Polemics & Exchanges

On the Via Descartes

I enjoyed Thomas Fleming’s article in praise of Aristotle (“Back to Reality,” Perspective, September).  The best way to introduce our children to philosophy is to teach them Aristotle’s proof for the existence of God and his proof for human immortality, with some embellishment and clarification from the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, then to bring out the timeless freshness of the essential ideas in modern prose.  Let that foundation be firmly laid in a young mind, and it will naturally mature and deepen, nor will the pseudo-urbanity of contemporary philosophy shake it.  On that foundation, life can be successfully and meaningfully lived in this world.

But then, out of the blue, Dr. Fleming says at the end of his essay, “The road that leads from Descartes to Locke to Mill to Marx is the road to the madhouse.”  How is it that all such philosophical evils are traced to René Descartes?

For some years, it has been fashionable in some Catholic circles to blame Descartes for such excess emphasis on doubt and reason that faith in the invisible becomes impossible and the mystery of life can never be felt in wonderment.  Such faith and wonderment are the essence of the Catholic view of life—that I grant.  But Descartes, it is said, is the father of “modern”...

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