Descartes and Augustine by Stephen Menn

By Stephen Menn

This booklet is the 1st systematic learn of Descartes' courting to Augustine. It deals a whole reevaluation of Descartes' suggestion and as such could be of significant value to all historians of medieval, neo-Platonic, or early glossy philosophy. detailed positive factors contain a analyzing of the Meditations, a complete old and philosophical advent to Augustine's idea, an in depth account of Plotinus, and a contextualization of Descartes' mature philosophical venture.

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That short sentence does not capture the essence of the Principia. Newton is important, not because he conceived that goal, but because he was able to achieve it, and the task of understanding is to explain how he achieved it. Likewise, in interpreting Descartes, while I will begin by determining the goals of his philosophical work (roughly, to construct a complete scientific system, including a mechanical physics and ending in the practical disciplines, on the basis of an Augustinian metaphysics), I will not end there, but will go on to examine what Augustinian metaphysics was and how Descartes was able to use its intellectual resources to achieve his philosophical goals, to the limited extent to which he did indeed achieve them.

The philosophers living before Descartes, and those of his own time who refused to accept the new philosophy, were "ancients" not in the sense that they themselves lived in ancient times, but only in the sense that they favored an ancient philosophy, a philosophy derived chiefly from Aristotle, and elaborated into a system of academic instruction. This ancient philosophy was the doctrine taught in the schools and universities For a more detailed picture of this background, see my article "The Intellectual Setting of Seventeenth-Century Philosophy," in The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp.

The Fathers, to be sure, were often involved in theological controversy; but at least they preached the faith without trying to make it conform to the criteria of an Aristotelian science, and without allowing ecclesiastical authority to replace the Christian virtues in providing the means of salvation. Thus, in the early sixteenth century and beyond, Christian reformers of all stripes appealed to the Fathers over the scholastics as offering a model for Christian thought and practice. The reforming movement, of course, produced the Protestant Reformation, and thus divided western Christendom into two opposing camps; but even in countries that remained Catholic, as France did for the most part, the agitation for reform continued, and the hierarchy gave it institutional form at the Council of Trent, as it had to if Catholicism was to compete effectively with Protestantism for the loyalties of Europe.

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