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By Frederick Charles Copleston

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Additional resources for A History of Philosophy [Vol IV]

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This is the phenomenal world, not in the sense that it is mere illusion, but in the sense that it presupposes the operation of those subjective conditions of experience which determine the ways in which things appear to us. On the other hand there is the supersensuous world of the free human spirit and of God. According to Kant, we cannot give any strict theoretical proof that there is such a supersensuous world. At the same time we have no adequate reason for asserting that the material world, governed by mechanical causality, is the only world.

If, therefore, he set himself systematically to doubt all that could possibly be doubted as a preliminary to the establishment of certain knowledge, he did not assume from the outset that none of the propositions which he doubted would turn out later to be certainly true. 'I argued to myself that there was no plausibility in the claim of any private individual to reform a State by altering everything and by overturning it throughout, in order to set it right again. Nor, again, is it probable that the whole body of the sciences, or the order of teaching established by the Schools, should be reformed.

But he never elaborated a systematic moral science in accordance with his plan; and his name is associated with an idea of method and with metaphysics rather than with ethics. Now, it is undeniable that in one sense at least Descartes consciously and deliberately broke with the past. First of all he was determined to start again from the beginning, as it were, without trusting to the authority of any previous philosophy. He charged the Aristotelians not only with relying on Aristotle's authority but also with failing to understand him properly and with pretending to find in his writings solutions to problems 'of which he says nothing and of which he possibly had not thought at all'.

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