Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Rev. Joseph Glanvill (1636-1680) on the Cartesian way to happiness

     "We expect greater things from Neoterick [than Peripatetic] endeavours.  The Cartesian Philosophy in this regard hath shewn the World the way to be happy.  And me thinks this Age seems resolved to bequeath posterity somewhat to remember it:  The glorious Undertakers, wherewith Heaven hath blest our dayes, will leave the world better provided than they found it.  And whereas in former times such generous free-spirited Worthies were as the Rare newly observed Stars, a single one the wonder of an Age:  In ours they are like the lights of the greater size that twinkle in the Starry Firmament:  And this last Century can glory in numerous constellations.  Should those Heroes go on‘ as they have happily begun, they’ll fill the world with wonders.  And I doubt not but posterity will find many things, that are now but Rumors, verified into practical Realities.  It may be some Ages hence, a voyage to the Southern unknown Tracts, yea possibly the Moon, will not be more strange then one to America.  To them, that come after us, it may be as ordinary to buy a pair of wings to fly into remotest Regions; as now a pair of Boots to ride a Journey.  And to confer at the distance of the Indies by Sympathetick conveyances, may be as usual to future times, as to us in a litterary correspondence.  The restauration of gray hairs to Juvenility, and renewing the exhausted marrow, may at length be effected without a miracle:  And the turning of the now comparative desert world into a Paradise, may not improbably be expected from late Agriculture.
     "Now those, that judge by the narrowness of former Principles and Successes, will smile at these Paradoxical expectations:  But questionless those great Inventions, that have in these later Ages altered the face of all things; in their naked proposals, and meer suppositions, were to former times as ridiculous.  To have talk’d of a new Earth to have been discovered, had been a Romance to Antiquity:  And to sayl without sight of Stars or shoars by the guidance of a Mineral, a story more absurd then the flight of Dædalus.  That men should speak after their tongues were ashes, or communicate with each other in differing Hemisphears, before the Invention of Letters; could not but have been thought a fiction.  Antiquity would not have believed the almost incredible force of our Canons; and would as coldly have entertain’d the wonders of the Telescope.  In these we all condemn antique incredulity; and ‘tis likely Posterity will have as much cause to pitty ours.  But yet notwithstanding this straightness of shallow observers, there are a set of enlarged souls that are more judiciously credulous:  and those, who are acquainted with the fecundity of Cartesian Principles, and the diligent and ingenuous endeavors of so many true Philosophers; will despair of nothing."

     Joseph Glanvill, Scepsis scientifica:  or, confest ignorance, the way to science . .. (London:  E. Cotes, for Henry Eversden, 1665), chap. 21, pp. 134-135.  I was put onto this by David Wootten, The invention of science:  a new history of the scientific revolution (New York:  Harper, 2015).  According to William E. Burns in the ODNB, however, Glanville was more anti-Aristotelian than pro-Cartesian, for "Scepsis scientifica was shorn of much of the praise of Descartes [present in The vanity of dogmatizing (1661), of which the Scepsis was basically a rehashing], as, probably under More's influence, Glanvill had become disenchanted with Cartesian mechanical reductionism as materialistic."  Indeed, "Opponents of witchcraft belief who denied the reality of demons and their effects on the world, [Glanvill] held, were contributing to the menace of atheistic materialism."

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