Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

sens. vet. et o

BOOK should create mere extension in the world, and that out

of that all the bodies in the universe are framed ? Nay, upon Des Cartes's principles it is impossible that matter should either be created or annihilated; for, according to him, the idea of matter and extension are the same. But he saith positively, That the idea of extension and space are the same; therefore if space can neither be created nor annihilated, neither can matter. And it seemed strange to me, that a person so sagacious should not lay these things better together; but his mathematical notions ran so much in his mind, that his endeavour to accommodate them to the nature

of things, was that which led him into such inextricable De Con. difficulties. It is well observed by Mons. Du Hamel,

that the great mistakes in natural philosophy have Philosoph. risen from men's applying their former notions to it.

Thus, saith he, the common philosophers confounded natural things with metaphysical speculations. On the other side, Des Cartes, being a great mathematician, endeavoured to reduce nature to geometry, and so considered nothing in body but extension. Extension, saith he, which constitutes space, is the same which constitutes bodies; but we consider it more particularly in bodies and more generally in space, which is not changed, as the other is. But is there then nothing to make a body but mere extension ? I mean not a mathematical, but a real physical body. No, saith he, in the idea of a body we may cast off other qualities; as hardness, colour, gravity, heat and cold, and yet a body remains; to which then nothing belongs but extension, which is common to body and space. This is not so deep reasoning as might have been expected from so great a master of it. For although the particular qualities may be cast off, yet the capacity of them can no more than extension; as is plain in figure and size,

1. 8.

Part. ii. n. 10.

N. 11.

II.

as well as hardness, &c. any one particular figure and chap. size may be abstracted from body; but it is impossible_" to conceive a body, but it must be capable of one or other. Besides, all this proves no more but that extension is the inseparable property of body. And what then? Must the whole essence of a body consist in one inseparable property? But this is all the idea we have of body. Then, I say, our ideas of things are short and imperfect, and there is no forming worlds upon such ideas. And this was the fundamental mistake of Des Cartes. He lays this down as his ground of certainty; or that we cannot take falsehood for Princip. truth, if we only give assent to such things as we P. i. n. 43. clearly and distinctly perceive. Then he goes on, That the things which fall under our perception are N. 48. either things and their properties, or eternal truths. Of things, the most general are substance, duration, order, number, and such like, which extend to all kinds of things. And he saith, They may all be comprehended under those two: Of intellectual or thinking substances; or of material, i. e. of bodily and extended substances. Thus far all is clear and distinct. Then as to the notion of substance, he saith, By that we can N. 51. understand nothing but a thing which so exists, as to need nothing else to support it. There is but one substance in the world which needs no support, and that is God. All created substances need his support; N. 52. and the notion of them is, that they are things which only stand in need of God's concourse to support them. Hitherto we find nothing to stick at. But how come we to have an idea of created substances ? Not from the bare existence, for that doth not affect us: but it must be from some properties, attributes, or qualities; because nothing can be attributed to nothing. From whence we conclude from any real attribute, that there

BOOK must be a thing or substance to which it belongs. All

this appears very well still; only we must take notice,
that all properties do assure us of a real substance un-
der them: which is very true, relating to physical bo-
dies. But it is possible he may from hence aim at
proving, that there must be a corporeal substance in
imaginary space, because there is an extension there,
and nothing cannot be attributed to nothing; therefore
there must be a real body there. But I think it may
be truly answered, that the extension is no more real
than the space is, and implies no more but a capacity
of having bodies which it had not; that is, that God
might create bodies beyond this world; and if he did
so, then there would be a real extension : but as we
conceive it, the imaginary space is no more but a pos-
sibility for bodies existing out of the compass of this
universe. And therefore I deny this to be any real ex-
tension, and that it can be no real substance, because
Des Cartes himself, but just before, owned that a creat-
ed substance was that which stood in need of God to
support it. Now is it possible to imagine that space
needs a Divine concourse? Therefore he must dis-
tinguish it from substance, or else he must affirm it to
be an uncreated substance; which overthrows his dis-
tinction here between created and uncreated sub-
stances. As to his maxim, that nothing can have no
properties, it certainly relates to substance, and not to
a mere space; which, by the common sense of mankind,
must be distinguished from bodily substance; and
there can be no greater prejudice to philosophy than to
go against that. Now let us proceed. From every
attribute a substance is known ; but there is one chief
property which constitutes the essence and nature, to
which the rest are referred. So, saith he, extension
makes the nature of a corporeal substance, and cogi-,

N. 53.

II.

tation of a thinking substance. For every thing which CHAP. we attribute to body supposes extension, which is only. the mode of the thing extended; as all things attributed to our minds are different modes of thinking. And thus we come to two clear and distinct notions or N. 54. ideas ; one of a thinking substance, and the other of a corporeal; if we distinguish between the attributes of . thinking and extension. After this he saith, That co- N. 63 gitation and extension may be considered as constituting the natures of a thinking and corporeal substance; and so their clear ideas are, a substance which thinks, and a substance which is extended : but then these properties, he saith, may be considered likewise only as modes belonging to those substances ; and N. 64. so they make a distinct idea of themselves, not without the substances, but as modes belonging to them.

Thus I have carefully laid down his own notions about these matters. And now arises the main difficulty, viz. how, upon these grounds, the idea of space and of corporeal substance, should be the same ? All Part. ii.

w n.9. that I can find is, that extension is really corporeal na-* ture, although it be called an accident. But did not himself distinguish it as a mode of matter, and as a substance extended? And was not this looked on as such a property of matter, as thinking is of a mind ? But can any man say that thinking by itself is an intellectual substance ? How then can extension by itself be a corporeal substance ? And yet if it be not, as I can see no reason from his own grounds why it should be, then his supposition of the infiniteness of matter, of the plenarty of the world, and the circular motion of his particles of matter, on which his whole hypothesis depends, comes to nothing. And what a strange foundation is Des Cartes's world built upon ? I could hardly believe that so thinking a man should not discern the

BOOK weakness of his own grounds : but instead of that, it 1. is plain that he laid great weight upon it; for when a

learned man of our own, and then a great admirer of Epist. Des him, objected to him, that he extended the notion of i. Ep. 87.. corporeal matter too far, but he thought it of no great

consequence to the main of his principles, Des Cartes Ep. 88.

takes him up smartly for it; for he saith, he looked on it as one of the chief and most certain principles of his philosophy. And in the fragment of his last answer,

which he lived not to finish, he persisted in his opinion, Ep. 93. That the empty space was a real body, because nothing

can have no properties. But there is a difference between real properties and imaginary: if there be any bodies in that space, there will be extension, distance, &c. but it is a very unconceivable thing that one of his judgment should so much contend to the last, That there was a difference of parts in such a space, where there was nothing but space; i. e. that there must be

something where there is nothing. And therefore Bernier Bernier observes, That those who confound space and Abrégé de Gassend. body, run themselves into strange absurdities, by a

corporeal substance to fill all possible space, or rather to be space itself; and that God cannot annihilate the least part of it. And he concludes it to be neither

substance nor accident, but a mere capacity. And it H. Mori.. was not an improbable conjecture of that learned perOper. Phil. tom. ii. p. son who wrote to Des Cartes upon this argument, that 242.

this doctrine of his, as he explained it, Jaid the foundation of Spinoza's opinion of the infinite extent and power of matter : but I cannot think that Des Cartes himself intended it so, however the other understood it. And it is great pity one of so clear a capacity in other things, should so stiffly adhere to so unreasonable an opinion. And yet we find his disciples go on to defend him in this matter. For when Mons. Huet had ob

to

« PreviousContinue »