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  • Print publication year: 1998
  • Online publication date: August 2010

9 - Conclusion

Summary

Having explained, as far as in me lies, Descartes' presentation of Augustinian metaphysics and his derivation of the foundations of his physics, I would like to add some reflections on the questions that were my initial point of departure.

Part of my purpose was to answer Gilson's denial of an “augustinisme de Descartes.” It has become clear that there is such an Augustinianism, although it is Augustinianism of a peculiarly seventeenth-century variety: it is an attempt to develop from Augustinian principles a complete philosophy to replace that of Aristotle. Descartes applies Augustine's theodicy to construct rules of scientific method; he applies Augustine's concept of God as the source of mathematical regularity to derive the principles of a mechanical physics. But there remains a sense of mystery here, a feeling which perhaps underlay the negative judgments of Gilson and other scholars discussed in Chapter 1, and which no amount of historical work will dissipate entirely. To put the question baldly: how did it happen that an ancient Christian saint produced a metaphysics that could later serve this modern scientific function? I will try to address this lingering sense of mystery in what follows.

What Descartes took from Augustine was not, fundamentally, a set of metaphysical theses, but a discipline for approaching wisdom (the focus of our study of Augustine in Part One), and therefore also the series of intellectual intuitions produced by this discipline.