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  • Scholastic Logic and Cartesian Logic
  • Lucian Petrescu

1. Introduction

As Roger Ariew shows, one of the most fascinating challenges for the authors trying to create a Cartesian complete course on philosophy was coming up with a Cartesian Logic based on the existing texts of the master (Ariew 2014). Were the few simple rules from the Discourse on Method the "logic" of Descartes? Were the Rules for the Direction of the Mind "logic"? How can we even have a logic without syllogism? When looking at the authors studied by Ariew one finds that the best that they could come up was adding some Cartesian elements on what remains basically a traditional Aristotelian Logic. It seems that there was no Cartesian Logic after all.

I want to show here that Cartesian Logic is something else, not exactly "Logic" in the way that was taught in the first year of college, but something meant to replace Aristotelian Logic once we have done away with syllogism. A treatise such as the Rules for the Direction of the Mind belongs to a new genre, one that comes out of the transformation of Aristotelian Logic in the early seventeenth century. I call this genre the "Art of discourse." In the Cartesian corpus the most complete incarnation of this genre is to be found in the (incomplete) Regulae; the preface written for the Essays of 1637, the Discourse on Method, while containing some elements of the art of discourse such as the famous "rules," remains a preface and not a systematic treatise.

While the textual sources of Descartes's Regulae and its relationship with antique or Renaissance authors have been well scrutinized by Cartesian scholarship, its immediate context, which is that of the early seventeenth-century treatises of Logic, is not well known. This is understandable because the topic itself is very difficult: what Renaissance Logic and early seventeenth-century Logic is remains hard to master, in spite of some eminent [End Page 533] research done by Renaissance scholars ever since Die Logik der Neuzeit of Wilhelm Risse (Vasoli 1968, Jardine 1974, Gilbert 1960, and others)1. However, this is a project that needs to be done if we want to understand the motivations of Descartes's text—that is, not so much the tradition on which he draws and in which we are to place the Regulae, but rather the tradition against which it reacts. Marion's edition and early work on the Regulae remains the only extensive study on the Aristotelian sources of the text (Marion 1975; Marion and Armogathe 1977; Marion 1978). Marion looked at the Regulae as a direct confrontation with Aristotle, which, as necessary as it is, may give the impression that Descartes was arguing directly against Aristotle, bracketing the entire Aristotelian tradition. The only extensive study on the immediate context of the Regulae is that of André Robinet, which traces, as he puts it, an axis, understood as a continuity of thinking, between Pierre de la Ramée and Descartes, and inscribes Descartes in the Ramist current that traverses the Northern half of Europe in the sixteenth century (Robinet 2000).2 This reconstruction definitely has its merits and one can certainly recognize elements of "Ramism" in the Regulae if one is set to look for them. The conceptual language of the Regulae, terms such as ingenium, invention, deduction, mathesis universalis, and method, lead directly to the Ramist vocabulary.

However, one should be careful when presenting Descartes as a representative of something, in the continuity of something, or on a certain "axis," because he always presented himself in opposition with everyone. Descartes has constantly criticized "the dialecticians" and his adversaries are not only the Aristotelians that he later thought to replace, but also some of the moderns. Anti-Aristotelians such as Pierre de la Ramée are rather to be seen as rivals of Descartes, as figures that he would be susceptible to oppose as much as he opposed the Aristotelians. Descartes would not have seen himself as another Ramus, but as a new Ramus.

What counted as Logic for Descartes was foremost the Jesuit Logic that was taught in schools such as the Collège de La Flèche. My purpose...


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