any way.

“So that they can float on this subtlest matter more laxly.” Indeed much more laxly than is warranted by the truth of the phenomena, as we have demonstrated in abundant detail in Ench. Met., ch. 16. However, this does not mean at all that the ethereal vortices do not consist of the subtlest matter and globules. However, they proceed from a superior principle and are not formed by the tumultuous collision of particles of matter, but by the plastic power of the spirit of nature.

Sect. 25:[43] “He concluded ingeniously from the experiment of a prism.” This experiment is quite ingenious indeed, but the phenomenon, contrary to Descartes’ supposition, is not purely and completely mechanical. For this, see Ench. Met., ch. 19.

Sect. 31: “If he had not had that grand hope of proving nearly all worldly phenomena on the basis of the necessary laws of mechanics”, etc. We must, therefore, admire and adore divine providence in this case which[44] knows how to makes use of the outrageous errors of great minds for the common good. However, we must not look down upon the research of these celebrated men in any way, however egregious the error is with which it is tainted, but at the same time we should oppose the error itself and all the evil flowing from it with the utmost care and diligence.

[Critical Notes on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Psychology and Physics]

Sect. 33: “Since he [i.e. Aristotle] had not even found the first principles of true philosophy.” By “principles” one should, in this place, understand the first and most general rudiments of philosophy, not only the principles of generation which Aristotle’s school belabours so much, namely matter, form and privation. However, we have already noted in Ench. Met., ch. 9, that Aristotle hallucinates most pitifully in his description of matter (although Descartes’ depiction is not any better). And, he views form, which he usually calls ἡ κατὰ τὸ εἶδος ἀρχή and οὐσία ὡς εἶδος (just as he calls matter οὐσία ὡς ὕλη),[45] as a corruptible substance both in animate and inanimate things, almost including the soul itself. In fact, he has the various proper characteristics of bodies originate in these forms, assuming as he does that they are in the body itself just as they appear to our senses, since he did not even have an inkling about the place, shape and motion of particles. However, his worst ignorance appears to lie in the fact that he did not know the true system of the world or rather that he was of so petty and perverse a mind that he could not embrace the true description of the fabric of the world, even when presented with it by the Pythagoreans. If we wanted to review all of Aristotle’s errors, we would indeed have the richest of fields to harvest. [46] However, we shall only briefly cut down a few of these errors which we have noted in our adversaries. Passing over his preposterous invention of the reality of universals born from his ignorance of the difference between the things themselves and our modes of conceiving them, which we now generally call secondary or logical notions, his error is certainly egregious concerning the essence of God which he locks within the confines of the highest sphere, assigning the other spheres to lower intellects like wheels to so many turnspit dogs. [47] I shall also pass over the fact that those solid spheres themselves which he invented are every bit as impossible as the workings of those intellects are ridiculous. Clearly, Aristotle himself, or at least the majority of his interpreters, must rightly answer for all of this! In fact, the most learned author of the True Intellectual System of the Universe interprets this Aristotelian doctrine about the intellects moving the heavens in a more sensible and lucid manner. According to him, each of the intellects resembles the first mover himself in moving its own sphere ὡς ἐρώμενον.[48] However, it is not that these minds (commonly called intellects) are in the strict sense τὰ ἐρώμενα, but rather the highest points [‘summitates’] of these minds, which correspond to τἀγαθόν[49] in the divine triad. Thus, with regard also to the first mover of an moral agent, Aristotle himself states explicitly: ἀρχὴ γὰρ ἡ νόησις. νοῦς δὲ ὑπὸ τοῦ νοητοῦ κινεῖται, Νοητὸν[50] δὲ ἡ ἑτέρα συστοιχία καθ' αὑτήν, καὶ ταύτης ἡ οὐσία πρώτη, καὶ ταύτης ἡ ἁπλῶς, καὶ ταύτης ἡ ἁπλῶς καὶ κατ' ἐνέργειαν. “For intellection is the beginning,[51] but the intellect is moved by an intelligible object. However, one of the two orders is that which is intelligible by itself, and of such a kind is the first substance”, or, as Plotinus, I think, would have put it, the first hypostasis, “and it is such simply and actually.” [52] These words clearly refer to τἀγαθόν or the first hypostasis in the trinity of the Platonists. This is further confirmed by the words immediately following, where he asserts that “τὸ δι’ αὑτὸ αἱρετόν consists in this συστοιχία.”[53] However, “ τὸ ἄριστον is always τὸ πρῶτον[54] and, finally, ”τὸ οὕ ἕνεκα consists ἐν τοῖς ἀκινήτοις.”[55] Hence, he rightly concludes that this συστοιχίαν κινεῖν ὡς ἐρώμενον, “moves in the manner of something beloved”, [56] i.e. in the manner of a good which is the object of the appetite. Therefore, this Νοητόν or intelligible object moves the intellect, the second hypostasis, κινούμενος δὲ τἄλλα κινεῖ,[57] i.e. ψυχήν or the third hypostasis of the triad and, through it, τὴν φύσιν or the spirit of nature.

However, Aristotle gives the following description of Τἀγαθόν itself in the same place: it is τὸ κινοῦν ἀκίνητον ἐνεργείᾳ ὄν, καὶ οὐκ ἄλλως ἔχειν οὐδαμῶς ἐνδεχόμενον, “it is an unmoved thing of actual existence that moves and that could not be any other than it is.”[58] And a little later: ᾿Εξ ἀνάγκης ἄρα ἔστιν ὄν, καὶ ᾗ ἀνάγκη καλῶς.[59] He thereby expresses[60] both its necessary existence and goodness. And finally, he concludes: Ἐκ τοιαύτης ἄρα ἤρηται ὁ οὔρανὸς καὶ ἡ φύσις. “On such a principle therefore,” (one which is indeed so firm that Proclus calls it ὅρμος ἀσφαλῆς τῶν ὄντων ἁπάντων)[61] “depend the heavens and nature”,[62] by which I would understand the spirit of nature upon which this first and supreme good acts through Νοῦς καὶ ψυχή, intellect and soul, just as it itself acts upon worldly matter by its plastic power.

And he goes on to point out that there is indeed an essence – the Supreme Good - that is distinct from and yet in a way one with intellect or mind: Ἡ δὲ νόησις ἡ καθ’ αὑτὴν τοῦ καθ’ αὑτοῦ ἀρίστου. Αὐτὸν δὲ νοεῖ ὁ νοῦς κατὰ μετάληψιν τοῦ νοητοῦ. Νοητὸς γὰρ γίγνεται θιγγάνων καὶ νοῶν, ὥστε ταὐτὸν νοῦς καὶ νοητόν. Τὸ γὰρ δεικτικὸν τοῦ νοητοῦ καὶ τῆς οὐσίας νοῦς. Ἐνεργεῖ δὲ ἔχων· ὥστε ἐκεῖνο μᾶλλον τοῦτου ὅ δοκεῖ ὁ νοῦς θεῖον ἔχειν. “However, there is an intellection by itself of the best by itself. Indeed, the intellect understands it through participation in the intelligible, since the intelligible acquires touch and intelligence so that the intellect and the intelligible are one and the same thing. For the intellect possesses a faculty by which it seizes the essence of the intelligible itself, acting as it seizes it so that the former, rather than the latter is that divine which the intellect appears to possess.”[63] Here he clearly views the supreme good, which he calls τὸ Νοητόν, as an essence or hypostasis distinct from intellect or mind, since he describes the minds as being receptive of τὸ Νοητόν. And with the expression Αὐτὸν δὲ νοεῖ ὁ νοῦς he clearly refers to the hypostasis, since Αὐτὸν is of masculine gender. The term θιγγάνων clearly points in the same direction as well, and yet it also makes them one and the same thing, ὥστε ταὐτὸν νοῦς καὶ νοητόν. “I and my Father are one”,[64] as the eternal Word declares about himself and his Father.

Nor is the third hypostasis missing. Just as it is said in John that Ζωή was ἐν τῷ λόγῷ,[65] so it is stated here that ἐν τῷ νῷ, καὶ ζωὴ δέ γε ἐνυπάρχει.[66] Moreover, life, too, exists in something, namely in ὁ νοῦς, since the actuality of mind or intellect is life. Ἐκεῖνος δὲ ἡ ἐνέργεια. Ἐνέργεια δὲ ἡ καθ’ αὑτὴν ἐκείνου ζωὴ ἀρίστη καὶ ἀΐδιος· “He, however, is actuality,and this actuality is his life which is by itself best and eternal.” And the actuality of the Father is certainly called Word, and the actuality of the Son or Λόγος is called the Holy Spirit among the ancient Fathers who understand ἐνέργεια to be an οὐσία ζῶσα καὶ ἐνεργής.[67] And here in Aristotle ἡ καθ’ αὑτὴν ἐνέργεια is called ζωὴ τοῦ νοῦ,[68] i.e. not an action without any subsistence by itself, but an Ἐνέργεια οὐσιώδης καὶ φυσική,[69] just as the Holy Spirit is called Ἐνέργεια φυσικὴ καὶ ζῶσα τοῦ νοῦ in Cyrill.[70]

Thus, all three hypostases in the one Divinity are here mentioned in Aristotle: the first, τὸ ἄριστον, generally called Τἀγαθόν by the Platonists and also here called τὸ νοητόν by Aristotle; the second ὁ νοῦς; and the third ἡ ζωή, which the Platonists generally call ψυχή, and which Aristotle, too, obviously refers to where he immediately adds: Φαμὲν δὲ τὸν θεὸν εἶναι ζῶον ἀΐδιον ἄριστον. “However, we say that God is an eternal and best living being,”[71] which he could certainly not be if he did not have a soul which emits a plastic actuality, giving life[72] to the things which are moved by him, i.e. by his plastic power. And he clearly says the same thing in Metaph. XII 7.

However, in the following chapter, he goes on to ask: since there is not only one single motion of the heavens, i.e. the daily one, but one for each single planet moving in the opposite direction of the heavens, must we posit only one such substance (as he has described above) or more in relation to the number of the other motions? And he expressly concludes: Ἀνάγκη καὶ τοῦτων ἑκάστην τῶν φορῶν ὑπ’ ἀκινήτου τε κινεῖσθαι καθ’ αὑτὸ καὶ ἀϊδίου οὐσίας. “It is necessary that each of these motions should be caused by a substance that is unmoved in itself and eternal.” [73] And so he multiplies these eternal and unmoved substances in relation to the number of distinct motions. Since all of these substances are such as he has described in the case of the first one, it clearly follows that there must also have been so many as it were τριαδάρια[74] or inferior trinities composed of the good, a mind and a soul, and that the souls of each of them emitted a plastic power by which each of their heavens was moved vitally and not in the way turnspit dogs turn their wheels.

Moreover, the following quotation from the preceding chapter provides further confirmation that Aristotle acknowledged these three principles in each of these substances: Νοητὸν δὲ ἡ ἑτέρα συστοιχία καθ’ αὑτήν.[75] By συστοιχία he refers to an order of boniform principles which are in a special sense τὰ νοητά in each of the individual intellects, and to which the following magical little verse may also be germane:

Ἔστι δὲ δή τι νοητὸν ὅ χρή σε νοεῖν νόου ἄνθει.[76]

This boniform principle in each of them is the “unmoved mover” in a special sense, into which Aristotle ultimately resolves all the others, according to whom τὸ οὗ ἕνεκά ἐστιν ἐν τοῖς ἀκινήτοις, as has been noted above. [77] Aristotle seems to have Platonized excellently here, albeit in a rather dry, desiccated, terse and obscure style, as he is also wont to do in other places. Even though he hallucinated badly in multiplying the divine triads, he nevertheless states very clearly that the world is animated by a plastic life, which I usually call the spirit of nature, when he calls God a living being in this place and attributes a divine body to him ( De coelo II 3). Undoubtedly, we must interpret Aristotle in this fashion, i.e. with such lucidity, when he ascribes a certain plastic power to each of his intellects and assumes them to consist of both soul and mind, unless, that is, we want to concede that they are “assisting”, rather than “informing” souls, as the Schools put it, or that they move the heavens as squirrels move their cylindrical iron-wire baskets with their dangling little bells or spit-turning dogs turn the wheels.

However, it betrays a mind which is both abject and quite alienated from the science of divine things that so diligent a student of Plato’s should not have mentioned any other of the lesser genii in any of his writings. This is one reason why, in his books, he talks about the soul in such a cold, desiccated and, if I may say so, obscure fashion that his interpreters are not even certain whether he believed the soul to be mortal or immortal, holding conflicting views about this matter. In any case, he posited a two-fold intellect, one “active”, and one “passive”. While (according to Aristotle’s interpreters) it is the task of the passive intellect to receive the sensible phantasms, the active intellect is supposed simply to wipe away their dusty materiality, as with a goose wing or fox tail, as it were, so that the passive one can contemplate them in this way. I shall add Aristotle’s own words here so that it becomes clearer how confused, jumbled and uncertain his way of philosophizing about this matter is. On the Soul III 5: “Since there are two factors in all nature, one like matter, one like art, Ἀνάγκη καὶ ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ, he says, ὑπάρχειν ταύτας τὰς διαφοράς. Καὶ ἔστιν ὁ μὲν τοιοῦτος νοῦς τῷ πάντα γίνεσθαι, ὁ δὲ τῷ πάντα ποιεῖν, ὡς ἕξις τις, οἷον τὸ φῶς. Τρόπον γάρ τινα καὶ τὸ φῶς ποιεῖ τὰ δυνάμει ὄντα χρώματα ἐνεργείᾳ χρώματα. Καὶ οὗτος ὁ νοῦς χωριστὸς, καὶ ἀμιγὴς καὶ ἀπαθὴς τῇ οὐσίᾳ ὢν ἐνέργειᾳ. And a little later: χωρισθεὶς δ᾿ ἐστὶ μόνον τοῦθ᾿ ὅπερ ἐστί, καὶ τοῦτο μόνον ἀθάνατον καὶ ἀΐδιον. Οὐ μνημονεύομεν δέ, ὅτι τοῦτο μὲν ἀπαθές, ὁ δὲ παθητικὸς νοῦς φθαρτός, καὶ ἄνευ τούτου οὐδὲν νοεῖ.“[78]

It is so deep a conundrum that some have understood the active and the passive intellect to be the divine intellect itself and the soul itself respectively. I believe that this conundrum is due to the fact that the active intellect is here said to be ἀπαθὴς τῇ οὐσίᾳ ὢν ἐνέργειᾳ.[79] It is thereby indicated that it does not receive anything from without, as the passive intellect does, but that it is all things in actuality and that, therefore, it is the divine intellect. Hence, the rest cannot but refer to the human soul, i.e. the passive intellect, which Aristotle compares to a “blank slate” in the preceding chapter [80] and which he here pronounces to be mortal, ὁ δὲ παθητικὸς νοῦς φθαρτός.[81] However, let us try whether we can give a clearer interpretation of the philosophy and arrive at a better understanding of him. Let us note first that he says explicitly that “these distinct elements” are “in the soul”. Therefore, they must be parts or faculties of it. Moreover, he adds this active intellect to our nature or essence, whatever that is, saying οὐ μνημονεύομεν δέ, that “we do not remember it”,[82] because this intellect is impassible. Since it never receives anything from without, it cannot retain anything after death. Hence, according to Aristotle, too, the active intellect is not the divine intellect, but ours or that part of our soul in respect of which we are immortal. We do not remember anything, because it is impassible and does not receive anything from without, whereas the passible intellect, which alone is receptive of phantasms, perishes in death. However, the soul can neither perceive nor remember anything without phantasms. This is certainly the most acceptable reading of the Aristotelian doctrine about the immortality of the soul. Still, it is very much at odds with both reason and true religion, since our comportment in this life would not matter if we did not remember anything after death, which contradicts both reason and sound philosophy. For it is manifest that it is one and the same soul that actively understands and receives phantasms; and these are not received in the body, but in the soul itself, otherwise it could not pass any judgement on or concern itself with them. Therefore, the passive intellect does not perish when the body does, nor, therefore, does its memory itself, since it is not even possible that its plastic part should perish. Hence, in its separated state, the soul will be capable of both memory and sense.

The error regarding the seat of the common sensorium is less serious, but quite conspicuous in his book Περὶ νεότητος καὶ γέρως· ἐν καρδίᾳ γὰρ ἀναγκαῖον εἶναι τὸ πάντων τῶν αἰσθητηρίων κοινὸν αἰσθητήριον.[83] I certainly believe that there is something grand and almost divine in our hearts. However, I tend to assume that the κοινὸω πλαστήριον, rather than the κοινὸν αἰσθητήριον[84] has its seat in it, i.e. that the heart is the seat of the centre of the plastic part and the principal site both of regeneration and generation. We have already addressed above the question of intentional species raying forth from the surfaces of corporeal objects, substantial forms crawling out of the potentiality of matter and colours having their formal existence in subjects, as it were, so there is no need to touch upon them here again.

His next error must, therefore, be that of the nature and place of the galaxy which he calls γάλα[85] and which he does not view as an ἔμφασις,[86] but rather as an ἔκκρισίς τις[87] or σύστασις,[88] defining it as ἡ τοῦ μεγίστου διὰ τὴν ἔκκρισιν κύκλου κόμη.[89] He imagines it to be a kind of halo forming inside little clouds around the stars. Furthermore, he believes this place to be the outermost part of the air, which he calls τὸν ἀέρα τὸν ἄνω[90] or ὑπέκκαυμα[91] and τὸ ἔσχατον ἀέρος δύναμιν ἔχον πυρός.[92] It is the very same place which he also assigns to ἡ διαδρομὴ τῶν ἄστρων, the “orbit of the stars”.[93] It could therefore not exceed twelve German miles in height. Hence, it would follow that all of us who inhabit the earth would only see an extremely small part of the galaxy at a time, nor would any stars appear in it. But he still assigns this place to comets, even though it would follow that they would hardly be visible for more than one or two hours. This is how bad Aristotle’s hallucinations about the nature and place of the galaxy and comets were! Nor were his conjectures about the cause of the outer rainbow any better which, he speculated, arose from the reflection of the inner, even though neither depends on the other, as has been soundly proved by Descartes. He also erred miserably regarding the causes of springs, rivers, sea salt and the sea, thinking that the sea increases in size as countless immense rivers flow into it, since he was ignorant both of the circulation of water on the earth and of that of blood in the human body. However, what should have remedied this ignorance is the fact that he expressly mentions the subterranean χάσματα καὶ λίμναι of the ancients and Plato’s Tartarus in the Phaedo, which he posits as the source of all waters with which all the other waters are somehow joined. Among other things, he also quotes the word of Plato: Πάντα δὲ πάλιν κύκλῳ περιάγειν εἰς τὴν ἀρχήν, ὅθεν ἤρξαντο ῥεῖν.[94]

Moreover, he philosophizes quite confusedly and ignorantly about the motions of the earth, the winds and the thunder, pointing out that ἡμεῖς δέ φαμεν τὴν αὐτὴν εἶναι φύσιν ἐπὶ μὲν τῆς γῆς ἄνεμον, ἐν δὲ τῇ γͺ σεισμὸν, ἐν δὲ τοῖς νέφεσι βροντήν.[95] This is as if someone were to claim that the blast from gunpowder was the same as the wind from an aeolipile.[96] Those whom Aristotle opposes in Meteor. II 4 philosophized much more correctly when they said ὄτι ἡ αὐτή ἐστιν ἥτη τοῦ ἀνέμου φύσις καὶ ἡ τοῦ ὑομένου ὕδατος,[97] the very opinion that Descartes holds. However, not content to view subterrenean and external winds to be the same, he also assumed that there was an interaction occurring between them, which he called ἡ ἔσω καὶ ἔξω ῥύσις,[98] as well as the motions of the earth οἷον μετάρροιας εἴσω γιγνομένης τοῦ πνεύματος.[99] If you consider the density of air in subterranean caves, this invention is almost as absurd as if one were to imagine winds arising every now and then from the bottom of the sea!

As regards halos and mock suns – let us pass over entirely what he says about the rainbow – we can clearly see from Meteor. III 2 how deep Aristotle’s ignorance was. There he says about those phenomena in general: Πάντα ἀνάκλασις ταῦτἐστι ἀνάκλασις[100] (unless ἀνάκλασις is to include reflection as well). And about mock suns he says ὅτι γίγνονται ἐκ πλαγίας ἀεί.[101] I admit that this is their most usual position which is why they have in fact been called mock suns or parhelia, as though they were “ sidekicks“ of the sun. However, contrary to Aristotle’s definition, they also appear above or below the sun as well as opposite it. Nor are there only two of them at a time, but up to four or five, as we can read in Libert Froidmond [102] and Descartes. However, ignorance of the true causes of this phenomenon caused Aristotle to believe that incredible little story of the two mock suns in the Bosporus which appeared together with the sun, and which lasted from noon until sunset. Still, he was all the more inclined to believe it because he believed the cause of mock suns to lie in the equal density of the air, and he could easily imagine such conditions to have obtained everywhere across the Bosporus at that time. And yet, not even that would work, since in this case there would have been either more than two mock suns or rather none at all. Instead, the disc of the sun would have appeared larger than usual.

In addition to that, he philosophizes quite strangely about the more famous floods in antiquity, the old age of certain parts of the earth, and the eternity of the whole. For, just as a yearly cycle of the sun annually brings about winter, in the same way, he contends, περίοδός τις μεγάλη brings about μέγα χειμῶν καὶ ὑπερβολὴ ὄμβρων.[103] This is certainly – to use one of his own words against him – a μέγα κόμψευμα,[104] and it sounds like astrological superstition. It would have been more prudent for him to have recourse to the old age of certain parts of the earth and to imagine the said floods to be the catarrh of those aging parts! After all, he believes the earth to grow old in its parts, which he nevertheless ineptly attributes εἰς τὴν ἥλιον καὶ τὴν περιφοράν.[105] As a consequence, all the parts which have the same climate would have to both age together and be flooded together. However, it is entirely inconsistent that these differences[106] should occur on account of the sameness of the course of the sun. Therefore, the causes of these phenomena should rather be sought in the bowels of the earth, the Platonic Tartarus and the subterranean fires than taken from the sun and the stars. Nor should parts of the earth be imagined to be very old, while others grow young again, so that the earth might in this way be eternal. Instead, the notion of its eternity must be given up altogether, since it would doubtless long ago have levelled mountains into valleys and dried up the sea itself with filth and dirt.

However, just as he imagined the earth to be eternal, so did he not only make the heavens eternal, but also entirely impassible and immutable, bestowing lavish praise upon the heavenly body and constantly hailing it as τὸ πρῶτον στοιχεῖον, τὸ πρῶτον σῶμα, τὸ θεῖον σῶμα and οὐσία σώμταος θειότερα.[107] However, solar flares, comets passing between the planets, and the way the fixed stars appear and then quickly disappear clearly disprove the assumption that celestial bodies are impassible and immutable. Moreover, the judgement of the naked eye sufficiently refutes Aristotle’s second lunacy that the sun and the stars are not fiery (to which you may also add the image of the sun in a sheet of parchment boiling it like a hot kettle and, finally, that most absurd reason why, according to Aristotle, we feel heat from the sun); after pointing out (in On the Heavens II 7) that stars neither consist of fire nor move in fire, he philosophizes about the heat in the heavens as follows: Ἡ δὲ θερμότης ἀπ᾿ ἄστρων καὶ φῶς γίνεται παρεκτριβομένου τοῦ ἀέρος ὑπὸ τῆς ἐκείνων φορᾶς. πέφυκε γὰρ ἡ κίνησις ἐκπυροῦν καὶ ξύλα καὶ, καὶ λίθους, καὶ σίδηρον.[108] However, the sun, he states in Meteor. I 3, produces greater heat than the other stars because of its greater proximity and velocity to us. For the moon moves more slowly, while the stars move at a higher velocity, but at a great distance. However, this does not matter at all, since it is only the velocity of the concave of the moon which affects the air. Hence, the velocity and proximity of other stars are completely irrelevant. Instead, it is the sphere of the moon alone that can create the παρέκτριψις[109] in the air or in fact, worst of all, not even that, although Aristotle imagines in that chapter that the sublunary air is carried forward by the momentum of the concave of the moon. However, this is impossible because of the moon’s smoothness. And even assuming it were rough and completely uneven, it would still be uncertain whether it would transmit this motion all the way to us. On the contrary, it would be most certain that the particular motion of the sun, which leads to the moon’s heat being felt more intensely than that of the other stars, [110] would not be perceived at all. However, I, for one, feel that one must be all the more astonished at Aristotle’s mind seeking refuge in such incredibly absurd sophistry regarding the heat of the sun which he thinks is neither fiery nor hot. Worse, he assumed all of that in defiance of the clear and sound view of the Pythagoreans who, as he was well aware, called the sun τὸ ἐν μέσῶ ἱδρυμένον πῦρ, “the fire dwelling in the midst”. Indeed, he seems to have deliberately contradicted these philosophers, but he did so to the eternal shame of his name.

These are the principal errors of Aristotle which I had noted by chance in my adversaries and which I wrote down here while I had them to hand lest I should seem to reprimand a celebrated philosopher and value Descartes so much more than him without any reason. Nevertheless, setting aside all party zeal, I should like freely to state my view here that there is one error in Descartes which, for all his extraordinary genius, is so great and egregious that one may not only rightly judge it to be equal to all of Aristotle’s errors combined, but far worse. It is his belief that the whole visible world, including even the bodies of animals, was created by that accidental and chaotic motion of the particles of matter which we nowadays generally call mechanical. We have adduced numerous sound arguments in our Enchiridium Metaphysicum that this is an error. And should anything perchance be missing anywhere, I shall fill these gaps by adding a scholium here and there.

[1] The project would like to express its gratitude to Sarah Hutton for providing a copy of Rupert Hall’s translation, and to his literary executor Clarissa Thomas for kindly giving permission to publish her late father’s translation on this site.

[2] The author does not embrace all things Cartesian without reservation.

[3] The author does not embrace all things Cartesian without reservation

[4] Almost every lapse of Descartes may be traced to three types [of cause].

[5] An example of the first kind.

[6] An example of the second kind.

[7] See the French translation: "And that these three channels are more or less twisted, accordingly as they pass through places more or less distant from the axis, because the particles of the second element turn more quickly in the more distant places than in those that are closer."

[8] Why he so greatly indulges in the study of Cartesian philosophy: the first reason

[9] On the Soul Bk II, Ch. 9.

[10] The second reason

[11] Lucretius, Book III.

[12] The third reason.

[13] The Fourth Reason.

[14] The Fifth Reason

[15] Final Reason

[16] The unlearned crowd unjustly accuses Descartes atheism.

[17] What chiefly causes him to be suspected of this offence.

[18] That he has proved the existence of God by a most perfect demonstration.

[19] That in demonstrating the immortality of the soul he so nearly attained his goal that it is certain that he firmly believed in its immortality.

[20] Agreeable to this was his pious and noble bearing in his final moments.

[21] From many passages in his philosophy the existence of God and the immortality of the soul are necessarily implied.

[22] Thirteen places in his letters regarding the same.

[23] Only his extraordinary skill in nature caused him to be suspected of atheism.

[24] The ridiculous disparagement of Descartes by some who think of him as light-headed and not in possession of his faculties.

[25] His most paradoxical discoveries chime very closely with the discoveries of recent philosophers.

[26] How [Descartes] inferred his first and second elements from Tycho's fluid heavens.

[27] How he discovered from the Copernican hypothesis that the matter of the heavens revolves around the sun in the manner of a vortex.

[28] How he worked out the generation of the sun and the earth from this forced rotation.

[29] How the inner nature of light and colours became known to him.

[30] See Section 6.

[31] What observations of philosophers caused him to believe that once the earth had been a sun or fixed stars.

[32] Enumeration of several properties of the magnet with the general conclusion that if the earth is a magnet it should once have been situated on the axis of some vortex.

[33] The same conclusion is reached point by point both from the hardness of the magnetic earth...

[34] ...and from the fineness or subtlety of the magnetic particles and pores.

[35] The character of Descartes was cautious and modest.

[36] Nevertheless, he indulged to excess his mechanical genius; but to the great benefit of the learned world.

[37] Those who complain that it is impossible to know anything do not so much throw blame upon Philosophy, as excuse their own laziness.

[38] Descartes has given us a clear lesson that it is possible for some things in natural philosophy to be known.

[39] They who hold that those things serving to improve the mind add no benefit to daily life openly proclaim themselves to behave like beasts.

[40] More identifies himself as a Cartesian.

[41] “Resistance“

[42] Both ἐντελέχεια and ἐνδελέχεια designate an entity‘s inner reality and activity in Aristotle, the latter being specific to the mind alone.

[43] There is no scholium on the first passage in sect. 25 (marked with an asterisk). More may have originally intended to comment on it, but then forgotten to do so.

[44] In an odd constructio ad sensum More actually uses the masculine qui (‘who’) instead of the grammatically correct feminine quae (‘which’), the relative pronoun referring to God as the subject of divine providence.

[45] “Principle according to form”, “substance as form”, “substance as matter”.

[46] There is an agricultural pun in this sentence and the next. The expression seges disserendi may either mean “a lot to sow” or “a lot to discuss”, in other words, More promises to bring in a rich harvest of Aristotelian errors.

[47] In his derision of Aristotelian cosmology, More alludes to the now extinct breed of “Turnspit Dogs”, which were specifically trained to run on a wheel to turn a roast (see John Caius, Of Englishe Dogges, the Diversities, the Names, the Natures, and the Properties. Translated into English by Abraham Fleming, London 1576, 34–35). The pun is even more apt in an astronomical context. Canina is not only the diminutive form of canis, “dog”, but also the popular name of Sirius, commonly known as the “Dog Star”. More refers repeatedly to it in his early and later writings. See e.g. his comments on this celestial body in Psychathanasia I 2,15 (p. 110) and Divine Dialogues II 29 (p. 348)

[48] Metaphysics XII 7, 1072b3: “in the manner of something loved“. The classic translation by W.D. Ross has been consulted throughout. However, it has been modified to reflect More’s own understanding of the text. More’s Trinitarian reading of Aristotle, as he indicates here, is throughout deeply indebted to Cudworth’s in True Intellectual System of the Universe I 4,24 (pp. 408–419).

[49] The Good, the first hypostasis in the Platonist Trinity of the good or one, intellect and soul.

[50] Νοητόν is nearly always spelt with a capital nun in More’s reading of Aristotle so as to indicate the term‘s theological usage as a predicate of the first principle or God.

[51] I.e. of moral action.

[52] Metaphysics XII 7, 1072a30–32.

[53] Ibid., 1072a35: “That which is chosen for its own sake”, i.e. an end in itself, “consists in this order”, viz. that of intelligible reality as the first mover of the individual moral agent and the cosmos at large.

[54] Ibid., 1072a35–b1: “The best is always the first.”

[55] Ibid. 1072b 2–3. “The ‘for the sake of which’ consists in the unmoved entities.”

[56] Ibid. 1072b3. Whereas in Aristotle this refers to the “unmoved mover”, More, building on the latter’s alleged identification with the intelligible per se, makes it refer to the “order“ of intelligible being which moves the whole of reality “in a manner of something beloved”.

[57] Ibid. 1072b3–4: “... and, being moved, it moves others.“

[58] Ibid. 1072b8.

[59] Ibid. 1072b10–11.

[60] While the original meaning of indigitare is “invoke” or “praise”, it is generally used by More in this more sober meaning.

[61] More had already cited Proclus, Platonic Theology I 25: “This, therefore, is the one secure port of all things” in the entry on “Faith” in the “Interpretation Generall” appended to his Philosophical Poems of 1647 (p. 428): “For the operation of the Intellect is multiform, and by diversity separate from her objects, and is in a word, intellectuall motion about the object intelligible. But the divine faith must be simple and uniform, quiet and steddily resting in the haven of goodness. And at last he summarily concludes, Εἷς οὖν οὕτος ὅρμος ἀσφαλὴς τῶν ὄντων ἁπάντων.“

[62] Metaphysics XII 7, 1072b13–14. As the following makes clear, More, following Cudworth in his Trinitarian reading of Aristotle, takes “the former” to refer to the νοητόν, the Father, “the latter“, to νοῦς, the Son. Somewhat ironically, this quotation is the only case in which More forgets to capitalize the νοητόν, although it may possibly be a typesetter error.

[63] Ibid. 1072b18–23.

[64] Jn 10:30.

[65] Ibid. 1:4: “In the Word was life“.

[66] Metaphysics XII 7, 1072b26: “In the intellect, there is also life, however.“

[67] More probably refers to Origen’s description of the Son as “the living and acting Word” (ζῶν λόγος καὶ ἐνεργής) in his Commentary on Matthew XV 12.

[68] “The actuality by itself is the life of the intellect.” Here and in the following, More does not quote Aristotle, but summarizes his position, using key words of his philosophy of mind, notably that of ἐνέργεια or “active actuality”.

[69] “An essential and existent actuality.“ Both οὐσιώδης and φυσική are meant to emphasize the hypostatic existence of the Life of the Trinity which, as the Holy Spirit, is not a predicate applied to the Father and the Son, but a distinct person.

[70] Cyrill of Alexandria, Dialogues on the Holy Trinity ΙΘʹ: “An existent and living actuality.“

[71] Metaphysics XII 7, 1072b28–29.

[72] In a marginal note, More refers his reader to a scholium on the “Preface”: “See schol. on pref. 2, sect. 7.”

[73] Metaphysics XII 8, 1072a32–33.

[74] Triads.

[75] Metaphysics XII 7, 1072a30–31. “One of the two orders is that which is intelligible through itself.”

[76] Chaldaean Oracles 28B: “There is, then, something intelligible which you must understand by the flower of the intellect.“

[77] Metaphysics XII 7, 1072a35: “That which is chosen for its own sake consists in this order.”

[78] More has made some omissions and slight modifications to the famous passage from the On the Soul (430a13–18. 23–25 ) which reads in J.A. Smith’s translation (p. 1239): “These distinct elements must likewise be found in the soul. And in fact, intellect such as we have described it is what it is by virtue of becoming all things. However, there is also another intellect which is what it is by virtue of making all things. This is a sort of positive state like light, for, in a sense, light makes potential colours into actual colours. Intellect in this sense is separable, impassible and unmixed, since it is in its essential nature activity.“ And a little later: “This alone is immortal and eternal. We do not, however, remember it because, while mind in this sense is impassible, the passive intellect is destructible, and without it nothing thinks.”

[79] Ibid., 430a18: “... impassible ..., since it is in its essential nature activity.”

[80] More refers to ibid. III 4, 429b31–430a2: “What it [i.e. the intellect] thinks must be in it just as characters may be said to be on a writing tablet on which as yet nothing actually stands written: this is exactly what happens with the intellect.“

[81] Ibid. III 5, 430a24–25: “The passive intellect is destructible.”

[82] Ibid. III 5, 430a23–24.

[83] On Youth and Old Age, On Breathing, On Life and Death 3, 469a11–12: “it is here that we must look for the common sensorium belonging to all the sense-organs” (p. 1358).

[84] The “common plastic power”, rather than the “common perceptive power” or “common sensorium”.

[85] Milk or Milky Way.

[86] The Milky Way is called a “reflection” in the third of the three theories which Aristotle rejects in Meteorology I 8, 345b9–12: “There is still a third theory about the Milky Way. Some say that it is a reflection of our vision to the sun, just as a comet was supposed to be.“ The translations from On Meteorology are, with a few occasional slight modifications, those of H.D.P. Lee in the Loeb series (vol. 398, London 1952).

[87] Ibid., 346a1: “formation”.

[88] Ibid., 345b34–35: “mixture“.

[89] This is Aristotle’s definition of the Milky Way at the end of the chapter (346b5–6): “The Milky Way might perhaps be defined as the tail of the greatest circle produced by the material formation we have described.”

[90] Higher air.

[91] Ibid. I 4, 341b19–29: “fuel” or “combustible matter“, which propels a comet.

[92] Ibid. I 8, 345b32–33: “the outer part of the air which has the power of fire”.

[93] Ibid., I 7 344a15.

[94] The “chasms and lakes“ are part of Aristotle’s lengthy summary of Plato’s cosmological sketch in the Phaedo from which More quotes ibid. II 2, 356a8–9 and its depiction of the cyclical motion of the aforementioned lakes: “All of them pass round again in a circle to the original source from which they flowed.“

[95] Ibid. II 9, 370a25–27: “Our own view is that the same natural substance causes wind on the earth’s surface, earthquakes beneath it, and thunder in the clouds.”

[96] An ancient steam engine invented by Hero of Alexandria in the 1st century AD.

[97] Meteorology II 4, 360a18–19: “The substance of wind and rainwater are the same.”

[98] Ibid. II 8, 366a19–20: “the inward and outward flow“.

[99] Ibid. 367a28–29: “because the wind drains back, as it were, into the earth.“

[100] Ibid. III 2, 372a18: “They are all phenomena of reflection.“ More’s objection here seems rather unclear since ἀνάκλασις, which also has the meanings “bending back” or “flexure”, means “reflection”.

[101] Ibid. 372a10–11: “that they always appear beside the sun“.

[102] Libert Froidmond (1587–1653) was a Belgian scientist and theologian who corresponded with Descartes. In 1627, he published his Meteorologicorum libri sex.

[103] Meteorology I 14, 352a30–31: “A great cycle brings about a great winter and an excess of rain.“

[104] Ibid. I 13, 349a30: “a major invention“.

[105] Ibid. I 14,351 a32: “to the sun and its cycle.“

[106] I.e. those differences presupposed in the reductio ad absurdum in the preceding sentence.

[107] “The first element“, “the first body“, “the divine body“, “the more divine bodily substance“.

[108] On the Heavens II 7, 289a19–22: “The warmth and the light which proceed from the stars are caused by the friction set up in the air by their motion. Movement tends to create fire in wood, stone, and iron” (p. 899).

[109] “Friction“.

[110] I assume that the text should read prae caeteris (“more than the others”) instead of prae caetris (“before the shields”), which may well be due to a typographical error.

Cite as: Henry More, ‘Epistola H. Mori ad V. C. (English translation by A. R. Hall with scholia translated by Christian Hengstermann)’, from Opera omnia, I (1679), 105-129, http://www.cambridge-platonism.divinity.cam.ac.uk/view/texts/diplomatic/Hall, accessed 2020-10-21.