What God Has Joined

Seventeenth-century French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) believed that God moderates reason.  That is to say, faith prevents man from falling deeply into error.  Yet the writing of this brilliant man of faith—in particular, his Discourse on Method (1637)—has encouraged a separation of faith and reason that has tended to divide human beings from the very God on Whose protection they depend.  It has also separated us from our fellow man, and, in a very real sense, created a certain psychological division within ourselves that is characteristic of modern life.  Russell Shorto, a writer for the New York Times, realizes that faith and reason are both essential components of healthy human existence.  In Descartes’ Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason, he takes on the challenging task of reversing this Cartesian dualism.

The motif that runs throughout the book is that of the relocation of the philosopher’s mortal remains.  Shorto uses this peregrination to demonstrate the effect of Descartes’ thoughts throughout the centuries.  It is most effective in showing how his famous “Cogito, ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”) effectively moved the traditional locus of reality and truth from outside of man (that is, from the transcendent Other), to within man himself.  Shorto relates how this new...

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