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Henrici Mori Epistolae Quatuor ad Renatum Des-Cartes:

Cum Responsis Clarissimi Philosophi ad duas Priores,

Cumque aliis aliquot Epistolis, Quarum Occasiones, Argumenta, Ordinem versa Pagina tibi commonstrabit

Four Letters of Henry More to René Descartes

with the answers of that most distinguished philosopher to the first two and with some other letters whose occasions, arguments and order will be indicated to the reader on the reverse


Occasion and time of composition: We do not know for certain when exactly More began to study Descartes’ writings. However, a terminus ante quem is provided by the French philosopher’s first mention in More’s early didactic epic Democritus Platonissans of 1646. In the preface, More relates how Descartes’ Principles of First Philosophy, published two years prior, convinced him to give up the notion of a world of necessarily finite extension in favour of an infinitist cosmology. More’s verse exposition of Cartesian cosmology helped establish his reputation as a major English connoisseur of Descartes’ thought. It also attracted the attention of the famous Prussian polymath and pedagogue Samuel Hartlib, who, at that time, was already acquainted with his Cambridge friends and colleagues Benjamin Whichcote and Ralph Cudworth and close friends with John Worthington. In November 1648, Hartlib and Cudworth, who were both aware of the Cambridge philosopher’s expertise in Cartesian thought and his proficiency in the Latin tongue, approached More and managed to persuade him to write his first letter to Descartes on 11 th December. In a letter to Hartlib, More recalls how he eventually gave in to “the importunity of friends (amongst whom I must ever reckon yourself)” in overcoming his reluctance to approach a person of Descartes’ “great fame”: “I must confesse such is my natural rusticity and aversnesse from affecting acquaintances, and correspondencyes with men of great fame and noized partes and worth, that it was a hard task for me to dispense with the obstinacy of my own nature and disposition on this point” (Webster, “Some New Sources”, 364). Still, despite a captatio benevolentiae at times bordering upon adulation, More’s first letter witnesses to the young English philosopher’s remarkable aplomb. Combined, his five objections amount to no less than a formidable critique of the core principles of Descartes’ substance dualism, notably his fundamental distinction between thought and extension, divine agency and his denial of animal souls. In answer to the perceived shortcomings of Cartesian metaphysics and physics, More posited a sui generis spiritual extension by which God imparted motion to an extended world of indivisible atoms at will. In his reply on 5 th February 1649, Descartes, while rejecting his English critic’s own alternative ontology of spiritual and material extensions, nevertheless commended the general astuteness of his objections. Descartes’ favourable reaction encouraged More to send him another letter dated 5 th March. Building upon his earlier critique, he rejected the concept of a transfer of motion from one body to another as impossible on logical grounds. Instead, More restated the early panpsychist cosmology of his poetry, attributing to every body a capacity for self-motion. The French philosopher replied in a letter of 15th April. Descartes may well have started writing a reply to another set of objections in More’s third letter of 23rd July in late August before relocating to Sweden. Hartlib throughout acted as a reliable go-between, using his network to convey More’s letters to Egmond and Descartes’ replies to Cambridge. The extant letters exchanged with Hartlib furnish vivid evidence both of the practicalities of More’s correspondence with Descartes and the author’s changing states of mind. Having overcome his initial inhibitions, More expressed to Hartlib his sincere delight about Descartes’ genial and amicable reply to his objections. However, More was taken aback by the unexpected delay in the correspondence caused by Descartes’ move to Stockholm at the invitation of Queen Christina of Sweden (of whose name, and gender, he betrays an utter ignorance throughout the Hartlib correspondence). More’s letter to Hartlib of 27 th August contains a revealing reference to the latter’s European network. Apparently, Hartlib tasked an associate in Amsterdam, probably his English friend Benjamin Worsley (1618–1677), with delivering More’s letter to Descartes. Once Worsley had done so, he duly reported back to the author: “Worthy Sr. I have received yours of the 20 th of this August and in it your friends from Amsterdam. For wch I am much beholden to you. I perceive by his narration that Des Cartes is such an one as I always tooke him to be, that is, a man of very much good nature and civility.” More went on to express his anxiety that “there will be no re[a]tching of him with a letter so far”, asking somewhat despondently: “Can our intercourse of letters be maintained at that distance.” The letter ends on a hopeful note as More entreats Hartlib to continue to help deliver the letters to “our author”: “It would be no little satisfaction to me if you could certify me in your next that Des Chartes removal to Sueden will not hinder this commerce and intercourse of letters wch is begun betwixt us, that we may reach our author at that distance also” (Gabbey, “Avertissement”, 635). Not surprisingly, More genuinely grieved over Descartes’ death in early 1650, and inveighed against his ill-fated Swedish enterprise on which he should not have embarked in the first place: “I am half ashm’d”, he confided in Hartlib, “to confesse how sad your news of DesCartes death made me. I never liked his journey into Sueden. He show’d more courtship then discretion in going that voiage, I think” (Gabbey, “Avertissement”, 635). Not only did he sincerely lament the loss of a person with whom he believed he had established a personal rapport in the course of their correspondence, but he also regretted that their promising philosophical exchange had been cut short.

Hartlib also went on to play an important role in the publication of the exchange of letters. In late 1654, Claude Clerselier approached More and asked him for his copies both of his own objections and Descartes’ replies so as to include them in his edition of the French philosopher’s correspondence which he was preparing at that time. Clerselier, moreover, pointed to a brief two-page fragment of a third letter by Descartes which, he hoped, More possessed and could forward to him a complete copy of it. More answered only on 13 th May 1655. Apologizing profusely for the delay, he related that Clerselier’s letter had reached him only on 15 th April of that year, when, for health reasons, he had not been in Cambridge, but in the countryside of his hometown of Grantham. He applauded Clerselier’s editorial project, even expressing hope that a publication of his own letters in that forthcoming edition might lead Cartesians of the day to respond to his queries left unanswered by the master himself: “Although this might prove to be unfeasible at present, the publication of my third and fourth letters might arguably attract one of the more capable proponents of Cartesian philosophy to answer all the difficulties which I proposed to Descartes himself in them” (Op. omn. II/2, 232). As to the practical task at hand, More clearly stalled for time. He entreated Clerselier not to publish the letters in their present state, but wait for a revised version upon which he apparently set to work at once. Of the two different versions of More’s first letter to Descartes extant among the Hartlib Papers, the first may be seen as a revised version of the second. It is characterized by a plethora of minor stylistic changes, mostly changes of a verb’s mood or of the general register, by which the author clearly sought to dispel all semblance of his rather immature early enthusiasm for Descartes. To that end, More chose to replace the rather unbecoming merherculè and hercle with the less colloquial profecto and sane, respectively (see the apparatus criticus compiled in Gabbey, “Appendice II”). Moreover, while still in Grantham, More wrote a letter to Hartlib on 18 th April, pressuring him to send his copy of his second letter to Descartes and the latter’s response to their common friend Cudworth at his earliest convenience. When, on his return to Cambridge, he found that Hartlib had failed to comply with his request, he sent him another letter on 4th May in which, as well as impressing upon him the urgency of his request, he sought to enlist his aid as a courier once again. The letter’s urgency of tone bears testimony to the “rather embarrassing situation” (Gabbey, “Avertissement”, 638) that More found himself in upon receiving Clerselier’s unexpected request. Again, the letter provides detailed information about the difficulties of 17 th century correspondences:

“Sr. I wrote to you from Grantham, some three weekes ago as I remember, I having there receiv’d a letter from Mounsieur Clerselier from Paris about Descartes letters to me, the second of them you never returned me, and I was the more carles of it, because I did not foresee any such occasion as this. My request is that you would send it me with all speed, or at least send me word whether you can send it me or noe. I desire also to know whether you can convey letters for me to Paris with safety, and what time I may expect an answer, and whether you will undertake it or noe. Thus desiring to hear from you with what convenient speed may be I take leave and rest” (Gabbey, “Avertissement”, 638).”

Hartlib’s delay in sending More the letters requested may well have been due to the English philosopher’s own earlier failure to support the reformer’s Cambridge students in return for his indefatigable effort both in initiating the Correspondence and acting as a go-between. While he had availed himself of his services of conveying his letters to the admired French philosopher, More himself had neither shown interest in the social reformer’s own utilitarian and scientific projects nor lent financial support to his Cambridge protégés, including one William Petty with whom he had instead engaged in a dispute about the value of experimental science in general. By the time Hartlib did finally send him the letters requested, also offering to have them conveyed to Paris, More had already found a friend and student willing to do so instead ( Conway Letters, 109). In a letter to Hartlib dated 28th May, More duly expressed his gratitude in a tone of forced politeness and declined his offer to be employed as a courier. As well as sending Clerselier the parts of the correspondence requested shortly afterwards, More sent him another letter now lost. However, as is clear from Clerselier’s allusion to it in the preface to his later edition, the letter contained a request that he be sent the “inventory of Stockholm”, a list of Descartes’ works left in Chenut’s house in Stockholm, where the philosopher had died, as well as the fragment of the latter’s response to his objections put forward in his third letter. Descartes’ answer, which Clerselier forwarded to More alongside the list, shows every sign of not being finished. It lacks the polish and politeness of his earlier two letters to More. Moreover, it is generally dismissive or scathing in tone, culminating in Descartes’ rejection of More’s speculations on angels and demons and his flirtations with panpsychism as “downright amusing” (Op. omn. II/2, 268). More wrote a response to the fragment which he included in a letter to Clerselier, defending his original metaphor of the world as a “shadow” of God’s own perfect life with which every body, however minute, shared a fundamental capacity for self-motion. Neither, therefore, is More’s answer “a decisive document in the chronology of More’s attitudes toward Descartes and his philosophy” (Gabbey, “Cartesianismus Triumphatus” 211) nor does it show “More’s emancipation from his early exploratory involvement with Cartesian philosophy” (ibid. 214), from which, as is clear from his earliest extensive critique, he never needed to free himself in the first place. Instead, the response is a restatement of the early occasionalist concept of causality and its concomitant panpsychism of 1649/50, to which More, significantly, subscribed as late as July/August 1655, when continuing his correspondence. Only in 1659, when he published his philosophical prose work The Immortality of the Soul, did More, therefore, reject his monism of life in favour of a dualism of living spirit and dead matter. More referenced the “Catalogue of what Writings Cartesius had left behind him” in the preface to his 1662 Collection of Several Philosophical Writings of 1662, citing Descartes’ early Latin exercise on Prov. 1:7 as yet another piece of evidence for the elective kinship between him and the French philosopher. Not only did More’s Collection, published five years after Clerselier’s edition, include the most comprehensive edition of the Correspondence, including its posthumous continuation and the first two letters exchanged with Clerselier, but it was supplemented by another letter on Cartesianism, the Epistola ad V.C., advertised in the Correspondence’s table of contents as “a defence of Descartes” and “an introduction to the whole of Cartesian philosophy” (Op. omn. II/2, 229). While the inclusion of a letter addressed to a different (anonymous) recipient in an exchange of letters between More and Descartes may at first seem odd, the explanations for Cartesian errors provided in the Epistola ad V.C. can be, and are evidently meant by the author to be, read as a commentary on those exposed in his original Epistolae Quatuor ad Renatum Des-Cartes. Thus, Descartes’ occasional inadvertency, for one thing, accounts for his imperfect explanation for the phenomena of reflection and refraction. For another, his errors in physics, i.e. the concept of reciprocal motion and his assertation of an immobile earth, and in metaphysics, his identification of matter and extension, are due to the philosopher’s prudence or overcautiousness and to his love for the mathematical method respectively. Still, Descartes, for all his errors, must be credited with a compelling account of a cosmogony of bodies initially endowed with motion and following mechanistic laws inserted into them by the creator God. The other principal works included in More’s Collection belie his own claim in the Clerselier correspondence that his enthusiasm for Cartesianism had started to wane as a consequence of the philosopher’s death. His own version of Descartes’ ontological argument in his Antidote against Atheism of 1653 and Moses’ vortex cosmology in the Conjectura Cabbalistic of the same year are impressive evidence of his abiding interest in Cartesian metaphysics and physics. Moreover, not only did More continue to teach Descartes’ Principles of Philosophy to Anne Conway and other students, producing a partial translation to that end, but he also advocated an inclusion of Cartesian philosophy of nature in the national university curricula in his Immortality of the Soul, republished in the Collection.

A third and final phase of the Correspondence after the original exchange of letters with Descartes and the subsequent one with Clerselier is documented in the scholia added to the republished work in the final volume of More’s three-volume Latin Opera Omnia published in 1679. By that time, More had come to know the works of French and, above all, radical Dutch Cartesianism, notably Lambert van Velthuysen’s Tractatus de Initiis Primae Philosophiae of 1664, Lodewijk Meyer’s Philosophia S. Scripturae interpres of 1666, Louis de de La Forge’s Tractatus de Mente Humana of 1669 and Baruch de Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus of 1670 and his Opera Posthuma of 1677. As a consequence, he increasingly viewed Descartes’ “nullibism” or the denial of extension and place to spirit as a chief source of a particularly potent variety of contemporary atheism. The critique of “nullibism”, put forward most forcefully in the Enchiridium Metaphysicum of 1671, provides the backdrop to More’s scholia both upon his own and Descartes’ letters. Equally important is More’s unequivocal espousal of spiritual extension expressed in non-holenmerian terms upon which he insists time and again in his later comments on ambiguous earlier passages in his original Correspondence. Still, despite his animus against the Cartesianism of his day, More is careful to distinguish between the well-meaning, albeit problematic or aporetic, theism of Descartes and the outright atheism of many of his contemporary followers in England, France and the Netherlands.

Sources and other References: Throughout the Correspondence, the chief text of reference is Descartes’ Principles of Philosophy. Besides that, More refers to the Discourse on Method, including the essays on natural philosophy, i.e. optics and meteorology, appended to it. Apparently, More had not read the Meditations by the time he started corresponding with Descartes, which he did only a few years later, when he began working on his Antidote against Atheism, in which he took issue with Descartes’ causal argument for the existence of God.

Structure: The Correspondence consists of seven letters in total:

More Descartes

11th December 1648

5th February 1649
5th March 1649
15th April
23rd July 1649
probably end of August 1649
21st October 1649

Metaphysics and Religious Philosophy: The Correspondence provides More’s first major prose exposition of his Platonic metaphysics and, no less significantly, Descartes’ “last sustained defence of his system” (Webster, “Some New Sources”, 359). Several of the philosophical topics discussed in great detail in the celebrated Correspondence are already outlined in More’s cosmological poem Democritus Platonissans published two years prior. In the preface More expressly revokes his earlier position of a cosmos necessarily finite in extension. Instead, he follows what he believes to be Descartes’ infinitist cosmology of the Principles of Philosophy: “Nay and that sublime and subtill Mechanick too, Des-Chartes, though he seem to mince it must hold infinitude of worlds, or which is as harsh, one infinite one. For what is his mundus indefinite extensus, but extensus infinite? Else it sounds onley infinitus quoad nos , but simpliciter finitus.” Temporal and spatial infinity is linked closely both to God’s own omnipresence, viewed as implying a localized presence, and “ divine goodness” from which More, at this early stage of his intellectual career, inferred the necessity of an infinite created world. The validity of Descartes’ distinction between an infinite and an indefinite material extension, is one of the five objections raised in More’s first letter to Descartes. Likewise, More’s key conviction of God’s beneficent omnipresence can be seen to underlie all of his objections to Descartes’ system of metaphysics and natural philosophy. Not coincidentally, More’s programmatic first objection revolves around God’s extension which he views as the ontological sine qua non of his universal creative agency:

“Firstly, the definition which you give of matter or body is far broader than is warranted. For God also seems to be an extended substance, as do angels and indeed every thing subsisting through itself. Hence, extension is apparently coterminous with the absolute essence of things, although the latter may differ according to the differences between the essences themselves. I view God as being extended in his own way on account of his omnipresence, occupying as he does the whole fabric of the world and each of its particles in an intimate fashion. How else could he impress motion upon matter, which, as you yourself concede, he did at some point and which he does to this day, unless he touches, or had at least at some point touched, the matter of the universe from close up? He could not have done so at any time had he not been present everywhere and occupied every single place. Hence, God is extended and expanded in his own way, and therefore is an extended substance” (Op. omn. II/2, 234–235).

More’s first objection provides the major first exposition of his landmark doctrine of extended mind. Its rationale is theistic agency. If and only if God is, or was at some point, present in all places, can he “touch”, or have touched at some point, the atoms constituting the second substance of material extension. Divine causality, hence, requires a strict ontological univocity of extension (Leech, Hammer of the Cartesians, 132–133) which he expressly views as “coterminous with the absolute essence of things” both uncreated and created. It is attributed to finite spiritual beings like “angels and human minds” which More, elaborating upon his early ontology, credits with the ability to contract and expand, thus assuming different forms and shapes at will (Op. omn. II/2, 235). While early statements such as these clearly anticipate More’s later mature ontology of man’s mutable “essential spissitude” and God’s immutable spatial infinity in the philosophical works of the late 1650s and late 1660s and early 70s respectively, his first précis of spiritual extension may also be seen as a document of transition. More still betrays a certain wariness, qualifying God’s extension as somehow analogical in nature (“in his own way”) and expressing it in the more traditional holenmerian terms of his early Neoplatonic poetry: “Besides, God, insofar as the human mind comprehends God, is everywhere in his entirety. He is present in all places and all spaces as well as in each point of space in his whole essence” (II/2, 245). Instead of extension, body is distinguished from spirit by its impenetrability. God’s omnipresence, whether conceived of in terms of More’s early holenmerianism or those of his later doctrine of univocal extension, is the source of all motion in a cosmos viewed as animate. In his first letter, he rejects Descartes’ purely mechanist account of animal behaviour which clearly falls short of its complexity. The later letters provide a succinct restatement of the panpsychist cosmology of More’s early metaphysical poetry. It is meant to remedy what More perceives as Descartes’ unsatisfactory concept of “motion” as a merely relative and, hence, reciprocal change of place undergone by two adjacent bodies. As well as being highly counter-intuitive in itself, it fails to do justice to the force of one body impelling another. Nor could motion as a mode be transferred from one substance to another without, as it were, vanishing in the process. Instead, all of reality must be viewed as being endowed with a modicum of autonomous self-motion. According to More’s concept of “occasional causation” (Reid, Metaphysics, 246), there is no transfer of motion from one bodily substance to another. Rather, one body is “reminded” of its own inherent power when hit by another and sets itself in motion accordingly. As the “last and lowest shadow and image of the divine essence” from which it proceeds, body as such participates in its “perfect life”, thus being capable of the self-motion required for the causal interaction of the extended material world: “And in fact every so-called body is also alive in a mindless and befuddled way, since in my view it is the last und lowest shadow and image of the divine essence which, I hold, is most perfect life. However, it is devoid of all sense and animadversion” (Op. omn. II/2, 247–248).

Throughout his Correspondence, More closely links God’s spatial ubiquity and nature’s universal animation, viewing God’s creative agency, exercised in every single place of his infinite extension, as a benign communication of life and motion. His other objections can all be linked to his overriding ontological concern with divine and spiritual extension and agency. In accordance with his view of God’s extension and action, More defends the possibility of a vacuum which Descartes, following his identification of body and extension, must deny. While a vessel, on the principles of Cartesian physics, must collapse once the bodily extension between two opposing sides has been removed, Morean philosophy of nature allows for a possible divine intervention preventing them from meeting: “For if God impresses motion upon matter, as you have shown earlier, can he not press against it, preventing the sides of the vessel from meeting? However, it is a contradiction to say, you argue, that the sides of a vessel are distant from one another without there being anything between them” (Op. omn. II/2, 235). However, while defending the conceptual possibility, More is careful to deny the actual reality of a vacuum on theological grounds. Instead of leaving places devoid of its beneficent self-communication, “the divine fecundity”, he instead states as a corollary of his Christian Platonism of God’s creative goodness, “is not idle anywhere. It has produced matter in all places without leaving even the minutest of gaps” (Op. omn. II/2, 246). God’s spatial omnipresence is, hence, inextricably linked to his creative agency by which he everywhere produces the “dark life” of matter as his own “shadow and image”.

Theology and Ethics: Not surprisingly given the addressee, More is largely reticent about his theology proper. Still, he does mention some of his favourite theological topics, including angels and demons which he mentions as spiritual substances capable of self-extension and self-contraction and the pre-existence of souls which he believes can leave their bodies and enter others according to universal cosmic laws. The principle of their motion is their free will. While the topics discussed in the Correspondence are metaphysical in character, More is careful to indicate their relevance to ethics and theory of action. Spiritual extension is vital to human agency. God’s life-giving omnipresence is the ontological sine qua non of the existence of libertarian agency in the first place which cannot but be inexplicable on the principles of rigid Cartesian mechanism: “How does the αὐτεξούσιον, of which we are conscious in ourselves, come to be?” (Op. omn. II/2, 46). In turn, divine agency itself is conceived of in the univocal terms of More’s own hylomorphic theory of human action. Just as the soul, in exercising its αὐτεξούσιον or freedom of choice, moves its body by virtue of its animal spirits and shapes the corporeal reality within and without, so does God act upon the world through natural intermediaries. Human action, thus, furnishes the closest analogue to God’s own life-giving agency in the world.

Significance and reception: More’s changing attitudes towards Descartes are generally coextensive with the changing fortunes of English Cartesianism at large. Such was the enthusiasm for Descartes among More’s students and followers that, as early as 1649, John Hall, one of his Cambridge admirers, submitted to Parliament an official motion for the inclusion of Cartesianism in all university curricula. As late as 1667, John Worthington reproached More for the deleterious influence which his ill-advised youthful infatuation with Descartes had exerted upon the students, an estimation repeated in 18 th century historiography (Webster, “New Sources”, 361). Natural philosophers Henry Power and Isaac Barrows owe their own critical Cartesianism to More. The inclusion of More’s Correspondence in Clerselier’s complete edition of Descartes’ letters and the many subsequent editions of his works meant that More’s objections and Descartes’ responses could not fail to find a wide readership in the European republic of letters.

Editions and translations: More published his correspondence with the celebrated French philosopher both as part of his English Collection of Several Philosophical Writings of 1662 and his Latin Opera Omnia of 1679, adding scholia to several of the letters. Claude Clerselier published the letters in the first volume of his three-volume edition of Descartes’ correspondence: Lettres de Mr. Descartes, Paris 1657. Its third edition of 1667, judged by Gabbey (“Appendice II”, 668) to be wanting in numerous regards, serves as the basis of the critical text in the fifth volume of the authoritative edition of the French philosopher’s works by Charles Adam/Paul Tannery, Correspondance V: Mai 1647–Février 1650, Paris: Léopold Cerf, 1903 (Reprint Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1996). The Correspondence calls for a new edition based on the texts in the More and the Descartes corpora with their many different editions, the letters extant in the Hartlib papers and newly-discovered manuscripts.

The most complete print translation of the correspondence so far is offered in the comprehensive Italian edition which reproduces all the letters by and to Descartes in their original languages and in Italian translations: René Descartes, Tutte Le Lettere 1619–1650. Testo francese, latino e olandese. A cura di Giulia Belgioioso. Nuova edizione ampliate, riveduta e corretta, Milan: Il Pensiero Occidentale, 2005. However, it includes neither the exchange of letters between Clerselier and More nor the latter’s scholia. The early 18 th century French translation is accessible in Descartes, Correspondance avec Arnauld et Morus. Texte Latin et Traduction. Introduction et notes par Geneviève Lewis, Paris: Vrin, 1953, with those passages helpfully italicized which diverge from the Latin. There is also a more recent Spanish edition by José Luis González Recio, La Correspondencia Descartes-Henry More, Madrid: Ediciones Antígona, SL, 2011, which includes both the original Latin text and the French translation. The Spanish translation is based on the latter, but provides more literal translations wherever the French and Latin differ. Descartes’ letters have, with several omissions, been translated into English in the CSM edition of his works: The Philosophical Writings of Descartes. Vol. III: The Correspondence. Translated by John Cottingham/Robert Stoothoff/Dugald Murdoch/Anthony Kenny, Cambridge: CUP, 1991. There is an English translation of More’s celebrated dispute with Descartes about animal souls with introduction and notes in Leonora D. Cohen, “Descartes and Henry More on the Beast-Machine – A Translation of Their Correspondence Pertaining to Animal Automatism”, in: Annals of Science 1 (1936), 48–61. The following is the first complete translation of the correspondence, as it appears in More’s Collection and Opera omnia, including the exchange of letters between the editor and the author and the latter’s later scholia. It also includes More’s Epistola ad V.C., which he added to the Correspondence in his 1662 Collection, and his scholia on this text.

This part includes:

  • Letter of Claude Clerselier to H. More in which he asks for his permission to publish his letters to Descartes.
  • More’s answer.
  • The first letter of H. More to R. Descartes which deals primarily with the nature of the body and the vacuum, the extension of the world and the sensation of brutes.
  • Descartes’ answer.
  • The second letter of H. More to R. Descartes in which he refutes the earlier objections by mostly new instances,[1] and raises various further questions regarding the extension of the world, the nature of motion, grooved particles, the soul’s union with the body and its control of the body, the transformation of ethereal globules into the first element, the flexibility of water particles and, finally, the αὐτοκινησία[2] of matter.
  • Descartes’ answer to said instances and questions.
  • H. More’s third letter to R. Descartes in which he briefly reviews the issues discussed so far, and then proposes several of the principles of philosophy for examination or explanation.
  • Henry More’s fourth letter to R. Descartes in which he also proposes various aspects of the Optics and the Meteorology for examination or elucidation.
  • Fragment of R. Descartes’ answer to H. More’s third letter which deals with the sensation of angels and separate minds, the contraction and dilation of spirits, God’s amplitude, the rest and motion of matter, etc.
  • H. More’s answer to said fragment.
  • A Letter of H. More to V.C. which contains a defence of Descartes and which may also serve as an introduction to the whole of Cartesian philosophy[3]

To the most distinguished and noble Englishman Henry More

It was with great pleasure, most excellent Sir, that I read and reread the list of difficulties which you proposed to the learned Descartes in your letters of 11th December 1648, 5th March, 23rd July and 21st October 1649. I could not but admire both your genius and your extraordinary kindness. Therefore, trusting in the latter, I have dared to write back to you with confidence to inform you about what I have decided to do, and request from you what is necessary for me to complete the work which I have undertaken. Know, then, that I have in my hands the autographs of the principal letters which that incomparable philosopher, the learned Descartes, bequeathed to the learned Chanut, most distinguished both as the erstwhile ambassador to the most serene queen of Sweden and as the current ambassador to the Dutch and my brother-in-law, at whose house the philosopher died. Among these letters are also answers to many of his friends from which I am selecting the most important ones, notably such as bear upon his philosophy, refer to works which he sought to finish, or solve difficulties proposed to him by a great number of celebrated persons amongst whom you do not have the least of places. I hope that I shall be able to publish all of these letters shortly. However, the letters written in reply to difficulties will hardly be intelligible unless the ones which occasioned his responses are also made available. Moreover, it would have seemed wrong to me had I pursued this without the consent and permission of those who wrote to him. Hence, I approached and asked several of them to grant me that which I hope you, in your extraordinary kindness and exceptional zeal for Descartes, will grant me as well. Moreover, I should also like to ask you to send me the copies of all the letters which you received from Descartes, since I have only two of them in my hands, the first an answer to your letter of 5th February, the second an answer to the one which you wrote on 15th April. There remains a third one, therefore, which I do not have yet and which must be the answer to your letters of 23rd July and of 21st October. It cannot but be a very fine piece and contain a great many things most worthy of note, since it must be Descartes’ answer to the many important difficulties and questions which you raised regarding his Principles of Philosophy and especially his Optics. Of this letter I have found a mere two pages which only seek to address your instances[4] without containing a single word on your questions regarding the Principles and the Optics. Hence, I very much hope and beseech you most earnestly that you give me the permission to publish your letters alongside Descartes’ answers. And please send me those which you received from Descartes as well so that we may do a great service both to posterity and to the fame and memory of our common friend. However, besides these handwritten letters, I also possess quite a few other documents of this most celebrated man each of which will see the light of day in due course. I assume that you, too, being, as it seems, quite an avid reader of Cartesian writings, will take no little delight in them. Had I been allowed to use the vernacular language instead, I should have expressed my view in more well-chosen and pleasing words. However, to avoid making too many mistakes, I have been very brief and explained my intention to you only as well as I could and not as well as I would have liked to. I very much hope, though, that you will see past this fault and rest assured that I shall always be an ardent admirer both of your kindness and your wisdom.

Claude Clerselier

Paris, 12th December 1654

The Answer of Henry More

Your Letter written on 12th December in Paris, most distinguished Sir, reached me only on 15th April 1655. It is surprising how long it took. I was in Grantham in Lincolnshire at that time, because I had gone to the countryside for various reasons, but mostly to recover my health. I was very pleased indeed when I learned of your excellent project of publishing all the writings of Descartes in your possession in order to do the greatest of services, both to the fame and memory of the most noble of all philosophers, and to the whole learned world. For there is no-one whom Horace’s dictum fits better than this divine man:

“One who does nothing ineptly.”[5]

Hence, if I were to give you my advice, nothing either of what he began writing in matters philosophical in one way or another or of what he contrived to complete should be left unpublished. Instead, all of it should see the light of day for the greater good of the republic of letters. And therefore, lest there be any further obstacle to so useful and so noble an enterprise, I gladly give you my permission to publish my first and second letters to Descartes without which, as you rightly point out, it is more difficult to understand his answers. Moreover, I think it may be quite useful if you also publish my third letter, because it is a response to those other Cartesian writings.[6] My fourth letter, however, is not an answer to any of his, nor has he written an answer to it on account of his unexpected and untimely death. Therefore, I am not really sure whether I should publish it. It would remove all my doubts, though, if one of his friends or acquaintances who visited and conversed with him very frequently or lived with him quite closely were to take over the task of answering it instead. In this case, I would have very little doubt that this letter was worth being published as well. Although this might prove to be unfeasible at present, the publication of my third and fourth letters might arguably attract one of the more capable proponents of Cartesian philosophy to answer all the difficulties which I proposed to Descartes himself in them. It is in this hope at least that I could convince myself more readily to give you the permission to prepare both of the letters for print. But perhaps you yourself can foresee more clearly what will happen in this matter than I can. Therefore, lest I hold you back any longer, I leave this whole business to your honesty and judgement so that you may do what must be done. I was incredibly grieved by the news of Descartes’ premature demise, since I have always felt the deepest love and admiration for the genius and virtues of this incomparable man. Moreover, I am also very eager to read his long-awaited answers to my third and fourth letters which review the whole of his Philosophy.[7] I have learned from you that he started writing a comprehensive answer to my letter of 23rd July, and suspect that he wrote this fragment when he was still in Egmond in Holland. However, as I have been told by his friends, he had to stop working on it because he was very occupied with the preparations for his journey to Sweden so that he could not concern himself with so subtle and, as he said himself, so important difficulties and questions. However, he promised his friends time and again that he would return to it the following spring, when he would explain everything to me in great detail and clarity. However, since envious death has so prematurely deprived us of the rest, I would not want even the two-page fragment which you mention to be lost. As regards those more complete documents of Descartes which you say are in your possession and which, as you promise, will see the light of day in due time, my mind rejoices at such truly happy and joyful tidings. And meanwhile, I earnestly beseech you that, if this is not too troublesome for you, you list the contents of each of the books by title in your next letter. For, ever since I received your recent letters, my erstwhile zeal for Cartesian philosophy has been rekindled. It had somewhat abated after the death of our most-missed friend, when there was no new reading material anymore. However, to tell you the truth of the matter, this was not the sole reason, but I was also engaged in certain special studies which held my attention elsewhere. For there is such a profundity of subject matter in his writings, such resplendent truth, such a breadth and acumen of genius and, lastly, such an admirable order and agreement of all the tenets that they do not grow stale even on the thousandth reading, no more than does the light of the rising sun, which birds, animals and even men themselves contemplate in joy every single day.

Not only, certainly, is the Cartesian philosophy readable, but also, whatever others may grumble and babble, extremely useful for the highest aim of all philosophy, namely religion. For the Peripatetics assert that there are certain substantial forms proceeding from the potentiality of matter and coalescing with matter in such a way that they could not subsist without it. Therefore, they will, of necessity, eventually return into the potentiality of matter (a category to which they assign the souls of almost all animals, even those to whom they attribute sense and thought). Moreover, the Epicureans, having exploded substantial forms, hold that there is a power of sense and thought in matter itself. Of all the philosophers of nature, only Descartes, to my knowledge, has removed from philosophy the notion of substantial forms as well as souls proceeding from matter, and robbed matter itself of all capacity for sense and thought. If, therefore, we were to hold on to Cartesian principles, we would have a most certain way and method of proof both that there was a God and that the human soul could not be mortal. And these two doctrines are the most solid foundations and fulcrums of all true religion. I note this only briefly, although I could well add many other tenets of the same tenor. However, I shall say by way of summary that there is no other philosophy (with the possible exception of Platonism) which prevents the atheists from seeking their accustomed refuge in their perverse cavils and subterfuges as firmly as the Cartesian one, provided one understands it a little more deeply. Hence, I hope that all virtuous man will look leniently upon the most exuberant praises which I heaped upon this incomparable man in my letters to him. And whatever this present age may think about Descartes (and the living are never spared its envy, while the memory of the recently deceased seldom is), I believe that posterity will bestow all praise and veneration upon him and acknowledge the extraordinary usefulness of his philosophy. And I prophesy this all the more cheerfully because I want to encourage you even more to carry on in your noble enterprise of publishing all of Descartes’ writings in your possession. And of all the people whom you will thereby make beholden to you, no-one will be more grateful to you than me who have always reaped such extraordinary pleasure from reading his works.

If[8] you decide to publish my letters to Descartes, I beseech you most earnestly that you do not do it on the basis of the copies which you already possess, because I am furnishing you with ones with quite a few corrections. For, on reading them more attentively, I found several mistakes which I had made in my carelessness, being carried away by too much fervour when writing to Descartes. I have also cut some passages in my questions in my third and fourth letters. The first and the second, however, are uncut.

The fact that almost a whole month has already passed since I received your letter without my answering you is not due to any negligence or carelessness on my part. For I cannot but think highly of you, not only because of your excellent character which, as I have seen sufficiently clearly from your letter, conforms completely to all justice and kindness, but also because of the worthy piety which Chanut, your most famous brother-in-law, most well-deserving, as you report, both as the erstwhile ambassador to the Swedes and as the current one to the Dutch, has displayed towards the late Descartes. However, I have devoted the whole time which has elapsed since then partly to the obligations which I had to attend to in the country, and partly, on returning to the university, to the correction and transcription of my letters to Descartes. Now, however, I have prepared all of the copies both of my letters and Descartes’ for publication. However, I am sending you neither the former nor the latter just yet because I thought I should first make sure that the one which I have written to you has reached you. Once you have confirmed this, I shall send them to you immediately. Meanwhile, I should very much like to learn how far you have progressed in your noble enterprise which, as you have written, you have undertaken. You will do me a great favour indeed if you will inform me about this in your next letter. Farewell, most distinguished Sir, and may you bring that excellent work which you are undertaking to a successful conclusion. This is the wish of

the most ardent follower of yours and all Cartesians

Henry More

Cambridge, Christ’s College, 14th May 1655

Henry More, an Englishman, to that most distinguished gentleman René Descartes

No-one but you alone, most distinguished Sir, can judge what pleasure I felt when reading your writings.

Indeed, I may well go so far as to say that I exulted as much in understanding and adopting your celebrated doctrines as you did in discovering them and that I hold these most beautiful children of your mind as dear as though my own mind had given birth to them. And in a way I do in fact view myself as their author, having reached and striven for those very same ideas and thoughts which your great mind had conceived and demonstrated before me. They correspond to my own thought and judgement so closely that I cannot possibly hope to find anything that accords more fully with my own mind, nor indeed can they be at odds with anyone else’s unless they are estranged from right reason.

I shall freely tell you what I think. All past and present masters of the secrets of nature seem to me to be nothing but dwarfs and pygmies compared to your extraordinary genius. Ever since I turned the very first page of your philosophical writings, I have suspected that the most famous of your disciples, the most renowned Princess Elizabeth, has proved to be of far superior wisdom not only to all other European women, but also to all male philosophers [in fully appreciating the brilliance of your philosophy].[9] It became even clearer to me once I began studying and understanding your writings a little more deeply.

Thus, at last the Cartesian light, i.e. a free, distinct and self-consistent light that illuminates both nature and your pages in such a miraculous fashion, began to shine upon me with greater clarity. As a consequence, only a very few dark places, if any, remain which that noble torch of yours has not yet illuminated, but which it will soon illuminate with only a little effort on my part, if I may say so. Indeed, everything you write in your Principles of Philosophy, Optics and Meteorology is so consistent and so consonant with itself and nature that man’s mind and reason could hardly wish for a more enjoyable spectacle.

That playful, yet deeply agreeable, kind of modesty which you display in your Method reveals you to be a person who is such that one can neither imagine nor wish for a more affable and lovable mind and character or one more sublime and generous.

Why am I writing this to you? It is not because I thought, most distinguished Sir, that either you or the republic of letters would benefit from it in any way. Instead, the knowledge of the extraordinary pleasure and gain which I had reaped from your writings compelled me to write to you and express my heartfelt gratitude to you in some way. Moreover, I wanted to let you know that there are some even amongst the English people who think very highly of your person and your work and who hold the divine gifts of your mind in the deepest admiration and respect. However, no-one can love you as sincerely or embrace your excellent philosophy as firmly as I do.

However, my most illustrious Monsieur Descartes, I do not want to pass over in silence that, whilst I love your most beautiful philosophical system, I must confess that there are some minor details put forth in the second part of your Principles which my mind is apparently a bit too dull to grasp or deviates from too much to accept.

Yet, these aspects do not pose any danger to your philosophy as a whole. For they are such that, regardless of whether they may be rightly judged to be false or uncertain, they do not affect either the essence or the foundations of your philosophy so that the latter can stand quite well without them.[10] However, if you will not mind, I shall briefly expound these aspects to you.

Firstly, the definition which you give of matter or body is far broader than is warranted. For God also seems to be an extended substance, as do angels and indeed every thing subsisting through itself. Hence, extension is apparently coterminous with the absolute essence of things,[11] although the latter may differ according to the differences between the essences themselves. I view God as being extended in his own way on account of his omnipresence, occupying as he does the whole fabric of the world and each of its particles in an intimate fashion. How else could he impress motion upon matter, which, as you yourself concede, he did at some point and which he does to this day, unless he touches, or had at least at some point touched, the matter of the universe from close up?[12] He could not have done so at any time had he not been present everywhere and occupied every single place. Hence, God is extended and expanded in his own way, and therefore is an extended substance.

Nor does it follow from this that he is a body or matter which your mind, that ingenious artist, has so skilfully formed into little orbs and grooved particles. For this reason, “extended substance” is broader than “body”.

Your argument to support this definition of yours is so misguided and downright sophistical that I am further encouraged to disagree with you in this matter. A body, you argue, would be a body even if it were deprived of its softness and hardness as well as its heaviness or lightness. Thus, it would continue to be a body if all those together with all the other qualities perceived in a material body were to be removed from it. It is as though you were to say that a waxen pair of scales could be such without having a round, cubic or pyramidal shape, or that it could remain a complete waxen pair of scales without any shape at all, which is impossible. For even though neither this nor that figure is tied to the wax so closely that it could not cast off one or the other of them, it is nevertheless an absolute and inescapable necessity that wax should always have a shape. Thus, even though matter is not necessarily soft or hard and hot or cold, it is absolutely necessary that it is sensible or, if you will, tangible according to that most apposite definition of Lucretius:

For nothing, if it be not body, can touch and be touched. [13]

Certainly, this notion need not at all be at odds with your views, since your philosophy most clearly follows those ancient philosophers mentioned in Theophrastus’ Περὶ αἰσθήσεως in making all sensation consist in touch, which I most willingly accept as perfectly true. However, should you take exception to body being defined by its relationship to our senses, I allow for this tangibility to be broader and more general, signifying the mutual contact between bodies and their power of touching one another, whether they are animate or inanimate. Let it be defined then as the surfaces of two or more bodies being situated immediately adjacent to each other. And this reveals another property of matter or body which we could call “impenetrability”: one body cannot penetrate or be penetrated by another body. From that the difference between the divine and the corporeal nature becomes quite clear: the former is able to penetrate the latter, while the latter cannot penetrate itself. Hence, Virgil, following his Platonists, seems to argue altogether more felicitously than Descartes himself, singing the following song in accordance with their views:

The spirit within nourishes, and mind instilled throughout the living parts activates the whole mass, and mingles with this vast body.[14]

I omit other more remarkable properties of the divine extension because it is not necessary to expound them here. These few should suffice to demonstrate that it is much safer to define matter as a tangible or, as I have explained above, an impenetrable substance than as an extended thing. For the tangibility or impenetrability mentioned can be attributed to body universally. Your definition, by contrast, infringes the law of καθόλου πρῶτον, as it is not reciprocal with the thing defined.[15]

Secondly, you imply that it is not possible even by divine power that there could exist a vacuum in the proper sense of the word. Thus, for example, if every body were to be removed from a vessel, its sides would necessarily meet. However, this seems to me to be both wrong and at odds with what you have said before. For if God impresses motion upon matter, as you have shown earlier, can he not press against it, preventing the sides of the vessel from meeting? However, it is a contradiction to say [, you argue,] that the sides of a vessel are distant from one another without there being anything between them. Moreover, the learned ancients Epicurus, Democritus, Lucretius and others also took a different view. However, let us not dwell on that slight kind of argument any further. I contend that the divine extension lies between them, that your supposition that only matter is extended is ill-founded, and that, as I have said before, the sides will approach each other not by logical, but by natural necessity, and God alone can prevent them from meeting again. For since the particles, notably those of the first and second elements, are impelled forward in such violent motion, it is necessary that they rush to the vacated place, forcing those adjacent to them with them.

Thus, it is very unfortunate that you should rest such a beautiful theory as that of the different modes of rarefaction and condensation, which I judge for other reasons to be most true, upon such a frail foundation.

Thirdly, I fail to understand the incomparable subtlety of your proof that there are no atoms or particles that are indivisible by their very nature. For while, you say, God may have created such particles as cannot be divided by any of his creatures, he could certainly not have deprived himself of the ability to divide them because it is impossible for him to limit his own power. By this same argument you might as well prove that God could never have made yesterday’s sun rise because his power cannot cause yesterday’s sun not to have risen. Nor could the vilest fly die

If only he who has died may not have died,[16]

as Ovid says so elegantly about himself. Nor could God have created a matter that is divisible into ever more divisible parts because he could not then ever complete and perfect this division. For in this case one part, though capable of division, would always remain undivided, thus always preventing God from fully exercising his power and achieving his end.

Fourthly, I do not understand your notion of the indefinite extension of the world. For that indefinite extension is either infinite in itself or in relation to us. If you conceive extension to be infinite [sc. in itself], why do you obscure your view with such overly restrained and moderate words? If you believe it infinite in relation to us only, extension will in reality be finite, for our mind is neither the measure of truth nor reality. And therefore, since there is another expansion that is infinite itself, namely that of the divine essence, the matter of your vortices will move away from its centres and the whole fabric of the world will dissipate into wandering particles and atoms.

Indeed, I find your modesty and restraint in not subscribing to the infinity of matter all the more surprising seeing that you yourself acknowledge the particles to be both infinite and divided in actuality in Articles 34 and 35. But even if you had not done this, you can still be shown to be committed to matter’s infinity in the following fashion. If a quantity is infinitely divisible, it must actually have infinite parts. Therefore, just as it is completely ἀμέχανον or impossible to take a small knife or some other instrument and mechanically cut a body into visible parts which are not actual parts, so it is likewise completely ἄλογον and contrary to reason, even notionally, to divide a quantity into parts which are not actual real parts of this whole.

Moreover, you may add to this the fact that the hypothesis that the world is simply and truly infinite can explain and prove the modes of rarefaction and condensation propounded in Articles 6 and 7 above, as well as your principle “that only body is extended and an extension cannot be of nothing”. Thus, what is established by the necessity of logic or contradiction in the one case is established with utmost certainty by the necessity of physics and mechanics in the other.

Thus, if everything is infinitely filled with matter or bodies, the law of penetration makes it impossible that there should be any space without bodies in rarefaction or that their parts should approach one another in condensation without expelling the particles between them.

And what I have said so far seems most clear to my reason and intellect and far more certain than your doctrines.

However, amongst all your doctrines there is not a single one that I, for all my sweet and gentle temper, find more abhorrent than the harmful and obnoxious view put forth in your Method, in which you rob all animals of life and sense or rather, I should say, you do not grant either of these to them in the first place, since you do not accept that they have ever been alive! Here, the splendour of your sharp intellect instils me not with admiration, but repulsion as I am concerned about the fate of animals. Indeed, I find your acumen here not only subtle but, rather, as rigid and cruel as iron, since in one fell swoop, as it were, you manage to deprive all animate beings of both life and sense, turning them instead into marble and machines.

However, let us, I pray you, review the reason why you pass so severe a sentence upon living animals. They cannot speak and plead their cause before their judge, even though - which makes their crime worse! - they possess adequate organs for speech, as is apparent in woodpeckers and parrots. Hence, life and sense must be taken away from them.

Yet, how is it possible for parrots or woodpeckers to imitate our voices if they do not hear and perceive with their senses what we speak? But, you reply, they do not understand the meaning of those words which they mutter in imitation. However, why should they not have a sufficient understanding of their own wishes, as when they use this skill to ask their masters for food? This shows that they believe that they are begging for food, as their wish is so frequently fulfilled when they speak. And to what end, I pray, should songbirds, as we see them do, listen so attentively if they possess neither sense nor perception? What is the origin of the astuteness and cunning of foxes and dogs? How come that threats and words constrain raging beasts? Why does a dog which is hungry and steals something hide itself so furtively as though aware of what it has done, moving carefully and apprehensively without welcoming anyone approaching it? Why does it turn away instead, its nose directed towards the ground, cautious and suspicious that it may be punished for the offence perpetrated? How could it possibly do all of this without an inner awareness of what it has done? At the very least this copious collection of little tales by which many have sought to demonstrate that brute animals possess reason proves that they possess sense and memory. However, it would take too long to add more stories of this sort here, although I know many of them to be such that one cannot but admit these animals’ extraordinary wit and acumen.

However, I see clearly that the reason why you feel compelled to consider brutes machines is your proof of the immortality of our souls. Assuming that a body cannot think in any way, you conclude that where there is thought there must also be a substance really distinct from the body and therefore immortal. Hence it follows that if brutes think, they also possess immortal substances.

And still, I beseech you, you most astute of men, if it is necessary according to this proof either to deprive animate brutes of sense or endow them with immortality, why would you rather make them inanimate machines than bodies actuated by immortal souls? The former is completely at odds with the phenomena of nature and completely unheard of till now, whereas the latter is the approved opinion of the wisest of the old philosophers, i.e. Pythagoras, Plato and the others. And it will certainly encourage all the Platonists to hold on to their view about the immortality of brutes if such an ingenious mind as yours is forced into the aporia that you must pronounce all brutes to be insensible machines if the immortality of their souls is not admitted.

These are the minor things, my great Monsieur Descartes, on which I believed I might rightly disagree with you. All your other doctrines are so delightful and appealing to me that there is nothing I could take more pleasure in. And they are so consonant and consistent with the most inward ideas of my own mind that I am not only confident that I can readily explain them to slower wits, but also, should the need arise, successfully defend them from their sharpest critics.

It remains for me to beseech you, most illustrious Sir, that you are lenient toward what we have said above. And please do not suspect me of any levity or vainglory in seeking the friendship and acquaintance with the most distinguished of men. For even if I could, I would not seek any fame as I judge it to be a thing most adverse to my own private peace and quiet.

And however deep is the esteem and admiration in which I hold you, I would never have told you this had it not been for others asking me to. Instead, I would have been content to love and worship you silently and in private.

Nor would I ever be so bold as to ask you to answer me since I suspect you will be engaged in the highest of contemplations or in the most useful and the most difficult of experiments.

I thereby propose to you that you make use of this good right of yours so that you do not offend the public. However, should you deign to honour these questions of ours, as they stand, with some answer, you will do no little favour to

that most devout admirer of your inimitable wisdom

Henry More

Christ’s College, Cambridge, 11th December 1648.

Scholia on Henry More’s First Letter

Difficulty 4: “For if a quantity is divisible in infinity”, etc. This riddle is certainly very astute, but hardly sound. One can easily evade it by denying that a physical quantity is divisible in infinity and that there are a real and actual infinity of physical parts in a whole. Instead, one could claim that matter consists of so-called physical monads and that it could be dissolved into these parts by God’s power. Nor could we even justifiably effect a notional division of matter into the said parts without God’s power at least being capable of splitting it up in this manner. However, mathematical divisibility, which might also pertain, to these monads is not relevant here.

René Descartes to the most erudite and learned Henry More

The praises which you heap upon me, most learned Sir, bear witness less to my merit which can never equal them than to your kindness towards me. Your kindness, however, based only on the reading of my writings, displays the sincerity and generosity of your mind so clearly that I am all yours without any prior acquaintance. And therefore, it is with great pleasure that I answer the questions which you have posed to me.

1. The first is why I define body as an extended substance rather than a sensible, tangible or impenetrable substance. However, as is clear from the matter,[17] if it is called a sensible substance, then “it is defined by its relationship to our senses”, and thus only one of its properties would be explained, rather than its whole nature which could exist even if no human being existed; therefore, the definition of body certainly does not depend upon our senses. And hence I fail to understand why you say that it is absolutely necessary that all matter should be sensible. Quite the reverse: all matter is completely insensible if it is divided into parts much smaller than the particles of our nerves and if each single one of them moves at a sufficient velocity

Also, I only adduced the argument which you call “misguided and downright sophistical” to refute the opinion of those who agree with you that every body is sensible. I think this view is clearly and plainly refuted by it.

You apparently want to attribute to me an error in your comparison with wax which, while neither square nor round, may not for all that lack any shape altogether. In order to fall into this error, however, I would have had to suppose that a body could exist without any of its particles being either in motion or at rest, since (I say), according to my principles, all sensible qualities consist solely in certain modes of rest and motion in corporeal particles. However, no such thought has ever entered my mind. It is therefore wrong to define body as a sensible substance.

Let us see next whether it may more aptly be called “impenetrable or tangible substance” in the sense in which you have explained it.

But again that tangibility and impenetrability in a body, like “risibility” in man, is only “a property in the fourth degree”, as the general laws of logic have it, rather than a true and essential difference which, I contend, consists in extension. And therefore, just as man is not defined as a risible, but as a rational animal, so have I defined body not by impenetrability, but by extension. This is confirmed by the fact that tangibility and impenetrability are related to parts, and presuppose the concept of division and limit. By contrast, we could conceive a continuous body either of indeterminate size or altogether indefinite in which we consider nothing but extension.

But, you say, God and an angel as well as every other thing subsisting through itself are extended, and therefore your definition is broader than the thing defined. I, for one, am not inclined to quarrel about words. Thus, if someone should say that God is extended in a certain way, because he is everywhere, I do not mind at all. And yet, I do deny that there is in God, in angels, in our mind or, finally, in any other substance that is not a body a real extension such as is generally conceived by everybody. For by an extended being we generally understand something imaginable, regardless of whether it is a being of reason or a real one, which I leave open for now. And yet in our imagination we may distinguish in such a being different parts of determinate size and shape, none of which are in any way identical with one another. In our imagination, we may transfer the one to the place of another, but we cannot imagine any two of them to occupy one and the same place at the same time. However, nothing of that sort can be said about God (or our mind either), since he is not imaginable, but solely intelligible. Nor is he divisible into parts, let alone parts which have determinate sizes and shapes. Lastly, we can understand with ease that the human mind, God and several angels may all simultaneously occupy one and the same place. From that we can clearly infer that no incorporeal substances are extended in the proper sense of the word. Instead, I conceive of them as powers or forces which, while attaching themselves to extended things, are not as a consequence of this extended – just as fire, while being present in white-hot iron, is not by this fact iron itself. However, the fact that some confuse the notion of substance with that of an extended thing is due to a false prejudice, namely that they believe that nothing exists, or is intelligible, unless it is also imaginable. And indeed everything that is the object of the imagination is also extended in some way. But just as one may say that health can be attributed to human beings, even though medicine, mild air and many other such things are also called healthy by analogy, so I say that only that which is imaginable is extended, since it has parts external to each other which are of determinate sizes and shapes, even though other things may likewise be called extended by analogy.

2. Let us pass to the second of your difficulties. If we examine what that extended thing that I am describing is, we shall find that is completely identical with space which people sometimes imagine to be full and sometimes empty, sometimes real and sometimes imaginary. For in space, however imaginary and empty, we can easily imagine all sorts of parts of determinate sizes and shapes, and we can in our imagination transfer one to the place of another. However, we cannot in any way conceive two to mutually penetrate each other in one and the same place because it implies a contradiction that something like this should happen and that a part of space should be removed. However, when I considered that such real properties could only exist in a real body, I dared to affirm that there was no space completely empty and that every extended being was a real body. Nor did I hesitate to dissent from such great men as Epicurus, Democritus and Lucretius, since I realized that they had not followed firm reason, but instead those false prejudices which we all acquired at a very early age. Indeed, as I have warned in part 2, art. 3, our senses do not always show us external bodies exactly as they are, but only insofar as they are related to us and insofar as they are either useful or harmful. Notwithstanding this, when we were still young, we all judged that there was nothing in the world save only what our senses showed us. Hence, we believed that there was no imperceptible body and that all places in which we did not perceive anything were empty. Since Epicurus, Democritus and Lucretius never overcame this prejudice, I must not follow their authority.

I am surprised, though, that you, a man otherwise so sharp-sighted, seeing that you cannot deny that there is some substance in all space - since it really possesses all the properties of extension - should want to say that the divine extension fills the space in which there is no body, rather than admit that there can be absolutely no space without a body. For, as I have said above, God’s alleged extension can in no way be the subject of real properties, which we can perceive most distinctly in any space. For God is not imaginable or distinguishable into parts of any shape or measure.

However, you seem quite willing to admit that there cannot naturally be a vacuum. Your concern is with God’s power, which you think can remove everything in a vessel while at the same time preventing the vessel’s sides from meeting.

I, for my part, am well aware that my intellect is finite and God’s power infinite. Therefore, I should never pretend to settle this question. The only thing I consider is what I can and cannot perceive, and I am cautious that none of my judgments should contradict my perception. Hence, I am bold enough to say that God can do everything that I perceive to be possible, though not so bold as to claim that he cannot do such things as contradict my way of conceiving of them. All I say is that this claim of yours implies a contradiction. I perceive, then, that it is contradictory to my way of conceiving that once every body is removed from a vessel, there should still remain in it an extension which I do not conceive differently from the way I previously conceived the body contained in it. Therefore, I say that it implies a contradiction that such an extension should remain there after the removal of the body. Instead, the vessel’s sides must meet. And this is in complete accordance with all my other opinions. Thus, I say elsewhere that there is no other motion than the one that is somehow circular. Hence it follows that we cannot have a distinct understanding of how God should remove a body from a vessel without assuming at the same time that either another body, or the sides of the vessel, should take its place in circular motion.

3. In the same way, I say, it also implies a contradiction that there should be atoms conceived of as extended and indivisible at the same time. For, though God could have made them such that they cannot be divided by any creature, we cannot by any means believe that he should have deprived himself of the ability to divide them. Nor is it apt to compare this to the fact that that which has been done cannot be undone. For we do not believe it to be a mark of impotence if someone cannot do that which we do not consider possible, but only if someone cannot do that which we distinctly see is possible. However, we see quite clearly that it is possible that an atom may be divided, since we assume it to be extended. And if we therefore judge that it cannot be divided by God, we shall judge that God cannot do something that we nevertheless see is possible. We do not, by contrast, view it as possible in the same way that something that has been done can be undone. On the contrary, we see that this is clearly impossible. Therefore it does not in any way reduce God’s power that he does not do this. However, as regards the divisibility of matter, the case is different. For even though I cannot count all the parts into which it is divisible, saying therefore that their number is indefinite, I do not affirm that their division cannot be completed by God because I know that God can do more than I can comprehend in my thought. And I admitted in article 34 that an indefinite division of certain particles of matter sometimes happens in reality.

4. Nor, in my view, is it affected modesty, but a necessary precaution that I call some things “indefinite” rather than “infinite”, for I understand God alone to be positively infinite. As to other things, like the extension of the world, or the number of particles into which it can be divided and the like, I admit that I do not know whether they are absolutely infinite or not. The only thing I know is that I do not see any end in them and therefore I say that, from my point of view, they are indefinite.

And while “our mind is neither the measure of truth nor reality”, it must certainly be the measure of what we affirm and deny. For what could be more absurd or rash than if one were to pass judgement on things of which, as we admit, our mind cannot attain a perception? However, I am surprised that not only do you seem to assume this when you say that if “extension is infinite in relation to us only, it will in reality be finite”, etc., but you also imagine that there is some kind of divine extension which goes further than the extension of bodies. And therefore you assume that God has parts external to each other and is divisible, attributing to him the whole essence of a corporeal thing.

However, when, to dispel any doubts in this matter, I say that the extension of matter is indefinite, I believe this is sufficient to stop anybody from imagining a place beyond it into which the particles of my vortices might vanish. For wherever that place is conceived to be, according to my view there is already some matter, since in saying that it is extended indefinitely, I say that it extends further than anything that can be conceived by man. Nevertheless, I believe there is a very great difference between the amplitude of that corporeal extension and the amplitude of the divine – I do not say extension, because, properly speaking, there is none, but rather – substance or essence. And therefore, I call the latter absolutely infinite, and the former indefinite.

Moreover, I do not admit what you grant me in your extraordinary kindness, namely that my other opinions might well stand even if those about the extension of matter were refuted. For it is one of the principal and, in my view, most certain foundations of my physics, and I confess that no other reasoning could ever satisfy me in physics proper than one involving a so-called logical or contradictory necessity (with the sole exception of those things which can be known from experience alone, such as the fact that there is only one sun and one moon orbiting this earth and the like). And since you do not disagree with my views in other matters, I hope that you will readily give your assent to this one as well, provided only that you recognize it to be a prejudice that many believe an extended being in which there is nothing affecting our senses to be no real corporeal substance, but only empty space, or that there is no insensible body and no substance that is not an object of the imagination and therefore extended.

5. But there is no prejudice that we are all more accustomed to than the one which has persuaded us from our early childhood that brute animals think.[18]

No other reason moves us to this belief but that, seeing that most animal body-parts do not differ much from ours in their external forms and motions, and believing that there is in us but one single principle of these motions, namely a soul which both moves the body and thinks, we do not doubt that there is such a soul in them as well.

However, I came to realize that we must distinguish between two different principles of our motions. The one is purely mechanical and corporeal and depends solely upon the power of the animal spirits and the structure of our body parts. It might be called a corporeal soul. The other is incorporeal, i.e. the mind or soul which I have defined as a thinking substance. After that, I enquired more thoroughly whether the motions of animals proceeded from these two principles or from one of them alone. And when I saw clearly that all of them could proceed from one alone, namely the corporeal and mechanical one, I considered it to be certain and proved that we could not demonstrate in any way that there was any thinking soul in brutes. Nor do I hesitate over the astute and shrewd behaviours of dogs and foxes and all the things which brutes do for food, intercourse or apprehensiveness. For I hold that I can very easily explain all of that as arising from the structure of their body parts alone.

However, even though I consider it certain that it cannot be proved that there is any thought in brutes, I do not therefore think that it can be proved either that there is none in them, since the human mind does not reach into their hearts. But on examining what, then, seems the most probable assumption in this connection, I see no other reason to claim thought for brutes but the following: possessing eyes, ears, a tongue and other sense organs, such as we do, they are likely to have feelings such as we do and since our mode of feeling also includes thinking, thought similar to ours must be attributed to them as well. This argument is obvious enough, and hence it has won over the minds of all men from an early age. However, there are arguments much more numerous and far stronger, which, though not so obvious to everybody, manifestly prove the opposite. One of them is that it is less probable that all worms, gnats and caterpillars and other animals should possess an immortal soul than that they move about after the fashion of machines.

Firstly it is certain that there are bones, nerves, muscles, blood, animal spirits and other organs in animal bodies, as in ours, which are arranged in such a way that they can, by themselves and without the aid of any thought, cause all the motions which we observe in brutes. We can see this in convulsions, when often the bodily machine, alone and involuntarily, moves more violently and in ways other than it usually does by the aid of the will.

Secondly, it accords well with reason that, since art imitates nature and man can produce automata in which there is motion without any thinking, nature should also be able to produce its own automata which are far superior in their workmanship, to wit, animals This is all the more reasonable as we do not know any reason why thought must always accompany the sort of arrangement of body parts that we see in animals. And therefore it is more astonishing that we should find a mind in every human body than that that there is none in any brutes.

However, the principal argument for animals lacking thought, in my view, is the following: Among them, just as among human beings, some are more perfect than other members of their species. We can see this in horses or in dogs, some of which are much more successful in learning what they are taught than others. Moreover, all of them can very easily make known to us their natural impulses such as anger, fear, hunger and the like by voice or other bodily motions. Yet, despite that, no brute animal has ever been seen to attain such heights of perfection that it can make use of real speech, that is to say, that it can either by its voice or by some gesture indicate something that might point to thought alone, rather than a natural impulse. For language is the only undeniable sign of thought hidden in a body, and all human beings, even if they are utterly dumb and mentally deranged or deprived of their tongues or vocal organs, make use of it, but no brute does. And therefore, we may take this as the undeniable difference between men and animals

I omit here, for brevity’s sake, other arguments for depriving brutes of thought. However, I should like to note that I am speaking about thought, not about life or sense. For I do not deny life to any animal, as I consider it to consist in the heat of the heart alone. I do not even deny them sensation insofar as it depends upon bodily organs. Therefore, my opinion is not cruel to wild beasts, but rather favourable to men, whom, unless they are followers of the superstition of the Pythagoreans, it absolves of the suspicion of crime in eating or killing animals.

However, I may have talked about this in more detail than the sharpness of your intellect required, but I wanted to show you in this way that so far very few people have proposed objections to me that I found as agreeable as yours. Your erudition and honesty have won you the most sincere friendship of

that most ardent admirer of all those who seek true wisdom,

René Descartes.

Egmond near D’Almarch, 5th February 1649

Scholia on the Answer to the First Letter

First difficulty: “If someone should say that God, because he is everywhere, is extended in a certain way, I do not mind at all. And yet, I do deny ... a real extension, such as is generally conceived by everybody”, etc. It is evident in this place that Descartes only denies that extension to God which everybody conceives to be in a body, i.e., corporeal extension. He does not by any means deny to him the metaphysical extension as described in our Enchiridium. We may observe here how far the Cartesian nullibists diverge from Descartes, their founder, who acknowledges that God is everywhere and extended in some way, whereas they contend that he is neither extended nor anywhere.

“No incorporeal substances are extended in the proper sense of the word. Instead, I conceive them as powers or forces which, while attaching themselves to extended things, are not therefore extended themselves – just as fire, while being in white-hot iron, is not therefore iron itself.” And yet the fire is extended throughout the iron, which I find sufficient. I must admit openly, though, that I find this place a bit obscure, nor is it clear to me what the philosopher wants to insinuate when he says: “Instead, I conceive them as powers or forces”, since the fire is not only extended throughout the iron, but it is also a modification of it. For I do hope that this is not meant to imply what Descartes’ pupil Spinoza states so bluntly in his Posthumous Works, namely that angels, human minds and all so-called “incorporeal substances” are nothing other than powers and forces of worldly matter, the latter being the only substance in the universe.

Second difficulty: “Should rather want to say that the divine extension fills the space in which there is no body”, etc. However, I am perfectly correct in stating that wherever we picture that there is imaginary space, in reality it is the divine amplitude. In the Enchiridium Metaphysicum, we have with more than mathematical evidence - if this is possible! - proved that there is an immobile extended thing distinct from mobile matter.

“And there should still remain in it an extension which I do not conceive differently from the way I previously conceived the body contained in it”, etc. But, for all that, it is absolutely clear from what I have shown in the said Enchiridium that this conception is false. In this work, I demonstrate that there is an extended immobile thing distinct from mobile matter which possesses attributes opposite to the attributes of matter. See Ench. Met., chs. 6–8

Fourth Difficulty: “For I understand God alone to be positively infinite”, etc. Assuming Descartes is serious here, we perfectly agree about this matter. And it certainly seems to me that I have given sufficiently sound evidence in said Enchiridium that the world, however indefinite, cannot be infinite, so that the pure divinity extends beyond the limits of the world (like Aaron’s body whose head, hands and feet extended beyond the priestly garment. See Ench. Met., ch. 10. sect. 8–9, etc.

“I say that it extends further than everything that can be conceived by man”, etc. And a little latter he calls the amplitude of the divine essence “absolutely infinite”, the corporeal extension “indefinite”. If that indefinite extension of the corporeal world is to be understood in the sense that the human imagination cannot exhaust or comprehend it, it accords well with reason. However, right reason dictates to us by necessity that the divine amplitude exceeds it to an infinite degree, lying around it like a crown, as it were. This is why it is called Kether among the Cabbalists.

Henry More, an Englishman, to that most distinguished gentleman and most noble philosopher René Descartes

I do not feel ashamed of the high opinion which I have formed of you and which I have expressed in my letter to you, most noble Sir, and I know that I shall never feel ashamed of it. Indeed, it adds considerably to the admiration I feel for you that the extraordinary breadth and divine sharpness of your intellect is accompanied by so warm and affable a character. Whilst I never cherished any doubt about it, your most learned letter has now furnished me with the most certain proof. Moreover, lest you regret that you have bestowed such a great favour upon what may otherwise appear to be a servile head, and lest my fervent love for you may seem vile as though proceeding from a base and abject mind, I shall, as befits a free man, declare openly and publicly in what ways your answers have satisfied me. However, in order that this should not cause either you or me too much work, I shall forgo all longwinded rhetorical expressions. Instead, I shall lay down the whole of the matter in some brief instantiae or at least notes on certain details of your answers.

Instance I Concerning the Answer to the First Difficulty

“It is defined in reference to its relationship to our senses”, etc.

Here one may reply the following: since the root and essence of all things lies hidden deep in eternal darkness, everything must of necessity be defined in reference to some relationship to other things. This relationship can be called ‘property' in substances, since it is not a substance itself, although I admit freely that “some properties are earlier than others”. The only thing I wanted to point out was that it is obviously better to define something by some adequate property than by a so-called form that is broader than the thing defined. Furthermore, when you yourself define body as an extended substance, I must also note that this extension itself consists in some mutual relationship among its parts, insofar as they are created external to each other. However, it is obvious that this relationship is not something absolute.


“Even if no human being existed.“

Even if all mortals were to close their eyes at once, the sun would not lose its capacity for being seen once they reopened them, just as an axe would not have lost its capacity for cutting once it was applied to pieces of wood or stone again.


“Parts which are much smaller than the particles of our nerves.”

God, in my view, is a good enough craftsman to adapt even these minute nerves to the particles of matter, thereby leaving intact the perceptibility of the matter which is reduced in size in this way. Likewise, these particles might cease to move and coalesce, but again turn out to be perceptible to our nerves in the same way. However, this is in no way true of an incorporeal substance.


“Without being soft ... to our senses”, etc.

It is certain that it may well be hard or soft or the like to our sensory nerves or at least to such nerves as God, had he wanted to, might have created, as we have remarked above. And this suffices, even though God might never create nerves of this kind. It is like those parts of the earth situated close to its centre. They may well be visible by themselves, even though they may never emerge into sunlight and even though no-one will ever descend there with a lamp or a torch.


“Like risibility in man, it is only ‘a property in the fourth degree’.”

If reason belonged to other animals as well, it would be better to define man as a risible than as a rational animal. However, no-one has proved yet that tangibility or impenetrability is an immediate property of an extended substance, even though everyone rightly acknowledges it to be an immediate property of a body. I, for one, can clearly conceive an extended substance which has no tangibility or impenetrability at all. Therefore, tangibility or impenetrability does not belong to an extended substance as such, insofar as it is extended.


“And yet, I do deny ... a real extension”, etc.

By real extension you understand that which accompanies tangibility and impenetrability. I agree with you that such an extension is not to be found either in God or in immaterial minds and angels. Notwithstanding, I hold that there is another equally real extension, which is not so well-known, let alone common knowledge in the schools. It possesses both different limits and shapes in angels and human minds, which the latter can change at will. While remaining one and the same substance, they can contract or re-expand within certain bounds.


“Nothing ... is intelligible unless it is also imaginable”

I, for my part, am more inclined to the view of Aristotle ὅτι ἄνευ τῶν φαντασμάτων οὐκ ἔστι νοῆσαι.[19] But let everybody try the powers of his own mind here.

Concerning the Answer to the Second Difficulty

Instance I

“In our imagination, we may transfer one to the place of another.”

My imagination surely cannot, nor can it conceive how, in the case of any transfer, some parts of empty space could absorb other parts, so they would completely coincide with and penetrate each other.


“Nor did I hesitate to dissent from such great men as Epicurus, Democritus”, etc.

I do not doubt at all that you have every right to dissent, since you are, in my view, far superior and far more sublime than these and all other interpreters of nature.


“That there is some substance in all space”, etc.

I do fully admit this for the sake of peace and quiet, although it is not yet entirely clear to me. For if God were to annihilate the whole of this world, creating another one from nothing long after this one, that world in between, or absence of a world, would have its own duration measured in days, years or centuries. There is, hence, a duration of something non-existing which in turn is a kind of extension. And therefore, the amplitude of nothing, that is to say, of a vacuum, can be measured in spans and fathoms, just as the duration of something non-existing can in its non-existence be measured in hours, days and months. However, though not yet convinced by the strength of your argument, I do grant to you that there is some substance in the whole of space. However, it does not yet follow that this substance must be corporeal, since for instance the divine extension or presence might also be the subject of measurability; the divine presence or extension, I hold, occupies one fathom or another in a given vacuum. And yet again, as is clear from what we have said in reference to instance 5, it does not at all follow from this that God is corporeal. However, we must deal with this matter elsewhere.


“I say that it implies a contradiction that such an extension”, etc.

Here, however, I should like to ask: is it really necessary that it must be either an extension such as we conceive in bodies or none at all? And since you have conceded that things other than bodies are also extended in their own way, could not that extension which you call analogical take the place of the corporeal extension, thereby solving the contradiction? After all, this analogical extension comes so close to extension in the proper sense that it is measurable, and occupies a certain number of feet or spans.


“There is no other motion than the one that is circular in a way.”

I admit that this follows necessarily, i.e. by physical necessity, at least once we assume that all things are filled with bodies and that there is no other extension exceeding the whole of the world’s extension. While I am quite certain about that part, I must confess that I fail to see that there is any sharp contradiction.

Concerning the Answer to the Third Difficulty

“Which are conceived as extended and indivisible at the same time.”

If you explain your view in this way, there is no longer any controversy between us.

Concerning the Answer to the Fourth Difficulty

Instance I

“I admit that I am ignorant whether they are absolutely infinite or not.”

And yet, it cannot be unknown to you that they are either absolutely infinite or in reality finite, even though it is far more difficult to decide whether they are the one or the other. However, the fact that your vortices are neither disrupted nor weakened seems to me to be quite a clear sign that the world is in reality infinite. Nevertheless, for all that, I do not mind admitting to you that while I do not hesitate to assent to the axiom that the world is either finite or not finite or, which is the same thing, infinite, I cannot bring myself to accept without qualms the infinity of any single thing whatsoever. Rather, Julius Scaliger’s remarks about the dilation and contraction of angels come to my mind in this context, namely that they can neither extend themselves into infinity nor contract themselves into the οὐδενότης[20] of a single point. However, once we grant that God is positively infinite (i.e. exists everywhere), as you rightly do, I cannot, if this be permitted to my free reasoning, understand why we should hesitate to admit at once that he has not been idle anywhere, but instead has created matter everywhere with the same power and ease with which he has created the matter here where we live, that is to say, wherever our eyes and mind reach.


“When you say that if ‘extension is infinite in relation to us only, it will in reality be finite’,” etc.

I agree and should like to add that this is a most obvious consequence, since the particle “only” clearly rules out all infinity in a thing which is only called “infinite” in reference to us, and must therefore in reality be a finite extension. However, my mind perceives perfectly what I have pointed out here, since it is most obvious to me that the world, as I have said a little earlier, is either finite or infinite.


“And therefore you assume that God has parts external to each other and is divisible, attributing to him the whole essence of a corporeal thing.”

I do not attribute to him any such essence. For I deny that extension belongs to a body, insofar as it is a body, but rather insofar as it is a being or at least a substance. Besides, God, insofar as the human mind comprehends God, is everywhere in his entirety. He is present in all places and all spaces as well as in each point of space in his whole essence. However, it does not follow that he has parts external to each other or that, by implication, he is divisible, even though he occupies all places very closely and tightly without leaving any gaps in between. Hence, I acknowledge the divine presence or amplitude, as you call it, to be measurable, but I deny that he is divisible in any way.

However, absolutely everybody – fools as well as philosophers – agree, and I too perceive and assent in my mind to the truth that God occupies every single point of the world. Now the divine essence is the same both inside and outside the world. Thus, if we envisage the visible starry sky as the boundary of the world, the centre of the divine essence and its total presence replicates itself outside the world in the same way as we clearly conceive it to replicate and reiterate itself inside it. However, it is appropriate that this reproduction of the divine centre which occupies the world continues beyond it, expanding with itself the infinite spaces outside the visible heavens. And if it is not accompanied by your indefinite matter, your vortices will be lost. In order to make this more acceptable, let us test our conclusions with regard to God’s successive duration.

God is eternal, i.e. the divine life comprehends at once all ages as they pass and all the things past, future and present as they unfold. Still, this eternal life is present to every single point of time and, as it were, astride every single moment, so that we can rightly and truly say that God rests in his eternity for so many days, months or hours. If, for instance, we assume that the world was created 100 years ago, has not the one whole and all-embracing eternity of God then lasted for so many hours, days, months and years up to this very day, i.e. 100 years? And yet, God’s existence after the world’s creation does not differ from that before the world’s creation.

Hence, it is obvious that God not only possesses infinite eternity, but also a temporal succession of infinite duration. If we admit this, why should we not likewise attribute to him an extension that also fills infinite spaces as well as a temporal succession of infinite duration?

Indeed, when (as I do often) I think about these things more deeply and more diligently by myself, I take the view that we may attribute both extensions, that of space and that of time, to non-beings and beings alike. And I suspect that both views might have equally well arisen from prejudice. Since all things we perceive by sense and touch are solid and corporeal and, therefore, always extended, conversely we jump to the conclusion that all corporeal things must be extended; and similarly some prejudice originating in the senses could in principle lead us to believe that incorporeal things are likewise extended.

However, what has led me to assume that non-being also possesses extension is the fact that being “extended” means only that there exist parts external to each other. However, “part” and “whole”, “subject” and “predicate”, “cause and effect”, “contraries” and “relatives”, “contradictories” and “privatives” and other such universals are logical notions which we apply to non-beings as well as beings. From this it does not follow that whatever we conceive as having parts external to each other must be conceived as a real being.

But how often does the human mind here struggle with its own shadow, or rather, like a foolish dog, plays with its own tail? For it is our own mind that makes us engage in such playful struggle, while it reflects upon those logical notions and modes according to which it considers external things, not merely as its own modes of thought, but as though they were something in the things themselves distinct from it [i.e. the mind itself]. Reaching for them as for its tail, it is teased to exhaustion and ensnared in deep misery. But I have imprudently babbled more than I had originally intended to. I therefore hasten to move on.


“For wherever that place is conceived to be, there is already some matter according to my view.”

Truly, you show yourself to be a cautious and superbly humble person in this question. And yet you, too, admit that the world is infinite, provided Aristotle’s definition of the infinite in Phys. III is correct: οὗ ἀεί τι ἔξω ἐστίν. “There is always something beyond.” There is, then, nothing more on which we disagree.


“Nevertheless, I believe there is a crucial difference between the amplitude of that corporeal extension”, etc.

I, too, am equally convinced that there is a major difference between the divine and corporeal amplitudes. Firstly, the former is not an object of sense, whereas the latter is. Secondly, the former is uncreated and independent, the former dependent and created. The former, moreover, is penetrable and pervades all things, while the latter is solid and impenetrable. Finally, the former proceeds from the ubiquitous reiteration of its complete and total essence, the latter from the external position of its parts lying immediately adjacent to each other, so that nobody, if he is not completely dumb and utterly stupid, could suspect that

We are entering on impious elements of reason,

and embarking on a course of crime,

as the poet puts it. There are, after all, theologians, and ones for that matter who are perhaps sufficiently cautious in other fields, who, for all that, acknowledge that God, had he wanted to, could have created the world from all eternity. And yet, it seems equally absurd to attribute to the world either an infinite duration or an infinite size.


“For it is one of the principal and, in my view, most certain foundations of my physics.”

I well understand that it is the absolutely necessary foundation of your physics that matter is extended at least indefinitely and that there is no vacuum. Nor do I doubt at all that it is true. However, I do question whether you have pursued a true way of demonstrating it, since your demonstration rests upon the principle that “everything extended is real and corporeal”. For the reasons given above, this is not yet clear to me. Indeed, I must confess to you quite frankly that the following thought has already crossed my mind: if neither bare space, as is required by our demonstration, nor God is extended it all, your philosophy does not even require an indefinite matter either. Instead, a certain finite number of stades would suffice. For neither will the sides of this finite world have any place to vanish into, nor will the vortices in the middle divide. Consequently, the space in between will not extend, nor will non-being take on new dimensions. And yet, a natural inclination drives me elsewhere and to another faith, namely that the divine fecundity is not idle anywhere, and it has produced matter in all places without leaving even the minutest of gaps.

Even though I readily admit this, your philosophy will not break apart for me because of the defect in the said foundation. And I see clearly that the truth of your physics does not manifest itself so clearly and openly in this or that article, but rather shines forth from the well-woven overall texture of all of them, as you yourself point out most appositely in Part 4, art. 225. If one contemplates the whole face of your philosophy at once, it is so consistent and so consonant with itself as well as with the phenomena of nature that one may rightly imagine that one has seen nature itself the creator reflected in all its splendour in such a polished mirror.

Concerning the Answer to the Final Difficulty

Instance I[21]

“But there is no prejudice that we have grown more accustomed to,” etc.

But this is plainly true, as far as I am concerned. For I, too, feel that I cannot rid myself from the snares of this prejudice in any way.


“For I hold that I can very easily explain all of that as arising from the structure of their body parts alone.”

That is quite a joyous task indeed! If you manage to do this (and I believe that in this matter you will achieve whatever the human mind is capable of in the fifth or sixth part of your Physics. Not only have I heard that you have already all but completed them, but I also hope and beseech you most fervently that you will publish them as soon as possible so that we may contemplate in them the highest light of nature, but I should return to our subject). If you manage to do this, I say, I shall gladly recognize that you have demonstrated that no-one can ever demonstrate that there is a soul in brute animals. Until then, however, as you yourself point out, neither you nor anyone else has or ever can demonstrate that there is no soul in brutes.


“No other reason ... but the following: Possessing eyes, ears, a tongue, etc. “

In my view, the principal proof is the way they watch over themselves with such shrewd foresight, as I could demonstrate by little stories as true as they are astonishing. I trust, though, that you have come across very similar tales. Mine, however, are not to be found in any books.


“That it is less probable that all worms, gnats and caterpillars”, etc.

Unless perhaps we were to imagine that such souls which are, as it were, the dust and sand of the “world’s life”, to use Ficino’s phrase, like those almost endless multitudes of other souls, always follow some fatal[22] impulse in gliding from that storehouse into the matter prepared for them. But I admit that stating this is easier than demonstrating it.


“That it can either by its voice or by some gesture indicate,” etc.

Do not dogs nod “yes” with their tails, just as we do with our heads? Do they not frequently beg for food at the table with short barks? Nay more, do they not also sometimes nudge their master’s elbow with their paw as respectfully as they can, reminding him by this gentle sign that he has forgotten them?


“Even if they are utterly dumb and mentally deranged”, etc. “But no brute does”, etc.

Nor do infants for some few months at least, even though they cry, laugh, get angry, etc. And still you do not doubt, I trust, that infants are ensouled and have a thinking soul.

These are the answers, most distinguished Sir, which I have taken the liberty of giving to those excellent answers of yours. I cannot tell, of course, whether you will find my objections as agreeable as my last ones.

The kindness which you have displayed to these last ones, and my longer acquaintance with your writings have made me bolder, although I still fear I may have proved overly-loquacious and troublesome.

Indeed, I almost forgot my primary intent, which was not to prolong our exchanges of objections and answers indefinitely. Instead, having been granted this opportunity, I wanted to listen quietly to a great man’s judgements on philosophical questions as they came up and, above all, have you yourself as the interpreter of your own works wherever I encountered difficulties when reading them. If you would indeed grant me this favour, I should be beholden to you in the highest possible degree.

And certainly my eagerness to put your excellent skill and knowledge to the test in a few questions is as great as your kindness in offering me the opportunity of availing myself of it.

1. I wonder whether it would be possible by God’s decree or in some other fashion that the world was finite, that is to say, enclosed within confines, however large.[23] For it seems to be quite a considerable argument for a finite world that almost everybody believes it is impossible that it should be infinite.

2. If someone were to sit near the edge of this world, I wonder whether he could thrust his sword up to its hilt through the world’s side so that most of the sword would stick out of the world’s outer walls. On the one hand, there is nothing left outside the world, so it might seem easily feasible. On the other, it seems impossible since there is nothing extended outside the word to receive it.

3. Regarding Part 2, art. 20: If body AB moves away from body CD, I wonder why it should be so clear that this motion is reciprocal. Assuming that CD is a tower and AB the western wind going past the sides of the tower, the tower CD either rests or at least does not move away from wind AB. If it moves away, or, as you put it, is transferred in its motion, it must be moving westwards. However, it does not move westwards, since both the earth and the wind head eastwards. It therefore seems to be at rest in relation to the wind, since it receives no motion from it. And still you say that the transfer of the tower itself and the wind, a transfer which surely is motion, is reciprocal. They would, therefore, simultaneously be in motion and at rest in relation to the same wind, which strikes me as quite a contradiction.[24] Let us assume someone walks away from me, say by a thousand feet, while I am sitting. While he will be red with sweat, there will be neither redness nor sweat on my face because all along I have been sitting. This shows that he alone has been in motion, while I have been at rest the whole the time. It is therefore only in my mind that I experience a change of distance between him and myself in his movement, rather than a real and physical motion.

4. Regarding Part III, art. 149: “And so it will make the earth turn on its axis,” etc. How will the moon make the earth complete its orbit in one day, even though it needs almost thirty days itself to complete its own revolutions? However, what you write in art. 151 is not relevant to this question, I think.

5. Regarding those little orbs or “grooved particles”, as you call them, how did they receive their round shape without breaking into infinite fragments and atoms as a consequence? What pliancy and tenacity are we to imagine exists in this first matter, on the assumption that all its parts are completely homogenous and alike? How do these particles first soften and then harden again?

6. Regarding Part 4, art. 189: “The soul or mind is intimately linked to the brain.” Here I should very much like to hear your opinion about the soul’s union with the body. Is it joined to the whole body or to the brain alone? Or is it in fact confined to the pineal gland as though to some very little prison cell? For I follow you in believing that it is the seat of the common sense and the ἀκρόπολις[25] of the soul. However, I suspect that the soul might in fact pervade the whole body. Furthermore, I ask you how the soul can join so closely with the body, lacking as it does particles shaped like hooks or branches. And I should also like to know whether there might not be some power[26] in nature which cannot be explained mechanistically in any way. How does the αὐτεξούσιον,[27] of which we are conscious in ourselves, come to be? And how can our souls command the animal spirits and send them into this or that part of the body? How can the spirits of witches, commonly called familiars, form and compress matter for their purposes so ably that they can assume visible and palpable shapes for those execrable old hags? Not only old hags, but quite a few young witches have told me freely and without compulsion that this is true.

Further, is it this very power that we ourselves experience in our souls in some way when we set our animal spirits in motion or make them stop, send them somewhere and call them back at our own discretion[28]? I wonder, therefore, whether a philosopher should not acknowledge that there is in the whole fabric of things some incorporeal substance which can nevertheless, as bodies do on one another, impress on some body all or at least most corporeal properties such as motion, shape and the structure of its parts. Nay more, since this clearly holds true of motion and rest, may this incorporeal substance not also add to a body whatever is consequent upon motion? May it not divide and join, disperse and bind together, give shape to particles and then arrange them, make them rotate or move in any other way and stop them again, as well as all other such things as necessarily give rise to light, colour and other sense impressions of that kind, as your excellent philosophy has shown?

Moreover, nothing either corporeal or incorporeal can act on any other thing in any other way than by applying its essence to it. I also deem it necessary, therefore, that, whether it is an angel, a demon, a soul or God who acts on matter in the modes mentioned above, their essence is, as it were, riding on either those parts of matter upon which they act or some others acting upon them through the transfer of motion. Consequently, they must at some point be present to the whole of the matter which they control and modify. This can be seen in genii both good and evil who have appeared to the eyes of men. For how else should they have compressed matter and kept it in their respective shapes?

Finally, an incorporeal substance possesses such an extraordinary power that it can contract, dilate, divide and simultaneously projecting and retaining matter simply by applying itself to it, without ropes or hooks, nets or wedges. Does it not seem probable then that it can also contract itself into itself, since there is no impenetrability to hinder it, and then expand itself again and many more such things?

These are my questions. I beseech you, most learned Sir, whom I know to have studied the inner and outer mysteries of nature and to be able to answer them with ease, that, time permitting, you may do me the favour of explaining all of this to me.

7. As regards the ethereal globules, I wonder: if God has created the world from all eternity, would not collisions and frictions have broken up these globules, reducing them into indefinitely tiny parts a long time ago? Would they not long since have adopted the appearance of the first element so that the whole world would have exploded many centuries ago into one gigantic flame?

8. As regards your watery, long, smooth and flexible particles, would they have pores? This strikes me as rather improbable, since they are simple bodies and first particles which are not composed of any other particles, but cut out of untouched first matter. And therefore all of them are completely homogenous. Hence, I cannot see how they could have been bent without their dimensions penetrating each other. For let us suppose for a moment that they were curved into something like a ring. The inside curved surface would be smaller than the outside one, etc. But you will certainly understand my point, and there is no reason for me to dwell on it any longer.

Nor would the difficulty be resolved if you were to contend that they had pores, which, I assume, you do not. For the question would then turn on the edges or sides of these pores, since it would necessarily follow that something without pores was bent.

And this difficulty pertains not only to your oblong particles, but also to those branchlike ones and nearly all those others which must be bendable without breaking.

9. Finally, regardless of whether we believe it to be eternal or to have been created yesterday, would matter, freely left to itself and receiving no impulse from without, be in motion or at rest? Moreover, is rest a privative or a positive mode of the body and, regardless of whether you prefer it to be positive or privative, how can we know which of them is true? And lastly, can a thing possess any property in a natural way and from itself which it can also lack altogether or acquire from another source?

So far I have played, or rather struggled, almost exclusively with the general foundations of your excellent Physics. If you will be so kind as to encourage or at least allow me to, I should now like to move on to more particular aspects. And you will certainly bear with me if, since this is about your first principles, I have examined all things very scrupulously and, taking one step at a time, as it were, and attending to certain details with due care, I have moved on rather gently and at a tortoise’s pace. For such, I know, is the human mind that it can understand inferences far more easily than it can understand what is the first truth in nature. In fact, our condition does not differ much from that of Archimedes’ Δὸς ποῦ στῶ, καὶ κινήσω τὴν γῆν.[29] Finding the place from where we can make the first step is much more difficult for us than progressing on from it once we have found it.

As regards those admirable structures which you have erected upon your general principles, they may at first sight seem so high and so far removed from our sight that everything may appear covered in clouds and darkness. However, the break of day has reduced the difficulties and the obscurities have gradually vanished so that we now see only a few obscurities compared to what it was like previously.

However, I deemed it necessary to tell you all of this so that you do not fear that I shall never cease to cause you more and more labour and that you will write back to me all the more willingly, answering these questions of mine with the same kindness as you did the first objections which I sent you. If you will do that, most distinguished Monsieur Descartes, I shall be more beholden to you than words can possibly express, being

the most ardent admirer of your learning and wisdom,

Henry More

Cambridge, Christ’s College, 5th March 1649

Scholia on H. More’s Second Letter

Difficulty 1. Instance 5: “I, for one, can clearly conceive an extended substance”, etc. Nay more, I conceive such an extension necessarily and inevitably when I direct my mind and attention to that immobile extended thing distinct from mobile matter which I simultaneously conceive to have neither tangibility nor impenetrability.

Difficulty 2. Instance 3: “That world in between, or absence of a world, would have its own duration”, etc. It is much more appropriate to conclude that the duration which we cannot not conceive is an eternal and necessary immense amplitude, and must therefore be referred to the divine essence, as we have pointed out in the scholia on the Enchiridium Metaphysicum. And we must in all cases preserve perfectly intact the authority of the axiom that there is no property of nothing.

“However, though not yet convinced by the strength of your argument, I do grant to you that there is some substance in all space.” Indeed, I have demonstrated in the Enchiridium Metaphysicum, chs. 6–8, that that which most philosophers believed to be imaginary space is in fact an incorporeal substance.

Instance 5: “While I am certain about that part,” I was in fact more than certain about this. See the reasons for my certainty about this point provided in Ench. Met., ch. 10, sect. 6–7, etc.

Difficulty 4. Instance 1: “The fact ... seems to be quite a clear sign that the world is in reality infinite,” etc. It would certainly seem so if the motion of worldly matter were mechanical, whereas in fact it is vital and proceeds from the spirit of nature. Therefore, even though the world may be finite, the vortices will be neither disrupted nor weakened.

“He has ... created matter everywhere.” This seems very consonant with reason as far as God’s omnipotence and fecundity is concerned. However, once we consider the nature of creation and how incapable it is of this infinity, it seems highly absurd and indeed at odds with all reason, as you can see in the said Enchiridium, ch. 10.

“Besides, God, insofar as the human mind comprehends God, is everywhere in his entirety,” This is certainly the way most philosophers put it. However, God does not have physicals parts or parts in the proper sense. As far as I am concerned, I believe that it is a very improper figure of speech if we say that God can be everywhere in his entirety. I do acknowledge, though, that his presence is as efficacious everywhere as if he were understood to be present everywhere in his entirety. And the reiteration of the divine centre mentioned a little later must be solely understood in a symbolical and negative fashion, insofar as it shows that the divine essence is homogeneous and αὐτοφυής[30] everywhere, not derived from anything else, but one infinite light or sun, as it were.

“God not only possesses infinite eternity, but also a temporal succession of infinite duration”, etc. Successive temporal duration belongs to God not formally, but as contained eminently in his unchanging duration (on that see Div. Dial. I, sects. 15–17). Just as the divine eternity is present to each single moment of any successive temporal duration, so the infinite fullness and exuberance of the divine essence is to be understood to be present to each single point of any corporeal extension.

“That we may attribute both extensions, that of space and that of time, to non-beings and beings alike”, etc. Now, however, as I have pointed out above, I deem it much more sensible to refer the immense space and infinite time, which we find so difficult to grasp in our minds, to the divine essence and eternity, viewing both as the somewhat darker shadows of the latter (see the scholia on the Enchiridium Metaphysicum).

“They are logical notions which we apply to non-beings as well as beings”, etc. I agree. However, by applying these notions to non-beings we do not turn the latter into beings. Therefore, when we attribute parts to a non-being, since these parts are still non-beings or possible attributes of non-beings, that non-being to which they are attributed still does not have any parts and is in reality not extended. Nor can it be concluded from that that non-being possesses extension.

Instance 5: “There is a major difference between the divine and corporeal amplitudes.” I should like to point out in passing that here, as against the Cartesian nullibists, Descartes himself admits the amplitude of the divine essence, while repudiating its extension, as can be seen from this place in his letter.

Instance 6: “Nor do I doubt at all that it is true”, etc. See what have said on instance 1.

“The divine fecundity is not idle anywhere. It has produced matter in all places “, etc. See our note on instance 1 in the same place.

René Descartes to the most distinguished and learned gentleman Henry More

An Answer[31]

Most distinguished Sir, I have just received your very kind letter of 5th March at a time when I am distracted by so many other obligations that I am compelled either to answer you in haste this very hour or postpone my response for several weeks. However, that part must prevail which advises haste since I should much rather seem lacking in skill than in courtesy.

On the First Instances

“Some properties are earlier than others”, etc. Being sensible seems to me to be nothing in the sensible thing itself but rather an extraneous description of it, nor is it an adequate one at that. For if it refers to our senses, it does not apply to the smallest particles of matter. If it refers to other imaginary senses such as, in your view, God might have created, it might apply to angels and souls as well. For sensory nerves so subtle that they can be moved by the most minute particles of matter is no more intelligible to me than is some faculty by which our mind can immediately sense and perceive other minds. However, even though we easily comprehend in extension a relationship of its parts to each other, I nevertheless seem to understand extension perfectly well without thinking at all of the relation of its parts to each other. And you should admit this even more readily than I do, because you conceive extension in such a way that it applies to God as well, while denying that there are any parts in him.

“No-one has proved yet that tangibility or impenetrability is an immediate property of an extended substance.” If you conceive extension by the relation of its parts to each other, it seems that you cannot deny that each of its parts touches the others adjacent to itself and that this tangibility is a real property intrinsic to the thing itself, as opposed to the one designated by our sense of touch.

Nor can we understand how one part of an extended thing should penetrate another of equal size without also seeing at the same time that the middle part of this extension is removed or annihilated. However, that which is annihilated does not penetrate anything else and so, in my opinion, it has been proved that impenetrability belongs to the essence of extension, not any other thing.

“I hold that there is another equally real extension.” It seems that we have finally agreed on the matter itself. There remains only the question of the designation, whether we may call this other extension “equally real”. However, as far as I am concerned, I see that there is no extension of substance in God, in angels or in our minds, but only one of power. Consequently, an angel may exercise his power upon a larger part of corporeal substance at one time and upon a smaller part at another. For if there were no body, I could not see how there would be any space with which an angel or God might be coextensive. Attributing this extension which is solely one of power to a substance, in my view, arises from the same prejudice which supposes all substance, including God himself, to be imaginable.

On the second instances

“One part of empty space would absorb another”, etc. I say once again here that if they are absorbed, then the middle part of space is removed and ceases to be. However, what ceases to be cannot penetrate another thing. Therefore, impenetrability is to be admitted in all space.

“That world in between ... would have its own duration,” etc. In my view, it implies a contradiction to conceive a kind of duration intervening between the destruction of one world and the creation of another. For if we refer this duration to the succession of God’s thoughts or something similar, it will be an error of the intellect, rather than a true perception of anything. I have already responded to what you say next by noting that the extension attributed to incorporeal things is one of power only, not of substance. Since this power is only a mode in the thing to which it is applied, it cannot be understood as extended once the extension with which it coexists is removed.

On the penultimate instances

“God is positively infinite (i.e. exists everywhere),” etc. I do not grant this “everywhere”. For you seem to make God’s infinity consist in his existing everywhere, a view to which I do not assent. Instead, I believe that God is everywhere in respect of his power, whereas he has no relation to space whatsoever in respect of his essence. However, since there is in God no distinction between power and essence, I think it is preferable that in these matters we should rather reason about our minds or about angels, which are more adequate objects of our understanding, than about God. The following difficulties all seem to me to arise from the prejudice that we all too often tend to imagine substances, including those to which we deny corporeality, as being extended and that we philosophize rather rashly about beings of reason, attributing properties of a being or a thing to non-being. However, we are well-advised to keep in mind that a non-being cannot have any real attributes, nor can we in any way conceive in it “part” and “whole”, “subject” and “predicate”, etc. And therefore your conclusion is very apt that “the mind plays with its own shadows” when considering logical beings.

“A certain finite number of stades would suffice”, etc. However, it is repugnant to my way of conceiving to attribute a limit to the world, and my only yardstick for what I must affirm or deny is my own perception. I hold, therefore, that the world is indeterminate or indefinite, because I do not see any limits in it. Yet, I would not dare to call it infinite because I see that God is greater than the world, not in respect of extension which, as I have frequently said, does not apply to him in the proper sense in any way, but in respect of his perfection.

On the final instances

“If you manage to do this,” I am not sure whether the continuation of my Philosophy will ever see the light of day, because it depends on a number of experiments and I do not know whether I shall be given the opportunity of conducting them. But I do hope to publish a short treatise on the passions this summer. It will shed light on how I believe that all the motions of our members which accompany our passions are not caused by the soul, but by the machinery of the body alone.

As to the fact that “dogs nod ‘yes’ with their tails”, etc., however, those are only motions which accompany certain passions. Still, I think we must distinguish them carefully from speech which is the sole proof of thought hidden in a body.

“Nor do infants”, etc. The case of infants is different from that of brutes. I would not judge that infants possessed minds if I did not see that they had the same nature as adults. By contrast, brutes never develop to a point where we perceive any certain marks of thought in them.

On the questions

On the first question. It is repugnant to my way of conceiving, or, what means the same, I think it implies a contradiction, that the world should be finite or bounded because I cannot but conceive some space beyond those supposed boundaries. However, on my view, such space is a real body. Nor do I care that others call it “imaginary” and therefore believe the world to be finite. For I know which prejudices gave rise to this error.

On the second question. By imagining a sword to pierce beyond the boundaries of the world, you show that you, too, do not conceive the world to be finite. For in reality you conceive all the space into which the sword reaches as a part of the world even if you call that which you conceive a vacuum.

On the third question.[32] I cannot explain the reciprocal power involved in the mutual separation of two bodies from one another any better than by putting before your eyes a small boat off the river bank which is stuck in the mud. There are two men. The one, standing on the bank, is pushing the boat with his hands so as to move it away from land. In the very same way, the other is standing in the boat and pushing against the bank with his hands to move the very same boat away from land. Thus, assuming that the powers of these two men are equal, the endeavour of the one who stands on land, and is therefore connected with the land does not contribute less to the motion of the boat than does the endeavour of the other moving along with the boat. Hence it is clear that the action by which the boat moves away from land is not smaller on the land itself than in the boat. Nor does your example of a person moving away from you while you are sitting pose any difficulty. For when I talk about a transfer, I only understand that which happens through the separation of two bodies immediately touching each other.

On the fourth question. The motion of the moon determines the celestial matter and, consequently, the earth contained in it as well so that it turns towards one part rather than another. Thus, as you can see in the figure there,[33] it turns from A towards B rather than D without bestowing on it any velocity of motion. And since this velocity depends upon celestial matter, a velocity roughly the same as its motion near the earth and near the moon, the earth would have to orbit twice as fast. As a consequence, it would complete its orbit about sixty times in the same period of time in which the moon completes its own which is sixty times as large if it were not obstructed by its size (as it is said in art. 151, p. 3).

On the fifth question. I do not assume any other pliancy and tenacity in the smallest particles of matter than that in the sensible and large ones, namely one depending upon the motion and rest of its particles. But one must take note that the grooved particles themselves are formed from that matter which is very fine and divided into innumerable or indefinitely many minute parts coalescing to fashion them. Consequently, I conceive more different minute parts in every single grooved particle than most people do in other very large bodies.

On the sixth question. I have endeavoured to explain most of what you ask here in my treatise on the passions. I should only like to add that I have not yet come across anything about the nature of material things that I could not have explained with the greatest ease in a mechanistic fashion. And just as it is not unsuitable for a philosopher to believe that God can move a body without believing that God is corporeal, so it is not unsuitable for him to assume something similar with regard to other incorporeal substances. And while I think that there is no mode of action belonging to God and his creatures univocally, I must confess that I cannot find in my mind any other idea representing a mode in which God or an angel can move matter than the one exhibiting to me the mode in which I am conscious of being able to move my body by my thought.

Moreover, my mind cannot extend and contract in relation to space in respect of its substance, but solely in respect of its power which it can apply to larger bodies at one time and at smaller ones at another.[34]

On the seventh question. If the world had been created from eternity, this earth would doubtless not have been from eternity. Instead, others would have been produced elsewhere. Moreover, not all matter would have changed into the first element by now. For just as some of its parts break up in one place, so others coalesce in another place without there being more motion or agitation in the whole of the universe at one time than another.

On the eighth question. That the particles of water and all the others on the earth have pores follows clearly from the way I have described the production of the earth, notably the coalescence of particles of first element matter. Since, then, the first element consists only of particles indefinitely divisible, it follows that we must conceive pores up to the last possible division in all the bodies composed of it.

On the ninth question. I have just talked about two men, one of them moving along with a boat, the other standing on the bank unmoved. This sufficiently illustrates my view that there is nothing more positive in the motion of the one than there is in the rest of the other.

I do not really understand the meaning of those final words of yours: “Can a thing possess any property in a natural way and from itself which it can also lack altogether or acquire from another source?”

Moreover, I want to assure you that I shall always listen with the greatest pleasure to your questions about and objections to my writings and that I shall always try to answer to the best of my abilities.

Yours most sincerely,

René Descartes

Egmond, 15th April 1649

Scholia on the Answer to the Second Letter

“And so, in my opinion, it has been proven that impenetrability belongs to the essence of extension, not any other thing”, etc., that is to say, because that part of extension which penetrates would be removed or annihilated. Yet, no part of an extended substance is destroyed in penetration. Otherwise, all spirits which penetrate, say, the spirit of the universe would be destroyed in the process. And extended matter itself would either be destroyed in the immobile extension or annihilate the parts of the immobile extension in those places where it is. However, if one essence is in another essence, it is obvious that there is an extension in extension, since all essence is extended in some way (see Ench. Met., ch. 28, sects. 6–7).

“Attributing this extension which is solely one of power”, etc. By asserting that only the powers of incorporeal substances are extended, he can be rightly judged to promote the cause of the nullibists here once again, being their leader.

Instance 2: “The extension attributed to incorporeal things is one of power only, not of substance. Since this power is only a mode in the thing to which it is applied, it cannot be understood as extended once the extension with which it coexists is removed.” Indeed, here he says more expressly what he has already said a little earlier, promoting openly the cause of nullibism, perhaps even that of the nullity of incorporeal things. After all, he implies that the power which we assume to be in spirits is a mode of extended matter, as Spinoza holds. See our notes in the scholia on his answer to the first letter, Difficulty 1.

Instance 4: “I do not grant this ‘everywhere’. For you seem to make God’s infinity consist in his existing everywhere, a view to which I do not assent. Instead, I believe that God is everywhere in respect of his power, whereas he has no relation to space whatsoever in respect of his essence.” This is the most open statement of nullibism possible. Hence, it is beyond doubt that I have rightly called Descartes the “prince of nullibists” in my Ench. Met., ch. 27. And yet, he seems to contradict himself in this matter if you compare this to what he says in his answer to my first letter, Difficulty 1. See the scholia on this place.

Question 1: “I cannot but conceive some space beyond those supposed boundaries. However, on my view, such space is real body”, etc. Indeed, that which I cannot conceive as non-existent must exist by necessity if we consult our own faculties. It is, therefore, conceived to exist by necessity and from itself, for its idea is not conceived as being linked to the idea of any other thing here. However, this way of conceiving, if it ends in body, completely undermines the existence of an absolutely perfect being. I have criticized this matter in the preface to my Enchiridium Metaphysicum, sect. 4.

Henry More to that most distinguished Gentleman and foremost philosopher René Descartes

I found it almost impossible, most distinguished Sir, to restrain myself from writing back to you at once after I had received your letter, even though doing so would have indeed been discourteous on my part. After all, I knew from your letter how exceedingly occupied you would be for a good many weeks to come. Moreover, I, too, had many other things to which I had to attend in the aftermath of my father’s death and they distracted me so much that I did not have the time to do what I wanted to do most of all. However, now that I have sufficient leisure, I can finally return to your letter and answer it.[35] I am infinitely grateful to you for your generosity and greatness of spirit in allowing me to raise whatever questions and objections I have regarding your writings.

Nor do I want to appear to abuse your extraordinary kindness in order to prolong our exchanges of objections and answers (for up to this point we have dealt with parts of philosophy particularly well-suited to λογομαχίαι[36] and slippery subtleties, that is to say, the fields of physics, metaphysics and logic). Therefore, I hasten to those on which we may reach a more certain and definite judgement.

I shall start by commenting briefly upon your answer to my first instances. As to angels and separated souls, if they are capable of grasping each other’s essence immediately, this cannot be called sensation in the proper sense if you believe them to be entirely incorporeal. I, for one, should much rather follow the Platonists, the ancient Church Fathers and almost everyone else in viewing souls and all genii, whether good or bad, as clearly embodied, and therefore as all possessing sensation in the proper sense, that is to say, sensation as it arises through the mediation of the body with which they are clothed. And since I could not be any more confident that only the greatest things will flow from your mind, you would do me the greatest of favours if you would in a few words share with me your speculations about these things. Judging from the brilliant intellect which you possess, I am sure these cannot fail to be ingenious. There are people who pride themselves exceedingly upon denying all so-called separated substances, whether demons, angels or souls, living after their death. Indeed, they applaud themselves profusely on this alleged feat and believe that they have thereby proved themselves to be far superior to all other mortals. I, for one, do not think quite so highly of them. In fact, I have frequently observed that most of them are of a taurine temper, melancholic beyond rescue or wholly devoted to sensual pleasures. They would end up being outright atheists if their religion, or rather superstition, in which they acknowledge that God exists, allowed it to them. Personally, I have no problem whatsoever professing publicly that even if all the authority of religion were to be removed, I should nevertheless freely acknowledge at once the existence of genii and God. Nor can I acknowledge the existence of any other God than that one whose existence all the best and the brightest would wish for if he did not exist. Hence, I have always suspected that atheism is the triumph both of the deepest improbity and the worst stupidity. And the boasting of the atheists resembles the joy and exultation of the most stupid of people on putting to death the best and wisest of princes. But I do not know what impulse has driven me to say all of this here, so I shall return to the topic at hand.

Secondly, as regards your demonstration by which you conclude all extended substance to be tangible and impenetrable, I think I can reply as follows: there can be parts in some extended substance which are external to each other without any ἀντιτυπία or mutual resistance, and in this case there will, therefore, be no tangibility in the proper sense. Further, a part of the extension and the substance, contracts itself into the rest of the extension and substance. However the rest is not destroyed in the process any more than is that part of the substance which constracts into it and therefore there is no impenetrability. I confess that I conceive all of this clearly and distinctly in my mind. However, that something real can be situated within narrower or broader bounds without losing anything of itself is obvious from motion, as is clear from your own principles. For one numerically identical motion, even according to your own view, occupies a larger part of a subject at one time and a smaller one at another. However, I, for one, can conceive as easily and as clearly that there can be a substance which, either by its own power or another’s, is able to dilate and contract without any loss of itself.

Finally, then, I am utterly surprised that you fail to see that the human mind or an angel are extended in just this fashion as though this implied a contradiction. By contrast, I personally am more inclined to think that it implies a contradiction that the power of the mind is extended, while the mind itself is not in any way. For, since the power of the mind is an intrinsic mode of the mind, it obviously cannot be outside the mind itself. And the same argument applies to God. Hence, I am equally surprised that in your answer to the penultimate instances you admit that he is everywhere in respect of his power, but not in respect of his essence. How could the divine power, which is a mode of God, be outside God, even though every real mode always inheres most intimately in the thing of which it is a mode? Hence, it is necessary that God is everywhere if his power is everywhere.

And I cannot but suspect that by the power of God you want to understand an effect transferred into matter. However, if you understand it this way, I cannot see how that should not equally come to naught. For there is no other way for this effect to be transferred than by the divine power touching matter and matter receiving it; in other words, by some real mode united to the matter and, therefore, extended. Nor can it all the while be separated from the divine essence itself. There seems to be an obvious contradiction here, as I have said. However, I do not want to dwell on this any longer.

I shall pass to the questions. However, before that, I should like to point out how much it grieves me that we must not hope for a continuation of your Philosophy. But at the same time, the certain hope for that most desirable treatise of yours which this summer will bring us consoles me. I heartily wish that it will see the light of day soon and successfully.

On the Answers to the Questions

To the first and second questions you give answers that correspond perfectly to your principles throughout, as I should expect from and praise in anybody as long as no better view prevails.

As to the third, I have gained the following useful things from your example of the boat: 1. in motion there is a mutual resistance between the bodies that are said to be moving. 2. Rest is action, namely some resistance or opposition. 3. For two bodies to move means that they separate immediately. 4. That immediate separation is precisely that motion or transfer.

Indeed, when two bodies separate themselves from each other, this motion, unless you add to this notion of translation or motion some separating or parting power in the one or the other, will be nothing more than a wholly extrinsic relationship at best. Being separated either means that the surfaces of bodies which beforehand touched each other, distance themselves from each other (the distance between the bodies, however, being a wholly extrinsic relation) or it means that bodies no longer touch each other which did so previously. However, this is merely a privation or negation. I am obviously not yet sufficiently certain about your view on this matter.

Personally, however, I would, if I may, deem motion to be that power or action by which those bodies which, you say, are in motion separate themselves from each other. Their immediate separation is the effect of the said motion, even though it is either merely a bare relation or a privation. However, you yourself seem to have argued differently in your explanation of the definition of motion given in Part II, art 25, where, to tell you the truth, I do not yet fully understand your view.

You have answered all the other questions which I have raised with great clarity and precision. But for a fuller understanding of those numerous problems which I have raised with regard to the sixth question, I shall wait for the publication of your much-desired little book on the passions.

Moreover, as regards those final words of mine: “Can a thing”, etc., it was some exceedingly subtle speculation coming to my mind which I have by now forgotten and which I have no in interest in trying to recall.

There is only one question which I should like to ask again: did matter, freely left to itself, that is to say, without receiving any impulse from without, move or rest? Assuming it moves naturally by itself, matter being homogeneous and, consequently, motion being everywhere the same, it follows that the whole of matter, as soon as it came to exist,[37] would have been divided into parts so infinitely small that nothing could any longer be scratched off any of these particles in any way. Whatever you may imagine to be scraped off would already have been divided and dissolved on account of the most inward power of motion pervading or, if you prefer, inserted into all matter. Nor will some parts stick to one another more than others or direct their course to another place more than others, since all of them are completely alike in every possible regard. For we cannot imagine any uneven or angular shape not already formed into whatever shape motion will eventually end up imposing on it. Nor must we assume that any of the particles differ in their motion, since matter is supposed to be perfectly homogeneous. If, therefore, matter were in motion by its nature, there would be no sun, sky, earth, vortices or anything heterogeneous in the fabric of things, whether sensible or imaginable. And so, your admirable art of creating the heavens, earths and all other sensible things must fail.

On the other hand, if as you say matter by itself is at rest unless it is moved from without and that this rest is something positive, then in this case matter would as a consequence suffer violence from eternity. Its natural property would be destroyed forever in order for the opposite one to prevail, a conclusion that seems somewhat harsh. Nor, for that matter, does it seem any safer to consider rest the privation or negation of motion, since one would in that case deprive matter at rest of all action of resisting, which you yourself acknowledge. I find all of this very difficult to understand. For, if you consider rest an action of matter, you must also assume motion to be the same action, since matter acts only by motion (or at least the endeavour to move). I pray that you resolve these doubts of mine as far as you can, since they prove a source of quite some concern for me.

Indeed, I have been thinking upon these first principles so rigorously that I am faced with another difficulty regarding the nature of motion. If the motion of a body is a mode like shape, the structure of its parts, etc., how is it any more possible for it to move from one body to another than for any other corporeal mode? And in general I cannot imagine how it is possible that anything that cannot exist outside a subject (which applies to all modes) might pass to another subject. Moreover, I have another question: when a body hits a smaller one that is at rest, pulling it with it, does the rest of the body that is at rest pass to the one in motion just as the motion of the one moving passes its motion to the one resting? For rest seems to be something so idle and indolent that it is loath to move. And yet, it is as real as motion and, therefore, reason forces us to suppose that it, too, is passed on.

Finally, I am completely baffled when I consider that a thing as tiny and as vile as motion, which is also capable of being separated from its subject and passing to another, and which is of so frail and so transient a nature that it would cease to be at once if it were not for a subject sustaining it, should nevertheless stir its subject up so potently and impel it here and there so forcefully. I, for one, am more inclined to assume that there is no transfer of motion whatsoever. Rather, on account of the impulse of one body, another body is, as it were, awakened into motion, just as the soul is awakened into thought on this or that occasion. Instead of receiving motion, a body stirs itself into motion on being alerted by another body. And, as I have said before, motion is to body what thought is to mind, that is to say, neither of them is received from without, but both proceed from within the subject in which they are to be found. And in fact every so-called body is also alive in a mindless and befuddled way, since in my view it is the last und lowest shadow and image of the divine essence which, I hold, is most perfect life. However, it is devoid of all sense and animadversion.

Moreover, as I have indicated above, your transfer of motion from one subject to another, from a larger to a smaller one and vice versa, is a very good illustration of my extended spirits which can contract and expand themselves again. These can penetrate matter with the greatest ease without filling it, and also stir it up and set it in motion without using any machinery or hooks to connect themselves to it.[38]

However, I have dwelt on this place longer than I had intended. Instead, I hasten to my original intent, namely that of asking new questions about those articles of your Principles of Philosophy whose meaning I do not yet understand.

On Part I, art. 8

“We see very clearly”, etc. We do not see very clearly that extension, shape and locomotion belong to our nature, nor do we see very clearly that they do not belong to it. I should be much beholden to you if you could demonstrate in a few words that no body can think.

On art. 37

Is it not a greater perfection that we can will only what is best for us than to be able to will the opposite as well? After all, being happy all the time is better than having fame, however great, at some or even all the time.

On art. 54

Here I repeat once again that it would have required proof that nothing extended can think or, what will probably seem easier, that no body can think. For that would be a demonstration worthy of your genius.

On art. 60

I grant that a mind may contemplate itself as a thinking thing without this concept involving any corporeal extension. However, this does not prove anything other than that the mind may be corporeal or incorporeal, not that it is in reality incorporeal. Hence, I beseech you once again, please provide evidence that this mind of ours is incorporeal from such operations of the human mind as cannot be attributed to corporeal nature.

On Part II, art. 25

“It is neither the force nor the action which transfers to show that it [i.e. the motion] is always in the thing in motion.” Is it, then, the power itself and the action of the movement which is in the thing moved?

On art. 26

Is there, then, in a body at rest a certain enduring static power or action by which it perseveres in its place and resists all impulses from without which may either disjoin and separate its parts or dislodge and transfer the whole body to another place? Could not rest, therefore, be rightly defined as an internal force or power of the body by which the body’s parts are tightly held together and compressed and by which they are protected from division and separation effected by impulses of other bodies? This corresponds with my view exactly, namely: matter is a kind of dark life, which, in my view, is the lowest shadow of God. It does not consist in the extension of its parts alone, but in some constant motion, that is to say, either in rest or motion, both of which, as you admit yourself, are instances of genuine action.

On art. 30

This article seems to provide a very clear demonstration that transfer or locomotion (unless it is only a relationship external to bodies) is not reciprocal in any way.

On art. 36

I wonder: does not the human mind, by heating its spirits in thinking longer and more attentively and thereby also warming its own body, add to the motion of the universe?

On art. 55

Let us assume a perfectly solid and perfectly flat die moves upon a table, one that, likewise, is perfectly solid and perfectly flat. Does it, at that moment when it ceases in its motion, merge as firmly with the table as the die and the table are merged with their respective parts? Or does it, once it has come to rest, always (or at least for the time being) remain divided from the table? For there is no pressure of the die against the table, if we imagine this motion as occurring in a vacuum, as it were, and upon a table situated outside the boundaries of the world (if this were possible) where there is neither heaviness nor lightness. The motion of the die, therefore, stops in the place to which it tends. Hence, there seems to be a law of nature that a die and a table which are divided will always remain divided in actuality unless there is a real action merging them.

On arts. 55 and 57

I cannot see why it is necessary for you to have the particles describe two such wide circles and rounds around body B, since it would seem sufficient that the single water particles, assuming all of them to be moved by subtle matter in a similar fashion, should all be of equal size. For it then follows that when any of the sides of B is hit by the slightest circular, semicircular or any other motion of the adjacent particles closest to it, it will of necessity rest without moving into the one or the other direction.

On art. 57, l. 19

“And they will not move along a straight line”, etc.: What, should they now adopt a more circular line after having a more oval one before? I do not fully understand this.

On art. 60:

“... and, insofar as they are impelled more violently, they are driven in other directions.” Can the velocity of a motion and its determination suffer a divorce? It would be as though we were to imagine a traveller directing his steps towards London, but being nevertheless driven towards Cambridge or Oxford. This is a subtlety that neither of these universities will ever fathom unless by “are driven” you perhaps understand the undertaking of a motion or the endeavour to direct one’s motion into a different direction.

On Part III, art. 16

Might not the light of Venus, like that of the moon, decrease at one time and increase at another according the Ptolemaic hypothesis as well, albeit neither to the same degree nor due to the same laws?[39]

On art. 35

How is it possible that not all planets, including even solar flares, are revolving on the same plane, namely that of the ecliptic, or at least on one parallel to the ecliptic? Why does the moon itself not revolve along the equator, or at least on a plane parallel to the equator? After all, none of these planets is directed by any internal force, but only driven by an external impulse.

On arts. 36, 37

I should very much like you to explain to me the causes of the aphelia and perihelia of planets and why they each afterwards exchange places, especially since all of them are in the same vortex? Why are the aphelia and perihelia of all the primary planets not to be found in the same places? How, on your principles, can the precession of the equinox occur? For here you would actually have the opportunity of explaining the true natural causes of these phenomena, while others propose nothing but fictitious hypotheses.

On art. 55

“Which are driven into circular shape.” But how did such immense spaces of matter begin to move around in circles and form vortices in the first place?

On art. 57

“That part which is hindered by the sling”, etc. It seems quite difficult to understand why stone A should be said to be hindered from moving to D, even though it will never reach there in fact nor would it move there by nature if the impediment were to be removed. For it would move in no other direction but towards C.

On art. 59

Here you say both that a new power of motion is acquired and that the endeavour is renewed. Those two statements[40] do not quite seem compatible. For if a new power is acquired and added, it is not a renewal, but an augmentation of motion. When, therefore, globule A augments its motion by moving, while remaining in the same point of the stick (for this example refers to the globules of a vortex),[41] why does it not always, as it moves, heat itself up in this very motion and augment itself? However, in this way, all things would have by now already burst into flames.

On art. 62

Now to the endeavour of the globules in which light and brightness covers the whole amplitude of a vortex. Hence, the basis of the triangle BFD could be much larger than DB; and if it were prolonged on both[42] outer sides of the diameter DB, its size increasing, say, tenfold or one hundredfold, the globules would in an oblique course be pressed back into some cusp at F, the eye of an observer. But why, then, I ask, does not the light of the sun, for instance, seem larger than that within the circle DCB?

On art. 72

I have not yet fully understood your design in having the matter of the first element swirl into spiral shapes or ones twisted like a cochlea, especially in those places which are a little further removed from the axis – unless it happens not because the globules swirl around the particles of the first element, but because the first element itself, perhaps gently forced into rotation by the globules themselves, itself twists inside those triangular spaces, adopting in itself the spiral lines. Please explain your view in this place more fully. However, yet another question immediately arises here. If the twisted particles consist of the minutest particles moving at a very high velocity, how can those minutest particles coalesce into any shape of larger size at all, especially if we consider how distorted and oblique the motion is in the formation of these grooved particles?

On art. 82

“Both of the highest and the lowest ones [i.e. globules]”, etc. The rapid motion of the highest globules strikes me as downright miraculous, especially if we compare it to the motion of the middle ones. Moreover, it seems to be far beyond the causes furnished in the following article. I should appreciate it very much if you could find something more which might make this doctrine seem less harsh.

On art. 84

“Why the tails of comets”, etc. I cannot but ask you with some impatience to use this first occasion and at least explain something: please do also give a brief explanation of this phenomenon in this place!

On art. 108

“They are forced through the adjacent parts of ecliptic QH to move away into the sky.” How is it possible that most of them do not go thither, rather than moving from one pole to another and thereby forming what you call a vortex?

On art. 121

“It can constantly be changed for various reasons,” etc. For which reasons exactly?

On art. 129, l. 15

“It does not appear there before”, etc. Why does that floating matter, being entirely transparent, prevent us from seeing the comet? For the floating matter does not hide the planet Jupiter from our eyes. And why is it necessary that a comet should emerge thence only if it is covered in the matter of the vortex it left?

On art. 130, l. 21

“It is certainly reduced”, etc. But why is it not destroyed completely if vortex AEIO pushes the neighbouring vortices more strongly than (or as strongly as) it is pushed by them?

On art. 149

“It will soon approach A”, etc. Why does it not move on up to F and dash into the earth itself?

“Because it will deflect less from a straight line.” I do not see that line NA, being continuous with AB, should constitute a straighter line than the same NA, as being continuous with AD. However, when the moon moves way from the centre S the way celestial globules do, it seems much more natural for it to ascend towards B than descend towards D.

On Part IV, art. 22

“And since the earth is not stirred by its own motion”, etc. I do not see why it matters where that circular motion should come from provided only it is in the earth. Nor is it clear to me why those extremely fast rotations of the earth would cast all things on it towards the heavens - even though its motion is not due to itself, but proceeds from the inner celestial matter - if it were not for the motion of the ether around it (which you believe to be much faster) preventing this fate. Nor does the earth seem to be a resting body as regards the endeavour of its parts to move away from the centre (for that seems to be a necessary characteristic of all bodies in circular motion). Only insofar as it simultaneously revolves in circles along with the ether surrounding it without any separation of the surfaces may the earth be said to be at rest. However, I point this out to learn from you whether it is due solely to the velocity of the motion of the ether particles that earth does not burst into its parts.

On art. 25

“They possess lightness because of the motion of their particles.” What, then, do you think about cold and hot iron? Which of them is heavier? Further, how can a mass of water become lighter because of the motion of its particles, even if the motion of these parts eventually forces it downwards? For the descent of a body seems to be accelerated by that motion and, therefore, it will be judged to be of greater weight. And in this way water will be heavier than gold.

On art. 27

“Unless perhaps some external cause”, etc. I beseech you: please do explain to us in a few words what these causes are!

On art. 12

“Parallel to the axis.” The mention of this parallelism raises some other difficulties which I find almost insoluble. Firstly, why do your vortices not assume the shape of a column or cylinder rather than of an ellipsis, since each point of the axis is, as it were, a centre from which the celestial matters move away, doing so, as far as I can see, with the exact same impetus? Secondly, considering that the globules must move away from the axis with the same momentum everywhere, why is not the first element likewise wholly stretched out in cylindrical shape? Why is it not spread out throughout the axis, but instead compressed into spherical shape and all but confined to the middle of the axis? For the first element coming from both poles of the vortex does not prevent the whole axis from shining in an extended flame. For if the globules of each axis move away with the same power everywhere, they will more easily glide past each other, and in torrential streams[43] rush straight to the opposite poles of the subtlest matter. Then, in some part of the axis, they hollow out for themselves an ever-widening place that is larger than the present steady circular motion would possibly allow, let alone freely offer them. Thirdly and finally, since the celestial globules are carried around the axis of a vortex παραλλήλως[44] both to the axis and to each other, but without losing their parallelism when changing places among themselves for some time, it seems impossible that there should occur any twisting of the grooved particles unless these grooved particles were themselves to rotate around their own axes in those triangular spaces. However, as I have pointed above, I fail to see how this is supposed to happen.

On art. 187

“No miracles of sympathy or antipathy”, etc. Please do explain the following to me in a few words here if this is possible: how should it come to pass in a mechanical fashion that in two chords, even of different instruments either identical in musical pitch or tuned to the musical interval called διαπασῶν, if the one is sounded, the other in the other instrument should spring up, while others that are closer and looser, or even part of that very instrument whose cord is sounded remain taut[45] and do not move at all? This is a popular and very well-known experiment, but no other case of sympathy seems to defy mechanical explanation more clearly than this harmony of two chords.

On art. 188

“And in the sixth I shall treat man”, etc. Proceed, O excellent author, and bring this work to completion. For I deem it most certain that no book will ever see the light of day that could be either more pleasing or more useful to the republic of letters. Nor must you blame the lack of experiments in this case. For, as regards our body, I have heard from trustworthy authorities that you have already done the most accurate research on everything that has to do with the anatomy of the human body. And as regards the soul, you have already found it to be such that it has awoken into the most sublime and most far-reaching operations and that it possesses the most agile and subtle animal spirits. Therefore, your noble mind should rely upon its innate power and heavenly strength - as do the chemists upon their fire - studying itself in such a way and transforming itself into so many different shapes that it can readily make use of itself as a laboratory housing an infinite number of experiments.

On art. 195

“As I have also explained in Meteorology.” You have indeed given a most splendid explanation of colours in your Meteorology. Still, there is a major difficulty regarding this matter which my imagination quite struggles with: you hold that the different colours result from the proportion obtaining between the circular and rectilinear motions of the globules. Therefore, it will happen of necessity that even in the same globules the circular motion will gain the upper hand over the rectilinear motion and the rectilinear motion over the circular motion at the same time. Thus, for example, the globules lying between two opposing walls, of which one is painted red, the other blue, will, because of the red wall, move faster in a circle than in a straight line. However, at the very same time, they will also move faster in a straight line than in a circle because of the blue wall, which is clearly ἀσύτατα.[46] Or another example: let us assume one and same wall, of which one part, say, the right one, is red; the middle one black; and the left one blue. Since these colours will always intersect for the eye, as the beams flow together all the globules will adopt the proportion of the motion of the single globules, namely that of a circular motion in relation to a straight one, so that all the colours will necessarily become mixed up in the lowest part of the eye. Nor can I think of any solution to this problem unless, perhaps, one were to assume that this circular motion consisted only in some quick and short endeavours[47] to move in a circle, rather than a complete motion, as actually happens in the straight motion of said globules.

And I might have found out by my own effort at least some kind of solutions to most of the other difficulties pointed out to you above. However, in your kindness you have given me leave to consult you, and[48] your peerless acumen in solving such difficulties which I have seen in your last letters has further encouraged me. For, although I have noted that, lacking leisure, as you did back then, you were rather brief, you have nevertheless answered my questions to my full satisfaction, stimulating my mind’s senses as strongly as if you had been present yourself and taken me by the hand. Finally, your own explanations will carry more weight both for me and for others whenever it is necessary. Hence, I thought that it would be in my own best interest to present all these difficulties to you yourself and that, unless I was seriously mistaken, I would, once you had solved them, gain a most thorough understanding of all the Principles of your Philosophy, which would be of well-nigh incredible worth to me. However, once you have disentangled the present riddles for me – the earlier you can do so,[49] the more I shall rejoice, being passionately in love with your writings – you will soon receive further questions regarding your Optics from

that most ardent student of your philosophy,

Henry More

Henry More to that most distinguished gentleman and foremost philosopher René Descartes[50]

I, for one, am deeply afflicted, most distinguished Sir, that you have so suddenly been snatched away from our vicinity and carried away to such distant shores. And yet I do not want to conceal from you that there is something that may alleviate my mind’s distress and sorrow and console me. And it is certainly not the meanest thing that that this honour has been accorded to you and your merit even amongst the most remote of peoples and that the resplendent light of your name has so forcefully made its way even to the dense and thick fogs of the north. Nor, most importantly, did it do so in vain, since so great a love for writings and writers has entered the noble bosom of that most famous heroine, the most serene Queen of Sweden, that she was no longer content with your fame and your books alone. Instead, she wrote unceasingly to you, entreating you that you should visit her, until you fulfilled her wish, which, I believe, will greatly adorn and benefit that kingdom. All of that, I confess, consoles me a little both over your departure from our regions here and the loss of that most desired letter which I expected you to send me before your departure, as you had promised me. However, far from having given up the hope of receiving that letter, I, on the contrary, am more confident than ever that you will not only briefly reply to my earlier letter, but also to the present one once it has reached your hands. Being confident about that, I shall now pass to your Optics, and then move on to your Meteorology if I should find difficulties in this work as well. Thus I hope I can free my soul of all the things which I thought most useful for me to point out to you more fully. For, once I have done everything that I, for one, think needs to be done, I hope my soul will find a gentler peace and quiet and lose much of its fear ever after.

On Optics, ch. 2, art. 4, l. 21

“It does not resist it in any way.” Cloth CE seems to resist ball B at least in some way, even insofar as the ball moves to the right. This will become clear from the following.

Thus, GH fully resists ball B and completely prevents its continuing on its course either towards HE or towards CE (and downwards as well). When, therefore, CE comes so close to position GH that only angle HBE or GBC is lacking in order to resist the tendency towards HE completely, CE, likewise resting in its position, will for some time resist ball B, even as it continues its course towards HE. This will become even more obvious if, for example, we assume CE to be a surface of wet clay and the ball to be made of iron. It will move from A to B until it penetrates it at some point. However, the force of its course both towards HE and towards CE will at once dissipate. By contrast, this would not happen if the ball were to move along line CBE. In this case, it would continue on towards HE unimpeded, especially if the ball lacked hardness. Hence, it is clear that surface CE resists ball B descending from A, even as it moves towards HE. Thus it has been demonstrated.

“It loses half its velocity” (l. 27). I shall admit gladly here that some part of velocity is lost. However, I fail to see why this part of velocity, as you suppose both in this article and the one immediately after it, should only be lost towards CE, not towards FE. There is, after all, but one real motion of the ball, even though we may imagine as many different tendencies or changes in this motion as we please. If, therefore, this motion is reduced, the ball, no matter where you imagine it to be heading, will move at a slower velocity than it did before its motion was reduced. Hence, the tendency of the ball towards I instead of D must not be seen as being caused by the greater or lesser velocity of its motion, but rather by the resistance of the large angle CBD and by the weakness of the smaller angle EBD whose sharp tip, due to its small size and fluid matter, will give way to the approaching ball more easily than the obtuse angle CBD. If one were to view the greater or lesser velocity as the cause instead, the ball, descending from A to B, would alter its course[51] as well. On that, consult your scheme on p. 84 of the Latin edition, if necessary.

On art. 6

“It is so sharply inclined that the line, being drawn” (l.7), etc. Your accustomed way of demonstrating where the ball will turn is certainly fair and subtle, but it does not appear to touch on the cause of the matter. For we must view the true and actual cause as consisting in the extent of the angle CBD and the smallness of the angle EBD as well as the size of the ball. The bigger it is, the less it needs to press down line AB against CE to jump back into air L. For instance, to enter water, a larger ball does not so easily indent and penetrate the tip of a more acute angle but rather hits and bends it while flying past it.

“That it augments the power of its motion” (l. 22). The increase of the ball’s motion will not contribute to its changing its original course unless there is some body positioned in such a way that it determines the ball’s said course in another direction. I suspect that something like this happens in those media which, as you believe, admit rays more easily, such as crystal, glass, etc. The sharp upper point of angle EBD, then, is so firm and strong in such substances that it does not give way at all. Therefore, a ray, hitting the angle’s dense and curved sharp point, is clearly diverted from its original course and forced to move perpendicularly towards the interior. For this reason, both refractions strike me as a kind of reflection (or at least an inchoate reflection). And just as in a complete and unimpeded reflection the determination was removed without any delay in the ball’s course, so here no acceleration or deceleration seems to be required for the reduction or alteration of the determination. The reduced or augmented determination alone suffices for both refractions, since B does not, on reaching surface CE, change its course insofar as it is faster or slower, but rather insofar as it hits a body that changes its determination. If, instead, it were merely accelerated or decelerated, it would always continue on its course from B to D.

In the former refraction, therefore, i.e. the one proceeding from the perpendicular, the determination downwards is necessarily reduced. The ball, by contrast, is slowed down only accidentally because of the softness of the medium which changes its course. In the latter one, the determination downwards is augmented. However, if the ball is accelerated, it is accelerated only accidentally, since it passes more easily through a new medium.

Therefore, the change of determination and its cause are clearly necessary for both refraction and reflection. By contrast, the greater or lesser velocity of the motion is but an addition, and perhaps even a completely superfluous one at that. However, as regards the new higher velocity of the ball or the globule in an easier medium, it seems very difficult to understand. This new medium, after all, does not furnish it with any new grades of motion. Instead, it only permits the ball to retain those which it possesses up to this point, leaving them intact and without any reduction, since it neither takes any of them away from it nor absorbs any itself. And it would be as absurd to suppose that the ball receives new or, if you prefer, its former grades of motion on entering an easier medium as it would be to admit that it rests for a moment in the point of reflection before leaping back, a view which you rightly reject in art. 2 of this chapter.

On ch. 6, art. 9

“But only on the place of the small particles of the brain”, etc. Are these, then, such particles as are visible in a dissection of the brain or do you conclude only by reason that such particles must exist to fulfil this function? I, for one, do not think that these particles are necessary. Rather, those same organs which transmit motion also necessarily alert the soul, which brings about that transfer of motion, provided there is no obstacle.

On art. 13

“Similar to that used by the geometers who, by means of two fixed points”, etc. This strikes me as a rather rough and obscure comparison, the two agreeing in nothing but the fact that they both involve two fixed points. Thus, geometers or, if you prefer, surveyors make use of fixed points extending from a tree or tower in a straight line, for instance, while the eye, if I have understood it correctly, changes its place in a transverse and almost parallel line with the object.

On art. 16

“On the basis of the knowledge or opinion which we have about the distance”, etc. It might prove quite difficult to explain the adequate causes of the way the size of bodies appears to us. However, in my view, it consists above all in one thing, namely the greater or lesser size of the intersecting angle. Thus, the larger it is, the larger that same body will appear to be in size and vice versa. It is, moreover, very remarkable that when you move some object, say, your thumb, as close to your eye as the space of one grain, the intersecting angle will be four or five times as great as that between the eye and the thumb at a distance of ten grains. If you then move your thumb further away from your eye by several tens of grains, the intersecting angle will become smaller and smaller, albeit in a steadily-decreasing proportion of tens of grain each or less. And it progressively increases in narrowness until it is finally so narrow that we perceive it only as one single straight line. Hence, no-one will be surprised that if a thumb at a one-grain distance from our eye appears much bigger than at a ten-grain distance and that, removed by more tens of grain, it will not lose much in size at every ten grains, even though it can be moved so far away from us that we cease to perceive it altogether. For the distance of the legs of the internal intersecting angle will be smaller than the diameter of an individual fibre of an optical nerve. However, I do not completely understand yet how, in this case, we form an opinion about the distance in comparison to the size of the image. Nor do I know for certain how either the eye or the soul performs a comparison between the two. However, it seems to me that we may account for how we understand the size of said angle in the following way:

Let HI and KL be the base of the two eyes, i.e. the larger and smaller ones. Let CD be the larger and more remote object, EF the smaller yet closer one, and EGF or KGL the intersecting angle.

Firstly, I posit that there is some impetus or transmission of motion from C to L and from D to K. And my perception, proceeding straight along line KGFD, hits one end of object CD, i.e. D, in that very place where it is located. Likewise, it proceeds along line LGEC, and hits the other end of object CD, i.e. C, in its own place as well. And the same applies to all the other outer and middle parts of object CD. It is, therefore, through my perception, which proceeds straight along this line, that I perceive the size of an object opposite me. The measure of the latter’s diameter, as it appears to me, is the angle EGF. If, therefore, both the straight lines along which my perception proceeds and the size of the angle stay the same in eye HI as in KL shortly before, I claim that object DC appears as large as in eye KL. From this I conclude, then, that the apparent size of an object is due to the size of the intersecting angle, not to the size of the image. Finally, just as the apparent size of an object does not result from the size of the image at the base of the eye (as is clear, on the other hand, from the fact that the size of the smaller object EF is the same as that of the larger object CD both in eye HI and eye KL), it does not simply result from the size of the interceding angle either. Otherwise, object EF would appear as large as object CD, since the intersecting angle is the same. However, if the smaller object EF is removed, object CD will in fact appear to be much larger than how object EF appeared previously, even though both were perceived under the same intersecting angle. Hence, we can rightly conclude that the apparent size of each object results partly from the intersecting angle and partly from the body’s real size. Nor is it surprising that my perception, proceeding along the straight lines of that impetus or transmission of motion, should advance as far as this point and stop at the first starting point of this motion, i.e. at C and D. Neither is it surprising (considering that they are in reality more distant than EF and are not seen under a smaller angle) that they seem more distant than E and F and that the whole object CD should indeed appear larger than the whole object EF in absolute terms.

On art. 19

“Since we are accustomed to judge”, etc. What, then, is your opinion about the man born blind whom Christ cured? If a flat mirror had been presented to him before the bad habit had perverted his judgement, would he have seen his face on this side of the mirror rather than on that side, or behind it? I find this fanciful idea of an image behind the mirror, whose causes, I must admit, I have not sufficiently grasped yet, to be exceedingly weary and troublesome for my imagination. In fact, I do not find this notion of a perverted habit of judgement satisfying at all. It would be greatly appreciated if you could come up with more tangible and mechanical explanations and share them with us.

On art. 20, final line

“Hence, it follows that their diameter”, etc. Why should not the sun’s or moon’s one- or two-foot diameter, if its intersecting angle is reduced to the right ratio, represent bodies of the actual size of the sun and moon, appearing to be one or two feet in size at such a distance?

On art. 21

“Because ... equally towards the equator and the pole”, etc. Hence, the sun and the moon appear larger at the equator than they should considering their distance. And we should rather call that the true, non-fallacious apparent size which is subject to a certain law, instead of that apparent size which changes under certain external circumstances.

On ch. 7, art. 22

“By which art... for other reasons”, etc. What exactly do you understand by the art of inversion? And for what reasons do you avoid it?

On ch. 8, art. 20

“Or parallel to different parts.” I do not understand at all the meaning of rays being ‘parallel to different parts’. For nothing of this kind is depicted in the figure on p. 172. Please explain your intention more fully here. Unless I am extremely slow, this article’s final section on the intersection of two rays passing through the two convex lenses DBQ and dbq is also extremely obscure. However, in the margins of this passage in your French edition you refer us to page 108, i.e. to that figure which is on page 164 in the Latin edition. However, I, for one, cannot see any intersection of rays in those lenses, but only between the lenses at the common burning point. For no other rays emerge there but parallel ones which keep their parallelism until they reach the convex surfaces of lenses BD and bd, where, finally, they begin to bend in such a way that there will eventually be an intersection of all of them in burning point I and not anywhere else. However, here you say that there will also be an intersection of the rays in lenses DBQ et dbq, first on the surface of the former, i.e. DBQ, then on the surface of the latter, i.e. dbq. But what surface to you mean? A plain or a convex one? And is it the same in both? After this, you go on to say: “Those at least which proceed form different parts.” What does “proceed from different parts” mean? Do you mean from ones facing or from ones opposite one another? After all, such parallels as emanate from the same object can also be rightly said to proceed from different parts. I am mired in quite a quandary here.

On ch. 9, art. 5, p. 185, l. 10

“The more these telescopes magnify the images of objects, the less of it they can represent at one glance.” Now the outer lenses of these more perfect telescopes possess a larger aperture which, therefore, receives more parallel rays from the object than the smaller opening of less perfect telescopes. Moreover, all of these rays are collected by the convex surface of said lens at the base of the eye. Why, then, can they not also represent both more objects and more images in the eye?

On ch. 10, art. 4, l.17

“We shall find a hyperbola entirely similar to and identical with the preceding one.” You suppose, therefore, that all hyperbolas whose burning points are equally far removed from the top are identical by ἐφαρμογή,[52] even though some are described with reference to the cone, the others to the cord and the ruler. Indeed, you suppose that the apices have the same distance.[53] While I do not consider this false at all, I still believe that it would have been advisable to prove its truth since this is the basis of the entire machine which you are about to describe.

On art. 6, p. 202, l. 27

“For it will have both a cutting edge and a point”. It may have a cutting edge, but I fail to see what point it will possess, especially since the cutting edge of this tool is to be made straight, not concave. It would, therefore, be spherical. And while it may reach the outer circles of the wide wheel, it will not be adapted to the inner parts, since it will be too large to fit them. Hence, the point of this tool will not touch the wheel in its wide middle space.

On art. 7, l. 17

“It must not be so large that its semi-diameter, the distance which will extend from line 12 to 15”, etc. I hold that the reason for this is the fact that the concave surface of the lens would then become spherical, not hyperbolical.

On art. 10

“So as to ... some of the most curious and skillful people”, etc. I should like to hear from you whether any of those more skilled artisans have put your most ingenious invention to the test yet, and how successful they have been. There are, in fact, some people who complain that some have already tried and failed in their endeavours. However, this, in my view, is either mistaken or those craftsmen who have tried were not among the more skilled.

As regards Meteorology, the difficulties which I have encountered in this work are fewer and less significant. However, let me mention what they are.

Meteorology, ch. 1, art. 4, p. 210, l. 7[54]

“And finally, faster near the vicinity of the earth than near the clouds.” You assert this both about direct and reflected rays. However, I fail to see how it is possible for direct rays to augment the power of their heat unless they continually reflect and replicate themselves upon themselves near the earth. In this case, however, they are not simply direct rays but are also coupled with reflected ones. But[55] there is another more serious misgiving which troubles me here, namely your theory of the reflection of rays. For, according to the common philosophy, the reason for this is very simple: a sunray, like a thread, turns backwards and replicates itself, thereby necessarily doubling the power and, as it were, the crassness of its heat. However, there is no place for this in your philosophy. Instead, a ball bouncing back explains your mode of reflection better than a thread being duplicated. Hence, it hardly seems possible that the heat should be doubled. Thus, a ball which descends, say, from A to B, only describes a simple line of motion, one which is entirely lacking before the same ball ascends from B to D. Therefore, since for each time x there is only one line of motion, it seems entirely impossible that the power of its heat should be doubled. On the contrary,[56] it will rather be reduced in the air near the earth, since a globule or ball communicates some of its motion to the earthly particles. As a consequence, its motion from B to D will be slower and fainter than that from A to B. It would, therefore, be very helpful if you would explain here why the air near the earth becomes hotter than it does near the clouds and whether it is possible that a greater heat is felt because of the inequality of this motion, even though there is less motion near the earth than in the higher regions of the air.

Ch. 7, art. 6, p. 283, l. 4

“But also the lower ones, remaining very much rarefied”, etc. However, if they are so rarefied, how can they absorb others falling into them and stop them? They rather seem so subtle that they should push them towards the earth instead if they were otherwise to go there.

On art. 7, l. 2

“Because of the resonance of the air all around”, etc. In the same way, for sure, Paracelsus imagined the thunder to resound and reverberate so deafeningly because of the vaults of the heavenly temples – not unlike somebody causing an iron cannon charged with gunpowder to explode under a solid roof. I am well aware that you do not believe the ether to be enclosed within walls. And therefore, it should seem more likely that the further removed the blow is from the earth, the weaker the sound should be, for this resonance does not occur so easily, since the sound it produces reverberates far from the bodies hit.

Ch. 9, art. 2, l. 19

“For only a few rays”, etc. Does not a small number of rays, therefore, create a blue colour? This does not seem to chime too well with what you have said before. On the one hand, colours, as you have stated above, arise from the different proportions in which the rotation of the spheres stand to their straight motion. And blue in particular arises from a rotation smaller than the forward motion which, as it were, is the sole cause of the colour blue. On the other hand, you now trace it back not to the lack of rotation but to the small number of rays bouncing back from the surface of the sea. I ask you here, therefore, whether you believe that there is no other cause of colours than the one which you have described with such subtlety and ingenuity, or whether colours may also arise in other ways entirely independent of the rotation of globules and their rectilinear motion. After all, you yourself seem to imply that sea water seems blue only because of the small number of rays. And it is certainly hard to explain why the sea does not turn white when globules hit the surface of the water, or red when they hit it harder. Or is there stronger resistance to them on the surface of the sea than there is in the sky, which turns white because of the vapours?

I have now outlined all the doctrines in your writings on physics which I have found to be either difficult to understand or where I could not see how it could be true. In reading them, you may rightly have wondered at the state of my mind. After all, I have dared to claim a very thorough understanding of all other tenets in your writings, even though there are quite a few others in them that might well appear to be much more difficult than the ones about which I have expressed some reservations. Still, at the same time, I failed to understand those which I have asked you to explain and defend as clearly as those others. In fact, I have until this day been unable to correct this character trait of mine which I have observed in myself ever since I was a child: that while I am very often capable of overcoming the greatest of difficulties, at the same time I find the least ones to be insuperable. I shall leave it to your kindness to forgive what cannot be rightfully rebuked and not to attribute the great number of questions raised either to affected ignorance or to a penchant for dispute. In doing this, I was moved not by any uncontrolled desire for dispute, but rather by my religious devotion to your writings,

Not so much out of any desire to compete with you as for love:

my wish is to imitate you.[57]

What the poet says with great eloquence I, in this matter, say with the greatest sincerity. It remains for me, most distinguished Monsieur Descartes, to pray that you judge all of what I have written to you with benevolence and justice and that you answer me at your earliest convenience. If you deign to do so, you will make one most learned who has to this day always been a most ardent student of your philosophy,

Henry More

Cambridge, Christ’s College

21st October 1649

The following has been found among the papers of Monsieur Descartes, apparently a draft or the beginning of an answer which he was preparing to the preceding letters of Monsieur More[58]

When I received your letter of 23rd July, I was about to leave for Sweden, etc.

1. “Is the sensation of angels sensation in the proper sense and are they corporeal or not?”

I answer that human minds separated from the body do not have sensation in the proper sense. As regards angels, however, it is not clear from natural reason alone whether they are possibly created like minds distinct from bodies or rather like minds united to bodies. However, I never decide anything concerning that about which I cannot reason with any certainty, nor do I entertain any speculations about them. I concur that we must conceive of God as one whose existence the best of men would wish for if he did not exist.

2. Your instance regarding the acceleration of motion by which you seek to prove that the same substance can occupy more space at one time and less at another is ingenious. Still, there is a major difference in that motion is not a substance but a mode, and a mode of such a kind that we can inwardly conceive how it can decrease and increase in the same place. However, singular beings possess certain characteristic notions which must be judged solely by themselves, not in comparison with others. Thus, shape does not possess the characteristic notions of motion, nor does either of them possess those of an extended thing.* However, once we have well understood that there are no properties of nothing and that, therefore, a vulgarly so-called vacuum or empty space is not nothing, but a real body deprived of all its accidents (or, more precisely, those which it may or may not have without the subject ceasing to exist); and once we have noted how each single part of this space or body is different from all the others and impenetrable, we shall readily see that no other thing can possess the same divisibility, tangibility and impenetrability.

3. I have said that God is extended in respect of his power, i.e. this power manifests itself, or can manifest itself, in an extended thing.* And it is certain that God’s essence must be present everywhere in order that his power may manifest itself there. However, I deny that it is there in the mode of an extended thing, i.e., in that mode in which I have just described an extended thing.

4.[59] Of the “useful things” which you say you “have gained from” my “example of the boat”, two seem to me to be corrupted. The one is that “rest is an action or a kind of resistance”. For, even though a thing possesses this resistance because of the very fact that it is at rest, this resistance is not therefore identical with rest. The other is that “for two bodies to move means that they separate immediately”. For of those bodies which separate in this way the one is frequently said to be in motion, the other at rest, as I have explained in Part II, arts. 25 and 30.

5. The transfer which I call motion is a thing of no less being than shape. It is a mode in a body as well. 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.

6. I believe that “matter, left to itself and receiving no impulse from without”, is entirely at rest. However, it is impelled by God who preserves the same amount of motion or transfer in it which he put into it in the beginning. Nor does this transfer do any more violence to matter than rest, since the term “violence” can only be referred to our will which is said to suffer violence when it experiences something adverse to it. In nature, however, there is no violence, but it is as natural for bodies mutually to impel or even crush one another when this happens as it is for them to be at rest. However, I believe you find this question difficult because you conceive a certain power in a body at rest by which it resists motion, as though this power were something positive, i.e. a certain action distinct from rest itself, even though in reality it is nothing but a modal entity.

7. You rightly note that “motion, insofar as it is a mode of a body, cannot pass from one to another.” However, this is not what I wrote. Rather, I believe that motion, insofar as it is such a mode, is subject to constant change. For there is one mode in point one of body A in that[60] it is separated from point 1 of body B and there is another mode in that it is separated from point 2 and yet another in that it is separated from point 3, etc. However, when I said that there was always the same amount of motion in matter, I was referring to the force impelling its single parts, a force which attaches itself to different parts at different times in accordance with the laws set down in Part II, arts. 45 and following. Hence, you do not have to worry about rest passing from one subject to another, since not even motion, insofar as it is a mode opposite to rest, passes on in such a fashion.

8. However, what you add then, namely that “a body is alive in a mindless and befuddled way” and so on, strikes me as downright amusing. And with the candour which you allow me, let me tell you once and for all that nothing leads us further astray from the discovery of the truth than deciding that certain things are true of which no positive reason but only our will convinces us. Thus, we imagine and invent something, afterwards growing fond of our own inventions as you have of your corporeal angels, your shadow of the divine essence and the like. However, no-one should accept anything of that because he would thereby bar altogether his road to the truth.

Scholia on the Fragment of the Answer of R.C.

Sect. 2: “However, once we have well understood that there are no properties of nothing and that, therefore, a vulgarly so-called vacuum or empty space is not nothing”, etc. Certainly, if the Cartesians hold on to these principles - and Spinoza himself is most adamant that there is no property or predicate of nothing - then it can clearly be demonstrated that there is an incorporeal substance distinct from matter which is extended in some way. I have done so in great detail in my Enchiridium Metaphysicum, chs. 6–8.

Sect. 3: “And it is certain that God’s essence must be present everywhere in order that his power may manifest itself there”, etc. And despite that, he clearly says in his answer to my second letter (inst. 1): “I do not grant this ‘everywhere’”, etc. However, if, as I hope, he has changed his mind, I shall be content. Meanwhile, the Cartesians stick to his earlier view in order to make him the author of their own nullibism and the prince of the nullibists.

Sect. 5: “I was afraid that I might seem to endorse the view of those who consider God the world soul united with matter.” If he were to acknowledge a created substance, by whose power worldly matter was moved, he would not, in my opinion, risk viewing God as the world soul united with matter. On the contrary, he would free himself of this impasse altogether if he would admit a created substance moving worldly matter like the spirit of nature which I posit. In any case this place is rather obscure and I fail to see clearly what Descartes means to say here.

Answer to Descartes’ Fragment in the Letter of Henry More to Claude Clerselier

The fact that you, most distinguished Sir, took so great pleasure in my recent letter cannot at all be due either to its pleasantness or astuteness, which it lacks, but only to your own singular affableness. You have furnished me with even stronger proof of your kindness by sending me that most agreeable fragment of Descartes’ letter without my either asking for or expecting it and by very kindly attempting yourself to answer some of the difficulties which I had proposed to Descartes. Neither my answer to what both of you have written to me nor anything else can possibly be equal to this favour.

1. I shall start, then, with the points raised by Descartes. As regards the sensation of separated souls and angels, we concur that as long as they are completely deprived of bodies, they do not have sensation in the proper sense. However, the fact that some angels have by their own will become evil is evidence that they are always clothed with bodies of the greatest subtlety. On the other hand, it seems that a spirit of pure and perfect immateriality cannot be subject to any sin or fall. For, being so simple, it could not be tempted or abandon its place.

2. On no account can my instance regarding a numerically identical motion occupying a larger subject at one time and a smaller one at another be evaded unless he has either explained his intention badly or, following me, has revoked his view. For he himself teaches quite explicitly that motion is transferred from one body to another. Likewise, his pupil and interpreter Henri Regis holds that it passes on like an inheritance passing from Stichus to Seius.[61] Nor does that disparity help in any way, i.e. the fact that motion is only a mode, and spirit a substance, since both of them are something real. In fact, it favours our cause even more since it is impossible for one numerically identical mode to occupy different subjects or parts of subjects at different times, whereas a numerically identical spirit can do this with ease. I wonder at Regis’s infelicitous mind, therefore, since he allows the same numerically identical motion to pass so freely from one body to another, while incarcerating the human soul so mercilessly in a stinking corpse, not permitting it to fly outside once it has cast off and left behind the fetters of nature. As regards the idea of space and that much-belaboured aphorism that “there is no predicate of nothing”, I have replied to this in such abundant detail in my earlier letters to Descartes that I would find it completely superfluous to add anything here.

3. Further, as regards what is called God’s omnipresence, there is no longer any disagreement between us, since he acknowledges that God is everywhere, manifesting his power in a material subject; and, moreover, that he possesses a certain extension, albeit one far different from that which a divisible and impenetrable body possesses.

4. I have not “corrupted” any of the useful things from the Cartesian boat. Thus, to his charge that I conflate and confuse that resistance of a body at rest with rest itself in such a way that I do not acknowledge any distinction between the two, I reply that I have been perfectly right in doing so. For is it not by rest alone that a body at rest defends itself from being pulled away or transferred, which he calls motion? Therefore, this resistance is nothing other than rest itself which preserves a thing at rest in the state of rest, i.e., a thing perseveres in this state in which it is in accordance with the laws of motion until some stronger cause changes this state. If, therefore, this resistance or constancy were a certain action of rest, it would also be a motion, since all corporeal action is motion. However, this seems highly unreasonable. I, for one, suspect therefore that this incomparable philosopher, through the fault of others who only follow authorities in all things, has himself given a corrupted exposition of the cause of motion. He was afraid that he might be seen as asserting the motion of the earth, which the superstitious school of the Peripatetics considers downright sacrilegious. In reality, however, he acknowledged that the earth orbits the sun in the common vortex of all planets.

We may dispose of the other corruption as easily. For since Descartes himself holds that motion or translation is reciprocal without, however, allowing it to be any force or action in bodies being separated or transferred from one another, what else, I pray, could it be than the immediate separation of bodies? If, then, motion is the immediate separation of bodies, it follows at once that for two bodies to be in motion means that they are separated. However, it is therefore entirely without meaning if we say, as we do in fact quite frequently, that one of them is at rest, because this is impossible. But unless earth EFGH is at rest when body AB is transferred from E to F and CD from H to G, the earth will simultaneously move into opposite directions. Hence, it is clear that Descartes himself has corrupted the true concept of motion. See Part II, art. 30.

5. A transfer does seem to have less being than shape, because the latter is a more absolute predicate of the body in which it is than the former, which is only a relation to another body. As regards the motive force, he may have placed it either in God and the divine mind or, agreeing with the Platonists, in the world soul. Either way, however, it is extraordinary that such an excellent philosopher has not attributed this power to matter itself, but to some other subject which, therefore, cannot but be immaterial or incorporeal. Thus, undoubtedly, this most farsighted man had realized that unless we were to usurp the freedom of affirming and denying things arbitrarily and at will, it was necessary to acknowledge that the whole of matter was by its very nature homogeneous in accordance with its idea observed in our minds, especially since we could not invent any reason for any diversity in it. Hence, it follows that the whole of worldly matter either is in motion or at rest by its very nature. However, if, as a whole, it were moved through itself, there would not, even for one single moment, be any permanent structure in anything. Instead, the particles would at once drift apart by themselves, or rather they would never coalesce into any unity at all, as I have proved in abundant detail in my letter to Descartes.

6. Descartes, therefore, concurs with Ficino and the other Platonists, stating explicitly that “he believes ‘matter, freely left to itself and not receiving any impulse from without’, to be entirely at rest.” However, I agree with him that this impulse does not do violence to it, not only because “the term violence can only be referred to our will which is said to suffer violence when it experiences something adverse to it”, but also because matter is, as it were, perfected through this motion or impulse. Nor does the resistance imagined in matter at rest pose any problem because it is not an action in the proper sense, but only means that a body persists in its rest, as Descartes himself says in this place.

7. He says that “I rightly note that ‘motion, insofar as it is a mode of a body, cannot pass from one to another’” and that he did not write this anywhere. However, as I have pointed out above, Regis expressly expounds this matter in this way as though it were an error to take a different view. But Descartes’ own words in Part II, art. 40 most clearly seem to have this very meaning. There he holds that the body which has a greater force to continue onwards moves another body with it, and loses the same amount of its motion which it gives to the other. Indeed, the force which he refers to here also seems to me to be identical with this very motion (but may every author reserve the right to interpret his own writings!).

8. I am inclined to believe that if those “amusing” things of mine, as he likes to call them, and the sterner ones of his were mixed, it would yield the best possible blend. Meanwhile, I personally bow most willingly to the beautiful rigour of Descartes’ genius, although there is one thing that I have observed quite frequently: those who seek mathematical certainty in all things with such tenacity vacillate in some of the same in the most infelicitous fashion possible. For once a line of arguing that purports to be a demonstration has been shown to be illegitimate, it cannot rightly be judged to be an argument of any worth.

Besides, there cannot be any deceit hidden in the use of metaphors and similitudes as long as we keep in mind that things are not designated by their proper names, but by figurative ones. Hence, in saying that matter or the universal body of the world was, as it were, the shadow of the divine essence, I did not mean to say they were a shadow in reality. For the meaning of this metaphor is not that it is a shadow in actual fact, but that it depends upon God as does the shadow upon the body. Further, just as a shadow reflects some image of the body, albeit a very obscure and base one, there are in body or matter some blind and faint traces of the divine essence. However, since the latter, as I have said, is most perfect life, the analogy itself requires that matter is not wholly deprived of the image of life. It counterfeits some semblance of life in the meeting of two bodies, as their motion is adjusted in such a way that both, notifying one another of the acceleration and deceleration of motion respectively, eventually agree in the continued course of their motion. And the same holds true of the other laws of transfer. For not even Descartes dares to affirm that the motion which is in one body passes to another.

Moreover, I appreciate what he proceeds to add, namely, that there is some external power, be it from God or from another incorporeal substance created by God, by which matter is stirred into motion, because it is undoubtedly very true in general. If, however, he understands it in such a way that the divine power immediately impels each single body that is in motion, a major difficulty will arise, as the mutual impulses of bodies will be in vain. However, it is clear from experience that one body impels another, as we can see from stones cast by men’s hands or iron balls fired from instruments of war. If, then, this power immediately rouses some parts, while not[62] rousing others, those parts stirred by God will by their own impulse stir the others into motion. Since, in reality, no motion passes from one body to another, it is manifest that one awakens the other from sleep, as it were, and that the bodies awakened this way transfer themselves from one place to another by their own power. And I, for one, call this property of body a shadow or image of life, as it were. Hence, it finally becomes clear that we are not reaching for hollow shadows here at all. Instead, they are quite useful and a very good illustration of a truth which can also be proved by a much stricter mode of argumentation.

As to the other “amusing” matter, i.e. corporeal angels, their existence is confirmed clearly by more than six-hundred very true reports – not just stories - about demons. However, I think I have already given sufficient evidence above that those vain and vagrant genii must be corporeal, i.e. clothed with corporeal vehicles.

[1] Instantia is a technical term of medieval scholastic debate, denoting the refutation of an opponent’s argument.

[2] Self-motion.

[3] This separate work is only included in the edition of the correspondence published as part of the Collection of Several Philosophical Writings.

[4] See footnote 2.

[5] Horace, The Art of Poetry, 140.

[6] More refers back to Descartes‘ Optics and Meteorology. In his letter to More, Clerselier expresses his great interest in More’s comments on these works.

[7] I.e. Descartes‘ late work Principles of Philosophy.

[8] This paragraph is reproduced as part of a brief general introduction to the correspondence in an earlier place in the AT edition (p. 236).

[9] The square brackets indicate additions of the French translation which have been incorporated into the Latin text where it is vital to the meaning. It does not seem improbable that the text of More’s first letter used by the French translator differed from those in the More and Descartes editions of the correspondence.

[10] More is clearly trying to play down the severity of his critique of Descartes’ rationalist system. His “minor details” cannot be said to be minor, but bear upon principal convictions of Cartesian rationalism, notably its dualist ontology and its doctrine of mind body interaction which More views as dissatisfactory or even aporetic. See Descartes’ own remark to this effect later in their correspondence. In Responsum R. Cartesii ad Epistolam Primam H. Mori (Op. omn. II/2, 240) he points out that, notwithstanding More’s protestations to the contrary, his well-argued paucula were far from peripheral to his project of rationalist physics.

[11] The sentence is a difficult one, although its meaning is clear: “extension” and “essence”, while differing in sense, share the same referent. The expression eisdem finibus claudi is certainly not spatial, but conceptual in meaning, “extension” being part of the definition of substance as substance. Thus, the French translation: “en sorte que l’étendue paroît être enfermée dans les mêmes bornes que l’essence absolue des choses” is misleading, as is the Spanish one based on it. While grammatically implausible – the atque clearly corresponds to the preceding eisdem –, the Italian rendering captures this meaning by viewing essentia absoluta as an ablative instead of a nominative case: “... così che l’estensione mi sembra essere racchiusa nei confini stessi e nell’essenza assoluta delle cose”.

[12] The word proxime does not mean “précisément” or “precisamente” in the French and Spanish translations, but rather denotes God’s intimate spatial ubiquity since he touches the universe and its every atom to endow them with motion.

[13] Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, I, 304.

[14] Virgil, Aeneid, VI 726–727.

[15] Both adaequate, which means that a definition applies to all things supposed to fall under it, and καθόλου πρῶτον, as defined by the following reciproca, which stipulates that the predicates given in a definition be true of all and only of all the members of a class, are examples of More’s use of the technical vocabulary of the logic of definition, as prescribed by scholastic manuals steeped in Aristotelian vocabulary (see e.g. Isaac Watts, Logick or the Right Use of Reason, London 121763, p. 105). If correct, More argues, a definition can be substituted for the thing defined in all sentences. The French translation does not reproduce More’s technical vocabulary at all, rather giving a loose paraphrase of this difficult passage that captures only part of his formal anti-Cartesian argument: “au lieu que votre définition pèche contre les règles, et ne convient point au seul defini.” The Italian translator misunderstands the first technical term altogether, rendering it as a mere figure of speech: “invece, la vostra, per dire in breve, viola anzitutto la regola, ed infatti non è reciproca col definito.”

[16] Ovid, Tristia, I 4,28.

[17] The At res monet, omitted in the CSM translation, might refer back to More’s own caveat, which Descartes goes on to quote as a chief objection to the alternative definition suggested.

[18] See also the translation of Descartes’s answer to the fifth of More’s question in Cohen, “Beast-Machine”, 51–53.

[19] “That nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the imagination.“

[20] Nothingness.

[21] More’s replies to Descartes’s answers regarding animal machines have also been translated by Cohen, “Beast-Machine”, 53–54.

[22] “Fatal” retains its original Latin meaning in More’s language, meaning “fated” or “according to fate”.

[23] Milliarum, literally “of thousands”, is not meant as a specific figure, but rather as a general expression for the enormity of the cosmos which, for all that, may nevertheless be finite. The French (and Spanish) translation renders it as “un nombre déterminé de millions de lieues“/“número determinado de millones de leguas”, the latter supplying the literal “de millas” in a note.

[24] The text in the Collection reads maxime, but the same text in the Opera Omnia reads proxime, which alone makes sense here.

[25] Fortress.

[26] Aliquid exerit se in natura, literally “that something exerts itself in nature”, rather points to a “power” than “effets” and “efectos” in the French and Latin translations. In fact, More’s expression suggests a non-mechanistic “cause”. As such, it points both to his notion of a “spirit of nature” as well as to free will mentioned in the following sentence. The Italian translation even construes it to be a strictly non-mechanistic power of self-creation: “in natura si produca qualcosa di cui non si possa dare alcuna ragione meccanica.”

[27] The Stoic technical term for “free will“.

[28] The arbitrium or “judgement” is part of the Latin phrase liberum arbitrium which corresponds to the Greek αὐτεξούσιον mentioned a few lines earlier.

[29] “Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth.” In accordance with the new context, More omits “the lever” from the famous quote. His point concerns understanding Descartes’ physics from a well-chosen starting point.

[30] Existing by its own nature.

[31] There is an English translation of this letter with several omissions towards the end in CSM III, 371–375. The omissions are indicated in the notes.

[32] Questions three to five are missing in the CSM translation.

[33] Descartes refers to Principles III 49 (AT VII, 197).

[34] The rest of the text has been left out in the CSM translation.

[35] More generally, the Latin tua, employed for rhetorical effect in the alliteration te tuaque, refers to the contents of the letter (literally “your things”).

[36] Battles of words.

[37] The phrase simul ac fuerit, omitted in the French and Spanish translations, reinforces the overall reductio argument: a mass of identical particles moving at the same velocity would of necessity lead to the chaotic state described.

[38] This is the final segment of More’s letter to which Descartes responded in a fragment. It is reproduced in smaller-sized letters in AT VIII, 383–390, and omitted entirely in the French translation and the Spanish one based on it.

[39] The non eisdem numeris et legibus of the original Latin edition of Descartes’ correspondence, which corresponds with the text in More’s works, is changed into the more general non tam ampliter (“to a lesser degree”) in the later edition.

[40] The later French version omits the ea, which might well be due to an oversight on the part of the editor.

[41] This explanatory parenthesis has been removed in the later edition.

[42] While the later version reads ab utrinque, the original Latin version has ab utrisque which refers to the later extremitatibus. Since only the latter is grammatically possible, as ab utrinque (“from both sides”) is a phrase used absolutely and without reference to another noun, this reading has been preferred in our edition and translation.

[43] My translation of this extremely convoluted sentence differs substantially from the Italian one in taking irruentia fluenta as a fitting description of the globules travelling at high velocity. This seems to be the more natural reading given its position towards the end of that part of the sentence. Accordingly, the genitive materiae subtilissimae is not referred to them, as in the Italian translation (“flussi irruenti di materia sottilissima”), but to oppositos polos, the destination of the fast-moving globules in More’s alternative cosmological vision: the globules move towards the opposite ends of the ether surrounding them. Finally, as is clear from the juxtaposition with the high-velocity globules, circumvolutio certainly has its proper meaning of “circular motion” here and is not to be understood as “un analogo giro del vortice”.

[44] Parallel.

[45] More is extremely terse in this place. The elliptical expression tensae without a sint, left out in the Italian translation, is probably meant to underline the immobility of the chords.

[46] Very incoherent.

[47] The later French editions shorten the expression, reading “in some endeavour“ (conatum quendam) instead.

[48] The original edition has the slightly more elegant cumque instead of et.

[49] The present tense – Adam/Tannery consider the more natural fiet instead of fit – is indeed odd, but can be easily explained as a minor oversight on the part of the accomplished Latinist More.

[50] This letter is reprinted in smaller-sized letters in AT 5, 434–443, as „un document utile, et non comme une pièce nécessaire à l’intelligence des lettres du philosophe.“

[51] Instead of the untenable in deflecteret in the original Clerselier edition, More’s Collection of Several Philosophical Writings reads deflecteret in this place. It has been adopted here as a perfectly intelligible reading in an original edition of the text. The emendation of the Clerselier text to inde flecteret (“would alter its course at that point”) proposed in the critical AT edition is equally possible. In a textual note, AT also suggest that the prefix “de” might be a misreading of “D” (in D flecteret), a variant supported by one of the following paragraphs. Hence, More may have further specified either the origin (inde) or the destination (in D) of the ball’s deflected motion.

[52] By agreement.

[53] The sentence ‘imo hic ipsam verticum aequidistantiam supponis’ is missing in the More text.

[54] The More and Descartes editions differ substantially in this first entry on Meteorology. A sizeable portion is missing from the former. There are several typographical errors in the Latin text in the more recent bilingual Italian edition of the correspondence.

[55] The “more serious misgiving” is missing both from the first and second editions of More’s Collection of Several Philosophical Writings and the Opera omnia.

[56] The omission in the text of More’s Collection ends here, the mid-sentence imó veró referring to the rays coupled with reflected ones instead.

[57] Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, III, 5–6.

[58] There is a slightly abbreviated English translation of this letter fragment in CSM 3, 380–382. The one omission is indicated in the footnotes. See also the French and Spanish translations in Recio, Correspondencia, 164–167.

[59] This fourth point has been omitted from the CSM translation.

[60] The subordinate clause is ambivalent as quod may either be a causal conjunction meaning “in that” (CSM III, 382) and “per il quale” (Descartes, Tutte Lettere, 2745) or as relative clause in the French and Spanish translations (“qui”/”que”) (Recio, Correspondencia, 170–171). However, since quod cannot refer to alius in the second and third clauses, the former reading is to be preferred. The infelicitous ambiguity in the first clause may well be a sign of the unfinished state of Descartes’ answer.

[61] The reference is to a forensic example given in Henri Regis, Philosophia naturalis, I, 5.

[62] The non is only in the text of Descartes’ Correspondence, not in that of More’s Collection. While the former text has been chosen as the basis of this translation, the latter makes sense too: “If, then, this power rouses some parts, and some of them directly, those parts stirred by God will by their own impulse stir the others into motion.”

Cite as: Henry More, ‘Epistolæ quatuor ad Renatum Des-Cartes (English translation by Christian Hengstermann)’, from Opera omnia, II (1679), 227-271,, accessed 2023-12-01.