José Manuel Losada Goya
Universidad Complutense (Madrid)
account those 17th
-century authors who were self-declared rationalists. Faced with this
somewhat unfocused literary pictu...
This idea is a clear and distinct one; that is to say, it is evident. “From this,
Descartes creates an axiom: All that I m...
their fables. […] Besides, [these] fables make one imagine many events
possible which in reality are not so…12
In the stri...
themselves only of their natural reason in its purity may be better judges of
my opinions than those who believe only in t...
Through these words shines the first glimmer of a revolution, in philosophy as
well as in aesthetics.
Malebranche, Perrault, Fontenelle, Houdar de La Motte)30
. In the end, it is the Moderns
who carry the day:
The quarrel of...
IV. A. 1. Voltaire
When Voltaire speaks of Descartes, he often distinguishes between Descartes the
possible worlds”. This proposition, taken up by Pope in his Essay on Man39
(1733), and
the Lisbon earthquake of November 1...
Voltaire describes his espousal of English empiricism in his Treatise on
Metaphysics, the first draft of which dates from ...
Retracing the occasions on which the editor of the Encyclopedia takes on the
metaphysics of the previous century would be ...
― In the feet! interrupted the sultan; now there is the most empty idea I
have ever heard.
― Yes, in the feet, replied Mir...
reason and the senses, tools which have become indispensable in the explanation of
Mirzoza’s sensualist philosophy.
the Academy of Sciences, which proposes that the annual prize be given to whoever
discovers the explanation for its red wo...
Unknowingly, Diderot precedes Flaubert’s decomposition of light and prophesies the
advent of impressionism.
In the theatres of London, burials, executions and coronations are
represented on stage; all that is missing now are bullf...
The Nun serves as an example: the text is a letter addressed to a third person to
beg for assistance: unlike that of Maria...
In Jacques the Fatalist, the master and his valet come upon a doctor and a
peasant woman; as the doctor is dismounting fro...
without feeling”96
. Rousseau’s child would, according to the interpretation of the
philosopher of la Flèche, resemble a s...
[I quote:] Let us leave such a puerile task to those children known as
philosophers. After having gone round the tight cir...
The Lumières carry out a revolution in the domain of philosophy as well as in
that of aesthetics. For them the philosophy ...
DIDEROT (1951), Œuvres, ed. Andr...
CHOUILLET, Anne-Marie dir. (1985), Colloque international Diderot, Aux
amateurs des livres.
CHOUILLET, Jacques (1984), Did...
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José Manuel Losada: From reasoning reason...


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This article shows the evolution from the 17th century speculative Descartes' views to a new, modern, and practical philosophy in the 18th century France. Yet, the core of Descartes philosophy, his critical method, pervives in some 18th century writers such as Rousseau.

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  1. 1. FROM ‘REASONING’ REASON TO CRITICAL REASON José Manuel Losada Goya Universidad Complutense (Madrid) Like the rationalist philosophers of the 17th century, those of the 18th century cite reason as the foundation of their work, and yet their conclusions are diametrically opposed. There must, therefore, be differences in both their conceptions of reason and their means of using it. This presentation is divided into three parts: Cartesian philosophy, the prelude to the Lumières, and 18th -century philosophy. In parallel, there will be a discussion of three branches of knowledge: philosophy, science and aesthetics. The conclusion rests upon the Lumières’ discrimination among elements of Cartesian doctrine: casting aside Descartes’ physics and metaphysics, they adhere to his rejection of the principal of authority and to his defense of the principle of evidence. In the hands of the Lumières, this principle of evidence is retained, but also passed through a filter of philosophical sensualism. The literary production of Voltaire and Diderot (Candide, Memnon, The Indiscreet Jewels, Rameau’s Nephew, Jacques the Fatalist) and, in some cases, that of Montesquieu and Rousseau (The Persian Letters, The New Heloise), illustrate the shift from purely speculative or ‘reasoning’ reason toward experimental or critical reason. I. INTRODUCTION At first it may appear that this presentation has a purely philosophical orientation; such is not the case, however, as I shall explain. The political condemnation of Socrates was preceded by his literary execution at the hands of Aristophanes, which marked the beginning of a long conflict in which literature and philosophy were pitted against one another from the start. A divide separating philosophy and literature runs through our culture up to the so-called age of the Lumières, when there is a significant rapprochement between the two. It is no accident, then, that Enlightenment philosophy should be taught in the context of a literature course, as the criticisms leveled by the Lumières at metaphysical thought are most often delivered in the form of fiction1 . But how should we teach this marriage of philosophy and literature? In our literature courses, we teach students that 18th -century French literature bears a strong philosophical influence, and that “reason” permeates the work of 18th - century writers so much that many of them are considered not just philosophers, but indeed rationalist philosophers. Yet this pedagogical approach only scratches the surface of the question: reason is also a characteristic trait of the literature of the previous century, and philosophy plays a significant role in the work of authors such as La Rochefoucauld, Saint-Évremond, Bossuet, Boileau and Fénelon, without taking into 1 Vid. P. Hartmann, 2003 : 13. 1
  2. 2. account those 17th -century authors who were self-declared rationalists. Faced with this somewhat unfocused literary picture, I believe I have identified a line of division: it lies in the very “reason” to which both groups refer. If this hypothesis were to be confirmed, it would indeed be of significant heuristic interest. Critics often refer to the transformation of milieux: generally speaking, in the 17th century the spirit of rationalism is confined to the philosophical milieu and the realm of the university; during the 18th century rationalism takes hold in society, not in the middle classes still attached to the Ancien Régime, but in the aristocratic milieu and among the cultured élites2 . This may be true, but there is much more: if the widening of philosophical circles is a characteristic of the 18th century, new critical and practical attitudes, profoundly different from the critical attitude of the 17th century, play an equally important role. The principal authors are currently named philosophers and encyclopedists: I shall therefore base the demonstration of this shift upon philosophy and science. But these are philosopher-writers, whose work has an aesthetic dimension which must be taken into account. I shall deal, then, with the three principal fields in which this evolution manifests itself (philosophy, science and aesthetics), and I shall do so in three phases: first the 17th century, then the prelude to the Lumières, and finally and most importantly, the 18th century. II. THE 17th CENTURY II. A. METAPHYSICS An essential point of Cartesian philosophy concerns the theory of human knowledge. II. A. 1. The Principle of Immanence In order to arrive at a point of absolute certainty regarding truth, Descartes posits a voluntary and universal doubt. This is not to say that critical thinking had not existed prior to Descartes, but his predecessors had always spared certain concepts and propositions that were ultimately never called into question. In Descartes’ philosophical exposé, radical doubt is the point of departure. The rejection of “everything that may be placed in doubt” and the very presumption of universal falsehood (of God, the cosmos, our bodies) leads the philosopher to the sole truth about which he can have no doubt, his own existence3 , and therefore to “the first and most certain” of the conclusions which present themselves to him: “I think, therefore I am”4 . This principle gives rise to his definition of man: “I knew that I was a substance the whole essence or nature of which is to think”5 . 2 According to J.-L. Diaz, it is around 1760 that the philosopher-man of letters becomes opposed to socialites and to intellectuals linked to “court society” and fundamentally allied with those in power, 2001 : 8. 3 “So, if we reject everything we can doubt in any way, […] however, this does not allow us to suppose that we who are thinking such things are nothing”, Descartes, Principles of Philosophy, Part 1, 7; trans. G. MacDonald Ross, 1998-1999. French ed.: « Pendant que nous rejetons en cette sorte tout ce dont nous pouvons douter, […] nous ne saurions supposer de même que nous ne sommes point pendant que nous doutons de la vérité de toutes ces choses », 1953 : 573. 4 Ibid. ; see also Discourse on the Method, Part 4, 1952: 51. French ed. : « Je pense, donc je suis », 1953 : 147. 5 Discourse on the Method, Part 4, 1952: 51. « Je connus de là que j’étais une substance dont toute l’essence ou la nature n’est que de penser », 1953 : 148. 2
  3. 3. This idea is a clear and distinct one; that is to say, it is evident. “From this, Descartes creates an axiom: All that I may see clearly and distinctly is true; from this axiom, he deduces a method: philosophy should be exclusively concerned with clear and distinct representations […]. Only on this condition can it become a truly rigorous science”6 . The conviction that the world exists does not come, according to Descartes, “from things situated outside us”7 but rather from God, who is not a “deceiver”. As we shall see, this affirmation is an important one: the senses cannot aid us in forming a true idea of the nature of things8 . II. A. 2. Mechanism I shall now point out the absolute separation that Descartes makes between the soul and the body: perception, memory and the intellectual aspect of mental function are all the domain of the spirit, and the laws of the body do not apply inside this intellectual realm9 : thus the mechanism is announced. Indeed, this hypothesis of separation has far- reaching consequences: if each substance exists unto itself, if both body and soul exist unto themselves, the soul can only be conceived of as thought, and not as the substantial form of the body. As a result, because they are only bodies incapable of sensation, animals can have no soul. For Descartes, animals neither see nor hear; it is only their behavior that is visual and auditory: animals are automatons10 . II. B. SCIENCES Yet the method must be judged by the results that it yields. It must be remembered that the Discourse on the Method was a “preface” to three Cartesian essays, two on the subject of physics (Dioptrics and Meteors) and a third on the subject of mathematics (Geometry), and that it was originally conceived as the Project for a Universal Science. Thus the sciences figure prominently in the formulation of a new metaphysics: Descartes takes his methodological precepts from the practice of mathematics, whose clarity becomes the model for all certain knowledge, and both mathematics and physics are called into service in the radical transformation of previous conceptions of the world. Descartes’ discoveries closely unite mathematics and physics and at the same time grant the highest status to mechanics, which eases man’s burdens, and medicine, which makes man more sensible11 . II. C. AESTHETICS After philosophy and science, aesthetics follows. Is there a relationship between them? From the first pages of his Discourse, Descartes declares himself to be against belles-lettres : I have been nourished on letters since my childhood. […] But I considered that I had already given sufficient time to languages and likewise even to the reading of the literature of the ancients, both their histories and 6 J. Hirschberger, adapt. Ph. Secretan, 1971 : 128. 7 Principles of Philosophy, Part 2, 1, trans. G. MacDonald Ross, 1998-1999. French ed.: 1953 : 611. 8 Ibid., 3 : 612. 9 A. Bridoux, introd. to Treatise of Man, in Descartes, 1953 : 806. 10 Vid. J. Hirschberger, 1971 : 131. 11 Vid. pref. G. Rodis-Lewis, 1966 : 10-14. 3
  4. 4. their fables. […] Besides, [these] fables make one imagine many events possible which in reality are not so…12 In the strictest sense, a “Cartesian” literature can only represent pure ideas; beauty becomes confused with truth and a mathematical conception of the universe prevails: such a literature cannot exist13 . At the same time, Lanson identified “three great absences in classical literature: lyrical sentiment, a sense of history and a love of nature”14 . It may in fact be possible to establish a certain rapport between rationalist philosophy and classical literature, a literature in which audacious metaphor is subject to caution, forms are constricted by canonical norms, actions must conform to a perpetual code of values, and where words, finally, are always as unequivocal and precise as the clear and distinct ideas of evidence. While it would be unjust to hold Descartes responsible for the literary shortcomings evoked by Lanson, it would be equally unscrupulous to deny any Cartesian influence: the genius of la Flèche pushed literature further in the antipoetic direction which it had taken (Malherbe serves as an example) and rigorously barricaded the way back to paths from which it had turned away (for instance, the Baroque)15 . III. PRELUDE TO THE LUMIÈRES III. A. CARTESIAN HEGEMONY Given that for some years now, a stranger by the name of Reason has undertaken to enter by force into the University; that with the help of certain farcical individuals, calling themselves Gassendists, Cartesians, Malebranchistes, faithless and lawless men, Reason wishes to question and expel Aristotle…16 These words are taken from the Petition to the Sorbonne signed by Bernier and Boileau en 1671. This counter-offensive is evidence that new ideas were beginning to take hold in spite of the disapproval of the University. Descartes himself had predicted this resistance: it was not to the academics that he addressed himself, but to people of good sense, as he explained in part six of his Discourse : If I write in French which is the language of my country, rather than in Latin which is that of my teachers, that is because I hope that those who avail 12 1952: 42-43. « J’ai été nourri aux lettres dès mon enfance. […] Mais je croyais avoir déjà donné assez de temps aux langues, et même aussi à la lecture des livres anciens, et à leurs histoires et à leurs fables. […] Les fables font imaginer plusieurs événements comme possibles qui ne le sont point… », 1953 : 127-129. 13 The imagination, declares the philosopher in a letter to Mersenne in July 1641, is incompatible with science, vid. 1953 : 1126. 14 1965 : 224. 15 Vid. ibid. : 225. 16 « Attendu que, depuis des années, une inconnue, nommée la Raison, a entrepris d’entrer par force dans les Écoles de l’Université ; qu’à l’aide de certains quidams facétieux, prenant le surnom de Gassendistes, Cartésiens, Malebranchistes, gens sans aveu, elle veut examiner et expulser Aristote… », François Bernier and Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, Requête des maîtres ès arts, 1671, cit. P. Hazard, 1961 : 117. 4
  5. 5. themselves only of their natural reason in its purity may be better judges of my opinions than those who believe only in the writings of the ancients.17 Descartes’ use of French instead of Latin, as well as his harmonious synthesis of the two stylistic tendencies of the time (Cicero vs Seneca), were likely two reasons for the success of the Discourse on the Method18 , which won over a number of great minds of the time, and penetrated in circles that were closed to the University. “Nulla nunc celebrior clamorosiorque secta quam Cartesianorum”. The words of Collet, written in 168519 , testify to the fact that, at the end of 17th century, Descartes was king. Any Frenchman with even the slightest inclination toward reflection, including his adversaries, underwent at least some degree of Cartesian influence20 . Indeed, Pascalian thought is often in agreement with Cartesian theory: thus the distinction between extension and thought gives rise to elegant reflections on his famous “thinking reed”21 , and from the automatism of beasts, Pascal draws the conclusion that man, having a body, is “as much automaton as spirit”, and develops an entire array of tools for “bending the machine”22 . The divine certainty that the world exists and the mistrust of the capacities of the senses are taken up by Malebranche in his book Concerning the Search After Truth (1674-1676) whose central thesis (“We see all things in God”) demonstrates the aim of his philosophy: it is an apologist fusion of cartesianism and augustinianism23 . For Malebranche, “Only thought is essential to the spirit. Feeling and imagination are but modifications”24 . Even Fontenelle demonstrates a Cartesian influence; his admiration is not unconditional, however: It is, it seems to me, [Monsieur Descartes] who has introduced this new method of reasoning, a good deal more admirable than his philosophy itself, which is in large part false or quite uncertain, according to the very rules which he teaches us. Nonetheless in our best works on physics and metaphysics and also in those on religion, morality and criticism, there predominates a precision and exactitude heretofore unknown.25 17 1952 : 66. « Si j’écris en français, qui est la langue de mon pays, plutôt qu’en latin, qui est celle de mes précepteurs, c’est à cause que j’espère que ceux qui ne se servent que de leur raison naturelle toute pure jugeront mieux de mes opinions que ceux qui ne croient qu’aux livres anciens », 1953 : 179. 18 Vid. M. Beyssade, 1996 : 157-158. 19 “I applaud above all the school of the Cartesians”, Historia rationis, art. XIII, p. 107 ; cit. P. Hazard, 1961: 126. “Around 1715 […] Cartesian science […] conquered the fortresses of the new philosophy that would be the Académie Royale des Sciences and the Journal des Savants during the first half of the 18th century. At the same time, […] its penetration in the collèges and the University remains fragmentary and uncertain”, J. Ehrard, 1963 : 64. 20 Vid. P. Hazard, ibid. 21 R. Mauzi notes that, to console Mme du Deffand on the “curse of being born”, Voltaire seems to resort to the Cartesian cogito and to the “thinking reed” of Pascal, vid. 1960 : 263-264. 22 Vid. G. Lanson, 1965 : 218. 23 Vid. J. Hirschberger, 1971 : 134. 24 1962 : 213. Elsewhere, on the eyes : “We must not rely upon the testimony of our vision in order to judge the truth of things in themselves, but only in order to learn the relevance these things have to the conservation of our bodies ; our eyes generally deceive us in all they represent to us”, 1962 : 26. And elsewhere, on the imagination : “As the imagination consists only in the force of the soul to form images of objects, imprinting them, so to speak, in the brain ; the more the traces of animal spirits, which are the traits of these images, are large and distinct, [the more] strongly and distinctly the soul will imagine these objects”, 1962 : 95-96. 25 « C’est [Monsieur Descartes], à ce qu’il me semble, qui a amené cette nouvelle méthode de raisonner, beaucoup plus estimable que sa philosophie même, dont une bonne partie se trouve fausse ou 5
  6. 6. III. B. EVOLUTION Through these words shines the first glimmer of a revolution, in philosophy as well as in aesthetics. III. B. 1. The Critical Spirit Fontenelle’s philosophical thinking reveals simultaneously the successes and failures of the Cartesian legacy. Indeed, vast though it may be, Descartes’ kingdom has no unconditionally loyal subjects. Reflective thought and scientific progress have gradually worn down the cutting edge of Cartesian theory: the pineal gland (the seat of the soul), animal-machines (unable to feel pleasure or pain), the abhorred vacuum and the vortex, his physics and even his metaphysics have fallen by the wayside. What remains, then? His method, definitive acquisition, his luminous rules for the conduct of the spirit, so simple and strong that if they do not completely light the way to truth, they at least allow for some dissipation of the shadows26 . Cartesian philosophy is fundamentally a reasoning philosophy: it reasons about reason itself and about its very means of reasoning; from this come his conceptions of man, of God and of the cosmos. At the dawn of the age of the Lumières the majority of Cartesian results are stripped away; only the method remains. But the core of its method is its critical attitude, an attitude not without a degree of spite (as Voltaire demonstrates27 ) and composed of two main parts: the rejection of the principle of authority and the relentless defense of the principle of evidence; henceforth, cultural heritage as a whole is to be run through the fine-toothed comb of the high court of reason: that which cannot be shown clearly and distinctly by reason is deemed to be a preconceived idea: I rejected as false, he affirms, all of the reasons formerly accepted by me as demonstrations.28 The prelude to the Lumières would soon be encumbered by Cartesian evidence (of the self, of God, of the world), and only the rejection of the principal of authority remains. III. B. 2. The Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns In its attachment to the Greco-Latin universe and in its particular conceptions of the ideal, the truth, the natural and reason in poetry, Classicism deviates from the Cartesian way which would have put an end to artistic creation29 . Thus is formed the group defending the Ancients (Racine, Boileau, Longepierre, La Bruyère, “the Versailles group”), which struggles against the Moderns (Descartes, Rampalle, fort incertaine, selon les propres règles qu’il nous a apprises. Enfin il règne non seulement dans nos bons ouvrages de physique et de métaphysique, mais dans ceux de religion, de morale, de critique, une précision et une justesse qui, jusqu’à présent, n’avaient été guère connues », Digression on the Ancients and the Moderns (1688), cit. A.-M. Lecoq ed., 2001 : 302. 26 Vid. P. Hazard, 1961 : 127. 27 “…it is one of the imperfections of our nature to malignly interpret everything that can be interpreted”, preface to the Poem on the disaster of Lisbon, 1961 : 301. 28 Descartes, 1952: 51. « Je rejetai comme fausses toutes les raisons que j’avais prises auparavant pour démonstrations », 1953 : 147. 29 G. Lanson specifies what this poetic art consists of, represented in particular by Boileau (vid. 1965 : 227-228). While accepting his distinctions, it seems to me nonetheless that the categorical tone and the unequivocal values of the poet (where the imaginary configuration is in tandem with Cartesian immanence) would not be disavowed by the philosopher. 6
  7. 7. Malebranche, Perrault, Fontenelle, Houdar de La Motte)30 . In the end, it is the Moderns who carry the day: The quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns, Lanson writes, is the revenge of Cartesian spirit on ancient predilection, of analysis on poetry, of idea on form, of science on art. Those who lead the battle against Antiquity are sworn Cartesians, Charles Perrault, Fontenelle; it is the necessary consequences of Cartesian thinking that they strive to impose on literature. All of the ideas in the camp of the Moderns are Cartesian ones. Defiance of authority. […] The application [to literature] of the law of progress, […] of the law of the constancy of natural effects. […] The application to criticism of the rule of evidence, [and the] triumph of the spirit of mathematics. […] Finally, [the reduction] of words [to] signs, and [of] form [to] the clarity, precision and exactitude with which form translates the intelligible: […] from this comes the proscription of the poetry and verse to which La Motte is opposed, sharing the secret sentiments of his contemporaries.31 These a priori result in a poetic deficiency in the Moderns, as the Abbot Conti notes around 1722: …it is clear that Monsieur de la Motte, Monsieur Fontenelle and their partisans have no taste. This is why they have introduced the spirit of Monsieur Descartes into the belles-lettres, and why they judge poetry and eloquence without the aid of the ear and the passions, as one judges bodies independent of sensory qualities. This is also why they confuse the progress of philosophy with that of the arts.32 By this account, it is cartesianism that deals the fatal blow to classical literature at the end of the 17th century, undermining respect for Antiquity by causing the spirit to lose its sense of poetry and its sense of art… In this Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns, one may see an epistemological metaphor for the pendulum to which French literature has moved for centuries, faced with the dilemma of the rejection of the referent: the Classical perspective, an avowed partisan of a world in which the spirit enfolds itself in its immanent abstraction, is replaced by the Modern perspective with a material, concrete world in which the referent never dissolves to the point of disappearing. IV. THE 18th CENTURY Thus we arrive at the 18th century, in which the metaphysics of the previous century is dealt a harsh blow by the philosophers. Here I shall deal in particular with Voltaire and Diderot. We shall see that Descartes’ critical attitude is omnipresent, most notably in the reproaches made by the philosophers against metaphysics. 30 Ancients : Racine, Boileau (Reflections on Longinus), Longepierre (Discourse on the Ancients, 1694), La Bruyère and “les gens de Versailles”; Moderns : Descartes, Rampalle (Error Combatted, 1641), Malebranche (Concerning the Search After Truth, 1674), Charles Perrault (Parallels between the Ancients and the Moderns, 1688 et 1697), Fontenelle (Digression on the Ancients and the Moderns, 1688), Houdar de La Motte (Discourse on Homer, 1714, and Letters on Homer and on the Ancients, 1713-1714) ; vid. M. Fumaroli in A.-M. Lecoq, 2001 : 182. 31 Vid. G. Lanson, 1965 : 229-231. 32 Letter to Scipione Maffei, in A.-M. Lecoq, 2001 : 734. 7
  8. 8. IV. A. METAPHYSICS IV. A. 1. Voltaire When Voltaire speaks of Descartes, he often distinguishes between Descartes the metaphysician and Descartes the critic. The former pushes his errors so far as to declare that two and two make four for no other reason than that God would have it so; the latter, on the other hand, is admirable even in his missteps: if he errs, it is at least using method and in a spirit of consequence: …if he did not necessarily pay in good currency, Voltaire affirms, he did a great service in decrying false ones33 . This mixed praise does not hide the other side of the coin, so to speak: in Voltaire’s estimation, Descartes allowed himself to be carried away by a blindingly systematic spirit, the ultimate cause of his errors: the identification of the soul with thought and of matter with extension, the acceptance of innate ideas that guide us directly to God, space and the infinite34 . One has no difficulty in finding similar judgments in the Treatise on Metaphysics (specifically in chapter III, where Voltaire takes on Cartesian innateness) and in The Ignorant Philosopher, in which he dryly declares that [Descartes] believes or […] pretends to believe that we are born thinking metaphysical thoughts. I would like just as much to say that Homer was born with the Iliad already in his head 35 . Voltaire’s verve is boundless: he takes on Spinoza, who “constructs his novel just as Descartes built his own, on a supposition”36 , Pascal who “views the entire world as a collection of wicked and miserable beings, created just to be damned”37 (one of Voltaire’s stories, The World as it goes, develops this theme), Malebranche who “not only admits innate ideas, but also does not doubt that we see all things in God”38 , and even Leibniz. The case of the German philosopher is different and quite useful in understanding Candide. Like Descartes, Leibniz is the object of voltarian compliments, except when it is a question of his metaphysical system. Voltaire praises Leibniz’ mathematical inventions as much as he condemns his philosophical deductions, among which one in particular seems to him untenable: “All is for the best in the best of all 33 Letter 14 : “On Descartes and Newton” ; 1961 : 58. 34 “[Descartes] believed he had demonstrated that the soul was the same as thought, just as according to him matter is the same as extension : he affirmed that we are always thinking, and that the soul arrives in the body equipped with metaphysical notions, knowing God, space, the infinite, possessing abstract ideas, filled with beautiful knowledge, all of which is forgotten upon leaving the mother’s womb”, Letter 13 : “On M. Locke” ; 1961 : 38-39. 35 “Aristotle begins by saying that incredulity is the source of wisdom ; Descartes diluted this thought, and both of them have taught me to believe nothing of what they tell me. Descartes in particular, after pretending to doubt, speaks with such an affirmative tone of that which he understands not at all; he is so sure of himself when he is grossly erroneous in physics; he has constructed such an imaginary world ; his vortices and his three elements are so prodigiously ridiculous that I must beware of everything he says regarding the soul since he has so misled me regarding the body. Let them praise him, this is all well and good provided they do not praise his philosophical novels, despised today and always in all of Europe”, V.— “Aristotle, Descartes and Gassendi” ; 1961 : 862. 36 Ibid. XXIV.— “Spinoza”; 1961 : 881. 37 Treatise on Metaphysics, Introduction : “Doubts regarding man” ; 1961 : 158. 38 Philosophical Letters, Letter 13: “On M. Locke” ; 1961 : 38. 8
  9. 9. possible worlds”. This proposition, taken up by Pope in his Essay on Man39 (1733), and the Lisbon earthquake of November 1, 1755, inspire the Poem on the Lisbon Disaster, written in December of that same year40 , as Voltaire takes up arms against limitless optimism. Not content with this indictment, four years later Voltaire publishes Candide, his famous story whose profundity would be missed without the prerequisite philosophical background. From the very first pages we read that the preceptor Pangloss teaches metaphysico-theologo-cosmolonigology. [I quote:] He could prove to admiration that there is no effect without a cause; and, that in this best of all possible worlds, the Baron's castle was the most magnificent of all castles, and My Lady the best of all possible baronesses41 . This cause and effect is an allusion to the principle of sufficient reason such as Leibniz presents it in The Monadology42 . The charlatan’s student has learned his lesson well: in spite of the calamities to which he has fallen victim (exile, war, hunger and enslavement), he continues to inquire as to the metaphysical reasons hidden behind the misery of man. Thus, on his arrival in Holland, he meets “a beggar all covered with scabs, his eyes sunk in his head, the end of his nose eaten off, his mouth drawn on one side, his teeth as black as a cloak, snuffling and coughing most violently, and every time he attempted to spit out dropped a tooth”43 ; he recognizes that this beggar is his former teacher, faints and then, returned to his senses, inquires as to “the cause and the effect, and the sufficient reason that had put Pangloss in such a pitiful state”. Like Candide’s pedagogue, the metaphysicians before Voltaire lived in an imaginary world; “having written the novel of the soul”, a sage was needed to arise and “modestly write its history”44 . For Voltaire, this philosopher is Locke, the first to “display [for man] the human soul in the same manner as an excellent anatomist explains the springs of the human body”. Everywhere “taking the light of physics for his guide”, Locke dismantles innate ideas, demonstrates that we do not always think and establishes that all of our ideas come to us through the senses. And then comes Newton. Unlike the metaphysicians, this sage subjects his philosophical hypotheses to experience, lends solidity to matter and destroys the Cartesian system45 . 39 In reality, the English poet adopts an empirical formula, free of a priori : “All that is, is well”, epistle I ; cit. J. Ehrard, 1994 : 642. 40 English text available in At the same time, J. Erhard clarifies, “it is clear that in 1747 Voltaire no longer accepts the appeasing formulae of Leibniz and Pope without serious critical examination”, 1994 : 651. 41 Chapter I; « Il prouvait admirablement qu’il n’y a point d’effet sans cause, et que, dans ce meilleur des mondes possibles, le château de monseigneur le baron était le plus beau des châteaux et madame la meilleure des baronnes possibles », 1983 : 20. One also recalls the description of Zadig’s knowledge: “Instructed in the sciences of the ancient Chaldeans, he was not ignorant of the physical principles of nature such as they were known at the time, and knew of metaphysics what had been learned of it through the ages, which is to say very little”, 1993 : 15-16. 42 “Now, as in the Ideas of God there is an infinite number of possible universes, and as only one of them can be actual, there must be a sufficient reason for the choice of God, which leads Him to decide upon one rather than another. And this reason can only be found in the fitness, or in the degrees of perfection that these worlds possess, since each possible thing has the right to aspire to existence in proportion to the amount of perfection it contains in germ. Thus the actual existence of the best that wisdom makes known to God is due to this, that His goodness makes Him choose it, and His power makes Him produce it.” § 53-55 ; 2004 : 233. 43 Chapter 4 ; French ed.: 1983 : 27. 44 Philosophical Letters, Letter 13 : “On M. Locke” ; 1961 : 38. 45 Ibid. Letter 14 : “On Descartes and Newton” ; 1961 : 54-55. 9
  10. 10. Voltaire describes his espousal of English empiricism in his Treatise on Metaphysics, the first draft of which dates from 1734. Brushing aside the fabrications of the continental philosophers, he supports the notion “That all ideas come via the senses”: There remains enough ground for us to cover without voyaging into imaginary spaces. Let us be content, then, to know from experience supported by reason, the only source of our knowledge, that our senses are the gates through which all ideas enter into our understanding.46 . IV. A. 2. La Mettrie Ten years later, these ideas will win the support of followers who carry out the transition from enlightened sensualism to materialism. In his Natural History of the Soul (1745, later to become the Treatise on the Soul), La Mettrie sets forth his principles on the philosophy of man and on matter. Declaring his incapacity to know the essence of matter, he abandons metaphysical speculation. Based solely upon the results of observation, he comes to a conclusion: matter, considered to be the substance of bodies and the object of perceptions, always possesses motive force and therefore the capacity to feel. This affirmation is accompanied by a clear rejection of the Cartesian conception of matter as simple extension, and a subsequent rejection of Cartesian dualism47 . Finally, in Man a Machine, La Mettrie posits that matter alone can explain all of the physical and intellectual activities of man: Given the least principle of motion, animated bodies will have all that is necessary for moving, feeling, thinking, repenting, or in a word for conducting themselves in the physical realm, and in the moral realm which depends upon it.48 IV. A. 3. Diderot After the sensualism of Voltaire and the materialism of La Mettrie comes the experimental realism of Diderot. Like the philosopher of Ferney49 , in his Philosophical Thoughts Diderot treats metaphysics as nonsense, as it always remains outside the bounds of reality50 . Unlike Descartes, Diderot acknowledges that imagination “has a certain light”51 and “gives a reflection of reality”52 ; like Voltaire, he maintains that “the cooperative action of our senses and our organs is likely of great service to us”53 . 46 Chap. III, 1961 : 175. 47 Vid. A. Thomson, 1985 : 61-62. 48 French ed.: « Posé le moindre principe de mouvement, déclare-t-il, les corps animés auront tout ce qu’il leur faut pour se mouvoir, sentir, penser, se repentir, et se conduire en un mot dans le Physique, et dans le Moral qui en dépend », ed. A. Vartanian, Princeton, 1960 : 180, cit. A. Thomson, 1985 : 62. 49 “But that in the heart of peace internal battles break out due to incomprehensible idiocies of pure metaphysics…”, A Short Commentary on “In Praise of the Dauphin of France” composed by M. Thomas, 1766 ; 1961 : 752. 50 “All of the foolishness of metaphysics is no match for an ad hominem argument”, Diderot, Philosophical Thoughts, XVII, in Œuvres philosophiques, 1964 : 17. 51 On the interpretation of nature, XXI, in Œuvres philosophiques, 1964 : 192. 52 D’Alembert’s Dream, 1972 : 235 et 411. 53 Letter on the Blind, in Œuvres philosophiques 1964 : 91 ; further on : “As I have never doubted that the state of our organs and of our senses has a great influence on our morals…”, ibid. : 92. 10
  11. 11. Retracing the occasions on which the editor of the Encyclopedia takes on the metaphysics of the previous century would be a lengthy task: my aim is to demonstrate the way in which Diderot is influenced by critical reason while leaving aside the rest. To this end, I shall do as I have done with Voltaire, and choose two works of fiction: The Indiscreet Jewels and Jacques the Fatalist and his Master. IV.A.3.a. The Indiscreet Jewels The Indiscreet Jewels is a composite licentious novel par excellence. It unabashedly parodies the novelistic fad in its various incarnations, gleefully combining pseudo-oriental fairyland, the erotic tale, moral satire and political pamphlet, all while associating wild speculation with unrestrained fiction. The chapter entitled “Mirzoza’s Metaphysics” (significantly subtitled “of souls”) is worthy of special mention. It is nothing less than a summing up of the doctrine of the soul, linked to the exercise of philosophy from its origins. There is but one philosopher who is equal to this task: a woman, the favorite companion of the sultan, unexpected in this role and dressed in a way that foreshadows the inversion that permeates the entire chapter54 . One evening when the sultan’s companion is almost sure that her master will pay her a visit, she takes two black half-slips, dons one normally and places the other over her shoulders, putting her arms through the slits. She then puts on the wig of the Mangogul’s seneschal and the square hat of his chaplain, and while she is actually disguised as a bat, she believes herself to be dressed as a philosopher. She even goes so far as to imitate the somber and reflective demeanor of a sage in meditation. The sultan enters with a group of his courtisans, and makes a deep bow before this new philosopher, while his stunned entourage burst into laughter. Mirzoza asks the sultan if his philosophers have ever spoken to him of the nature of the soul; as the sovereign appears not to understand, his mistress pursues the question: ― But this substance, if it exists, must be hidden away somewhere. [Have your philosophers not] preached to you many a fanciful sermon on the subject? 55 . Pierre Hartman explains56 : two strategies concurrently present themselves to anyone who, like Diderot, wishes once and for all to do away with the idealist hypostasis of the soul: the first strategy, the more direct of the two, consists of a pure and simple denial of the soul’s existence; the second, more oblique strategy takes up the question of the existence of a sensitive soul whose location within the body must then be determined. In D’Alembert’s Dream, the encyclopedist opts for the first strategy; here, he grants the benefit of doubt to the existence of the soul, settling for an ingenuous inquiry regarding its corporal location. I continue: ― …everyone imagined, [Mangogul replied] that [the soul] was located in the head; and this opinion seemed to me a plausible one. […] ― You see, then, replied the sultana, what all of your philosophy and your long studies amount to. […] They have declared that the soul resides in the head, whereas most men live and die without the soul ever having inhabited any such place, its primary residence being in the feet. 54 P. Hartmann, 2003 : 70-71. 55 « — Mais cette substance, si elle existe, doit être nichée quelque part. [Vos philosophes, ne] vous- ont ils pas encore débité là-dessus bien des extravagances ? », 1951 : 103 ; chap. XXIX. 56 Vid. 2003 : 72-73. 11
  12. 12. ― In the feet! interrupted the sultan; now there is the most empty idea I have ever heard. ― Yes, in the feet, replied Mirzoza. […] I [tell] you that the primary residence of the soul is in the feet; it is here that the soul begins its existence, and it is through the feet that it progresses through the body. I shall leave it to experience to demonstrate this fact, and I may indeed lay the first foundations of an experimental metaphysics57 . Mirzoza’s demonstration goes on for several pages, closely mimicking the deductive approach of sensualist philosophy58 : in the embryonic stage, while the eyes open without seeing, the mouth without speaking and the ears without hearing, it is with his feet that the child-to-be announces his formation inside the mother; at birth, it is the feet that propel the rest of the body forward, the hands obeying as they steady themselves against walls to facilitate the action of the feet, etc. This until the rest of the body is fully inhabited by the soul which started out in the feet… Here we are the heart of debates which had occupied metaphysicans for centuries. Sélim, one of the sultan’s favorite companions, asserts in his retort to Mirzoza that the soul in fact “rests upon the pineal gland”59 ; echoing Aristotelian and Cartesian hypotheses on the primordial location of the soul60 . Here again, Diderot turns Descartes’ own theories (critical reason, the rejection of the principle of authority) against him: only that which is evidenced by reason is to be accepted, says Descartes; indeed, replies Diderot, and that reason is to be guided by experience61 . Before discussing the way in which the philosophers deal with the sciences, I shall return to the Philosophical Thoughts to point out Diderot’s dialectical usage of Cartesian method: “What is a skeptic?”, he asks himself in paragraph XXX62 ; he answers: A philosopher is one who has doubted everything that he believes, and who believes that which a legitimate usage of his reason and his senses has proven to him to be true. Here we find half accepted, half rejected, the character of Cartesian doubt: accepted, because it is voluntary and universal, rejected, because it is raised by the cooperation of 57 « — …tous concevaient, [répond Mangogul] que [l’âme] réside dans la tête ; et cette opinion m’a paru vraisemblable. […]. — Voilà donc, reprit la sultane, où se réduisent vos longues études et toute votre philosophie. […] Ils ont prononcé que l’âme est dans la tête, tandis que la plupart des hommes meurent sans qu’elle ait habité ce séjour, et que sa première résidence est dans les pieds. — Dans les pieds ! interrompit le sultan ; voilà bien l’idée la plus creuse que j’aie jamais entendue. — Oui, dans les pieds, reprit Mirzoza. […] Je vous [dis] donc que l’âme fait sa première résidence dans les pieds ; que c’est là qu’elle commence à exister, et que c’est par les pieds qu’elle s’avance dans le corps. C’est à l’expérience que j’en appellerai de ce fait ; et je vais peut-être jeter les premiers fondements d’une métaphysique expérimentale », 1951 : 103-104. 58 Vid. P. Hartmann, 2003 : 72. 59 1951 : 106. 60 “…in which the soul exercises its functions more so than in the other parts of the body”, Descartes, The Passions of the Soul, Part 1, art. 31 sq. ; 1953 : 710. 61 Goulemot goes one step further on the rapprochement between reason and experience: “The philosopher, writes Dumarsais, is thus a man who acts in all cases based on reason.” Reason is that by which we judge the internal coherence of a thought (its logic) and its relationship to experience. In this way the philosopher connects with the principle posed by Bayle : “There is no system that, in order to be a good one, can do without two things: first, its ideas must be quite distinct; second, it must take experiences into account”, Dictionary, article “Manicheans”, remark D”, 2002 : 42-43 ; and also: “Observation, [and] experiencing are the twin teats of philosophy”, 45. 62 « C’est un philosophe qui a douté de tout ce qu’il croit, et qui croit ce qu’un usage légitime de sa raison et de ses sens lui a démontré vrai », Œuvres philosophiques, 1964 : 27-28. 12
  13. 13. reason and the senses, tools which have become indispensable in the explanation of Mirzoza’s sensualist philosophy. IV.A.3.b. Jacques the Fatalist and his Master Jacques the Fatalist and his Master presents itself as a novel in which the cynical valet interjects digressions on art and nature, on the inexorable mechanism of the world’s progress (hence the title), as well on the state of society and on justice and injustice. Beyond the sociological meaning of the novel, criticism has recognized the characters in the dialogue to be proponents of two principal metaphysical perspectives. The function of the Master, according to Mercedes Boixareu, “is above all to listen. He is defined by the objects which accompany him: the watch (history), the purse (economic power) and the snuff box, which contains the only stimulant of one who, anchored in his past, has nothing more to accomplish. Thus the Master is cartesianism and the Ancien Régime; Jacques, on the other hand, is being in evolution, present and future”63 ; as Jean Fabre explains, Jacques is “the man who determines, transforms and realizes himself by acting; the man not of innate ideas, but of sensualism and experience; a man not of essences, but of existence, in his contingence but (also) in his infinite virtualities”64 . IV. B. SCIENCES IV. B. 1. Voltaire After philosophy follow the sciences of the Lumières, and particularly the manner in which the philosophers will grant approval to anti-Cartesian scientific practices. The general tendency of the philosopher is to disregard mathematics (a pure but non-empirical science), favoring instead experimental metaphysics. For the most part, they will recognize the merits of Descartes. Voltaire, for example, honors the progress made in geometry and algebra under Cartesian impetus65 ; nonetheless, he does not conceal his disappointment: Geometry was a guide he himself had in some measure fashioned, which would have conducted him safely through the several paths of natural philosophy. Nevertheless, he at last abandoned this guide, and gave entirely into the humour of forming hypotheses; and then philosophy was no more than an ingenious romance, fit only to amuse the ignorant 66 . And for good reason: Descartes’ physics leads to mechanism, the result of a rationalism which Voltaire does not share: he also employs irony to ridicule metaphysico- mathematical mania. An example. Upon arrival in Bordeaux, Candide gets a seat for two, as he can no longer bear to be without his (empiricist) philosopher Martin. He leaves his red sheep at 63 1987 : 205. 64 1979 : 121. 65 “In a critique that was made in London on M. de Fontenelle's discourse, the writer presumed to assert that Descartes was not a great geometrician. Those who make such a declaration may justly be reproached with flying in their master's face. Descartes extended the limits of geometry as far beyond the place where he found them, as Sir Isaac did after him. The former first taught the method of expressing curves by equations”, Philosophical Letters, Letter 14: “On Descartes and Newton”,; French ed. 1961 : 57. 66 Ibid. It is “the man of systems who, refusing to see the reality of men of the world, artificially projects upon them his schemes and his a priori”, J.-M. Goulemot, 2002 : 42. 13
  14. 14. the Academy of Sciences, which proposes that the annual prize be given to whoever discovers the explanation for its red wool: The prize [we read] was adjudged to a northern sage, who demonstrated by A plus B, minus C, divided by Z, that the sheep must necessarily be red, and die of the mange67 . IV. B. 2. Diderot Diderot, quite familiar with the reckoning of Newton and Leibniz, goes well beyond the efforts of Voltaire: in 1748, he publishes his Memoires on Different Mathematical Subjects 68 . Sure of his mathematical knowledge, he shows no hesitation in reproaching Descartes regarding a geometrical polynomial equation69 ; that he is in fact mistaken is of little consequence. What matters here is his rejection of speculative reason and his penchant for practical reason, which he presents in explicit fashion in his book On the Interpretation of Nature (1754): [I quote:] One can see that mathematics, which is above all transcendent, does not lead to anything precise without experience, and that it is a sort of general metaphysics in which bodies are deprived of their individual qualities70 . We know already what “metaphysics” means for Diderot: everything that goes beyond physics, an abstract science which is in no way anchored in reality and incapable of applying understanding and experience to the senses: “Facts [he says], are the true wealth of philosophy”. And he goes further with an expression which seems to me quite useful in supporting my idea of the shift from theoretical reason to practical reason: One of the preconceived notions of rational philosophy is that a man who is unable to count his gold pieces is no wealthier than a man who has but a single coin to his name71 . There are thus two philosophies rather than just one: experimental philosophy and rational philosophy. The first of these works unmethodically, but relentlessly, and at the end collects precious bits of data; the second gathers up this precious substance and attempts to shape a torch from it, but does not move forward. To take an example from Diderot himself: [Rational philosophy] says boldly: light cannot be separated into constituent parts: experimental philosophy listens to this, and remains silent for entire centuries; then suddenly it produces a prism, and says: light can be separated 72 . 67 Chapter 22 ; French ed.: 1983 : 86. 68 J. Dhombres, 1985 : 269 et 273. 69 Ibid. : 277. 70 II, in Œuvres philosophiques, 1964 : 179. This idea, that the mathematicians, as demonstrative as they may be, always remain cut off from reality, is likely taken from Buffon, Natural History, 1st discourse, 1749 (cit. in Diderot, 1964 : 178, nt. 2) and quite surely from La Mettrie, Treatise on the Soul, 1745 (ibid.). 71 Ibid. : 191. 72 Ibid. : 193. 14
  15. 15. Unknowingly, Diderot precedes Flaubert’s decomposition of light and prophesies the advent of impressionism. IV. C. AESTHETICS The aesthetic of the Lumières helps us to better understand the upheaval of rational values. In truth, a large part of the 18th century offers a double panorama: on one hand, it carries the classical tradition like a dead weight which it dares not or cannot cast off73 , on the other, it bears the stamp of Cartesian rationalism: the preoccupation with ideas, the determined pursuit of distinction and clarity in thinking, the dry precision of the admirably clear-cut sentence… this ideal, which was that of Descartes, and which had been adapted by Perrault and Fontenelle, is now put to work by Montesquieu and Voltaire, and will be brought to its full fruition by Diderot. IV. C. 1. Montesquieu Montesquieu’s works are bound in the shackles of both the classical and Cartesian traditions. The first of these influences requires no further demonstration; the second, while subtle, is no less powerful. Thus the Persian Letters, with their expertly wrought structure, recall the clarity and rigor of the author of the Discourse; it is above all the search for a world without faults that moves Usbek, however: the aim of his philosophical reflection is to know “which [is] the form of government most in keeping with reason”74 . In The Spirit of Laws, Montesquieu follows Cartesian analytical and mathematical method. The role of experience in the author’s research is nonexistent: not a single affirmation is based upon demonstrated principles; nothing in Montesquieu is legitimated by empirical observation. No such thing in the other great compendium of the century, Buffon’s Natural History, published between 1749 and 1789. This author presents the theory of the Earth not via the definition of matter, but using the idea that the spirit recovers sensations that are reiterated in the course of daily life. This signals the end of the Cartesian method: soon another method will reign, that defined by Condillac. But this method will only become prevalent toward the end of the century75 . IV. C. 2. Voltaire In my estimation, Voltaire is the paradigm of the panorama of the first decades of the 18th century. Few authors have been so fiercely critical of infractions of the rules bequeathed by the Ancients. In his eighteenth philosophical letter, he expresses his satisfaction that since Addison, theatre in England has been subject to greater regularity, and its authors less audacious76 . For Voltaire, the taste for formal discipline goes hand in hand with order and the appropriateness of the terms dear to rationalism. In his commentary on Hamlet, he expresses his indignation at the fact that “gravediggers dig a grave while drinking, singing vaudevilles, and making jokes typical of people of their profession about the heads of the dead that they find”77 ; elsewhere, in his Commentaries on Corneille, he again rails against these irregularities: 73 Vid. G. Lanson, 1965 : 230. 74 Letter LXXX. Usbek to Rhédi ; 1973 :199. 75 Vid. G. Lanson, 1965 : 236-239. 76 “On Tragedy” ; 1961 : 84. 77 Ibid. : 81. 15
  16. 16. In the theatres of London, burials, executions and coronations are represented on stage; all that is missing now are bullfights 78 . How is this reflected in Voltaire’s literary production? His stories evince an unvarying method by which the author effects a complete exposition of his philosophical ideas79 . The analysis of the structure of his stories reveals uncommon ability and rigor. There is nothing poetic, nothing picturesque, in general nothing improvised in these stories: they have a geometric precision that lends them a singular grace and a particular intellectual elegance80 . The secondary characters in Candide, for example, follow one after another in perfect sequence throughout the story: indeed, Candide’s adventure appears to be mathematically punctuated by the appearances of Pangloss at the castle, Cacambo in Cadix and Martin in Amsterdam. This is also the case with the three “philosophers”, stereotypical representatives of three conceptions fundamental to Voltaire: the metaphysician (Pangloss), the Manichean realist (Martin) and the deist (the Turkish dervish); the same could be said about characters from Micromegas, Zadig and especially Memnon, who having […] in the morning renounced women, excesses of the table, gambling, all types of quarreling, and above all the court, [he] had before nightfall been betrayed and robbed by a beautiful lady, gotten drunk, gambled, gotten into a fight, lost an eye and been at court, where he had been ridiculed81 . As in all of his stories, here Voltaire’s aim is purely demonstrative: his characters have no other purpose, and their value lies in this demonstrative function. As Lanson explains, This usage of romanesque narration, completely purged of all realist intention and separated from any desire for verisimilitude or illusion, has a certain geometric aspect and is also completely original, and can only logically be traced to Descartes’ method. It may be said that there exists a literature with a Cartesian imagination of which Candide is the masterpiece and provides the formula82 . IV. C. 3. Diderot Diderot definitively goes beyond the break with tradition. I would like to demonstrate this by examining structure, style and especially categories in his writing. IV.C.3.a. First, Structure Diderot’s critical nature leads him to question the “realist” novel of the 18th century, whose authors purported to tell “truthful stories”: the main character, at the end of a neatly concluded episode of his life, relates his adventures to the reader in order to edify, or tells these adventures to a third party who publishes them to enlighten the reader (these two structures are demonstrated in The Life of Marianne and Manon Lescaut). With Diderot, the situation is different. 78 1968, XV : 108. 79 “As Micromégas places itself squarely under the sign of Locke, Newton, and Pope, Zadig bears the clear stamp of Voltaire’s studies of Leibniz […]. Candide […] is informed by the most elevated of meditations, Pascal, Genesis, Job, Ecclesiastes.”, J. Van den Heuvel, 1967 : 333. 80 Vid. G. Lanson, 1965 : 240. 81 1983 : 279. 82 1965 : 240. 16
  17. 17. The Nun serves as an example: the text is a letter addressed to a third person to beg for assistance: unlike that of Marianne or the chevalier Des Grieux, Suzanne’s story lacks closure: the reader remains in suspense and does not know what will be the reaction of the letter’s addressee. Jacques the Fatalist provides another pertinent example: the interjections of the author enter directly into the novel, the eruption of events intrudes into the dialogues and the true-life stories, and the absence of a “final ending”, which only suggests hypotheses, give the impression that the story is being lived as it is being written and that it is being written even as it is being read83 . It is no surprise that the Goncourts would view Diderot as one of the first “realists”. IV.C.3.b. Next, Style Diderot’s works, be they philosophical or fictional, bear specific traits of literary modernity: the impression of familiarity created by the use of anecdote, the author’s perpetual projection of self through his characters, effects of rewriting and superposition of key terms, the habitually unfinished tale that gives the impression of imperfection…84 . With this new method, Diderot detaches himself from the Ancients and from the Cartesians. IV.C.3.c. Finally, Categories Here I shall limit my analysis to the category of the grotesque. In Diderot’s works, farce presents a carnavalesque dimension that “resides in the parodic mise en scène of philosophical discourse leading in turn to the deliberate inversions of the traditional schemes of metaphysics”85 . According to Bakhtine, the carnival has an original logic: it is marked by inversion, as much corporeal and material as spiritual and social, by the grotesque realism of revelry and the utopian, by the lowering of abstract and sublime ideals toward the comical and the earthly86 , by the disguise of garments that emphasize appearances over reality. Of course, the Russian scholar was thinking particularly of the carnival of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance87 ; nonetheless, it is not unreasonable to apply these criteria for our purposes. I shall now give a brief analysis of a few aspects of the grotesque in three of Diderot’s works. In The Indiscreet Jewels, the sultana who dons a black half-slip over her shoulders becomes a philosophical bat, producing a hybrid discourse whose nocturnal aspect runs counter to metaphysical discourse’s luminous verticality88 , an inversion doubled by an absurd theory on the spatial location of the soul in the feet. The violinist of Rameau’s Nephew also inverts social values to the advantage of his own libertinism and materialism, dresses himself according to the events of the day, imitates the different instruments of an opera, and himself becomes an “excellent mime”, a counterfeit version of “a man admiring, begging, obliging”89 . 83 J. Vesely, 1985 : passim. 84 Vid. J.-P. Seguin, 1985 : passim, who verified this style in the Letter on the Blind and in the Elements of Physiology. 85 P. Hartmann, 2003 : 73. 86 Vid. 1970 : 19-30. And also : “…the richness of the grotesque/carnavalesque form, its generalizing artistic and heuristic vigor, endured in all of the determining [literary] phenomena of the age (XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries) : in the commedia dell’arte […], in the comic novel and the literary travestissements of the XVIIth century, in the philosophical novels of Voltaire and Diderot (The Indiscreet Jewels, Jacques the Fatalist)”, 1970 : 43-44. 87 According to this criticism, the carnival post-Classicism is purely satirical and sterile in the sense that it destroys a new world more than it builds a new one, vid. ibid. : 20 et 30. 88 Vid. P. Hartmann, 2003 : 73. 89 1972 : 126-7 ; see also H. Cohen, 1985 : 233. 17
  18. 18. In Jacques the Fatalist, the master and his valet come upon a doctor and a peasant woman; as the doctor is dismounting from his horse, his companion loses her balance and falls to the ground, “one foot caught in the folds of her inner garment and her petticoat up over her head”90 ; this physical inversion is accompanied by other types of reversals, as in the passage in which the master waits by the bedside of the ailing Jacques, telling him when he wakes : “It is I who am [your servant] when you are unwell”91 . In Molière’s Dom Juan, Sganarelle, in the guise of a doctor, feels that he has gained in prestige and that he is able to contend with the seducer himself. As “new Sganarelles”, Mirzoza, Jean-François Rameau and Jacques the valet each orchestrate an inversion of values in order to serve their common aim: to upset the conservative convictions of the sultan, the Philosopher and the Master. In this respect, Diderot’s works espouse the logic of the carnival, or illogism, if we adhere to Michel Foucault’s designation92 , which consistently upends the system of philosophical values to the benefit of the new critical reason. In each of these instances, the grotesque and the carnavalesque highlight daring inventiveness, create associations between heterogeneous elements and challenge the dominant worldview of the time along with all conventions and commonly held truths; this, in the end, allows for a new vision of the universe and demonstrates the possibility of an entirely new world order93 . A clear line can be traced from the Jewels, the “template” for the entire corpus, to Jacques the Fatalist, part carnavalesque and part licentiousness, passing along the way through Rameau’s Nephew, which seems to be the summum of the carnavalesque in Diderot’s works 94 . IV. C. 4. Rousseau A strike-breaker was needed in order for this tableau to be complete. The critical reason of the Lumières may have dismantled ‘reasoning’ reason, but it never succeeds in shaking Rousseau’s attachment to Descartes. In a letter to Mme de Houdetot, Rousseau expresses his wholehearted support for Descartes’ conception of reason, which he describes as a “universal instrument”95 , using an expression borrowed from the Discourse on the Method. Elsewhere, Rousseau also aligns himself with Cartesian dualism: in Emile (1762) he imagines “a child born with the size and strength of manhood. […]; such a child-man would be a perfect idiot, an automaton, a statue without motion and almost 90 1973 : 38. 91 1973 : 106. And elsewhere, after Jacques’ rebellion: “the master ran to Jacques, and embraced him ; left Jacques to embrace the hostess ; and embracing them both, he said: ‘It is written on high that I shall never leave the side of this original, and that as long as I live he shall be my master and I his servant…’ ”, 1973 : 210-211. 92 He designates one of Diderot’s creations, Jean-François Rameau, as the signal of the end of the “great imprisonment” of madness operated by the Classical era, The History of Madness in the Classical Age, 1961. 93 Vid. M. Bakhtine, 1970 : 43-44. 94 H. Cohen, 1985 : 231-232. 95 Emile and Sophie, or the Solitary Ones, second letter : 1969, IV : 913. And Descartes : “…reason is a universal instrument which can serve for all contingencies”, Discourse on the Method, V, 1952: 59; French ed. : « …la raison est un instrument universel, qui peut servir en toutes sortes de rencontres » ; on the questioning “one time” in life of all of his knowledge, vid. Letter 2 of Rousseau’s Moral Letters, 1969, IV : 1087. Also worthy of note is the parallel established by Starobinski : “If [Rousseau’s] subjective intuition lacks the intellectual character of that of Descartes and Malebranche, it nonetheless resembles them in that it purports to lead to the universal”, 1971 : 58. 18
  19. 19. without feeling”96 . Rousseau’s child would, according to the interpretation of the philosopher of la Flèche, resemble a sort of machine 97 . Here we are not far from rationalist dualism: Moreover it is assumed that thought or, if you prefer it, feeling is a primitive quality inseparable from the substance to which it belongs, that its relation to the substance is like the relation between substance and size. Hence it is inferred that beings who lose one of these attributes lose the substance to which it belongs, and that death is, therefore, but a separation of substances98 . Jacques Voisine has correctly called attention to Rousseau’s having read the Discourse on the Method while writing the famous Profession of his Vicar99 ; it should also be noted that this Profession is at the heart of the third promenade of the Reveries of the Solitary Walker, in which Rousseau provides multiple iterations of the history of his philosophical and moral approach, in a manner with which the French philosopher would likely agree: I undertook to submit my inner itself to a severe examination which would regulate it for the rest of my life just as I wanted to find it at my death. […] Let me look for [philosophy] with all my strength while there is still time, so that I will have a set rule of conduct for the rest of my days100 . Less well versed in the sciences than Voltaire, Condillac and Diderot, Rousseau remains undecided as to how to proceed in their study. Thus, faced with the unintelligibility of physics, whose systems seem to him incompatible with philosophy101 , Rousseau remains skeptical regarding human capacity to “plumb the abyss of nature”. 96 Book I ;, trans. Barbara Foxley. French ed.: 1969, IV : 280. 97 Vid. 1969 : 1324, nt. 98 Book IV;, trans. B. Foxley. French ed.: « On conçoit d’ailleurs que la pensée, ou si l’on veut le sentiment, est une qualité primitive et inséparable de la substance à laquelle elle appartient, qu’il en est de même de l’êtendue par rapport à sa substance. D’où l’on conclud que les êtres qui perdent une de ces qualités perdent la substance à laquelle elle appartient, que par consequent la mort n’est qu’une séparation de substances », ibid. : 553. It is true that the Cartesian theory of animal-machines had become dated, according to Condillac, Treatise on Animals, I, I. D’Alembert dealt with the question in his article “Substantial Form” in the Encyclopedia ; no matter : in these limitations, the writer is looking for man’s need for a spontaneous perfecting of the organs according to the principle of negative education. 99 Vid. his ed., 1964 : 20. 100 Third Walk; &source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0 (1992), trans. Charles E. Butterworth, p. 31-32. French ed.: « J’entrepris de soumettre mon intérieur à un examen sévère qui le réglât pour le reste de ma vie tel que je voulais le trouver à ma mort. […] Cherchons [la philosophie] de toutes mes forces tandis qu’il est temps encore afin d’avoir une règle fixe de conduite pour le reste de mes jours », ibid. : 61-63. Nevertheless, J. Voisine points out that unlike that of Descartes, Rousseau’s fundamental principle could be summed up in the formula “I think, therefore I exist”, an expression whose existentialist turn “makes clear the ambition to work in the concrete”, ibid. : 20. 101 “I have never understood how a philosopher could seriously imagine a System of Physics; it seems to me ridiculous that the Cartesians wish to make sense of natural effects with their suppositions, and even more ridiculous that the Newtonians wish to take their suppositions to be facts: Let us be content to know what is, without trying to understand how things are, because this knowledge is not within our grasp”, Essay presented to Mr de M[ably] on the education of his son (1740). French ed.: « Je n’ai jamais pu concevoir comment un philosophe pouvoit imaginer sérieusement un Systême de Physique ; les Cartésiens me paroissent ridicules de vouloir rendre raison de tous les effets naturels par leurs 19
  20. 20. [I quote:] Let us leave such a puerile task to those children known as philosophers. After having gone round the tight circle of their vain knowledge, one must finish where Descartes had begun. I think, therefore I exist. This is all that we know102 . The hero of The New Heloise also embraces the pyrrhonian position; when Julie takes up the defense of Providence over supposed “general laws” that govern the world103 , Saint-Preux replies: Not wishing to enter into new arguments with you regarding the order of the universe […], I shall simply say to you that when it comes to questions that are so far above him, man can only judge things that he does not see based upon that which he does see, and that every analogy is for those general laws which you seem to reject104 . As we can see, the Swiss philosopher adheres to some extent to Cartesian rationalism, a fact which explains the consistency of the novel in the midst of natural incoherence: as Javier del Prado writes, Julie’s virtue, lost in the physical world, finally overcomes passion not in the best of all possible worlds, but in an ideal world created by rationalism105 , a universe comparable only to that of the Île de France where Virginie lived before setting out for civilization never to return. One recalls the watchword of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, a disciple of Rousseau: “I feel, therefore I exist”106 . V. CONCLUSION I arrive now at my conclusions. In my opinion (and herein lies the pedagogical benefit I spoke of at the beginning), there are two types of reason rather than just one: the metaphysical reason of the 17th century and the empirical reason of the 18th : the ‘reasoning reason’ of the philosophers is replaced by practical reason, whose most powerful weapon is Cartesian critique. suppositions, et les Neutoniens encore plus ridicules de donner leur suppositions pour des faits : Contentons-nous de savoir ce qui est, sans vouloir rechercher comment les choses sont, puisque cette connaissance n’est pas à notre portée », Mémoire présenté à Mr de M[ably] sur l’éducation de M. son fils, 1969, IV : 30. According to J.S. Spink (ed. B. Gagnebin and M. Raymond), Rousseau seems to echo the Abbot Pluche, 1969, IV : 1264-1265. In other places, the incredulity regarding scientific hypotheses is manifest: “Let Descartes tell us which law of physics makes his vortices spin; let Newton show us the hand that threw the planets onto the tangent of their orbits”, Emile, book IV. French ed.: « Que Descartes nous dise quelle loi physique a fait tourner ses tourbillons ; que Newton nous montre la main qui lança les planetes sur la tangente de leurs orbites », 1969, IV : 576. 102 Letter 3 of the Moral Letters. French ed.: « Laissons un si puerile travail à ces enfans qu’on appelle des philosophes. Après avoir parcouru le cercle étroit de leur vain savoir il faut finir par où Descartes avoit commencé. Je pense, donc j’existe. Voilà tout ce que nous savons », 1969, IV : 1099. 103 VI, VI ; 1967 : 512. 104 French ed.: « Sans vouloir entrer avec vous dans de nouvelles discussions sur l’ordre de l’univers […], je me contenterai de vous dire que, sur des questions si fort au-dessus de l’homme, il ne peut juger des choses qu’il ne voit pas, que par induction sur celles qu’il voit, et que toutes les analogies sont pour ces lois générales que vous semblez rejeter », VI, VII ; 1967 : 520. 105 Vid. 1994: 642 ; the same is true of the worlds of the Discourse…on the Inequality (1755) or of the Social Contract (1762). 106 “I substitute this argument for that of Descartes, as it seems to me simpler and more general: I feel, therefore I exist. It extends to all of our physical sensations, which inform us regarding our existence much more frequently than do our thoughts”, Studies of Nature. French ed.: « Je substitue à l’argument de Descartes celui-ci, qui me paraît plus simple et plus général : je sens, donc j’existe. Il s’étend à toutes nos sensations physiques, qui nous avertissent bien plus fréquemment de notre existence que la pensée », étude 12, 1825-26, t. V : 8. 20
  21. 21. The Lumières carry out a revolution in the domain of philosophy as well as in that of aesthetics. For them the philosophy that came before is a metaphysical one, that is to say an explanation that is imaginary and disjoined from reality. The role of new reason lies in the progressive canceling out of sterile metaphysics and in the scientific conquest of domains of the real that remain unknown. But this task can only be accomplished given a device capable of distinguishing illusion from reality. Paradoxically, the philosophers of the 18th century do not forge this tool themselves: rather, they borrow it from a 17th -century metaphysician whose metaphysics they consistently condemn. It is Descartes who provides them with their model, an a priori with which they will dismantle all systems beginning first with the Cartesian one itself. There is no change in terminology: just as one hundred years before, the philosophers speak of reason, metaphysics, science and taste. The meanings of these terms, however, undergo a powerful transformation. A shift is operated, away from a reason that knows itself toward a reason that knows the world; the new reason is no longer ‘reasoning’, but critical, and the new evidence is no longer immanent, but rather pragmatic: there is a movement outward, from the interior toward the exterior. Armed with Cartesian critical attitude (mainly the rejection of the principle of authority) and new reason, the Lumières are positioned to take advantage of the historicism of Bayle, the empiricism of Locke and the science of Newton; only in this way are they able to effect a transformation of mentalities and practices, to wage war on the preconceived ideas of earlier times, and to carry out the conquest, in the words of Delon and Malandin, of a new ideal of humanity107 . Yet philosophy alone is not sufficient for this difficult task: the edification of the Lumières is also dependent upon an aesthetics. Montesquieu, Voltaire and Diderot make use of fiction because they know that instruction comes to us via the senses: “Clarity is good for convincing; it is powerless to move us”108 . Contemptuous of the visions of the savants who came before them and holders of a more profound truth, the philosophers put all received ideas to the test in the crucible of sensation and pragmatism. Rameau’s nephew is pragmatic in morality as in economy, in education as in art; he is above all pragmatic in his search for happiness109 . Memnon, idealistic in his frenzied efforts to free himself from the entanglements of passion, becomes pragmatic at the end of his day of madness, when he swears to never again believe in metaphysical dreams. VI. BIBLIOGRAPHIE VI. A. TEXTS CONTI, « Lettre à Scipione Maffei » [1722 ?], in Lecoq, 2001 : 720-44. DESCARTES (1952), Discourse on the Method in Great Books of the Western World, Robert Maynard Hutchins, ed., Benton / Encyclopædia Britannica. ― (1953), Œuvres et lettres, ed. André Bridoux, Gallimard, « Pléiade ». ― (1996), Discours de la méthode, ed. Geneviève Rodis-Lewis, Garnier- Flammarion. ― (1998-1999), Principles of Philosophy, trans. George MacDonald Ross: 107 Vid. 1996 : 219. 108 Diderot. « La clarté est bonne pour convaincre ; elle ne vaut rien pour émouvoir », Œuvres, ed. Assézat, XI : 147 ; cit. M. Boixareu, 1987 : 151. 109 “And since I may make my happiness by these vices which are so natural to me…”. French ed.: « Et puisque je puis faire mon bonheur par des vices qui me sont naturels… », 1972 : 69. 21
  22. 22. cprinc.html DIDEROT (1951), Œuvres, ed. André Billy, Gallimard, « Pléiade » ― (1964), Œuvres philosophiques, ed. Paul Vernière, « Classiques Garnier ». ― (1972), Le Neveu de Rameau et autres dialogues philosophiques, ed. Jean Varloot, « Folio ». ― (1973), Jacques le Fataliste et son maître, ed. Yvon Belaval, Gallimard, « Folio ». ― (1994), Œuvres, ed. Laurent Versini, Robert Laffont, « Bouquins ». FONTENELLE, « Digression sur les Anciens et les Modernes » [1688], in Lecoq, 2001 : 294-313. LA METTRIE (1960), L’Homme machine, ed. Aram Vartanian, Princeton University Press. ― (2008, April 5th ). LECOQ, Anne-Marie, ed. (2001), La Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes. XVIIe- XVIIIe siècles, pref. Marc Fumaroli, Gallimard, « Folio ». LEIBNIZ (2004), Discours de métaphysique. Monadologie, ed. Michel Fichant, Gallimard, « Folio Essais ». MALEBRANCHE (1962), De la Recherche de la vérité, ed. Geneviève Rodis-Lewis, Vrin. MONTESQUIEU (1949), Œuvres complètes, ed. Roger Caillois, « Pléiade », t. I. — (1973), Lettres persanes, ed. Jean Starobinski, « Folio ». ROUSSEAU (1964), Rêveries du promeneur solitaire, ed. Jacques Voisine, Garnier- Flammarion. ― (1967), Julie ou la Nouvelle Héloïse, ed. Michel Launay, « Garnier- Flammarion ». ― (1969), Œuvres complètes, ed. Bernard Gagnebin & Marcel Raymond, « Pléiade », t. IV. ― (2008, April 5th )., trans. Barbara Foxley. ― (2008, April 5th ): olitary+Walker&source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0, trans. Charles E. Butterworth, 1992. SAINT-PIERRE, Bernardin de (1825-26), Œuvres complètes, new ed. L. Aimé- Martin, P. Dupont, 12 vol. VOLTAIRE (1961), Mélanges, ed. Jacques Van den Heuvel, « Pléiade ». — (1983), Candide ou l’optimisme. La Princesse de Babylone et autres contes, ed. Jacques Van den Heuvel, « Le Livre de Poche ». ― (1993), Zadig ou la destinée, ed. Xavier Darcos, Hachette. ― (2008, April 5th ). Candide: ― (2008, April 5th ). Philosophical Letters: VI. B. CRITICAL WORKS BAKHTINE, Mikhaïl (1970), L’Œuvre de François Rabelais et la culture populaire au Moyen Âge et sous la Renaissance, Gallimard. BEYSSADE, Michelle (1996), « Descartes », dans Gradus philosophique, Laurent Jaffro & Monique Labrune eds, Flammarion. BOIXAREU, Mercedes (1987), Novela y subversión. Estructuras narrativas en la novela francesa del siglo XVIII, U.N.E.D. — (1988), « Dialogue et procès narratif dans Les Bijoux indiscrets et La Religieuse », in Narrativa francesa en el s. XVIII, Alicia Yllera and Mercedes Boixareu eds., U.N.E.D. : 155-64. 22
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