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ART. II.- Histoire Critique des Doctrines Religieuses de la
Philosophie Moderne. Par CHRISTIAN BARTHOLMESS, Membre Correspondant de l'Institut, de l'Academie des Sciences de Berlin, de celle de Turin, &c. Paris: 1855.
WHETHER we feel inclined to acknowledge it or no, the entente cordiale between philosophy and theology is as distant
In vain did Vincenzo Gioberti endeavour to bring it about; in vain has Victor Cousin proclaimed to the whole world the union of “ the immortal sisters,” who, according to M. Villemain's witty expression “ n'ont jamais fait bon ménage ensemble :" we must not,-nay, we cannot if we would-remain blind to the fact that the respective claims of reason and revelation are still far from being settled. Some progress, however, has taken place lately in the views with which these conflicting claims are stated and acknowledged ; and although both in England and elsewhere we see paper-theologians”* describing as pantheism, neologism and rank infidelity, every effort of the human mind to discuss the great questions connected with its own nature, yet we are bound to recognise that a more charitable, a more christian spirit is gaining ground every day. The philosophers of the present day have, no doubt, often been led astray, especially in Germany, by their imagination, and by what the French call l'esprit de système ; nor would we for a minute stand up in defence of all the doctrines they have propounded; but it is no use saying that “ German-dreams are not worth the slightest notice, and the very stir which these “ dreams” have occasioned goes far to refute the pooh-pooh of certain parties who are interested in discountenancing anything like independent research and psychological analysis. It is therefore our purpose, with M. Bartholmèss as our guide, to examine a little into the religious doctrines of modern philosophy, and to ascertain how the principal schools of metaphysicians since Descartes have endeavoured to solve the various questions bearing upon the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and, in short, what is generally designated as natural theology.
Without stopping at the introduction, in which our author has nobly pleaded the cause of philosophy against its assailants, we go on to examine the character he gives of Descartes,
as the founder of a new system, and as the father of modern metaphysics. When we study a little closely the ideas prevailing at the present time amongst thinkers, and the explanations they give of the phenomena of the human mind, we cannot but be struck by the influence which Descartes still enjoys. Hegel was a Cartesian, and his celebrated axiom,
being and thought are identical,” is an expression akin to the one of the Tourangeau philosopher, “ The soul is a thinking substance.” The best proof that Descartes propounded the true principles of spiritualism is to be found in the unsparing but at the same time unjust war waged against him, by a set of imprudent writers, whose beau ideal of a reform in the sphere of human science is the destruction of every spiritual element.* But, on the other hand, we assert with equal conviction, that the system of Descartes had its defects, defects which the philosopher himself was no doubt unconscious of, but which his disciples were not long in deducing from the master's works.
“ The principal of these defects,” says M. Bartholmèss, " is the application of geometry to metaphysical subjects . . . . . Hence, amongst the Cartesian thinkers the ambition of assimilating throughout the exact sciences to speculative and moral studies, hence even the useless attempt to make geometry sit as a kind of judge over the things of the soul and of God. This way of considering spiritual life could lead to nothing else but an excessive spiritualism. The notions of thought, transformed into a kind of mathematical element compared to the geometrical point, became not only the power absorbing all our other faculties, the will included; not only the sole substance of our soul; but God himself, considered in his intimate, immutable and universal nature. It was God, because it was deemed the ultima ratio of all things, the generating principle of every being, the great root of every development. Thought was the invisible subject of all attributes, of all modes of existence; it was, in short, the ever identical principle of qualities and motions, quantities and perfections of every possible kind."
Descartes, no doubt, did not draw the conclusion we have just now stated, and which, as M. Bartholmèss truly says, from its very clearness, bears a suspicious look about it: but it is nevertheless inherent to his method ; it is, in plain language, the identification with thought, both of the creation and the Creator. So extravagant an idealism as this could not but lead sooner or later to a reaction, ending in the deification of
* As a remarkable instance we would refer the reader to M. Feuerbach's works, more especially his “ Theses for the Reform of Philosophy.” 1842.
+ Mathematico habitu vestire. Leibnitz.
THE CARTESIAN SYSTEM.
matter. In considering the state of public opinion in Europe, at the time when Descartes gave out his famous “cogito, ergo sum,” we see that his new philosophy was a protest against the scepticism then rendered so popular by the writings of Montaigne, Charron and Sanchez. The great blunder committed by the Cartesian school has been to detach the axiom from the ensemble of the system, and to adduce it singly, as the summary of all science and the key to all knowledge ; and certainly this was giving the most distorted view of human nature by suppressing at once its noblest parts--the feelings and the affections.
“ The intellect, vast, capacious, quick as we may imagine it, is not the whole of the me. To think, to know, to understand, is not the same as to love, to obey, to resist. • How great,' says Pascal, is the distance between knowing God and loving him !'
Shall we venture to maintain that the most learned man, he whose powers of observation are the greatest, whose conceptions are the boldest, is, ipso facto, the best of human beings, gifted with the most honest heart, the noblest moral character, the holiest soul ? These two classes of facts are as wide apart from one another as error and falsehood, illusion and hypocrisy of sophistry. If the thought of thought, to speak like Aristotle, is not the soul of the soul, to use Fénélon's expression, it is still less the will of the will We go further than this; to think is not identical with to know The real and final purpose of life, ultima vivendi causa, is in the love of what is right, the fulfilment of duty, the happy union with the Author of all good, and the Legislator of all duty; that is to say, in a series of voluntary and personal efforts, or, in other words, in moral progress. To think merely for the purpose of thinking is the task and the delight of all those whose vocation is to study or to teach logic and metaphysics : but for the majority it would be a mistake, honourable, it is true, and sometimes brilliant; in the greater number of cases it would degenerate into an infirmity, a species of disease."-Bartholmèss, Doctrines Religieuses, I. pp. 23,
The above extract, which gives an excellent idea of our author's abilities as a critic, strikes us as containing the best statement of grievances against Descartes. The founder of a metaphysical school is certainly not responsible for the vagaries of his followers; and we might with equal propriety, as in fact M. de Maistre did not hesitate to do, visit upon Bacon and Locke the materialism of Lamettrie, if we were to include, under the same condemnation, Descartes and Hegel ; but the circumstance only proves how unable our fallen understanding is, when left to itself, to grapple with the whole truth, when even those whom we consider as beacons in the world
of thought are so far from apprehending it in its completeness.
Next to Descartes, Leibnitz is, perhaps, the philosopher whose influence has told the most upon modern views of natural theology; and accordingly M. Bartholmèss supplies us with a careful analysis his doctrines. We have seen the Discours de la Méthode taking abstract thought as the groundwork, the principle of our faith. Leibnitz adopts a less bold, but by far a safer course, in proclaiming the axiom, fides ex intellectu sensuque.
“ He does not expose us to the danger of confounding God and thought; of sacrificing to abstract thought man, nay, even God himself.” Entering the lists in turn against Locke's sensualist deism, the pantheistic ideas of Spinosa, and the scepticism of Bayle, he presented himself, not so much as the originator of a new system, but rather as a kind of arbitrator or judge whose mission it was to attempt a conciliation between conflicting parties. The optimism of Leibnitz, his monadologie, his views of the existence and attributes of God, have been attacked on various grounds with no slight acrimony during the last few years. It is scarcely surprising that Bossuet's correspondent should be consigned to the index expurgatorius of modern sages by men such as M. Feuerbach, on account of his anthropomorphist theology, and his bêtises ; but to accuse him of temerity, as
some do, and to class him amongst the forlorn hope of metaphysicians, is an exaggeration so ridiculous that it may be dismissed with a bare mention. We are rather inclined to adopt the view of M. Bartholmèss, when he finds in Leibnitz a philosopher who did not apprehend with sufficient clearness the character of God as creator. Constantly hesitating between Aristotle and St. Augustine, he describes the Almighty to us rather as the legislator, the architect, the arranger of the universe, than as its maker.
“ And yet,” says M. Bartholmèss, “ between these two ideas there is a striking difference. The architect, the geometrician, the artist does not produce the material which he organises and places in a certain order. He is even compelled to respect their secret constitution, their fundamental dispositions ; he must act in accordance with the nature of matter and the internal relations of movement. If the artist commands, it is only because he is bound to obey. The architect of the world is neither independent nor allpowerful. To the supreme, the free Creator alone belongs the character which stamps exclusively an absolute initiative and sole cause. Before Him alone we see vanishing the conception of primitive matter, whether we consider it as deprived of every species of form and quality, or as already endowed with certain properties. If we admit
the idea of a creator, we are thereby compelled to reject also the idea of any antecedent relation whatever between the parts of this original matter. Nothing having existed before Him, He alone has given a beginning to the world, not only in arranging it, but in calling it into existence, in producing both matter and motion.” Bartholmèss, vol. i. p. 96.
The above clear and accurate distinction between the idea of “ creator” and that of mere " architect,” explains suffi
“ ciently the defects of the theodicy propounded by Leibnitz. It was in fact the weakest part in his system, together with the celebrated doctrine of pre-established harmony, which is nothing else but the destruction of human liberty. And yet, in spite of all this, the Leibnitzian theories may be said to have prevailed more or less in Germany up to 1781, when Kant began to sway the metaphysical sceptre. They were religious in their character, so sober, so clear! The explanation they gave of final causes was so magnificent a commentary on the wonders of the universe! Accordingly Wolff, Reimarus, Mendelssohn and the legion of philosophers who attempted during that interval to analyse the laws of thought, or to explain the connexion between man and his maker, did hardly anything else besides illustrating, developing, and otherwise expounding the system of Leibnitz.
But whilst an elegant school of spiritualists were thus endeavouring to strengthen, on the other side of the Rhine, the principles of Christian theism, views of a totally different kind were daily gaining ground in France. About the year 1750 the grossest materialism had taken possession of the native country of Malebranche, Pascal and Bossuet. Helvetius defined thought to be a “secretion of the brain,” and wrote on the subject of “ mind,” (l'esprit) a book which called forth the following epigram :
• Admirez tous cet auteur là,
Qui de l'Esprit intitula
Un livre qui n'est que matière.” After all the works which have been published in the eighteenth century, beginning with M. de Barante’s brilliant tableau, and ending with M. Bungener's melodramatic sketches, it would be almost superfluous to attempt here another critical appreciation of Voltaire and Rousseau. The philosopher of Ferney, as a deist, forms a remarkable contrast to the phalanx headed by Diderot ; but we are quite of M. Bartholmèss' opinion, that, viewed in the most favourable light, Voltaire's doctrines cannot be accepted without the greatest caution. Although spiritualist in their essence, they