Thursday, November 20, 2008

Intueri, Admirari, Adorare

To understand what Descartes is doing in the Meditations, we have to be able to see why he was regarded as a purveyor of a 'new philosophy', but we also have to know something of what links him to the ideas of Bonaventure and Anselm before him. Thus the voice that rings out at the end of the Third Meditation--in a passage that most modern students probably would not recognize as by Descartes at all, since they would be encouraged just to skip it--speaks in a language redolent more of the early Middle Ages than of the early modern revolution. 'Let me here rest for a while in the contemplation of God himself and gaze upon, wonder at, and adore the beauty of this immense light' (immensi hujus luminis pulchritudinem...intueri, admirari, adorare). The meditator's voice here is the voice of the worshipper rather than the philosopher; or perhaps we should more aptly say that Descartes is adopting a modality of thought vividly exemplified in the writings of many of the Christian Fathers, a mode which mixes critical reasoning and devotion, one in which philosophizing and religious contemplation are inextricably intertwined.

John Cottingham, "Why Do History of Philosophy?" in Analytic Philosophy and History of Philosophy, Sorell & Rogers, ed. Clarendon (Oxford: 2005) 36-37. I wouldn't put everything exactly the same way, but this is quite right. (The link, by the way, linking Descartes to Bonaventure and Anselm is Augustinian thought, which is part of the very atmosphere of thought in seventeenth-century France.)