How Descartes died

Quote from John Deely, Four Ages of Understanding: The First Postmodern Survey of Philosophy from Ancient Times to the Turn of the Twenty-First Century

p. 511-512 “The most famous adage of modern philosophy, perhaps of all philosophy, comes from Descartes: ‘Cogito ergo sum’, ‘I think therefore I am’. There is a tale told – I know not if it be true – that Descartes met his actual death, not in the count of Queen Christina of Sweden on 11 February 1650, of a cold that became pneumonia, as traditionally taught, but in a Paris restaurant. Celebrating with friends his escape from that court under the guise of death, he responded to waiter who asked if he would like coffee, ‘I don’t think …’, and before he could get the ‘so’ out of his mouth, he was gone.”

Aquinas and Evolution

p. 266 “Shortly before his dearth Aquinas tool ill and ceased to write. Hagiography reports that he was granted a vision, in the light of which he is reported to have said that his work now appears to him ‘as so much straw’. I have often wondered if the vision was not a revelation that the universe was not a cyclic but an evolutionary one, thus wrecking the image on which the plan of the work had been based; but of course the speculation is gratuitous.”

Aquinas and modern theology

p. 298-299 “”Aquinas’s metaphysics of esse is the foundation of his theology, insofar as theology is an edifice of contemplative reason expressed in discourse in the light of faith, as is clear from the very organization Aquinas gives to his Summa. But theology in Aquina’s sense no longer plays in today’s culture the role it did for so many centuries, in no small measure as a consequence of what he achieved. In a ‘religious studies’ department today, there would be no thought of displacing Lombard (that is, patristics). ‘Theology’ would be, at best, a co-ordinate study alongside scripture and patristics. More probably theology would be a subordinate study in many places considered dispensable, as in the lecture I attended by a Presbyterian who rhetorically challenged a largely Dominica audience in Chicago to explain how anyone could put as much trust in reason as Aquinas did and still expect to be saved. There is reason why Rahner, Schoonenberg, and others today respectfully differ from Aquinas as to the central subject matter of theology, and think that an anthropocentric theology would better fit the Christian mission today.”

Note p. 299 “Writing strictly as a philosopher, I think I have shown (Deely 1996) there are good grounds in Aquinas himself for such a change of focus. But Rahner hardly needs my assistance.”

Logic and Liberal Arts

p. 596-597 “In short, adoption of Locke’s proposal as the rationale for logic in the tradition of liberal arts, in place of the original Aristotelian rationale opposed to the Stoic conception, would bring about a reconciliation of the two proposals by suggestion that the foundation of logic as science ought be sought in logical relations as they occur within the structures of natural language, rather than in artificial languages parasitic upon or ‘metatheoretic’ to natural language.”

Secular Counterpart of Religious Intolerance

p. 192 “Nor should we forget the late-modern inverse secular counterpart of religious intolerance of freedom of the intellect such as we witnessed, for example, in the ill-fated experiment of the ‘Soviet Union’. There is not only the problem of faith seeking to dominate or suppress reason; there is also the problem of reason seeking to eliminate even legitimate possibilities of belief. The thought-control mentality can operate through secular institutions no less than through religious ones, and this ‘secular inversion’ of the mentality represents in the early twenty-first century a greater challenge to the delicate experiment of balancing or ‘separating’ church and state than does the religious original which inspired the Enlightenment experiment to begin with.”

Heritage of the Byzantium

p. 175-176 “A thousand years would pass before the civilization which had Constantinople for its imperial center would be vanquished by Islamic peoples. The theological and religious heritage of Byzantium at that point would pass to Russia and the other Slavic people. But in science and philosophy there was virtually nothing to pass. No addition to human knowledge in these areas independent of theology and religious belief accrued under Byzantium, or if it did, it has yet to come to light. No doubt the picture appears differently to those whose whole or main interest is in religion and theology. But even an investigator of such an orientation will find it necessary to take into account the harsh light which scholarship casts on the Greek civilization of Constantinople over the course of its history from the point of view of its political, philosophical, and scientific contributions to surviving civilizations.”

Scotus Erigena: Martyr to philosophy

p. 137 “There is a tale, alleged by William of Malmesbury (C. 1095/6-1143), that Scotus Erigena, ‘a man of clear understanding and amazing eloquence’, went to England in his later years, and there, at a monastery school, was stabbed to death with the iron pens of his students.”

p. 137 “The tale is rendered less credible by want of a motive. Whatever would provoke schoolboys to an attack so vicious? To what noble cause would it make the teacher a martyr? Perhaps Erigena tried to impose on his students his singular view that ‘no one enters heaven except through philosophy’, an effort that could, even today, inspire undergraduates to murder. Martyr to philosophy or not what is certain is that Scotus Erigena died around AD877, and that his name and work have become immortal in the annals of Neoplatonism.”

The Boundary of Time

“The present, then, as I am defining it here, is the exclusive preserve of the living. The boundary of time is then the separation of no longer living from the not yet dead, on the one side, and the further separation of the not yet dead from not yet living, on the other side. The already dead define the past. The not yet living define the future. The not yet dead define the present, the moment of our shared discourse.”