Monday, August 29, 2011

Descartes's Philosophy: "Made in Bavaria"

Over the last few days, I have been putting the finishing touches on a paper on what I call "Cartesian egalitarianism," which discusses the work of Descartes, Poullain de la Barre, Beauvoir, and Rancière. As you can imagine, getting the connections between these four into focus has been fairly time-consuming, especially the effort of keeping the paper right near the upper limits of the word count (9000 words, if you're curious). Which is why I haven't been posting much. 

At some point, while reading and writing about Descartes, I had the vague recollection that Schelling had made an odd 'nationalist in an imagined communities kind of way' comment about Descartes in his On the History of Modern Philosophy. These kind of comments are usually associated with Hegel, but Schelling was not inoculated against them. Turning to page 45, we discover that Descartes's philosophy was "made in Bavaria" (note that it also ends with a reference to Spinoza):
A special peculiarity lies for us in the fact that this beginning of completely free philosophy was, to all appearances, made in Bavaria, that, therefore, the foundation of modern philosophy was laid here. Descartes had, as he says himself in his essay De Methodo, which I take this opportunity to recommend to everyone as a splendid exercise, come to Germany in order to see the beginning of the Thirty Years' War; he had been present under Maximilian I at the battle on the white mountain and the capture of Prague, where, though, he primarily only made inquiries about Tycho Brahe and his unpublished work. In 1619, when he returned to the camp from Frankfurt, from the coronation of Ferdinand II, he had his winter quarters in a place on the Bavarian border, where he, as he says, found no one with whom he would have liked to converse, and there he conceived (aged twenty-three) the first ideas of his philosophy, which he, however, published much later. In the same way as Descartes began to philosophise in Bavaria, he later found in Princess Elisabeth, daughter of the unfortunate Elector of the Palatinate, Karl Friedrich, the so-called Winter King, a great and devoted admirer, just as it was later again a prince from the house of the Palatinate who became Spinoza's protector.
The irony of these kinds of statements is that they provide ample evidence for Marx's sarcastic remark that "we Germans have experienced our future history in thought, in philosophy. We are philosophical contemporaries without being historical ones. German philosophy is the ideal prolongation of German history."

1 comment:

Jason R. B. Smith said...

Your writing on this topic read as poetry.