Illustrious Sir, -How pleasant your friendship is to me, you may
yourself judge, if your modesty will allow you to reflect on the
abundance of your own excellences. Indeed the thought of these
makes me seem not a little bold in entering into such a compact, the more
so when I consider that between friends all things, and especially
things spiritual, ought to be in common. However, this must lie at the
charge of your modesty and kindness rather than of myself. You
have been willing to lower yourself through the former and to fill me
with the abundance of the latter, till I am no longer afraid to
accept the close friendship, which you hold out to me, and which you deign
to ask of me in return; no effort on my part shall be
spared to render it lasting.
As for my mental endowments, such as they are, I would willingly
allow you to share them, even though I knew it would be to my own great
hindrance. But this is not meant as an excuse for denying to you
what you ask by the rights of friendship. I will therefore endeavour to
explain my opinions on the topics you touched on; though I scarcely
hope, unless your kindness intervene, that I shall thus draw the
bonds of our friendship closer.
I will then begin by speaking briefly of
God, Whom I define as a
Being consisting in infinite
whereof each is infinite or
supremely perfect after its kind. You must observe that by
I mean everything, which is conceived through itself and in itself,
so that the conception of it does not involve the conception of
anything else. For instance, extension is conceived through itself and in
itself, but motion is not. The latter is conceived through
something else, for the conception of it implies extension.
That the definition above given of
God is true appears from the
fact, that by God
we mean a Being supremely perfect and absolutely
That such a Being exists may easily be proved from
the definition; but as this is not the place for such proof, I will pass it
over. What I am bound here to prove, in order to satisfy the
first inquiry of my distinguished questioner, are the following consequences;
first that in the universe there cannot exist two
without their differing utterly in
essence; secondly that
substance cannot be
produced or created --existence
pertains to its actual
thirdly, that all substance must be
infinite or supremely perfect after
When these points have been demonstrated, my distinguished questioner
will readily perceive my drift, if he reflects at the same time on the
definition of God.
In order to prove them clearly and briefly, I can
think of nothing better than to submit them to the bar of your
judgment proved in the geometrical method. [N1] I therefore enclose
them separately and await your verdict upon them.
Again, you ask me what errors I detect in the Cartesian and Baconian
philosophies. It is not my custom to expose the errors of others,
nevertheless I will yield to your request. The first and the greatest
error is, that these philosophers have strayed so far from the
knowledge of the first cause and origin of all things; the second is,
that they did not know the true nature of the human mind; the third,
that they never grasped the true cause of error. The necessity for
correct knowledge on these three points can only be ignored by
persons completely devoid of learning and training.
That they have wandered astray from the knowledge of the first cause,
and of the human mind, may easily be gathered from the truth of the
three propositions given above; I therefore devote myself entirely
to the demonstration of the third error. Of Bacon I shall say very
little, for he speaks very confusedly on the point, and works out
scarcely any proofs: he simply narrates. In the first place he assumes,
that the human intellect is liable to err, not only through the
fallibility of the senses, but also solely through its own nature, and that
it frames its conceptions in accordance with the analogy of its own
nature, not with the analogy of the universe, so that it is like a
mirror receiving rays from external objects unequally, and mingling
its own nature with the nature of things, &c.
Secondly, that the human intellect is, by reason of its own nature,
prone to abstractions; such things as are in flux it feigns to be
Thirdly, that the human intellect continually augments, and is unable
to come to a stand or to rest content. The other causes which he
assigns may all be reduced to the one Cartesian principle, that the
human will is free and
more extensive than the intellect, or, as
Verulam himself more confusedly puts it, that "the understanding is
not a dry light, but receives infusion from the will."
[N2] (We may here observe that Verulam often employs "intellect"
as synonymous with mind, differing in this respect from Descartes).
This cause, then, leaving aside the others as unimportant, I shall
show to be false; indeed its falsity would be evident to its supporters,
if they would consider, that
will in general differs from this or
that particular volition in the same way as whiteness differs from this
or that white object, or humanity from this or that man. It is,
therefore, as impossible to conceive, that
will is the cause of a given
volition, as to conceive that humanity is the cause of Peter and Paul.
Hence, as will
is merely an entity of the
reason, and cannot be called
the cause of particular volitions, and as some cause is needed for
the existence of such volitions, these latter cannot be called
but are necessarily such as they are determined by their causes;
lastly, according to Descartes, errors are themselves particular
volitions; hence it necessarily follows that errors, or, in other words,
particular volitions, are not
free, but are determined by external
causes, and in nowise by the will. This is what I undertook to prove.
[Note N1]: The allusion is to Ethics I., Beginning->Prop. 4.
[Note N2]: Bacon, Nov. Org. I. Aph. 49.