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“For REASON […] is nothing but Reckoning” : the Postulates of Hobbes’s and Descartes’s Rationalism

« Car la RAISON n’est que Calcul » : les postulats du rationalisme de Hobbes et de Descartes
Jean-Marc Chadelat

Résumés

Thomas Hobbes et René Descartes sont des auteurs contemporains dont la pensée rationaliste entend affranchir la science de la théologie. Le Léviathan (1651) et Le Discours de la méthode (1637) énoncent une méthode censée rendre compte des phénomènes propres au monde physique ou mental au moyen d’une approche mécaniste intégrant de l’étendue, des corps et du mouvement. Son objet est de dissiper les mystères liés à des forces occultes ou des entités immatérielles par l’emploi des préceptes d’une science rationnelle dont les règles se fondent sur l’analyse et le dénombrement, c’est-à-dire le calcul. La suprématie de la raison qui s’affirme aux dépens de toute autre faculté se traduit en premier lieu par une tendance à la réduction de toutes choses à leurs parties constitutives en ramenant ces dernières à la modalité corporelle, et celle-ci à des déterminations quantitatives. La méthode rationaliste de Hobbes et de Descartes procède en second lieu à un découpage artificiel du réel en autant d’éléments identiques entre eux que l’observateur ou l’expérimentateur peut en dénombrer. Cette appréhension discontinue des phénomènes a pour conséquence principale de solidifier la réalité qu’une rationalisation à outrance tend à matérialiser en privilégiant l’approche quantitative et numérique au détriment de la dimension qualitative ou essentielle. Il en résulte une simplification de la réalité étudiée que la vulgarisation scientifique associée à l’épistémè moderne met à la portée du plus grand nombre par l’entremise d’un discours approprié à son lectorat tout autant qu’à son objet.

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  • 1 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan [1651], ed. Richard Tuck, Cambridge : Cambridge UP, 1991, Chap. V, “ (...)
  • 2 On the awareness that many philosophers and scientists of the 17th century shared about their (...)

1Despite the intellectual controversy often associated with their names and taking the form of Hobbes’s contribution to the Objections to Descartes’s Meditations [1641], Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and René Descartes (1596-1650)1 are recognizable contemporaries whose works, elaborated in different circumstances to meet various demands and respond to diverse problems, are particularly emblematic of the “modern times”2. Both of them lived and worked in a century marked by a prevailing crisis of authority affecting the whole of Europe in the wake of the internal conflicts that destabilized societies and ruined States. The wars of religion of the second half of the sixteenth century and the Fronde rebellion directed against Mazarin during the minority of the Sun King in the middle of the seventeenth century generated as much disorder and instability in France as the war of the Roses, the “Tudor revolution” and the Civil War did in the England of the fifteenth century, the fifteen-thirties and the sixteen-forties respectively. On both sides of the Channel, the legitimacy of political and/or spiritual power was contested by opposing dynasties or dissenting communities and eagerly scrutinized from various angles so as to determine who has the right to hold power and how a society ruled by a monarch or a minority can function effectively and be governed peacefully. While the former question deals with the legal foundations of power, the latter bears on its practical exercise in a particular society. What makes these issues so crucial is the scope and magnitude of the changes occurring in France and England as the aforementioned crisis was both the symptom and the cause of unprecedented economic transformations, major political disruptions and huge social upheavals all reflecting in their own way the new vision of man and nature which had been gradually spreading from top down within the population of the two kingdoms.

2The main consequence of this disruptive period drawn by Hobbes in his seminal work is the necessity to forge a new concept of politics which may be used to counter the disorientation of individuals and the dislocation of institutions in an effort to provide the sovereign with a political architecture the foundations of which are unassailable. To that effect, Hobbes propounds the political thesis of the sovereign’s absolute power and claims a rational construction of society ruling out the legitimacy of revolution and violence to establish a new regime. The impact of history on Hobbes’s thought is clearly reflected in his deliberate scientific understanding of politics and his attendant rejection of theological tradition. His theoretical aim is to ground his study of the relations between political power and individual subjects in human nature instead of supernatural revelation. Hobbes’s ambition is to found a political and moral physics which may transform customary rights into contractual law and is not in the least indebted to the Scriptures or the Church for this evolution. He clearly intends to deal with social and political relations as if they were a kind of natural phenomena by ridding politics and morals of the control exercised by theology. In accordance with this theoretical premise, his main object of interest is the body politic resulting from the mutual obligation of contracting parties who aggregate intentionally to form a political entity :

  • 3 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. XVII, “Of the Causes, Generation, and Definition of a COMMON-W (...)

The only way to erect such a Common Power, […] is, to conferre all their power and strength upon one Man, or upon one Assembly of men, that may reduce all their Wills, by plurality of voices, unto one Will: which is as much as to say, to appoint one Man, or Assembly of men, to beare their Person; and everyone to owne, and acknowledge himselfe to be Author of whatsoever he that so beareth their Person, shall Act, or cause to be Acted, in those things which concerne the Common Peace and Safetie; and therein to submit their Wills, every one to his Will, and their Judgments, to his Judgment. This is more than Consent, or Concord; it is a reall Unitie of them all, in one and the same Person, made by Covenant of every man with every man, in such manner, as if every man should say to every man, I Authorize and give up my Right of Governing my selfe, to this Man, or to this Assembly of men, on this condition, that thou give up thy Right to him, and Authorize all his Actions in like manner. This done, the Multitude so united in one Person, is called a COMMON-WEALTH, in latine CIVITAS. This is the Generation of that great LEVIATHAN, or rather (to speake more reverently) of that Mortall God, to which wee owe under the Immortal God, our peace and defence.3

  • 4 Ibid., Chap. VI, “Of the Interiour Beginnings of Voluntary Motions; commonly called the PASS (...)
  • 5 Ibid., Chap. XXIV, “Of the NUTRITION, and PROCREATION of a Common-wealth,” 170-176.

3The rational justification of absolute power eventually induces Hobbes to assert an individualistic and materialistic apprehension of the nature of man whom he considers as intrinsically selfish and fearful4. As a disciple of Machiavelli, Hobbes rejects the subordination of politics to ethics, laying the foundations of a self-sufficient political sphere on the rational science of the human machinery. As we shall see, his mechanistic and materialistic conception of man leads him to envisage the individual as the only tangible, natural reality that deserves the status of scientific object and vindicates a political ethics analogous to his physics not to say his physiology of the State5.

  • 6 Georg W.-F. Hegel, Leçons sur l’histoire de la philosophie [1834], transl. Pierre Garniron, v (...)
  • 7 Leo Strauss, La Critique de la religion chez Hobbes [1933-1934], transl. Corinne Pelluchon, P (...)

4If we are to believe the German philosopher Hegel, Descartes is the true initiator of rationalism and his decisive role in the transition from late medieval to early modern cannot be overestimated6. From a philosophical viewpoint, the rivalry of the French thinker and his English elder has probably more to do with the similarities of their thought than with the contradictions opposing them7. There is no denying, however, that the divergence of their ontological conceptions can be seen in the contrast of Descartes’s dualistic universe to Hobbes’s materialistic monism. Whereas Descartes rejects the possibility that a material body should think by itself, Hobbes’s narrow mechanism redefines and comprehends the supposedly spiritual entities mentioned by medieval thinkers as a variety of material bodies in a manner characteristic of his disparaging appraisal of the invisible world :

  • 8 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. XXXIV, “Of the Signification of SPIRIT, ANGEL, and INSPIRATION (...)

The Word Body, in the most generall acceptation, signifieth that which filleth, or occupyeth some certain room, or imagined place; and dependeth not on the imagination, but is a reall part of that we call the Universe. For the Universe, being the Aggregate of all Bodies, there is no reall part thereof that is not also Body; nor anything properly a Body, that is not also part of (that Aggregate of all Bodies) the Universe. The same also, because Bodies are subject to change, that is to say, to variety of apparence to the sense of living creatures, is called Substance, that is to say, Subject, to various accidents; as sometimes to be Moved, sometimes to stand Still; and to seem to our senses sometimes Hot, sometimes Cold, sometimes of one Colour, Smel, Tast, or Sound, sometimes of another. And this diversity of Seeming, (produced by the diversity of the operation of bodies, on the organs of our sense) we attribute to alterations of the Bodies that operate, & call them Accidents of those Bodies. And according to this acceptation of the word, Substance and Body, signifie the same thing ; and therefore Substance incorporeall are words, which when they are joined together, destroy one another, as if a man should say, an Incorporeall Body.8

5Notwithstanding such undeniable difference, it should be noted that Descartes’s reluctance to shed light on the actual connection between body and soul, let alone the influence of the latter on the former in a living human being, is a major flaw of his dualism and to many of his contradictors proof of his aporetic philosophy. Leibniz, among others, has given the lie to the cognitive claims of Descartes’s and his disciples’ mechanistic physics, showing that it cannot account for anything but the outside appearance of things and is incapable of explaining anything whatsoever about their true essence. However feeble his anthropology may have been, Descartes’s clean separation of the physical world and the metaphysical sphere as evidenced by his dualistic conception of man points to the limitations of his mechanism and foreshadows Hobbes’s materialism. Descartes’s pretension that all phenomena observed in animals, including those which are clearly of psychic nature, can be ascribed to mechanical causes, and the tendency to extend this simplistic conception to human beings lead him logically to disregard the spiritual side of man as an unnecessary factor put forward to explain his hybrid nature, and henceforth to envisage it first as a useless complication then as a negligible reality until its very existence is finally purely and simply denied for the sake of uniformity and coherence. Thus can we see that Descartes’s mechanistic physics was bound to make way for Hobbes’s materialistic conception. The latter’s materialism simply represents one of the two sides of Cartesian dualism to which Descartes had precisely applied his mechanistic conception. All that was necessary from then on to get naturally to the point of materialism was to ignore or deny the other side of that dualism or else, which amounts to the same thing, claim to reduce the entire reality to the mechanistic side.

  • 9 Henri Gouhier, « Les philosophes du XVIIe siècle devant l’histoire de la philosophie », Dix-s (...)
  • 10 Steven Shapin, op. cit., 119, 140.
  • 11 Leo Strauss, op. cit., 33-34, 37.

6The abundant work Hobbes and Descartes produced bears witness to a common intent. Both of them tried to substitute a rigorous scientific ethos for what they saw as the uncertainties and failures of medieval scholasticism9. This regenerated conception of science was used in turn to draw practical applications that could enhance mastery of the physical world and command of human nature10. Last but not least, the aim of that epistemic regeneration was to establish natural philosophy on such firm foundations as to put an end to its ancillary status and bring about its emancipation from the demands of theology, thus providing a solution to the long-lasting conflict between science and religion11. The paradox is that Hobbes, like Descartes, accepts the skeptical assumption that no straightforward and reliable knowledge of the external world can be achieved given the reflexive orientation of the human mind. That the outside world is a mere illusion cannot be ruled out for we could be in the position of dreamers who think that what they experience is real. Thinking along the same lines as Descartes, Hobbes suggests that any philosophical enquiry should start with the imaginary assumption that the only ascertainable truth is the activity of one’s brain regardless of any external reality. Unlike Descartes, however, he asserts the reality of the material world outside the subjective perception experienced by the human mind and originating in the motions of those objects :

  • 12 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. I, “Of Sense,” 14.

For if those Colours, and Sounds, were in the Bodies, or Objects that cause them, they could not bee severed from them, as by glasses, and in Ecchoes by reflection, wee see they are; where we know the thing we see, is in one place; the apparence, in another. And though at some certain distance, the reall, and very object seem invested with the fancy it begets in us ; Yet still the object is one thing, the image or fancy is another. So that Sense in all cases, is nothing els but originall fancy, caused (as I have said) by the pressure, that is, by the motion, of externall things upon our Eyes, Eares, and other organs thereunto ordained.12

  • 13 Philippe Desan, Naissance de la méthode, Paris : Librairie A.-G. Nizet, 1987, 18.

7The scientific method set forth to attain the goals associated with the new science relies on the conviction that the whole visible universe is amenable to the same laws. Its object is moreover to find out the truth by means of rational procedures which cannot be challenged although their results can be disproved13. As a matter of fact, Descartes’s Discours de la méthode and Hobbes’s “Resolutions of DISCOURSE”, which the author defines in a chapter dealing with the inner workings of human communication, aim at providing a reasonable answer to the haunting question of political opinion and scientific doubt :

  • 14 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. VII, “Of the Ends, or Resolutions of DISCOURSE,” 47.

If the Discourse be meerly Mentall, it consisteth of thoughts that the thing will be, and will not be; or that it has been, and has not been, alternately. So that wheresoever you break off the chayn of a mans Discourse, you leave him in a Praesumption of it will be, or, it will not be ; or it has been, or, has not been ; All which is Opinion. And that which is alternate Appetite, in Deliberating concerning Good and Evil; the same is alternate Opinion, in the Enquiry of the truth of Past, and Future. And as the last Appetite in Deliberation, is called the Will ; so the last Opinion in search of the truth of Past, and Future, is called the JUDGEMENT, or Resolute and Finall Sentence of him that discourseth. And as the whole chain of Appetites alternate, in the question of Good, or Bad, is called Deliberation ; so the whole chain of Opinions alternate, in the question of True, or False, is called DOUBT.14

  • 15 On the symmetric relationship between method and discourse, see Philippe Desan, op. cit., 140 (...)

8The aim of this paper is to examine Hobbes’s Leviathan [1651] and Descartes’s Discourse on the Method [1637] to see how they propose to overcome the doubt likely to be experienced by the reader as it had been tormenting the authors in their search for a firm ground where they could build the foundations of a science exploring the political sphere and the physical world. To understand why their mechanical philosophy became the dominant idiom of the day, it is useful to uncover the common assumptions of their line of argument and identify the main postulates of their discursive method.15

  • 16 In the 17th century, “mechanics” referred specifically to the theory of lifting appliances su (...)

9At the root of their scientific discourse is a common presupposition that all phenomena belonging to the physical world or mental sphere can be apprehended through a mechanical conception embracing the notions of space, body and movement16. The first tenet of Hobbes’s mechanistic philosophy is that all is in motion in the universe; the second that any change can be explained by motion. Founded as it is on perpetual movement, Hobbes’s conception of the world leads him to classify sciences according to the respective methods used to acquire knowledge. On the one hand, empirical knowledge is derived from perception and experience, the senses providing a representation of objects that is recorded by memory :

  • 17 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. I, “Of Sense,” 13 ; on memory, see Chap. II, “Of Imagina (...)

Concerning the Thoughts of man, I will consider them first singly, and afterwards in Trayne, or dependance upon one another. Singly, they are every one a Representation or Apparence, of some quality, or other Accident of a body without us; which is commonly called an Object. Which Object worketh on the Eyes, Eares, and other parts of mans body; and by diversity of working, produceth diversity of Apparences.
The Originall of them all, is that which we call SENSE ; (For there is no conception in a mans mind, which hath not at first, totally, or by parts, been begotten upon the organs of Sense.) The rest are derived from that original.17

10On the other hand, deductive knowledge aims at uncovering the relation between facts by means of a deliberate articulation of thoughts, and resorts to reason as the supreme faculty of man :

  • 18 Ibid., Chap. III, “Of the Consequence or TRAYNE OF Imaginations,” 20 ; see also Chap.  (...)

By Consequence, or TRAYNE of Thoughts, I understand that succession of one Thought to another, which is called (to distinguish it from Discourse in words) Mentall Discourse.
When a man thinketh on any thing whatsoever, His next Thought after, is not altogether so casuall as it seems to be. Not every Thought to every Thought succeeds indifferently. But as wee have no Imagination, whereof we have not formerly had Sense, in whole, or in parts; so we have no Transition from one Imagination to another, whereof we never had the like before in our Senses.18

11Hobbes distinguishes two different types of motion relying on the existence of sensation and imagination :

  • 19 Ibid., Chap. VI, “Of the Interiour Beginnings of Voluntary Motions ; commonly called the PAS (...)

There be in Animals, two sorts of Motions peculiar to them : One called Vitall ; begun in generation, and continued without interruption through their whole life ; such as are the course of the Bloud, the Pulse, the Breathing, the Concoction, Nutrition, Excretion, &c ; to which Motions there needs no help of Imagination : The other is Animall motion, otherwise called Voluntary motion ; as to go, to speak, to move any of our limbes, in such manner as is first fancied in our minds. That Sense, is Motion in the organs and interiour parts of mans body, caused by the action of the things we See, Heare, &c ; And that Fancy is but the Reliques of the same Motion, remaining after Sense, has been already sayd in the first and second Chapters. And because going, speaking, and the like Voluntary motions, depend alwayes upon a precedent thought of whither, which way, and what ; it is evident, that the Imagination is the first internall beginning of all Voluntary Motion.19

12The conservation of vital movement is to any living creature the primary good extended as it is by animal motion which includes desire and willpower. The only way for a living being to preserve this motive power is to sustain it. To Hobbes, life can be equated with the unending progress of desire which is the driving force of animal motion and the cornerstone of an existence where action is the only reality and contemplation a mere illusion :

  • 20 Ibid., Chap. XI, “Of the difference of MANNERS,” 70.

[…] the Felicity of this life, consisteth not in the repose of a mind satisfied. For there is no such Finis ultimus, (utmost ayme,) nor Summum Bonum, (greatest Good,) as is spoken of in the Books of the old Morall Philosophers. Nor can a man any more live, whose Desires are at an end, than he, whose Senses and Imaginations are at a stand. Felicity is a continuall progresse of the desire, from one object to another; the attaining of the former, being still but the way to the later.20

  • 21 Robert Lenoble, « La révolution scientifique du XVIIe siècle », in René Taton (dir.), Histoir (...)
  • 22 Leo Strauss, op. cit., 64-65, 71 ; Steven Shapin, op. cit., 42-43, 55.
  • 23 Tom Sorell, “Hobbes’s scheme of the sciences,” in Tom Sorell (ed.), op. cit., 46-48.

13The function of that theoretical model, it should be noted, is not only to represent phenomenal reality but also to provide a convincing explanation of how it operates21. To shed light on the decisive steps taken by the proponents of this modern conception in their efforts to break away from medieval tradition, it is necessary to trace back the implicit rationalistic beliefs at the core of mechanism. Thus, an exploration of Descartes’s and Hobbes’s rationalism should start with a basic principle of their philosophy, namely that a truly scientific exploration of reality, whether it be physiological, psychological, physical or political, is bound to dispel any sense of mystery that might be found by a speculative mind22 more interested in the figments of its imagination than in the usefulness of its findings23 :

  • 24 René Descartes, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoot (...)

For they [the general notions in physics I had acquired] opened my eyes to the possibility of gaining knowledge which would be very useful in life, and of discovering a practical philosophy which might replace the speculative philosophy taught in the schools. Through this philosophy we could know the power and action of fire, water, air, the stars, the heavens and all the other bodies in our environment, as distinctly as we know the various crafts of our artisans; and we could use this knowledge – as the artisans use theirs – for all the purposes for which it is appropriate, and thus make ourselves, as it were, the lords and masters of nature. This is desirable not only for the invention of innumerable devices which would facilitate our enjoyment of the fruits of the earth and all the goods we find there, but also, and most importantly, for the maintenance of health, which is undoubtedly the chief good and the foundation of all the other goods in this life. For even the mind depends so much on the temperament and disposition of the bodily organs that if it is possible to find some means of making men in general wiser and more skilful than they have been up till now, I believe we must look for it in medicine.24

  • 25 Philippe Desan, op. cit., 138, 140 ; on the civic, active orientation of modern science contr (...)
  • 26 Geneviève Rodis-Lewis, La Morale de Descartes, Paris : PUF, 1970 [1957], 30.

14Descartes’s contempt of scholasticism is inseparable from the rejection of an intellectual tradition blamed for ranking life below formalism and disconnecting knowledge from power25. The unitary conception of knowledge defended by Descartes substitutes an order of truths that can be logically deduced from each other to differentiated scientific domains and objects of study distinguishable by their nature26. The path to be followed by any philosopher worthy of the name goes from the fundamental knowledge where specific sciences are grounded to those useful applications which enable us to transform our physical environment, preserve a healthy body and find out the best line of conduct in our lives. Throughout his works and particularly in the Discourse on the Method, Descartes’s ambition is not so much to enunciate arduous thoughts as to discover what is most useful to life.

  • 27 Geneviève Rodis-Lewis, Descartes et le rationalisme, Paris : PUF, 1970 [1966], 15; Steven Sha (...)
  • 28 René Descartes, op. cit., Preface to the French edition of the Principles of Philosophy, 186  (...)
  • 29 Steven Shapin, op. cit., 153.
  • 30 Philippe Desan, op. cit., 149.

15This last point is important for Descartes’s ambition is to establish the foundations of a scientific method which not only unifies under the guidance of reason different fields traditionally separated by the diversity of their objects27 but also ensures that the tree of philosophy bears edible fruit for the benefit of all : “Thus the whole of philosophy is like a tree. The roots are metaphysics, the trunk is physics, and the branches emerging from the trunk are all the other sciences, which may be reduced to three principal ones, namely medicine, mechanics and morals.”28 Two things should be noted here in the perspective of a comparison between Hobbes and Descartes. First and foremost, the fact that in both works, the roots of the tree do not receive more attention than is absolutely necessary to ensure the vitality of the trunk and branches as well as the coherence of the demonstration.29 In the Discourse on the Method, Descartes only makes passing allusions to his metaphysics and in the Essays adjoined to the former, he hardly expounds the metaphysical principles of his physics.30 These short treatises are not so much an illustration of the method as an exposition of the findings obtainable by the method. Secondly, the fact that what knowledge means to Descartes is essentially an instrumental way of harnessing and shaping nature to human ends. In the Discourse, the method is presented mainly as an application of physical premises to various domains which come under the category of practical sciences. In fact, the knowledge acquired by the true philosopher cannot be restricted to the practical virtues underlying reasonable behavior nor can it be apprehended from a theoretical viewpoint confined to abstraction. Although philosophical wisdom is not the same to Descartes as the sensible conduct of those who do not err in life, it cannot be summed up either as a fruitless accumulation of exact facts. The unmistakable mark of genuine wisdom is what Descartes calls on several occasions its usefulness : the proper assessment of true knowledge is dependent on the possible applications that can be derived in various fields where the technical skills, the medical art and the moral code are prevalent.

  • 31 Leo Strauss, op. cit., 104-108 ; Douglas Jesseph, “Hobbes and the method of natural science,” (...)
  • 32 Tom Sorell, “Hobbes’s Objections and Hobbes’s System,” in Roger Ariew & Marjorie Grene (...)

16Although Hobbes is more concerned than his French counterpart with politics and ethics, it is remarkable how similar his preconception of scholastic metaphysics is to that of Descartes.31 In Chapter 46 of Leviathan, his denunciation of the emptiness of that philosophy and his dismissal of tradition as fabulous is asserted from a conception of science which is confined to the physical realm of generation and corruption and enrolled by man to maximize his exploitation of nature32 :

  • 33 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. XLVI, “Of Darknesse from Vain Philosophy, and Fabulous T (...)

By Philosophy, is understood the Knowledge acquired by Reasoning, from the Manner of the Generation of anything, to the Properties; or from the Properties, to some possible Way of Generation of the same ; to the end to bee able to produce, as far as matter, and humane force permit, such Effects, as humane life requireth.33

  • 34 Ibid., 461-462.
  • 35 Ibid., 462 ; on Hobbes’s anti-papist views, see Patricia Springborg, “Hobbes on religion,” i (...)

17Hobbes’s conviction that only a rational theory can result in certain foundations on which a scientist may build his demonstrations significantly leads him to disclaim Aristotelian philosophy as delusive : “And I beleeve that scarce anything can be more absurdly said in naturall Philosophy, than that which now is called Aristotles Metaphysiques ; nor more repugnant to Government, than much of that he hath said in his Politiques ; nor more ignorantly, than a great part of his Ethiques.”34 An aggravating circumstance which to Hobbes’s mind vindicates a complete disavowal of such a useless, unintelligible philosophy is the fact that it is subservient to Roman Catholicism, highlighting what we would call today an ideological function : “And for the study of Philosophy it hath no otherwise place, then as the handmaid to the Romane Religion : And since the Authority of Aristotle is onely current there, that study is not properly Philosophy, (the nature whereof dependeth not on Authors,) but Aristotelity.”35

  • 36 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. XLVI, “Of Darknesse from Vain Philosophy, and Fabulous Traditi (...)
  • 37 On the central role played by the refutation of miracles in Hobbes’s Leviathan, see Leo Strau (...)
  • 38 On the exclusion of mystery and its paradoxical place in modern science, see Steven Shapin, o (...)

18To him, “metaphysics” is a misnomer for a bookish tradition placing Aristotle’s “supernatural philosophy” after his “natural philosophy” and pretending to find some meaning in a deceitful text which is devoid of any coherence and purpose. Just as significant is Hobbes’s statement that in addition to being a meaningless doctrine, scholasticism is fundamentally not concerned with the natural world : “Then for Physiques, that is, the knowledge of the subordinate, and secundary causes of naturall events; they render none at all, but empty words.”36 Had they paid more attention to the realm of natural causes where consequences can be derived from the former by virtue of a reasonable connection, those representatives of a pre-scientific time would never have given credit to such dubious legends and miracles as can be found in false tradition. Neither would they have ascribed the unknown cause of natural phenomena to such occult properties as baffle a rational mind trying to make sense of reality37. On those conditions only they would deserve the name of scientist which, by any rational standard, they usurp just as the Catholic Church has been usurping and defrauding power from its rightful civilian possessors. To conclude on this point, both Descartes and Hobbes have recourse to a rationalistic definition of philosophy and science to claim exclusion of any mystery from the world as they conceive it and propose a rational explanation of things within the confines imposed on reality by a mechanical conception.38

  • 39 On Hobbes’s rationalistic apprehension of the Scriptures, see Leo Strauss, op. cit., 83 (...)
  • 40 René Descartes, op. cit., vol. 1, Preface to the French Edition of the Principles of Ph (...)

19Rationalism proper can be traced back to Descartes and as I mentioned earlier it is from the outset directly associated with the notion of a mechanistic universe. From a genetic perspective, it should be noted that the Protestant Reformation had paved the way for it by introducing an embryonic form into the religious sphere, in the guise of “free enquiry” or “liberty of thought”, at a time when the word “rationalism” proper had not been forged.39 Although Descartes never denies being a Catholic, his philosophical inquisitions make exclusive use of the intellectual capabilities with which mankind is naturally endowed and do not resort to that other source of intelligibility, i.e. the word of God that Christians find in the Bible and consider as a supernatural revelation of the mysteries of faith. In this sense, he chooses to focus on what we are capable of knowing and to dismiss what the Church enjoins us to believe. While the Christian faith teaches that the summum bonum (supreme good) can be equated with the contemplatio dei post mortem (the vision of God after death), Descartes’s philosophy proposes a natural, immanent definition of the same notion which he identifies with rational knowledge. Significantly he constantly refuses, in the Discourse and elsewhere, to attempt a philosophical comprehension of revealed truths and it should be noted that theology has no place at all in the tree of philosophy.40

  • 41 Geneviève Rodis-Lewis, Descartes et le rationalisme, op. cit., 9-13.
  • 42 Thomas Aquinas, for instance, distinguishes ratio and intellectus, the latter being defined a (...)
  • 43 Pierre Golliet, « Le problème de la méthode chez Descartes », Revue des Sciences Humain (...)

20By contrast with the synthesis of reason and faith formulated by scholastic philosophy, rationalism implies an analytic apprehension of reality.41 This is obvious in the definition of the res extensa, where the reduction of bodies to space is assumed, and which is, as we shall see, the very foundation of mechanism and the origin of a quantitative science. This is also the case with the assimilation of the human mind to a res cogitans, namely to mere thought, leaving out pure intuition which was considered by medieval philosophers to be the highest cognitive instrument available to man42. It should be mentioned in passing that Descartes’s conception of science is inseparable from his claims that one can form a clear, distinct idea of any object, similar to mathematical ideas and thus obtain a level of “evidence” which is only attainable in mathematics43. But to come back to the simplistic conception of the human mind brought about by rationalism, both Descartes and Hobbes draw a divisive line between nature and the supernatural, accounting revealed truths to be falling entirely outside the province of rationality :

  • 44 René Descartes, op. cit., Discourse on the Method, Part One, 114. René Descartes, Discours de (...)

I revered our theology, and aspired as much as anyone else to reach heaven. But having learned as an established fact that the way to heaven is open no less to the most ignorant than to the most learned, and that the revealed truths which guide us there are beyond our understanding, I would not have dared submit them to my weak reasonings; and I thought that to undertake an examination of them and succeed, I would need to have some extraordinary aid from heaven and to be more than a mere man.44

21In the Preface to the French edition of the Principles of Philosophy, Descartes asserts again that reason alone, without the support of faith, is capable of attaining the knowledge of truth and wisdom which constitute the object of philosophy.

  • 45 Leo Strauss, op. cit., 101.

22The exclusion of Revelation as lying beyond human understanding and capabilities finds its analogue in Hobbes’s rejection of authoritative and supernatural truths which cannot be obtained by rational means45 :

  • 46 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. XLVI, “Of Darknesse from Vain Philosophy, and Fabulous Traditi (...)

Nor to that which any man knows by supernaturall Revelation; because it is not acquired by Reasoning: Nor to that which is gotten by Reasoning from the Authority of Books; because it is not by Reasoning from the Cause to the Effect, nor from the Effect to the Cause; and it is not Knowledge, but Faith.46

23Any immaterial entities that the Scholastics had enumerated are likewise kept out of the universe which consists only of tangible, measurable and quantifiable bodies occupying a certain amount of space :

  • 47 Ibid., 463; on Hobbes’s materialistic definition of a body and of the Universe, see also (...)

The World, (I mean not the Earth onely, that denominates the Lovers of it Worldly men, but the Universe, that is the whole masse of all things that are) is Corporeall, that is to say, Body; and hath the dimensions of Magnitude, namely, Length, Bredth, and Depth: also every part of Body, is likewise Body, and hath the like dimensions; and consequently every part of the Universe, is Body; and that which is not Body is no part of the Universe : And because the Universe is All, that which is no part of it, is Nothing ; and consequently nowhere. Nor does it follow from hence, that Spirits are nothing : for they have dimensions, and are therefore really Bodies.47

  • 48 Ibid., 271.

24The skepticism and materialism of Hobbes, like that of Descartes’s followers, rejected the whole concept of incorporeal bodies as a contradiction in terms. By doing so they effectively jettisoned demons and angels alike from the supernatural world and endowed them with an exclusively natural constitution. Hobbes did not refuse to acknowledge that there could be spirits whose bodies were too fine to be discerned by human beings. But he emphatically asserted that they could never be incorporeal substances of a spiritual nature. When they are not to be understood metaphorically as referring to an “Inclination of the mind”, an “eminent ability” or a “disease of the mind”48, spirits evoke an obscure and disputable notion in the confused minds of misled believers :

  • 49 Ibid., 270.

But in the sense of common people, not all the Universe is called Body, but only such parts thereof as they can discern by the sense of Feeling, to resist their force, or by the sense of their Eyes, to hinder them from a farther prospect. Therefore in the common language of men, Aire, and aeriall substances, use not to be taken for Bodies, but (as often as men are sensible of their effects) are called Wind, or Breath, or (because the same are called in the Latine Spiritus) Spirits ; as when they call that aeriall substance, which in the body of any living creature, gives it life and motion, Vitall and Animall spirits. But for those Idols of the brain, which represent Bodies to us, where they are not, as in a Looking-glasse, in a Dream, or to a Distempered brain waking, they are (as the Apostle saith generally of all Idols) nothing.49

  • 50 René Descartes, op. cit., Discourse on the Method, Part One, 111. René Descartes, Discours de (...)
  • 51 René Descartes, op.cit., Discourse on the Method, Part Two, 119. René Descartes, Discours de (...)

25But this is not all and Descartes’s apprehension of human thought reveals another philosophical debasement which can be ascribed to his conception of reason, regarded by him as equivalent to “good sense” or “practical wisdom.” If we bear in mind the usual meaning of this expression in French or English, we should be struck by the fact that the concept evoked by this is particularly mediocre from an intellectual viewpoint. Besides, Descartes claims at the beginning of the Discourse that reason is “the best distributed thing in the world” and that “the power […] of distinguishing the true from the false – which is what we properly call ‘good sense’ or ‘reason’ – is naturally equal in all men.”50 This implies an egalitarian conception he nevertheless feels obliged to qualify or even deny on several occasions, as when he exposes the deceptiveness of intellectual tradition and asserts that human beings are not equal in their rational efforts to discover some truths : “Thus it is custom and example that persuade us, rather than any certain knowledge. And yet a majority vote is worthless as a proof of truths that are at all difficult to discover ; for a single man is much more likely to hit upon them than a group of people.”51 His equation of reason with good sense proceeds from a confusion between actual reason and abstract rationality, the latter being a specific characteristic of humanity as such. To be sure, human nature is entirely to be found in every individual although it is manifested in various forms according to the distinctive qualities which belong to these individuals and combine with their specific nature to constitute the essential pole of their being. To think otherwise would be to suppose that human individuals are all alike and can only be distinguished from a numerical angle. That such reduction of quality to quantity is to a large extent a consequence of modern science is conspicuous in the assumptions underlying the rationalism of Descartes and Hobbes, my purpose being now to illustrate this point with a few examples. In other words, how can we account for the conflation of early modern rationalism with an almost exclusively quantitative science, or to be more accurate in our phrasing, how can we explain the fact that such a quantitative apprehension of phenomena was originally derived from rationalism ?

  • 52 Louis Roux, Thomas Hobbes : penseur entre deux mondes, Saint-Étienne : P de l’U de Saint-Étie (...)

26The supremacy of reason asserted in the Discourse as well as in Leviathan is marked by a significant tendency to reduce reality to its constitutive parts or individual components, to bring these down to the level of their corporeal modality and to determine them in turn from a quantitative angle52. This last point is quite explicit at the beginning of chapter V of Leviathan where Hobbes highlights the connection between rational procedures and modern science :

  • 53 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. V, “Of REASON, and SCIENCE,” 31-32.

When a man Reasoneth, hee does nothing else but conceive a summe totall, from Addition of parcels; or conceive a remainder, from Substraction of one summe from another: which (if it be done by Words,) is conceiving of the consequence from the names of all the parts, to the name of the whole; or from the names of the whole and one part, to the name of the other part. […]In summe, in what matter soever there is place for addition and substraction, there also is place for Reason ; and where these have no place, there Reason has nothing at all to do.53

27Hobbes’s definition of reason as modeled on calculation echoes the previous chapter where he attempts to show that politics is to a large extent a matter of semantics by virtue of which the sovereign is to stipulate and guarantee the currency of words on his territories :

  • 54 Ibid., Chap. IV, “Of SPEECH,” 29.

Subject to Names, is whatsoever can enter into, or be considered in an account; and be added one to another to make a summe; or substracted one from another, and leave a remainder. The Latines called Accounts of mony Rationes, and accounting, Ratiocinacio : and that which we in bills or books of account call Items, they called Nomina ; that is, Names : and thence it seems to proceed, that they extended the word Ratio, to the faculty of Reckoning in all other things.54

  • 55 On the importance of the notion of light in Descartes’s discourse, see Philippe Desan, op. ci (...)
  • 56 Geneviève Rodis-Lewis, Descartes et le rationalisme, op. cit., 19.
  • 57 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. IV, “Of SPEECH,” 25.

28What is remarkable in this passage is that of all the meanings of ratio in Latin, Hobbes has given precedence to that of counting over any other abstract designation. As we shall see below, the assimilation of reason in act with the accountant’s art is quite obvious in the second part of the Discourse where Descartes makes a list of the major rules he intends to use in order to find his way to the light of truth55. The Cartesian simplification of spirit to mind and of mind to reason, analogous to that of bodies to space, is the condition of the emergence of a quantitative science that will gradually see counting and measuring as the condition of a rational apprehension of reality56. The first step in the direction of a quantifying science is an artificial subdivision of reality – physical and/or mental – into elements presumed to be homogeneous or identical to each other, a process which amounts to no less than a reduction of reality to quantity, in the sense that only such a viewpoint makes the existence of such elements conceivable. It should be noted here that Hobbes’s conception of language and its usefulness to man, as expressed in chapter IV of Leviathan, underlines the articulation of human idioms to the extra-linguistic reality they are supposed to convey in a way which implies a division of that reality prior to the acquisition of language : “The generall use of Speech, is to transferre our Mental Discourse, into Verbal; or the Trayne of our Thoughts, into a Trayne of Words.”57 To Hobbes, language is a mere instrument intended to name and organize internal experiences so that his enlightening analogy equating linguistic encoding with book-keeping makes him a follower of the medieval nominalists who criticized the traditional idea that words referred to abstract essences and expressed universal notions. A significant illustration of this line of thinking is provided by Hobbes’s relativism in the associated fields of language and morals :

  • 58 Ibid., Chap. VI, “Of the Interiour Beginnings of Voluntary Motions ; commonly called t (...)

But whatsoever is the object of any mans Appetite or Desire; that is it, which he for his part calleth Good : And the object of his Hate, and Aversion, Evill ; And of his Contempt, Vile and Inconsiderable. For these words of Good, Evill, and Contemptible, are ever used with relation to the person that useth them; There being nothing simply and absolutely so; nor any common rule of Good and Evill, to be taken from the nature of the objects themselves; but from the Person of the man (where there is no Common-wealth;) or, (in a Commonwealth,) from the Person that representeth it; or from an Arbitrator or Judge, whom men disagreeing shall by consent set up, and make his sentence the Rule thereof.58

  • 59 Ibid., Introduction, xvii.

29Against Aristotle’s conception of an ethical world where absolutes allow human beings to determine features of actions as morally good or bad, Hobbes expresses a relative view of the morality of deeds which, far from being dependent on intrinsic value, can only be estimated through the conventional meaning of words. Anticipating Saussure’s axiomatic definition of the arbitrary constitution of the linguistic sign according to which no necessary link connects a real thing to its verbal designation, Hobbes asserts the conventional foundation of language seen as the distinctive feature between animality and humanity and a main pillar of the social pact ratified by the subjects and their king. Sovereign power is exercised above all to ascribe a common meaning to signs pertaining to the public language and to make the monarch’s subjects concur with each other as to the signification of just and unjust or good or bad59. Through conventional language, human beings are capable of rational calculation so that instead of the ubiquitous violence generated by the state of war prevailing in their natural condition they devise means to preserve themselves and establish peace through a contractual delegation of their individual strength to the sovereign. Just as language is a code founded on a discursive organization of the expression of human desires and demands so is science a construction based on the exposition of consecutive relations highlighting the dependence of a consequence to a cause :

  • 60 Ibid., Chap. V, “Of REASON, and SCIENCE,” 35.

By this it appears that Reason is not as Sense, and Memory, borne with us; nor gotten by Experience onely, as Prudence is; but attayned by Industry; first in apt imposing of Names; and secondly by getting a good and orderly Method in proceeding from the Elements, which are Names, to assertions made by Connexion of one of them to another ; and so to Syllogismes, which are the Connexions of one Assertion to another, till we come to a knowledge of all the Consequences of names appertaining to the subject in hand; and that is it, men call SCIENCE. And whereas Sense and Memory are but knowledge of Fact, which is a thing past, and irrevocable ; Science is the knowledge of Consequences, and dependance of one fact upon another […].60

30If science can be defined as the product of human rationality, language is the instrument of the discursive method used to set up a scientific model, particularly in the field of ethics and politics where the originality of man is best reflected by the cultural assertion of his legal status. Using an analogy suggested by Leviathan, we could say that communication is to politics what communion is to religion : whereas sacred rituals ensure the relation between man and God, conventional words fulfill the same function among subjects and between them and their sovereign.

  • 61 Douglas Jesseph, op. cit., 96-100.
  • 62 Leo Strauss, op. cit., 64 ; Louis Roux, op. cit., 135, 156.

31The insistence of Hobbes on the need to define words in an adequate way, so as to prevent equivocation and ambiguity in human intercourse, is quite in agreement with a tendency to introduce a form of discontinuity which pertains only to pure or numerical quantity, and to project the analytical composition of language onto the physical or mental world that reason is supposed to make fully intelligible61. This tendency can be summed up as the exclusive admission to the realm of methodical science of objects of study as are likely to be assessed only by means of numbers. When Hobbes inveighs against the philosophers of the past who were unable to reason properly, he invokes geometry as the model which must be imitated in order to use language in a rational way62 :

  • 63 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. V, “Of REASON, and SCIENCE,” 34.

For there is not one of them that begins his ratiocination from the Definitions, or Explications of the names they are to use ; which is a method that hath been used onely in Geometry ; whose Conclusions have thereby been made indisputable.
The first cause of Absurd conclusions I ascribe to the want of Method; in that they begin not their Ratiocination from Definitions; that is, from settled significations of their words : as if they could cast account, without knowing the value of numeral words, one, two, and three.63

  • 64 Geneviève Rodis-Lewis, Descartes et le rationalisme, op. cit., 12.

32It is quite significant that Descartes’s method lays a similar stress on the analytical division of reality64 entailed by the use of reason which matches Hobbes’s comparison between semantics and arithmetics :

  • 65 René Descartes, op. cit., Discourse on the Method, Part Two, 120. René Descartes, (...)

The second [rule], to divide each of the difficulties I examined into as many parts as possible and as may be required in order to resolve them better.
The third, to direct my thoughts in a orderly manner, by beginning with the simplest and most easily known objects in order to ascend little by little, step by step, to knowledge of the most complex […].
And the last, throughout to make enumerations so complete, and reviews so comprehensive, that I could be sure of leaving nothing out.65

33Just as typical of a convergence with Hobbes’s method is Descartes’s apprehension of space as a modality of quantity underlying his mechanistic physics :

  • 66 René Descartes, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, op. cit., Part Four, 129. René Desca (...)

After that, wishing to seek other truths, I considered the object studied by geometers. I conceived of this as a continuous body, or a space indefinitely extended in length, breadth and height or depth, and divisible into different parts which may have various shapes and sizes, and may be moved or transposed in every way: for all this is assumed by geometers in their object of study. I went through some of their simpler demonstrations […].66

  • 67 Geneviève Rodis-Lewis, Descartes et le rationalisme, op. cit., 56-58.

34This passage is particularly illustrative of Descartes’s reduction of corporeal bodies to a homogeneous space that can be divided into as many parts as is necessary to measure the former67. Such reduction of matter to space allows Descartes to treat the entirety of the material world with mathematical tools and consider the configuration and movement of bodies. It should be remembered that, paradoxically, this restrictive apprehension of the visible world encapsulates what Descartes viewed as his major innovation in physics.

35This adequation also accounts for the association of measure with geometry in the sense that any measurement is essentially geometrical, so that geometry can be considered as the very science of measuring. Not only does Descartes’s mechanical conception consider space as a mode of quantity but it also assimilates space to quantity, a presupposition that would require in order to be verified the existence of a homogeneous space the parts of which cannot be distinguished from each other by any other feature apart from their respective sizes. The admission of such equivalence between a body and the space it occupies would inevitably lead to considering the surface and volume of any object which can be measured in space as identical to the object itself with all its properties and characteristics, which is to say the least absurd. The alternative is to take into account the qualitative dimension of space which can no longer serve as the foundation of a mechanistic doctrine such as that of Descartes and Hobbes. Even plane geometry, which can be viewed as the science of measurement par excellence, does not resort to exclusively quantitative notions, and it would be preposterous for any mathematician to contend that a triangle and a square with the same surface are one and the same thing when these figures are in fact differentiated by a specific shape that cannot be brought down to quantity. We can conclude on this by saying that, unlike what Descartes and Hobbes seem to imply, any object located in space cannot be regarded without simplification as a quantifiable element representing its surface insofar as it is characterized by a particular situation and direction which represent the qualitative feature inherent to the nature of space. As a result of these qualitative determinations, the possibility of a homogeneous space conjectured by Descartes and Hobbes is simply unthinkable. The reductive vision of space implied by a mechanical conception also accounts for the preferential application of rationalism to solid bodies as being its specific domain, the reason for this being that the rational apprehension of an object induces a materialization process, in the ordinary sense of the word, by which only the quantitative modes of existence are privileged at the expense of the essential nature of things.

  • 68 Steven Shapin, op. cit., 159-160.
  • 69 René Descartes, op. cit., Part Six, 151. René Descartes, Discours de la Méthode, op. cit., Si (...)
  • 70 On the secular, profane nature of Hobbes’s conception of politics, see Gérard Mairet, « La ge (...)

36To conclude this paper, we can say that Descartes’s rationalism paved the way for Hobbes’s materialism the moment he distinguished a res cogitans and a res extensa without a clear exposition of the relationship and interaction between the two68. By disclaiming knowledge of the human soul or any other spiritual reality as being beyond the scope of reason, Descartes deprived himself of the tool that was indispensable to comprehend at the same time the transcendent intellect above the rational world and the rational intelligibility of the spiritual realm. The preeminence of reason entailed by the rejection of any intelligible supra-rational sphere leads him to ignore what could not be quantified or measured for the benefit of applied sciences. Although it cannot be denied that the rationalization of early modern science is a major cause of the worldwide success of Western civilization to this day, the dominance of reason fulfilling the highest ambitions of man in the field of engineering and technology, one cannot brush aside on the other hand the tendency toward uniformity which is the direct outcome of Descartes’s rationalism and Hobbes’s materialism. In this perspective, the choice of French rather than Latin made by Descartes demonstrates an urge to publicize his method beyond learned circles and ensure its greatest accessibility to the lay public. But it also manifests the need for simplification which is to a large extent a distinctive feature of modern science and a paradoxical condition of its successful development as adumbrated by the conclusive lines of the Discourse where Descartes celebrates the consensual virtues of science and the promising productivity of his method : “I will say only that I have resolved to devote the rest of my life to nothing other than trying to acquire some knowledge of nature from which we may derive rules in medicine which are more reliable than those we have had up till now.”69 If one of Descartes’s ambitions was to devise a method that could be applied for the preservation of the human body, whose place is similar in his philosophy to that of the soul in Scholasticism, Hobbes can be seen, for his part, as the physician of the body politic whose ambition was to engineer a mechanistic State with an artificial soul giving life to it. The sovereign of that State, strangely reminiscent of Hobbes’s corporeal God, is nothing but a mortal deity living in space and time, and striving to impose a rational conception of law and order to regulate the material forces which threaten the sanity of the Commonwealth70. In both cases, the new method formulated by Descartes and Hobbes was to bring about practical consequences complying with the rationalism of their assumptions and eventually resulting in the supremacy of quantification in all human activities and scientific pursuits to the detriment of quality and its determination. As Hobbes significantly acknowledges in a polemic chapter where he derisively sets aside the teleological conception of nature enunciated by Aristotle’s philosophy and shared by his medieval followers, the keystone of the exploratory method suitable for a tangible and measurable universe is the equation of body, matter and quantity :

  • 71 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. XLVI, “Of Darknesse from Vain Philosophy, and Fabulous Traditi (...)

Then for Physiques, that is, the knowledge of the subordinate, and secundary causes of naturall events; they render none at all, but empty words. If you desire to know why some kind of bodies sink naturally downwards towards the Earth, and others goe naturally from it; The schools will tell you out of Aristotle, that the bodies that sink downwards, are Heavy ; and that this Heavinesse is it that causes them to descend: But if you ask what they mean by Heavinesse, they will define it to bee an endeavour to goe to the center of the Earth: so that the cause why things sink downward, is an Endeavour to be below: which is as much as to say, that bodies descend, or ascend, because they doe. Or they will tell you the center of the Earth is the place of Rest, and Conservation for Heavy things; and therefore they endeavour to be there: As if Stones, and Metalls had a desire, or could discern the place they would bee at, as Man does; or loved Rest, as Man does not; or that a peece of Glasse were less safe in the Window, than falling into the Street.
If we would know why the same Body seems greater (without adding to it) one time, than another; they say, when it seems lesse, it is Condensed ; when greater, Rarefied. What is that Condensed, and Rarefied ? Condensed, is when there is in the very same Matter, lesse Quantity than before; and Rarefied, when more. As if there could be Matter, that had not some determined Quantity; when Quantity is nothing else but the Determination of Matter ; that is to say of Body, by which we say one Body is greater, or lesser than another, by thus, or thus much. Or as if a Body were made without any Quantity at all, and that afterwards more, or lesse were put into it, according as it is intended the Body should be more, or lesse Dense.71

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Bibliographie

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CHÂTELET François (ed.), Histoire des idéologies, 3 vol., Paris : Hachette, 1978.

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Notes

1 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan [1651], ed. Richard Tuck, Cambridge : Cambridge UP, 1991, Chap. V, “Of Reason, and Science,” 32 : “Out of all which we may define, (that is to say determine,) what that is, which is meant by this word Reason, when wee reckon it amongst the Faculties of the mind. For REASON, in this sense, is nothing but Reckoning (that is, Adding and Substracting) of the Consequences of generall names agreed upon, for the marking and signifying of our thoughts ; I say marking them, when we reckon by ourselves; and signifying, when we demonstrate, or approve our reckonings to other men.”

2 On the awareness that many philosophers and scientists of the 17th century shared about their modernity, see Steven Shapin, The Scientific Revolution, Chicago : U of Chicago P, 1998 [1996], 5, 65.

3 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. XVII, “Of the Causes, Generation, and Definition of a COMMON-WEALTH,” 120.

4 Ibid., Chap. VI, “Of the Interiour Beginnings of Voluntary Motions; commonly called the PASSIONS. And the Speeches by which they are expressed,” 42; Chap. XII, “Of Religion,” 76; Chap. XIII, “Of the NATURALL CONDITION of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery,” 90; Chap. XIV, “Of the first and second NATURALL LAWES, and of CONTRACTS,” 99.

5 Ibid., Chap. XXIV, “Of the NUTRITION, and PROCREATION of a Common-wealth,” 170-176.

6 Georg W.-F. Hegel, Leçons sur l’histoire de la philosophie [1834], transl. Pierre Garniron, vol. VI, Paris : Vrin, 1985.

7 Leo Strauss, La Critique de la religion chez Hobbes [1933-1934], transl. Corinne Pelluchon, Paris: PUF, 2005, 104. On the differences between Descartes and Hobbes, notably on theology, see ibid. 108-109. Die Religionskritik is one of the key works on Hobbes highlighting the antitraditional, antispiritual stance of Leviathan, and as such it deserves the credit of providing a decisive insight into the nature of its modernity, on the political and anthropological levels, showing that the conception of the commonwealth elaborated by Hobbes is in fact essentially defective and antichristian. On the atheism of Hobbes’s thought, see Edwin Curley, “Hobbes versus Descartes,” in Roger Ariew & Marjorie Grene (eds.), Descartes and his Contemporaries, Chicago : U of Chicago P, 1995, 105-109.

8 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. XXXIV, “Of the Signification of SPIRIT, ANGEL, and INSPIRATION in the Books of Holy Scripture,” 269-270.

9 Henri Gouhier, « Les philosophes du XVIIe siècle devant l’histoire de la philosophie », Dix-septième siècle, 54-55, 1962 : 16.

10 Steven Shapin, op. cit., 119, 140.

11 Leo Strauss, op. cit., 33-34, 37.

12 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. I, “Of Sense,” 14.

13 Philippe Desan, Naissance de la méthode, Paris : Librairie A.-G. Nizet, 1987, 18.

14 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. VII, “Of the Ends, or Resolutions of DISCOURSE,” 47.

15 On the symmetric relationship between method and discourse, see Philippe Desan, op. cit., 140, 146-147.

16 In the 17th century, “mechanics” referred specifically to the theory of lifting appliances such as pulleys, levers, hoists and cranes; in a less restrictive manner, it designated the theory of machines, and more generally it circumscribed the field where the principles of a mathematical physics are realized and the physical bodies are characterized by their size, shape and movement. Descartes’s physics is often labeled mechanistic in this last sense of the word ; on the mechanistic conception of spirit and mind in Leviathan, see Chap. XXXIV, “Of the Signification of SPIRIT, ANGEL, and INSPIRATION in the Books of Holy Scripture,” 269-279 ; Steven Shapin, op. cit., 12-13, 30-42, 56 ; on Hobbes’s mechanical apprehension of psychology, see Bernard Gert, “Hobbes’s psychology,” in Tom Sorell (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes, Cambridge : Cambridge UP, 1996, 157-158.

17 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. I, “Of Sense,” 13 ; on memory, see Chap. II, “Of Imagination,” 18.

18 Ibid., Chap. III, “Of the Consequence or TRAYNE OF Imaginations,” 20 ; see also Chap. V, “Of Reason, and Science,” 31-37.

19 Ibid., Chap. VI, “Of the Interiour Beginnings of Voluntary Motions ; commonly called the PASSIONS. And the Speeches by which they are expressed,” 37-38.

20 Ibid., Chap. XI, “Of the difference of MANNERS,” 70.

21 Robert Lenoble, « La révolution scientifique du XVIIe siècle », in René Taton (dir.), Histoire générale des sciences, 2 vol., vol. 2, Paris : PUF, 1958, 186.

22 Leo Strauss, op. cit., 64-65, 71 ; Steven Shapin, op. cit., 42-43, 55.

23 Tom Sorell, “Hobbes’s scheme of the sciences,” in Tom Sorell (ed.), op. cit., 46-48.

24 René Descartes, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, Dugald Murdoch, 2 vol., Cambridge : Cambridge UP, 1985, vol. 1, Discourse on the Method, Part Six, 142-143. René Descartes, Œuvres Philosophiques, 2 vol., textes établis, présentés et annotés par Ferdinand Alquié, Paris : Bordas, 1988, vol. 1, Discours de la Méthode, Sixième Partie, 634-635 : « Car elles [les notions générales touchant la physique que j’ai acquises] m’ont fait voir qu’il est possible de parvenir à des connaissances qui soient fort utiles à la vie, et qu’au lieu de cette philosophie spéculative, qu’on enseigne dans les écoles, on en peut trouver une pratique, par laquelle, connaissant la force et les actions du feu, de l’eau, de l’air, des astres, des cieux et de tous les autres corps qui nous environnent, aussi distinctement que nous connaissons les divers métiers de nos artisans, nous les pourrions employer en même façon à tous les usages auxquels ils sont propres, et ainsi nous rendre comme maîtres et possesseurs de la nature. Ce qui n’est pas seulement à désirer pour l’invention d’une infinité d’artifices, qui feraient qu’on jouirait, sans aucune peine, des fruits de la terre et de toutes les commodités qui s’y trouvent, mais principalement aussi pour la conservation de la santé, laquelle est sans doute le premier bien et le fondement de tous les autres biens de cette vie ; car même l’esprit dépend si fort du tempérament, et de la disposition des organes du corps que, s’il est possible de trouver quelque moyen qui rende communément les hommes plus sages et plus habiles qu’ils n’ont été jusques ici, je crois que c’est dans la médecine qu’on doit le chercher ».

25 Philippe Desan, op. cit., 138, 140 ; on the civic, active orientation of modern science contrasting with the contemplation of eternal truths pursued by medieval schoolmen, see Steven Shapin, op. cit., 127, 133.

26 Geneviève Rodis-Lewis, La Morale de Descartes, Paris : PUF, 1970 [1957], 30.

27 Geneviève Rodis-Lewis, Descartes et le rationalisme, Paris : PUF, 1970 [1966], 15; Steven Shapin, op. cit., 90.

28 René Descartes, op. cit., Preface to the French edition of the Principles of Philosophy, 186 ; René Descartes, Lettre-préface des Principes de la philosophie, Denis Moreau (ed.), Paris : GF-Flammarion, 1996, 74 : « Toute la philosophie est comme un arbre dont les racines sont la Métaphysique, le tronc est la Physique, et les branches qui sortent de ce tronc sont toutes les autres sciences, qui se réduisent à trois principales, à savoir la Médecine, la Mécanique et la Morale ».

29 Steven Shapin, op. cit., 153.

30 Philippe Desan, op. cit., 149.

31 Leo Strauss, op. cit., 104-108 ; Douglas Jesseph, “Hobbes and the method of natural science,” in Tom Sorell (ed.), op. cit., 86-87.

32 Tom Sorell, “Hobbes’s Objections and Hobbes’s System,” in Roger Ariew & Marjorie Grene (eds.), ibidem, 89-90.

33 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. XLVI, “Of Darknesse from Vain Philosophy, and Fabulous Traditions,” 458.

34 Ibid., 461-462.

35 Ibid., 462 ; on Hobbes’s anti-papist views, see Patricia Springborg, “Hobbes on religion,” in Tom Sorell (ed.), op. cit., 366-368.

36 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. XLVI, “Of Darknesse from Vain Philosophy, and Fabulous Traditions,” 467.

37 On the central role played by the refutation of miracles in Hobbes’s Leviathan, see Leo Strauss, op. cit., 103-104.

38 On the exclusion of mystery and its paradoxical place in modern science, see Steven Shapin, op. cit., 155-161.

39 On Hobbes’s rationalistic apprehension of the Scriptures, see Leo Strauss, op. cit., 83, 87.

40 René Descartes, op. cit., vol. 1, Preface to the French Edition of the Principles of Philosophy, 180-181 : “Now this supreme good, considered by natural reason without the light of faith, is nothing other than the knowledge of the truth through its first causes, that is to say wisdom, of which philosophy is the study.” René Descartes, Lettre-préface des Principes de la philosophie, op. cit., 58-59 : « Or ce souverain bien considéré par la raison naturelle, sans la lumière de la foi, n’est autre chose que la connaissance de la vérité par ses premières causes, c’est-à-dire la Sagesse dont la Philosophie est l’étude ».

41 Geneviève Rodis-Lewis, Descartes et le rationalisme, op. cit., 9-13.

42 Thomas Aquinas, for instance, distinguishes ratio and intellectus, the latter being defined as a superior, intuitive mode of knowing, although both faculties derive from the nature of the soul : “Etsi intellectus et ratio non sint diversæ potentiæ, tamen denominantur ex diversis actibus. Intellectus enim nomen sumitur ab intima penetratione veritatis, nomen autem rationis ab inquisitione et discursu,” Summa Theologica, II, 2, 49, 5 ad 3.

43 Pierre Golliet, « Le problème de la méthode chez Descartes », Revue des Sciences Humaines, 61, janvier-mars 1951 : 68.

44 René Descartes, op. cit., Discourse on the Method, Part One, 114. René Descartes, Discours de la Méthode, op. cit., Première Partie, 575 : « Je révérais notre théologie, et prétendais, autant qu’aucun autre, à gagner le ciel; mais ayant appris, comme chose très assurée, que le chemin n’en est pas moins ouvert aux plus ignorants qu’aux plus doctes, et que les vérités révélées, qui y conduisent, sont au-dessus de notre intelligence, je n’eusse osé les soumettre à la faiblesse de mes raisonnements, et je pensais que, pour entreprendre de les examiner et y réussir, il était besoin d’avoir quelque extraordinaire assistance du ciel, et d’être plus qu’homme ».

45 Leo Strauss, op. cit., 101.

46 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. XLVI, “Of Darknesse from Vain Philosophy, and Fabulous Traditions,” 458-459.

47 Ibid., 463; on Hobbes’s materialistic definition of a body and of the Universe, see also Chap. XXXIV, “Of the Signification of SPIRIT, ANGEL, and INSPIRATION in the Books of Holy Scripture,” 269-270.

48 Ibid., 271.

49 Ibid., 270.

50 René Descartes, op. cit., Discourse on the Method, Part One, 111. René Descartes, Discours de la Méthode, op. cit., Première Partie, 568 : « la chose du monde la mieux partagée », « distinguer le vrai d’avec le faux, qui est proprement ce qu’on nomme le bon sens ou la raison, est naturellement égale en tous les hommes ».

51 René Descartes, op.cit., Discourse on the Method, Part Two, 119. René Descartes, Discours de la Méthode, op. cit., Seconde Partie, 584 : « […] c’est bien plus la coutume et l’exemple qui nous persuadent, qu’aucune connaissance certaine, et que néanmoins la pluralité des voix n’est pas une preuve qui vaille rien pour les vérités un peu malaisées à découvrir, à cause qu’il est bien plus vraisemblable qu’un homme seul les ait rencontrées que tout un peuple […] ».

52 Louis Roux, Thomas Hobbes : penseur entre deux mondes, Saint-Étienne : P de l’U de Saint-Étienne, 1981, 115 ; Patrick Tort, Physique de l’État. Examen du Corps Politique de Hobbes, Paris : Vrin, 1978, 62-66.

53 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. V, “Of REASON, and SCIENCE,” 31-32.

54 Ibid., Chap. IV, “Of SPEECH,” 29.

55 On the importance of the notion of light in Descartes’s discourse, see Philippe Desan, op. cit., 143.

56 Geneviève Rodis-Lewis, Descartes et le rationalisme, op. cit., 19.

57 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. IV, “Of SPEECH,” 25.

58 Ibid., Chap. VI, “Of the Interiour Beginnings of Voluntary Motions ; commonly called the PASSIONS. And the Speeches by which they are expressed,” 39.

59 Ibid., Introduction, xvii.

60 Ibid., Chap. V, “Of REASON, and SCIENCE,” 35.

61 Douglas Jesseph, op. cit., 96-100.

62 Leo Strauss, op. cit., 64 ; Louis Roux, op. cit., 135, 156.

63 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. V, “Of REASON, and SCIENCE,” 34.

64 Geneviève Rodis-Lewis, Descartes et le rationalisme, op. cit., 12.

65 René Descartes, op. cit., Discourse on the Method, Part Two, 120. René Descartes, Discours de la Méthode, op. cit., Seconde Partie, 586-587 : « Le second [précepte], de diviser chacune des difficultés que j’examinerais, en autant de parcelles qu’il se pourrait, et qu’il serait requis pour les mieux résoudre. Le troisième, de conduire par ordre mes pensées, en commençant par les objets les plus simples et les plus aisés à connaître, pour monter peu à peu, comme par degrés, jusques à la connaissance des plus composés ; […] Et le dernier, de faire partout des dénombrements si entiers, et des revues si générales, que je fusse assuré de ne rien omettre ».

66 René Descartes, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, op. cit., Part Four, 129. René Descartes, Discours de la Méthode, op. cit., Quatrième Partie, 608 : « Je voulus chercher, après cela, d’autres vérités, et m’étant proposé l’objet des géomètres, que je concevais comme un corps continu, ou un espace indéfiniment étendu en longueur, largeur et hauteur ou profondeur, divisible en diverses parties, qui pouvaient avoir diverses figures et grandeurs, et être mues ou transposées en toutes sortes, car les géomètres supposent tout cela en leur objet, je parcourus quelques-unes de leurs plus simples démonstrations ».

67 Geneviève Rodis-Lewis, Descartes et le rationalisme, op. cit., 56-58.

68 Steven Shapin, op. cit., 159-160.

69 René Descartes, op. cit., Part Six, 151. René Descartes, Discours de la Méthode, op. cit., Sixième Partie, 649 : « Mais je dirai seulement que j’ai résolu de n’employer le temps qui me reste à vivre à autre chose qu’à tâcher d’acquérir quelque connaissance de la nature, qui soit telle qu’on en puisse tirer des règles pour la médecine, plus assurées que celles qu’on a eues jusques à présent[…] ».

70 On the secular, profane nature of Hobbes’s conception of politics, see Gérard Mairet, « La genèse de l’État laïque de Marsile de Padoue à Louis XIV », in François Châtelet (ed.), Histoire des idéologies, 3 vol., Paris : Hachette, 1978, vol. 2, 317-320.

71 Thomas Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. XLVI, “Of Darknesse from Vain Philosophy, and Fabulous Traditions,” 467-468.

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Jean-Marc Chadelat, « “For REASON […] is nothing but Reckoning” : the Postulates of Hobbes’s and Descartes’s Rationalism », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. XII-n°5 | 2014, mis en ligne le 15 octobre 2014, consulté le 22 novembre 2017. URL : http://lisa.revues.org/6307 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.6307

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Jean-Marc Chadelat

Jean-Marc Chadelat est agrégé de l’Université et docteur ès lettres et sciences humaines. Maître de conférences à Paris 4, où il enseigne la langue et la littérature anglo-saxonnes, son domaine de recherche comprend le symbolisme du signe linguistique en langue et en traduction ainsi que l’antagonisme du pouvoir temporel à l’encontre de l’autorité spirituelle durant la période charnière qui voit la civilisation médiévale céder la place aux temps proto-modernes. Dans une perspective intégrant critique littéraire et histoire des idées, il s’intéresse particulièrement à la représentation dramatique que propose Shakespeare de cette transition dans les pièces historiques anglaises et romaines où l’affranchissement de la sphère politique à l’égard de la tutelle théologique s’accompagne de l’apparition d’une tendance rationaliste, matérialiste et individualiste qui procède de la négation de tout principe supérieur à la raison humaine et entraîne une sécularisation des mentalités, des sociétés et des pouvoirs. L’une des dimensions révélatrices de ce changement de paradigme est la montée en puissance de la quantification de phénomènes ramenés à leur matérialité dans le cadre d’une vision simplificatrice et uniformisante de la réalité qui se substitue à la détermination qualitative des êtres et des choses, indissociable de la théologie médiévale.

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