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DISCOURS DE LA MÉTHODE.
Page 1. – 1. Descartes explains the title of this work in a letter to his life-long friend, Father Marin Mersenne (1588–1648), a distinguished theologian and mathematician: “car je ne mets pas, Traité de la méthode, mais Discours de la méthode, ce qui est le même que Préface ou Avis touchant la méthode, pour montrer que je n'ai pas dessein de l'enseigner, mais seulement d'en parler; car, comme on peut voir de ce que j'en dis, elle consiste plus en pratique qu'en théorie; et je nomme les traités suivants des essais de cette méthode, pource que je prétends que les choses qu'ils contiennent n'ont pu être trouvées sans elle, et qu'on peut connaître par eux ce qu'elle vaut. Comme aussi, j'ai inséré quelque chose de métaphysique, de physique et de médecine dans le premier discours, pour montrer qu'elle s'étend à toutes sortes de matières.”'(Cousin's edition, vol. vi, pages 138-139.) In a previous letter (of March, 1636) to the same friend, he speaks of his work in manuscript, and adds: “le titre en général sera : Le projet d'une science universelle qui puisse élever notre nature à son plus haut degré de perfection ; plus, la dioptrique, les météores et la géométrie, où les plus curieuses matières que l'auteur ait pu choisir, pour rendre preuve de la science universelle qu'il propose, sont expliqués en telle sorte que ceux mêmes qui n'ont point étudié les peuvent entendre" (op. cit. vol. vi, pages 276-277).
The Discours and essays were finally printed at Leyden, June 8, 1637. - The essays are now published separately, and may be found in volume V of Cousin's edition.
2. en une fois = de suite. Notice, also, the use of en, line 2 (en la première, etc.), where it stands for dans. The employment of the different prepositions was not so strictly regulated in the seventeenth century as it is to-day.
3. distinguer = diviser. Notice also the construction, le pourra distinguer, which was formerly quite common, and is not unknown to-day with certain writers.
Cousin's edition gives no sub-titles to the various parts.
4. Le bon sens = Le sens commun. Innate reason, natural good judgment.
5. en être. The constant recurrence of the pronoun en, in order to gain conciseness, militates against Descartes' style.
Page 2. - 1. n'ont point coutume, etc. = n'en désirent point ordinairement. Also avoir de coutume in other authors of the time.
2. plus qu'ils en ont. The omission of ne, which usually follows plus or moins, is due to the fact that the principal clause here is negative. On page 1, line 15, the principal clause is affirmative, as well as the subordinate.
This opening sentence would have been suggested, according to Brunetière (cf. Études Critiques, Quatrième Série, p. 117), by a work of the Jesuit, François Garasse (1585–1630), which was published in 1623 under the title of La Doctrine curieuse des beaux esprits de ce temps, etc. The wording in the two writers is almost the same.
3. et distinguer. Notice the omission of de. Also in line 9 the omission of que nous, etc. 4. en tous les hommes chez tous les hommes. 5. davantage = plus.
6. accidents, attributes, not essential to the substance to which they belong.
7. formes. The principles which impart their essence to things and give them their characteristics common to the species.
These are terms of the scholastic philosophy.
8. heur = bonheur. The noun heur continued in use (apart from mal and bon) far into the century.
- de. Page 3. 1. encore qu'= bien qu'.
2. purement hommes, as human beings, not as souls to be saved. Descartes, warned by the fate of Galileo, was always on his guard in reference to church doctrines.
3. il se peut faire= il se peut. — This whole paragraph, and the following as well, was evidently written with the object of allaying religious susceptibilities. See also page 7, lines 15 etc., page 13, note 3, and pages 20–21.
Page 4. – 1. J'ai été nourri aux lettres. Descartes entered the Jesuit college of La Flèche (departement of Sarthe) in 1604, just after its foundation by Henry IV. He was but eight years old. He staid there eight years.
dans les. 2. pource=parce.
3. plus célèbres écoles. La Flèche had professors of law, medicine and surgery, besides the regular academic faculty.
Page 5. – 1. fables, narratives, stories in the ancient authors.
2. les plus fausses. Evidently alchemy, astrology and magic, to which Descartes returns on page 8, lines 13–19. Page 6.
-1. que nous = afin que nous. Montaigne also considers that travel is an essential part of education. Cf. his Essays, Book
I, c. 25.
2. on demeure, etc. Descartes is a realist as compared with the romantic writers of his day, such as Corneille and the novelists. Cf. La Bruyère, “De la Société et de la Conversation,” No. 74, page 217.
3. les plus basses et moins illustres circonstances. Philosophical history was still in its infancy, at this time, and social history was unknown.
4. d'où vient. The omission of the pronoun subject, especially when it was impersonal, was of common occurrence in the older language. Cf. page 14, line 2.
5. paladins de nos romans. A reference to the popular prose versions of the old epic poems on Charlemagne and his knights, and possibly also to the adventures in Amadis of Gaul.
6. l'éloquence. From what follows, Descartes' idea of éloquence is clearness, logical reasoning.
7. amoureux de la poésie. Descartes wrote Latin poetry in his leisure moments.
8. bas-breton. The Gaelic dialect which is still the mother-tongue of a large number of the peasants of Brittany.
9. l'art poétique. The very year that this indifference to the rules of poetic art was printed, the quarrel over Corneille's Cid was bringing home the question of dramatic construction and literary expression to every educated Parisian.
Page 7. – 1. et souvent ce qu'ils appellent, etc. Possible allusions to definite instances in the history of Rome, as Brutus ordering the execution of his sons, and Cato committing suicide.
Note the omission of the article, quite common
2. comme chose. at the time.
1. de condition. Descartes inherited his mother's dowry when he came of age. She had died shortly after his birth.
2. le grand livre du monde. A frequently quoted phrase.
3. j'employai le reste de ma jeunesse à voyager. After leaving La Flèche in 1612, Descartes studied law at Poitiers, where he took his degree, November 10, 1614. The next two years of his life have left no record, but in 1617 he enlisted under Maurice of Nassau, and passed four years in camp. Near the end of 1621 he resigned his commission and spent the next four years in European travel. See Introduction, note for page v.
4. diverses expériences. Some of these were problems in physics suggested by Alpine phenomena. Cf. Part Six of the Discours for Descartes' system and methods. Page 9.
- 1. lumière naturelle. Evidently the bon sens of page 1,
Cousin has “ Seconde Partie,” and omits the sub-title.
Page 10. - 1. en Allemagne. As soldier in the service of the Duke of Bavaria (from 1619).
2. des guerres. The Thirty Years' War (1618–1648).
3. du couronnement de l'empereur. The emperor was Ferdinand II (1619-1637), chosen at Frankfort, August 28, 1619.
4. en un quartier. At Neuburg in Bavaria.
6. usants de raison = se servant de la raison. Notice that the participle varies in the earlier syntax. See page 160, line 1.
Page 11. – 1. Ainsi je m'imaginai, etc. This comparison shows how much more importance Descartes attached to theory than to the results of experience. It breaks down entirely when he proceeds to illustrate his point by citing religion, since Christianity is now seen to be the outgrowth of Judaism.
2. Sparte. Sparta was a military state purely. The laws under which it developed were given by Lycurgus (“un seul,” line 18) in prehistoric times. They were entirely devoted to furthering military supremacy.