The Good Life in the Scientific Revolution: Descartes, Pascal, Leibniz, and the Cultivation of Virtue

By Matthew L. Jones | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
A Rhetorical History of Truth

Midway through his Treatise on Enthusiasm of 1654, Meric Casaubon trumpeted the dangers of mystical theology, a set of practices promising divine illumination that the “heathen Philosophers” had recommended as “the highest and most perfect way” to true knowledge. To recommend this path “to ordinary people, and to women especially, is to perswade them to madnesse; and to expose them to the illusions of the devil.” To teach that anyone might gain unmediated access to divine truths was to invite insanity and to perpetuate religious and political chaos. Conspiratorial powers were spreading this anarchy: “The use of this Theologie, doth most properly belong unto Jesuits,” who instruct people and monarchs alike in “this mysticall art.”

Casaubon turned next to a dangerous new fad: “Neither can I have any better opinion (in point of Sciences) of that Method, which of late years hath been proposed by some, and by many… gladly entertained.” In the guise of directing others, René Descartes had tried to enhance his reputation and to instill his beliefs as divine oracles. He had opened the floodgates to dangerous claims to knowledge: “I believe he saw much in the Mathematicks:… though I would not have any man rely on his demonstrations, concerning either the being of a God, or the Immortalitie of the Soul. But his abilities I question not: his Method, having so much affinity with this Mysticall Theologie, against which I think too much cannot be said, I could not passe it without some censure.” While Casaubon readily recognized the power of natural knowledge in aiding spiritual health, he feared the damage a single innovator such as Descartes might wreck: “I honour and admire a good Physician [natural philosopher] much more, who can (as God's instrument) by the knowledge of nature, bring a man to his right wits again: and I tremble… when I think that one Mad man is enough

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The Good Life in the Scientific Revolution: Descartes, Pascal, Leibniz, and the Cultivation of Virtue
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Abbreviations xv
  • A Note on Conventions xvii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Descartes 13
  • Chapter One - Geometry as Spiritual Exercise 15
  • Chapter Two - A Rhetorical History of Truth 55
  • Part II - Pascal 87
  • Chapter Three - Mathematical Liaisons 89
  • Chapter Four - The Anthropology of Disproportion 131
  • Part III - Leibniz 167
  • Chapter Five - Forms of Expression 169
  • Chapter Six - Seeing All at Once 229
  • Epilogue 267
  • Notes 271
  • Bibliography 329
  • Index 363
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