In his Fallen Nature, Fallen Selves: Early Modern French Thought II (v. 2) (p. 43-4), Michael Moriarty observes that Descartes limited the scope of mechanistic philosophy. For Descartes, mechanical explanations offer “a new theory of how the passions work” but in contrast to Hobbes “he does not attempt to rethink ethics altogether in terms of the mechanistic philosophy. The mechanistic perspective is alone valid within physics, but it cannot be generalized beyond that context.”
Thus, from one angle, we can consider an injury in mechanistic terms “as the result of bodies moving in blind acquiescence to the laws of motion,” but he still retains “another perspective” by which “we should consider it as expressly visited on us by God.”
These perspectives are “not reconcilable to our finite minds, but each is valid in its sphere.” Ethics is “a branch issuing from the trunk of physics,” but “this does not mean that ethical perspectives are wholly subordinated to those of physics.” There are no final causes in nature, since it was not created for us, but “when he discusses these questions, Descartes tends to draw a distinction between the scientific and moral perspective.”
Thus, “in Ethicis,” he argues, “it is a good and pious thought . . . to think that God has made all for our sake. . . . This encourages us to love God and feel grateful to him; what is more, it is true so far as there is nothing we cannot make use of, since to consider it affords exercise for the mind and gives us a reason to praise God.” In a letter, “he admits that we can say that all things were created for God’s glory: this is true in ethics, and in relation to the human species, since we are all bound to praise God for his works.”
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at 12:55 pm
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