- Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Summa quadripartita that Descartes Never Wrote
Roger Ariew's new book, Descartes and the First Cartesians (hereafter DFC and Ariew 2014), will not be a methodological surprise for those who already read his previous work, Descartes and the Last Scholastics (Ariew 1999), as well as its expanded version, Descartes Among the Scholastics (hereafter DAS and Ariew 2011). Right at the beginning of DAS, Ariew justified the title of this book in the following way:
A philosophical system cannot be studied adequately apart from the intellectual context in which it is situated. Philosophers do not usually utter propositions in a vacuum, but accept, modify or reject doctrines whose meaning and significance are given in a particular culture. Thus Cartesian philosophy should be regarded [...] as a reaction against, as well as an indebtedness to, the scholastic philosophy that still dominated the intellectual climate.(Ariew 2011, p. 1)
Ariew added that it is not sufficient for the historian to compare Descartes' doctrines with the Aristotelian doctrines; rather, she should "grasp the reasons behind the various opinions" and "beyond that [...] understand the intellectual milieu in which these reasons played a role" (Ariew 2011, p. 1). In DFC, Ariew expresses again the same methodological commitment: "we should not approach Descartes as a solitary, virtually autistic thinker, but as a philosopher who constructs a dialogue with his contemporaries, so as to engage them and various elements of his society in his philosophical enterprise" (Ariew 2014, p. ix). [End Page 563]
To approach Descartes' contemporaries not only in so far as they could have been intellectual sources of his thought, but as his peers and colleagues with whom it was not only possible, but also inevitable, that he engaged with in intellectual discussions has wide consequences. Minores—those "mostly unknown, bizarre-sounding scholastics and Cartesians" (Ariew 2014, p. vi)—are to be studied for their own sake. The historian has to read the heavy repetitive volumes that they wrote, or rather, reading these books, she learns to see differences where she previously saw only boring repetitions of one and the same doctrine. Ariew was one of the first scholars to insist on the differences between Scotism and Thomism during the early modern period, and DFC presents new arguments to support the thesis that, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, French, or at least Parisian, scholastics were more Scotist than we had been used to thinking since Étienne Gilson first published his Index scolastico-cartésien in 1913 (Ariew 2011, p. 45; Ariew 2014, pp. 4–13, 15–7).
But DFC not only revisits interesting stuff, it also presents new material and does so in a new way. To put it bluntly, there are at least two novelties in DFC. First, it takes into account not only scholastics, but, as the very title of the book indicates, the "First Cartesians": Ariew's heroes here are Jacques Du Roure, Antoine Le Grand, and Pierre-Sylvain Régis. At this point, however, one might object that, even without taking into account luminaries such as Spinoza, Huygens, or Leibniz, who were too singular to be merely categorized as Cartesians, there were other Cartesians around in the second half of the seventeenth century. "Cartesian" was in this period an actor's category: Géraud de Cordemoy, Jacques Rohault, Nicolas Poisson, Louis de la Forge, Jean-Baptiste Denis, or Bernard Lamy were obviously identified as Cartesians both by Cartesians themselves and by their scholastic enemies. Ariew does discuss them occasionally. Still, although they were among the first Cartesians from a chronological point of view, they are not at the center of Ariew's story in the same way as the triumvirate of Jacques Du Roure, Antoine Le Grand, and Pierre-Sylvain Régis is.
And this is because of the second novelty of DFC, which amounts to highlighting the idea that philosophy should be presented in textbooks, that is, as summae quadripartitae. Because of this idea, Ariew applies the category "First Cartesians" not so much to the Cartesians who were the first to follow Descartes' doctrine from a chronological point of view, as to those who were the first to carry out...