DESCARTES AND THE HORIZON OF FINITUDE JEAN-LUC MARION, (SORBONNE

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Comment [CSV1]: This uses a non-standard parenthetical citation style for the AT trans of Descartes. Uses French quotation marks. Lacking full references Some of the footnotes are in French.

Finitude in Question
The last words of the Meditationes de prima Philosophia shall serve as our point of departure: ³« we must confess that the life of man is apt to commit errors regarding particular things, and we must acknowledge the infirmity of our nature´ 1 (AT 7:90, 15-16). The second last words of the Principia Philosophiae had also concurred: ³At the same time, recalling my insignificance, I affirm nothing«´2 (IV, §207, VIII-1, 329, 8-9). Do these consist of merely anecdotal protestations, indeed diplomatic, and of an entirely conventional modesty? On the contrary, we shall attempt to demonstrate that, beneath an appearance of rhetoric, Descartes here marks the final point of his slow conquest of a thought of finitude. Here we understand not a thought of finitude within the Cartesian philosophy, but rather of the finitude of the Cartesian philosophy itself. For, at least this shall be our hypothesis, philosophy consists, for Descartes, in more than a theory of science and of objecticity, it consists in more than a transcendental doctrine of the ego, indeed it consists only in the constitution of an onto-theo-logy, a test of finitude. And, by this decision that opposes him in advance to all his successors until Kant (not included), he anticipates at least one of the essential characteristics of contemporary philosophy. This conquest was not, however, either direct or easy. We shall attempt to reconstruct it by opposing two seemingly different experiences of finitude: one in the epistemological theory of the object constructed by the Regulae of 1627, and the other in the doctrine of the infinite discovered by the Meditationes of 1641.

Limits Without Limits (1627)
It seems not insignificant that the Regulae never employs the term finitus. In one sense, the finitude of the human spirit appears dismissed right from the start. In effect, when Regula I introduces, against the Aristotelian division of the sciences based on their respective disciplines, and therefore against their irreducible plurality, the central thesis of their unity through a common

4 therefore it does not vary. and certainly not when he proposes a paradox. however. although it receives no external limitation by dint of its objects.²Regula VIII undertakes to explicate when and where one must ³stop. which constructs series. and therefore do not limit it either²the unity of ³human knowing´ also makes a ³« universali[s] Sapientia´ (360. raises a serious difficulty. these last cannot themselves modify science. And the unity of the method. this assertion does not seem to clear up the problem and seems even to introduce a contradiction: ingenia would be free of all limits and nevertheless we should feel²and this easily²the limits of our own ingenium. which always remains one and the same. In a nutshell. or change. however different the subjects to which it is applied´3 (X. it is in fact quite easy to discover the . irrespective of its diverse objects. after Regulae I-VII have given the first outline of the method and of the Mathesis universalis ± the theory of order. just because it employs and emanates from the originary limitlessness of the bona mens. the subversion of the Aristotelian categories. because science always deploys the same operations. quod in nobis ipsis sentimus. 360. 7). What¶s more. But a great philosopher never contradicts himself. 9). the institution of the series from the bases of epistemologically absolute terms in order to deduct knowledge of relative terms. 19-20). 12)²the minds of men receive no limitation. irrespective of their objects of application. and its consequent epistemological non-finitude. in order to hear in it the first Cartesian acceptance of finitude²finitude in the theories of objecticity and of knowing. sistere´ (392. etc. does not produce a similar limitlessness. Why do ingenii limites appear? Precisely because the ingenium remains always one and the same in all of the sciences. which means that they can apply the same ³knowing´ to any discipline. In effect. The employment of this infinitude. it submits itself to an at least double internal limitation: it can only know that which falls under the jurisdiction of the two ³« acts of our intellect´ 6 (368. and yet. It is this paradox that we shall here try to understand. immediately upon establishing that ³« there is no need to impose any boundaries upon the mind²ullis limites cohibere´? An obvious answer immediately arises: because it is not an ³« arduous or difficult [thing] to determine the limits of the mind. 11=400. perception or intuitus and deduction. for. and it follows that it must have an absence of limits: ³«there is no need to impose any boundaries upon the mind´ 5 (360. ingenii limites cohibere´ (398. insofar as they are all formally and structurally identical. And yet why now must we stop. which ends with the Mathesis universalis. 8-9)²it suggests at the same time what we could name a consequence of infinitude: because human wisdom does not differentiate itself based on its objects any more than does the light of the sun based on that which it illuminates. 11-12).Descartes and the Horizon of Finitude 205 source²³« human intelligence. which we feel within ourselves²ejus.

the most simple natures. but if it is not reducible. duration. we can attain to a true intuitus mentis (395. sistere´ where ³«our intellect is unable to intuit sufficiently well. principally the ³material´ ones (extension. satis intueri´ (392. this placing into series does not depend upon ontical determinations (the categories of being according to Aristotle). in fact to mathematics applied to optics. and thus if it is not. either it arises from the domain of consciousness (experience in the Kantian sense) or it does not. movement. Thus. for example. which is matter not for mathematics²sole domain of pure intuition ±but rather for physics. etc. what is more. let us consider the second operation of the intellect. All questions have limits. as the changes to an irreducible ³way´. by right. but follows rather from the naturae simplicissimae. shape. in the field of physics. privileged.206 Chapter Eleven questions which reveal themselves to these two functions: (a) The title of Regula VIII announces right away that it is necessary to ³« stop. unity. However. by means of the enumeration [«] it cannot be circumscribed within definite limits and arranged under a certain number of headings´8 (398. but. whatever the case with this precise question. And yet does this second limitation attest to a finitude? Precisely. no: it opens on the other hand the possibility of measuring the indefinite field of experience. a respectivum. consequently. because these angles themselves depend upon the density of two media. that of the most simple natures. and thus ³« what a natural power is in general´ 7 (395. we may reasonably doubt that. or deduced. one quickly realizes that the equation depends on the values of the angles of reflection and refraction. And thus.). 9).) and the ³common´ ones (existence. we therefore know that it can never be known: ³« nothing can be so complex and scattered that. by a relation or a combination of relations from such absolutes. 17-20). a limitation on the ingenium« Does this then consist in a finitude? Before examining this. (b) Nothing can be presented as evident. from the a priori concepts of the understanding (in a way already close to the pure categories of the understanding that Kant will formulate). we can also know whether a question can be reduced in one way or an other (if it can be formulated). these most simple natures should hypothetically remain in a finite and perfectly known number. If one holds oneself entirely to mathematical principles. by one or more degrees. already based on . if it is not either an object absolute from all others for the intuitus. where one must proceed so far as to determine the nature of light. 4) and not be reduced to a simple experientia (394. at least as defined by Aristotle. since it is only upon the basis of them that we can know. etc. 2-3). 11). it is clear that the shortcomings of the intuitus impose. the search for the equation of the anaclastic. one must pass in turn to their study. If this were the case²and we know that the debate over what the Dioptric of 1637 really conceded on this point has never really ceased²it would be necessary to renounce the search for the equation of the anaclastic.

2). as we have seen. the term finitus (or any of its derivatives). considering it pretends to a boundless knowledge of the universitas embraced by the cogitation²proceeds by placing in order and taking of measure. themselves of an infinitae diversae (448. secondly. Thus the Mathesis universalis²well named. 14-16). by complicating the infinitus modis on the model of the complex warp and woof of weavers (404. 15). but above all they make use of infinitus (only six times) only to characterize a knowable object or an operator of knowledge. therefore. in effect. 447. and. the limitations of the ³operations´ of the human mind do not impose upon it any finitude. to the point that the infinita multitudo of the possible figures ³suffices´ to realize (in effect to encode in pure intelligibility) the specific characters of nothing less than ³all sensible things. those which do not enter into series confined by the certis limitibus of the most simple natures. on the one hand. because we measure in this way not only the three obviously measurable dimensions of space.Descartes and the Horizon of Finitude 207 the principle that the conditions of possibility of objects coincides exactly with the conditions of possibility of experience itself²that is to say with the concepts and the intuitus of the human mind. encounters no limits to its knowledge²because what it does not know finally and quite simply does not belong to the transcendental field of knowledge. The limits of ³human wisdom´ do not.´ but circumscribe only the universitas of the knowable.11 And so. The limits of the mind do not therefore confer upon it any epistemic finitude. 11-12) and above all. any more than they suggest that finis could signify the frontier (and not only the goal). because excluded from this universe. speed. do not offer any order or measurability. and an infinitude of other parameters (alia ejusmodi infinita. on the other. how then does it succeed? Initially because order can be established between any objects. We must therefore conclude the validity of the paradox: the human mind. Many arguments confirm this foundational paradox of the Cartesian doctrine of science. There is nothing impossible to measuring the whole universe of knowable things. contradict the continuation of the project of erecting a ³universal wisdom. are those things which no intuitus may regard clearly and distinctly. but submit it on the contrary to an infinitude of . 29) which offer at the same time no real extension. Descartes does not hesitate. Not only do the Regulae never employ. operations that most often. 18-19). And then primarily because each ³«subject extended in every sense´ 10 is by right endowed with infinitae dimensiones (453. to support a proposition that would seem to be absurdly ambitious were it not to be understood in a transcendental way: ³Nor is i t an immense task to attempt to embrace in thought all the things contained in this universe´9 (398. omnium rerum sensibililium´ (413. and quite naturally. while always limited by the two primitive epistemological operations. but also weight.

This essential doctrine renounces the description of God on the basis of the most simple natures. It must be underlined here that infinity only becomes visible [visible]. Morin (astrologist at the Collège de France) the fact ³« that he treats of the infinite everywhere as if his mind were above it. measures itself and orders itself). supposed eternal by his principles at the time. considering that he stigmatized as the ³« chief defect´ of one of his obscure rivals.6.´ while he. however. Obstacle (1630) and Indetermination (1637) The doctrine of science treats of limits. instituted. 7). But can one know without knowing objects? We know that Descartes claimed so. Or better: infinity does not intervene within the horizon of the constitution of objecticity.´ to approach it from on high. at least those that are material. renounce the thought of God as an object only because we cannot imagine him ³« as a finite thing. Another conclusion inevitably follows: if the theory of the limits of knowledge produces no real experience of finitude. 14 We must not.-B. to infinity as a character of objecticity always receptive to further conquests. moreover. and certainly renounces ³understanding´ Him (I.´ in the way of the ³vulgar´ (146. 14-15). when in 1630 he traced an irrevocable boundary between the truths of mathematics (and also the truths of logic and even ethics). however. that is ³«to embrace [Him] in thought´ by deploying only the ³touch«[of] our thought´ 13 (I. for the proposition is analytic. who created. as thinking from above means the same thing as thinking an object (because the object constitutes itself. has ³« never treated the infinite except to submit myself to it. but.´ 12 This criticism therefore excludes that one could think the infinite (and thus the finite) from ³above. and God. it therefore excludes that one could think infinity as an object²as an object of the method. it ignores finitude and therefore infinity. 152. and thus neither can finitude itself. therefore ultimately infinite. even for this.8. and not the truth of the existence of God´15 (150.208 Chapter Eleven objects. With this result of the Regulae. and therefore basically sightable [visable]. it offers still less any experience of infinity. ³« seeing as he would cease to be infinite. 146. J. and established them. one must see ³« God as an infinite and incomprehensible being´ 17 (150. from the moment when the constitution of the object is placed between brackets: infinity thus appears only where the model of comprehension ceases²literally. . if we were able to comprehend him´ 16 (147. 17-19). 14). Descartes did not say his last word. To think God is to renounce his inscription in the space which governs objecticity. 19)²those wise men that ³« understand mathematical truths perfectly. Descartes. beyond comprehension. that is. 150. and not in the least to determine what it is and what it is not. 4-5).

but that our soul. 35. 26). be ³« placed in me´ 23 (34. What is essential with the extraordinary doctrine of the eternal creation is not first of all²it must be underlined²due to the recognition of divine transcendence and its creative power. 20)? The argument always supposes an ascent from the finite (confused with the imperfect) to the infinite (assimilated to the perfect). For the first explicit uses of infinity in the fourth part of the Discours de la méthode do not really take account of this operation. 39.Descartes and the Horizon of Finitude 209 With the suspension of the method employed in this way by a ³human science´ pretending to the status of a ³universal science. It defines without qualification ³« a perfect and infinite being´ (VI. to not understand is therefore to begin to think it. all-knowing. suffice to avoid its indeterminacy. The principal question remains not only unresolved. Doubtless. in short. 7-8): this simplistic juxtaposition passes over in silence the patent difficulty of an at least possible contradiction between perfection by definition remaining unachieved and infinity by logic always unachieved.´ I could eventually imagine ³« being myself infinite. but rather by its reduction²its demarcation or even suspension: to know the infinite is not to understand it. all-powerful. appears once the epistemological obstacle of a cogitatio restricted to objecticity has fallen. however. to have all the perfections I could observe in God´ 22 (34. because there is by definition no common measure between them (no ³dimensions´)²how then could an epistemological transition be thinkable with the ³incomprehensible´. and therefore also finitude. a sequence allows one to perceive a more complex story: if I were ³« alone and independent of everything else. 398. and even fulfills a function exclusive to rational theology. 15). Infinity. but rather it sometimes means to suspend comprehension. cannot comprehend or conceive him´18 (152. and therefore an ontical penetration. Infinity there at first takes on an ontical status. but barely even posed: how. but from the finite to the infinite the consequence is never good. if I am imperfect. Infinity does not therefore appear by a growth in comprehension. 43. The emergence of this obstacle to infinity does not. nor to rely on the limits of ³human wisdom´ in order to infinitely expand knowledge of ³« all the things contained in thought in this universe´19 (X. without any direct link being established between finitude and infinity. eternal. he attains it only first by way of an epistemological de-negation (if not a negation). 4-5) 20 and ³« infinite perfections´ 21 (VI. better. . 6).30-35. Besides the fact that this hypothesis does not resist critique (I am precisely not ³independent. or.´ but in ³dependence´. but rather it is an epistemological reversal: to know does not always mean the same thing as to constitute an object of the Mathesis universalis. could the idea of a perfect and even infinite nature.´ finitude is also released for the first time: ³« we can know that God is infinite and all -powerful. Even if Descartes subsequently underlines the ontical positivity of infinity. 10-13). being finite. its validity depends only upon a simple ontical comparison of perfections. unchanging.

enlighten. To which Descartes responds that. et prius concludere nostrum finitatem. if we are to believe an objection to Descartes by Burman. because. we understand here this articulation by the finite of the infinite. which Descartes never mentions with this title)²fallor. Ergo id cognovit [Descartes in the Discours de la méthode] sine relatione ad ens perfectum. according to the order of arguments. Could this self-deception be understood as an experience of finitude? Certainly. quia possumus prius ad nos attendere quam ad Deum. rather than substituting for it a (limited) transcendental theory of (limitless) universal science. it does not follow that imperfection means in its turn recognition of the infinite. but based on at least two interpretations. For. the succinct metaphysics sketched in 1637 by the Discours de la méthode leaves intact the principal problems of a thought of infinity that conforms exactly to finitude. attain.210 Chapter Eleven and how could it be that only the idea of infinity could ontically reside within the finite? Moreover. doubt precedes any experience of the infinite: ³« dubitationem non esse argumentum tantae perfectionis quam cognitionem. et non cognovit prius Deum quam se´. where ³cause´ and ³substance´ emerge for the first time. by finitude. it barely indica tes them. without definable essence²can directly designate an individuated essence. however. no occurrence of the ³finite/infinite´ couplet appears in the text before the great caesura of Meditatio III. at least in the Meditationes. quam illius infinitatem´ (and the doubt of Meditatio I proceeds . (i) The consciousness of fallibility. nevertheless. Let us formulate them: (a) How could infinity inhabit²affect. finitude is nevertheless put into place. one must distinguish the explicit from the implicit. as it is too often simplified. means recognition of an imperfection. even that of God? In short. doubt rests on the hypothesis that I can deceive myself (and certainly not. does it follow that infinity²without limits. 24 During their time of latency. worse. more than that of certain knowledge. however we wish to say it²the finite? In a word. And so finitude is discovered despite (or perhaps by virtue of) its latency in two operations. which alone permits conception of finitude itself. though initially only in an indirect manner and by negation. and therefore knowledge of the finite. what finitude unites them? (b) Can infinity name the divine essence or else does it only open onto the indistinct horizon of the incomprehensible? Finitude Approached Negatively (1641) Only the Meditationes de prima Philosophia confronts these questions. In effect. without comprehensible concepts. if ³« explicite possumu prius cognoscere nostrum imperfectionem. to be deceived by a supposed ³great deceiver´. quam Dei perfectionem. doubt and the existence of the ego: (a) In Meditatio I.

the all-powerful. attest to finitude? Here again. in the directing thread of the all-powerful. Following this authorized commentary. (i) First. in unwavering certitude (³« certain and unshaken. 23)? In short. the all-powerful implies incomprehensibility. 25. creator of eternal truths. but that implicitly its finitude cannot be denied. 2): two consequences immediately follow. at least through the intermediary of imperfection and finitude. but also from doubt. it must be concluded that from doubt to the infinite. The second interpretation attains finitude more closely. therefore. 24. qui . we may interpret this in two ways. that we can exercise (and establish) doubt explicitly. The final hyperbole of doubt rests on the opinion ³« that there exists a God who is able to do anything²Deum esse qui poteste omnia´ 26 (VII. 21. Above all. this first interpretation remains unsatisfying because. how could a ³pronouncement« necessarily true´ 29 (VII. as soon as it resists doubt (which had opened to finitude) in assuring itself of the existence of the ego? Better.Descartes and the Horizon of Finitude 211 explicitly so). 23). if not expressly the infinite. 40. which prohibits me from understanding even the truths of mathematics. all-knowing. how could this res cogitans better recognize the finitude to which the Regulae could not attain. by right of this hypothetical title. 35. the continuity does not admit of a solution. but by the bias of my error.´ 30 VII. it restricts itself to affirming what it should demonstrate²that doubt does consist of a finitude and that this already implicitly supposes the infinite²and what doubt precisely does not show. unchanging. no longer directly as in 1630. (ii) It would therefore appear legitimate to interpret the continuity from doubt to infinity otherwise . omniscium. 2-5). omnipotentem«´ (VI.´25 We must understand. than does the first. 12-13). and confirmed in Meditatio III in the definition of God as ³« infinitum. necessarily relates to infinity. therefore. 32. quam nostri et nostrarum imperfectionum. eternal. having already established that ³«nothing can be known before the intellect´ 28 (X. But (b) should Meditatio II not mask finitude. and therefore without its interpretation as finitude (literally finites). all-powerful«´27 (VI. by disqualifying objective knowledge through doubt. right from the Discours evoking the ³« perfect being [«] infinite. reproduces the bracketing of the doctrine of science by the ³incomprehensible power´ of God. Nevertheless. because divine omnipotence. The Mediatio I consequently discovers. and therefore from its imperfection and passivity: ³« verum etiam est te. nevertheless ³« implicite semper praecedere debet cognition Dei et ejus perfectionum. even placed under the authority of Descartes. 12-13) or a ³« first principle«´ (VI. neutral and supposed active. because Descartes obtain its certainty not just from the cogitatio. the basically epistemic position of the infinity of 1630. it does not necessarily follow that the certitude of the existence of the ego prohibits access to its finitude. without reference to the infinite. 16-17). 395. First.

53. 27. it is really beneath the figure of its own doubt that the cogitatio performs its existence. because the ego performs its unconditioned existence only temporally²namely ³each time²quoties´ (VII. 21sq. in accord with a paradigmatic couplet opposing the ³«idea of an infinite substance´ to the ³idea of a finite substance´35 (166. non possem dubitare´. ever mention the finite (³finitus´) or the infinite (³infinitus´)²and still less do they articulate the space between them.) as well as the term ³substance´. Thus. it is precisely with the first occurrence of this last term (40. 11. 21. but during the time and at the same time that it performs this thought. but rather it heralds the Kantian determination of finitude²by the temporality of thought (as much as by its sensibility). (ii) But we can demonstrate more directly the finitude of the res cogitans. 25. esse. 11-12). the ³«infinite and independent substance´ to . The ego does not know its own existence once and for all by assertion. What is more.) appear for the first time. 24-25. thus. of course. 10) restricts itself (strictly speaking defines itself) in relation to God. and therefore in effect through finitude. 9. These openings still do not. 1-2). It remains for Meditatio III to confront these difficulties. Descartes breaks with a simple epistemic (and therefore implicit) determination of the terms of finitude. 12) that infinity is explicitly introduced for the first time²³«summum aliquem Deum. §8. 12. in fact. it thinks. 27). This does not consist of an anticipation of the more banal thesis of the discontinuity of time (49. [«] infinitum«´ (40. 12) and ³for as long as²quamdiu´ (25. 36. 31 And. absolutely certain. at the risk of a rupture or of a suture in the order of reasons. 10.212 Chapter Eleven dubitas. the principle of causality (40. Finitude Approached Positively (1641) In Meditatio III. 12 -20. considered as substantia infinita (45. [«] si non essem. ³«we already perceive that we think´ 32 adds Principia. and the finite²³« finitae substantiae«´ (40. I. and. only for a time. in the ³« alia quaedam adhuc via«´ which opens its second part (VII. 53. ³« if I were to cease all thinking I would then utterly cease to exist´33 (27. and. 15) or ³something incomplete and dependent upon another´ 34 (51. as an event. the ³substantia incompleta´ (222. 16). first by repeating the incomprehensibility of that which bypasses the science of objecticity. concomitantly. And so the first two Meditationes deal at least indirectly with finitude. 22. or. however. 40. In a stroke. for the first time. it must perform it by a temporalized act. 15). 20). an act that therefore must be repeated ceaselessly. 5sq. and. 16-17) -. 36. the alternative of finite and infinite imposes itself and its metaphysical radicality only in conjunction with the term which is the metaphysical acceptation of the being par excellence. My existence remains. or even by intuitus. more precisely. and then by temporalizing the cogitatio.

so much as it declares the nature of the infinite positively. because this finite substance thinks. how it might contain this idea. cannot comprehend them´ 41 (Principia. even without comprehension of the divine perfection. to the infinite (thus conforming to the recommendation made to Morin. which had rested only on its function as first in knowledge. of a conquered reversal of position faced with the finitude of the cogitatio. Of course. but significantly it deploys. 2-4). ³« our mind can well have several ideas²quocunque modo attingere cogatione possum«´ (IX-1. 41. from science to realitas. that is. who am finite´ 40 (46. as a being. quoniam ipsa incomprehensibilitas in ratione formali infiniti continetur´ (368. and for the first time. that is to say. §24). Not only does the finite submit itself here. 21-23). But as this opposition passes from the epistemic to the ontic. my perception of God is prior to my perception of myself´ 37 (45. ut sit vera. ³« God. 9. the creator of all things. 26-29). 42 And so incomprehensibility does not so much impose a limit on the human mind. 52. its centre of gravity passes from the finite (the first and implicitly finite thought in terms of doubting) to the infinite. §19). ontically dependent on the ordinary support of God. however. I. declaring that the ideas of the finite and of the infinite are equally innate (51. under the aegis of substantiality. irrevocably²the ego of its anteriority. but rather of the definition of the infinite itself. as an act of the divine and sole independent being. is [ontically] infinite and we are altogether finite´ 38 (I. being finite. 5). There remains nothing less than a justification of how a finite substance might accede to an infinite substance. 13-14) does not suffice to render them . first in terms of the only absolutely independent substance: ³« I clearly understand that there is more reality in an infinite substance than there is in a finite one. This does not consist. ³«the nature of the infinite is such that we. 26-27). but which evaporates as soon as the first is considered as a substance. Or. nullo modo debet comprehendi. as such and based on its epistemic properties: ³« the nature of the infinite is such that it is not comprehended by a being such as I. 15-17). deduces and conceives itself only on the basis of the infinite. and it succeeds at this because it exposes this nature using the ontical terminology of ³substance´. must always be epistemically translated as the incomprehensibility of God (as an object of the method): ³« our minds are to be regarded as finite. Further. and then ontically transposed. Thus the perception of the infinite is somehow prior in me to the perception of the finite. to speak as does the Principia. 2728 = VII. It is not sufficient to affirm that. This reversal of priorities relieves in several ways²in fact. ³«idea enim infiniti. the crease of finitude²the finite.Descartes and the Horizon of Finitude 213 the ³« finite and dependent thing´ 36 (185. priority reversed towards God. while God is to be regarded as incomprehensible and infinite´ 39 (VII. but not yet followed by the Regulae or by the Discours). it remains to be explained how this modus could articulate two incommensurable terms.

The infinite is perceived at the same time and by the same gaze as the finite: this vindication has only one acceptable meaning²that the finite can discharge itself within its limits only if we can trace them clearly and distinctly. 24. ³« this power that I am to . Contrary to Wittgenstein. we would have to be able to think the two sides of this limit. because it exists still less within me than it is me myself²³« in the same way. therefore an imperfect thing aspiring to perfection (finite. therefore desiring its progress ³indefinitely´. immobile. and on the other side the infinite²these same perfections. it does not even intensify or double it up. in the final analysis. in which the idea of God is contained«´ 45 (51. this movement. and thus he postulates that one can accede to the infinite. which remains.214 Chapter Eleven compatible. but ³infinite´ and no longer ³indefinite´ (51. which becomes in this way an idea without limit. ³« we would have to then think that which does not let itself be thought. Descartes intends to think it fundamentally and therefore to see its limits clearly and distinctly²he therefore assumes the necessity of thinking the other side of the finite. succeed in being unfolded by means of the operation of a single faculty. to indicate just where and in which way (quodammodo. and therefore to the idea of the infinite. ³« the arrival or the descent or the contradiction of the infinite in a finite thought«´44. and therefore in ceaselessly pushing them back and attempting (though always in vain) to overstep them²³«aspiring indefinitely for greater and greater [«] things´ 48 (51. without end). moreover. (ii) It then unites this unique idea (of the infinite) to the idea which the ego has of itself in one and the same faculty. that would perceive ³simul etiam²also at the same time´ (51. but it cannot test them without testing their resistance. 26.´ 47 and therefore renounced delimiting the finite as such. without any other name: ³« by means of the same faculty by which I perceive myself´46 (51. 18) the two sides. 43 It remains still to think what Lévinas has called. (i) It suggests that the image and likeness of God that I hold amoun ts to his idea. 20) one could bridge the abyss separating them. 27 = IX-1. I see double²not one being. The ego can assure its own finitude only in recognizing its limits.21). let alone commensurable. The infinite (God) is not added to the finite (the ego). therefore. it does not suffice to enroll the biblical theme of man created ad imaginem et similitudinem of God. advances without end into the excess of the infinite over the finite. when he evokes in passing. who. ³« to trace a limit to thought. 51. 26).´ concluded immediately. what amounts to the same. left. as the condition of its own arrival on the scene. but two. on one side me. 28 and 29). admitting. but comes along with it. and so therefore only if the infinite surrounds these limits and renders them visible. And so Descartes rediscovers to the letter St. beyond restrictions. The crease of finitude could. finite and infinite. Anselm¶s negative determination of God. How can this be conceived? In principle like so: when I regard ³me ipsum´. 41. Or. 2122). It is why Meditatio III risks taking two extra steps.

what is more. 110. The finite claims [réclame] always more than itself in order to be said²it proclaims [clame] therefore the infinite. as much as the infinite as a transcendental condition of experience for a finite being and in its Mathesis universalis. This consists not only of a determination of the divine . Descartes claims to have attained the idea of infinity in the form of a transcendental condition of the experience of the ego sum²and this is indeed the case. Between employing the infinite in a transcendental mode or receiving therein the idea of God. This endless advance into the beyond of the already known. that I could never conceive²« vim concipiendi majorem numerum esse cogitabilem quam a me unquam posit cogitari´²and returns this to a being more perfect than me. insofar as the finite implies it as it s condition of possibility. This conclusion raises a difficulty at the same point at which it convinces. but it presupposed that nothing cogitated can exhaust the cogitatable. yet inscribes within it nothing substantive. 17 and 47. the infinite as the name of God (in the tradition inaugurated by Duns Scot). 21 and 45. and thus the infinite as its own condition of possibility. nor can it name God. 11sq. because the infinite in actuality excludes all progress. (ii) Deus infinitus (9. 30) rests on the fact that the finite . because they are but two sides of one and the same faculty. a decision must be made. in the greatest numbers. 4). therefore. 190. Infinity thus gives itself first as a determination of the essence of God. The undeniable ³vis argumenti´ (VII. hoc est Dei«´ (45. 4-8 = VII. 40. 39. 139. because the infinite. The equivalencies here are explicit: (i) ³« perceptionem infinitii. in short. although not without some confusion: ³« a perfect and infinite being«´ (VI. 28-29). If. has two characters. sight. and not two distinct forms of knowledge²then the infinite cannot designate a being distinct from the ego. must now take on a transcendental function 49 . it requires the infinite.). that it never attains the infinite. to be conceived simply as finite.Descartes and the Horizon of Finitude 215 understand that there is always something greater to conceive. implies both sides of the crease of finitude. as his first metaphysical name. first. this determination was being sketched out right from the Discours. (iii) natura or substantia infinita (55. because it renders possible experience. 19-22). 51. and thus it admits an excess without any always already given limits. 16-17. into the always greater cogitable than that which has already been cogitated. Did Descartes choose? Did he even see the aporia? The Name and the Horizon It appears at least certain that he attempted both directions. but always and only that which renders experience possible. ³« alio ente a me perfectiore´ (IX-1. for the term ³transcendental´ never qualifies an object or a phenomenon given in experience.

and so therefore loses its finitude (contradiction between its ontical status and its epistemological status). admits several Cartesian divisions. The ens. besides the properly onto-theo-logical difference between the being as cogitatum/cogitans and as causatum/causa. just as to reduce the infinitum to a being. in fact. 2021) limits itself moreover to the infinite and excludes itself from the finite. lacks its finitude. in confiscating and exhausting the infinite for Himself alone. (iii) finally. a res limitata (84. 19-20). known by one and all [tritum illum et vulgo notum]: infinitum. indeed opposed. contradicts Himself in limiting himself in fact. with an epistemological independence contradicting its ontical dependence. ontical difference traced between the finite and the infinite. remains epistemologically finite and inaccessible. its ontical dependence thus appears curiously intelligible on the basis of itself alone. est ignotum´?´ (IX-1. without intrinsic relation to the other. Reciprocally. established in an ontical region it has itself defined. and which becomes with Clauberg the first object of the ontologia. 10-11). 18-21 = VII. as though there were two different and opposed regions. which supposes an access to the other side of its limit. and. (ii) the infinite restricts itself to one region and therefore avers itself finite yet without intrinsic function in the definition of the finite. To think the relation of the finite to the infinite in strictly ontical terms. to the finite. 12-13)51. in the ontical region of the finite. Descartes indeed also names it an ens infinitum (46. for the infinite remains here exterior. first object of metaphysics. 96.216 Chapter Eleven essence on the basis of the infinite. just as the finite. which remains for it extrinsic. 77. but more significantly of a determination of the infinite as a region. remains to it as extrinsic. whose existence asserts itself wholly within the limits of one of the two regions. and thus. It is necessary to envisage another path in order to escape from the traps of this . 12). The infinite. to the unique being of the region of the infinite. 6) or a natura infirma et limitata (55. It matters little that Descartes here borrows from Duns Scot and especially from Suarez (whose Disputationes Metaphysicae xxx remain especially evident in the background). because it presupposes epistemologically a certain knowledge of the infinite. the infinite sinks into the unknown: ³Somebody [«] will ask: ³Do you clearly and distinctly know the infinite? What then does this common verdict mean. even were it supremely perfect. stuck within the limits of the ontic al region which it defines and which defines it. and therefore finitude. as a region of the being. there is another. 50 what must above all be underlined is the restriction of the thematization of finitude engendered by this ontical and regional interpretation of infinity. abuts at a irreconcilable series of aporias: (i) the finite defines itself independently of the infinite. simply by opposing itself. qua infinitum. as infinite. from an even ontical point of view. for the ego seems to define itself as a res incompleta et dependens (53. infinita (55. God restricts Himself to only one of the two ontic regions²his natura immense [«]. as was strongly objected by Caterus.

for Descartes. that is to say the reciprocal articulation of the finite and of the infinite. On the other hand.54 but we find nevertheless a text that. contained non intra [«] limites (58. but rather establishes itself in the centre of an immanent scene containing the intrinsic intrigue between the finite an the infinite. no longer plays the role of one ontical region faced with another. 22). but rather as it defines (and this for us) the finitude of the finite. was attempting to think it in its strictly transcendental function²the finite thinks itself in its finitude only insofar as it think s itself from the basis of its own transcendental condition of possibility²the infinite. from this point of view. which. (³« God gave us a will without limits´). that we can say that he created us in his image. while a substantia finita. always amounts to deciding infinitely. but of willing to infinity. belonging to the region of the ens finita (61. because this formal emptiness constitutes. which can and must always aspire to a surplus of concepts and struggle in its progress. 20-21). a will that I test containing nullis limitibus (56. and thus the infinite as transcendental operator of finitude. even God¶s formal power of decision ³« non [«] major videtur´ (57. 12-13). no longer as the infinite and nothing else (as the metaphysical name of God). 11) and producing only a cognition finite (61. First. 15). so that contrary to the understanding. as outlined by the eadem facultas (51. be able to disqualify this infinitude of and in the res cogitans by arguing that it is only formally exercised. The res cogitans. and thus its infinitude cannot be other than . a facultas intelligendi valde finita (57. It succeeds by introducing the crease of finitude. precisely the condition of its own infinity. We have already remarked that this text never directly qualifies the will with infinita. 11). admits of two principal modes.´55 We would not. On the one hand.¶ surrounded by a horizon of improper µconcomitant givens¶´ in short ³« a horizon of determined indeterminacy. for Descartes. whereas deciding in a finite manner amounts to not deciding anything at all. it does not leave any space for anything greater: ³´« I experience to be so great in me that I cannot grasp the idea of a greater faculty´ 53 (57. We must also return to the inclusion of the infinite within the finite. either. thus deciding. Here we understand µhorizon¶ in its Husserlian usage: when a phenomenon appears. 4). accords it this title: ³it is principally because of this infinite will that is within us. to wit an intellectus finitus (60. ³« there is necessarily a seizable nub of µeffective presentation. of deciding infinitely. 22). at the end of Meditatio III. which. 26). the will does not exercise itself other than formally. and not an obstacle: because it does not consist in willing the infinite as content (would this even make any sense?). after having initially negatively defined the privilege.´ 52 And it is this horizon that it remains for Meditatio IV to trace. Immediately. 14. after the fashion of Meditatio IV. in a faculty of choice itself entirely empty. in the midst of the res cogitans itself.Descartes and the Horizon of Finitude 217 impasse: to know the infinite. the infinite passes from the status of metaphysical name of God to that of the horizon of the ego.

indeed of the irreducible unknown. secondly. Infinity characterizes the will. therefore. We can. around each idea of an object or of a finite phenomenon. be it merely formal and bearing an empty appearance. interpretation of the infinite. such that its ineffectiveness itself permits a limitless. The infinite. will from now situate itself in the will. we a have a true idea of infinity by the simple fact that we will infinitely. but even of all that is in our will´ 56. and therefore by testing the resistance of the infinite. will nevertheless also have to impose upon this ontical infinity a universal function. This conclusion calls for several remarks: (a) Descartes. but rather through a transcendental. immediately. Further. by privileging the transcendental or phenomenological use of the infinite rather than its exclusively ontical use. because ³« we have ideas not only of all that is in our intellect. We need not be surprised by this conclusion. as is evident in the patently ambiguous phrase ³universal Being´ 57. ³«in me´ (57. taken as a condition or as an horizon. The infinite plays ³«in me´ the role of a transcendental condition of perception of my character as a res incompleta. to the created res cogitans: it must therefore be concluded that the will has the rank of a created infinity.We could first say that the res cogitans only achieves a clear knowledge of its finitude by testing its limits.218 Chapter Eleven formal.12). and that it arranges in this way an horizon. even Malebranche and Fénelon. by which he anticipates more of Pascal than he follows in the line of Suarez. forever irreducible. very likely interpret the paradox of the infinite innate to the finite res cogitans not through following an ontical acceptation. often employed in order to maintain an essential ambiguity. the idea of the infinite is innate to me and belongs to the created being which I am. a halo. We could then say that the infinite traces. inasmuch as does the intellectus finitus. without ever enumerating all of the ideas of objects. God also exercises the transcendental and . 13). indeed phenomenological. who are the last to maintain the privilege of the infinite amongst the other metaphysical names of God. but by exercising a strictly transcendental function. and therefore no longer beyond the res cogitans interpreted as a finite ontical region. but always presupposed from the as yet unknown. but rather in its very heart²³«mihi innata´ (51. unfolding of possible experience. and yet essentially finite. and therefore of my finitude. 1. which prohibits their overstepping. just as the ideas of reason mark the finitude of my sensible knowledge by being really ideas. Its apparent ³contradiction´ (Lévinas) results from the fact that by it we are exposing in metaphysical language that which might be more adequately enunciated in critical or phenomenological terms. but without ever by the same token enumerating the phenomena of objects. but the will belongs. it assures in effect nothing less than the onto-theo-logical coherence of all classical metaphysics: in the capacity of infinite being. compromises henceforth its status as first definition of the divine essence. And.

In fact. in these times of nihilism. 141. refered to throughout as Ariew. endowed with an infinite faculty²is now displaced onto God²infinite being. the ego keeps its role as ³first principle of the philosophy I was seeking´ (VI. This translation has provided translations for all the texts using Roger Ariew¶s translations found in René Descartes Philosophical essays and Correspondence (Indianapolis: Hackett. than its cogitative performance or its rational qualification.. Descartes thought the ego that we ourselves are. better: in order to construct an absolutely certain science. he for whom it did not lack at all. is lacking. 60. 32. quantumvis differentibus subjectis applicata´. ³« humana sapentia. but without any wisdom or absolute knowledge. whatever the case may be. who opposed to the finite only an ³inevitable appearance´ or the being devoid of all ontological difference. the infinite as well as the finite²for finitude cannot be thought of otherwise than as such a paradox. But better than they. more clearly than most metaphysicians. all other footnotes are from the original text. Descartes can therefore instruct us. . Thus. and it engenders still others. Even that which makes us flawed remains. it is not requisite to pretend to an absolute knowledge. quae semper una et eadem manet. even more essential to the res cogitans than its ontical status. 3 Ariew.Descartes and the Horizon of Finitude 219 phenomenal functions of the universal. Before and yet like Kant and Heidegger . an absolutely certified science. only finitude as conceived by Descartes. 23). for he names and unfolds both planes. And this generosity of the infinite. the principle that there is no subjectivity other than the finite. memor meae tenuitatis. he achieves a veritable determination of finitude. Because. is the finitude in it. the author quoted Descartes in the original languages. 1 In the original French version of this paper. The certitude of science (and this we owe also to Descartes alone) is deployed perfectly in the finitude of its foundation and implies no infinite knowledge. The contradiction that Descartes hoped to construct and to resolve in the finite ego²finite res cogitans. ³At nihilominus. (b) When Descartes assumes. as finite. not without detours and hesitations. he discharged this finitude upon the horizon of an infinity always and already positively given. thus the principle of a certain science remains finite. nihil affirmo«´. who serves as the empty horizon and the formal condition for experience in general. while remaining an ³« intellectus creatus ut sit finites´ (VII. The original text is provided in the footnotes. given. the paradox of a finite res cogitans endowed with an infinite faculty. but a certitude without absolutes. and which opposes him in advance to all metaphysical pretensions to absolute knowledge (from Spinoza to Hegel) permits one to describe the ontical and epis temic situation in which we find ourselves today: certain finitude. 272. 15). as lacking. Ariew.´ 2 Ariew. 2000). or. 2. (c) Descartes thus posed. et naturae nostrae infirmitas est agnoscenda. ³« fatendum est humanam vitam circa res particulares saepe erroribus esse obnoxiam.

15 Ariew. ³.. AT 5. 12 Ariew. 5 Ariew. 1986. 95.II. Dieu comme en être infini et incompréhensible´ 18 Ariew.3).. tout-puissant. et enfin avoir toutes les perfections que je pouvais remarquer être en Dieu´ 23 Ariew. going even to the point of withdrawing before such a contact: ³«nec comprehendere. 20-27. 2-6). ³une infinite d¶autre [formes ou espèces] (64. 61. be disputed: in effect. 4 . éternel. ³. but coloured. si nous le pouvions comprendre´ 17 Ariew. ³«nihl enim tam multiplex esse potest aut dispersum. Paris.. 30. 52. 9 Ariew. ³« on peut savoir que Dieu est infini et tout-puissant. 19: ³«toutes les choses continues par la pensée dans toute l¶universitas´ 20 My translation. the light of the sun receives a differentiation from each of the objects that it illuminates. ullo modo possum´ (VII.220 Chapter Eleven This could. 17 ³« quid sit generaliter potentia naturalis´ 8 Ariew. 106. ³Neque immensum est opus. 19. ³« un être parfait et infini´ 21 My translation « perfections infinies´ « 22 Modified Ariew. ³« ainsi qu¶une chose finie´« ³vulgaire´«. ³« principal défaut [«] qu¶il trait partout de l¶Infini. January 28.. sed quocumque modo attingere cogitatione possum´ (VII. c. ³. 25 Entretien of 16 avril 1648. 19. res omnes in hac universitate contentas cogitatione velle complecti´ 10 my translation: ³«subjectum omnimode extensum´ 11 One finds comparable phrases in the Discours de la methode: ³une infinite d¶artifices´ (VI. et non pas celle de l¶existence de Dieu´ 16 My translation: ³« vu qu¶il cesserait d¶être infini. 62. Quas ego non comprehendo. moreover. 30. 9). 6.. 2. 13 Ariew. encore que notre âme étant finie ne le puisse comprendre. 29. qui comprennent parfaitement les vérités mathématiques. ³« non opus est ingenia limitibus ullis cohibere´ 6 Ariew. for the sensing eye. et non point pour determiner ce qu¶il est. 46.´A Mersenne.. 22-30 26 Ariew. ³« être mise en moi´ 24 On this decisive caesura. ni concevoir´ 19 Modified Ariew. ³« seul et indépendant de tout autre´. ³« intellectus nostri actions´ 7 Ariew. come si son esprit était au-dessus [«] jamais traité de l¶Infini que pour [se] soumetre à lui.. the Meditationes confirm this distinction: ³Deus [«] habens omnes perfections. 153. 18) ³«ne infinité d¶espériences´ (75.. quod per illam [«] enumerationem certis limitibus circumscribe atque in aliquot capita disponi non posit´. Paris 1635. since their surface modifies on each occasion the wave length so that. tout connaissant. ³«l¶embracer de la pensée´« ³« le toucher de la pensée´ 14 Moreover. immuable. AT 3. nec forte etiam attingere cogitatione. ou ce qu¶il n¶est pas. 29. 1641. 20-21). Allusion to Quod Deus sit Mundusque ab ipos creatus fuerit in tempore«. see our analysis in Sur le prisme métaphysique de Descartes. être moi même infini. this modification of wa ve length makes it appear not white.. 62.

i 43 See our study ³L¶image de la liberté´ in R. 1980. AT X. 119. 1992 (suivi de ³Réponse à J. 21-23) 41 Ariew. Saint Bernard et la philosophie. Vrin. 109. no n comprehendatur«´ 42 See A Mersenne. ³« mentes nostras considerandas esse ut finitas. Where: ³l¶affection du fini par l¶infini [«]. 18. qui summus finiti. p. ³« si cessarem ab omni cogitatione. ³« est de natura infiniti. 237 ³« Deum authorem rerum esse infinitum [ontically]. immuable. Wittgenstein. Viellard-Baron à propos d´une hypothèse sur saint Bernard et l¶image de Dieu´.. ³´« ideia [substantiae] infinitae´. per quam ego ipse a me percipior´ 47 L. Lévinas. PUF. I. and A Clersier sur les Cinquièmes Objections. ut a nobis. Scnhriften. ³« certum [«] et inconcussum´ 31 Recherche de la vérité. ³idea [substantiae] finitae´ 36 modified Ariew. ³« a me percipi per eandem facultatem. 1641. hoc est Dei quam mei ipsius´ 38 Ariew. ³« similitudinem. ³Sur l¶idée d¶infini en nous´. p. et nos omnino finites´ 39 Ariew. 232.« je cesserais en même temps d¶être ou d¶exister´ 34 Ariew. Paris. 245. qui sum finitus.34). 17 et 20. Grimaldi/J. 108. 121. 121. 45 modified Ariew. January 21. [«] illico totus esse desinerem . as phenomenology consists in seeking to show the phenomena which first and most often remain concealed? 48 Ariew. en N.). 174. in thinking what remains above all and most of the time to think. non comprehendatur´ 946. But« 32 Ariew. in qua Dei idea continentur«´ 46 Ariew. Préface. 1988. Deum autem ut incomprehensibilem et infinitum«´ 40 Ariew.-L. or also. 284. 210. 122.165. p. ³« eo temporare quo cogitat´ 33 Ariew. 1991. par dela la ure contradiction qui les opposerait et les sépareraient«´ (ibid. But does not philosophy consists.). toutpuissant«´ 28 Ariew. Philosophie. Francfort s/m. 1983. repris dans Entre-nous.. ³« ad majora et majora [«] indefinite aspirantem´ 49 We must agree with this judgment by N. La passion de la raison. ³pronuntiatum [«] necessario [«] verum´ 30 Ariew. 10-12). 236. 44 E. ³«nihil prius cognosci posse quam intellectum´ 29 Ariew. Tractatus logico-philosophicus. 101. ut a me. à cause que le mot de comprendre signifie quelque limitation. ³« est enim infiniti. 62. ³L¶infini est l´horizon transcendantal .. in the end. ac proinde quodammodo in me esse perceptionem infiniti quam finiti. éternel. un esprit fini ne saurait comprendre Dieu qui est infni´ (AT 9-1. Paris.9. 515. January 12. Brague (éd. ³« l¶être parfait [«] infini. 5-8.´« nam contra manifeste intelligo plus realitatis esse in substantia infinitia quam in finita. 121. 1646: ³Car. Paris.-L.). Paris. 108. 118. ³res incompleta et ab alio dependentem´ 35 Ariew.Descartes and the Horizon of Finitude 221 27 Ariew. 1994). AT 3. Grimaldi: ³L¶infini peut donc être reconnu comme l´horizon transcendental de notre volonté´ (Six etudes sur la volonté et la liberté chez Descartes. ³« substantiae infinita et independens´«´« res finita et depndens´ 37 Ariew. Marion (éd. Essais sur la penser-à-l¶autre. 42. tout connaissant.

V. 22-24. 56 A Mersenne. xx. 124. which Malebranch will never succeed in dissipating. Grimaldi. xx. sans restrictions particulière. p. Paris.C. At the same time oner finds at the end this intial hypothesis refuted: ³ «facultas verum judicandi [«] infinita´(54. le temps. 2. 100 and 101.222 Chapter Eleven de toute representation comme de toute volonté´ (Études cartésiennes. 95. être en général´ ( Recherche de la Vérité. laquelle est connue d¶un chacun [tritum illud et vulgo notum]: infinitum.8. 29-30). p. 53 Ariew. §19. Six etudes.25 55 A Mersenne. t. See Passions de l¶âme. qua infinitum.849 and 898)? This difficulty. AT 11. p. see pp. t.XIX. 1996.I.140). the perfection proper even to God: ³ «vis volendi [«] amplissa et in suo genere perfecta´ (VII. 28 january 1641. ± Moreover Meditatio IV recognizes perfection in the will. 57 ³«Être universel. la liberté´.O. est ignotum´?´ my translation. c. 14-17).26). III. AT 3. Vrin. Paris. p.§1. §11. 6-9. 50 Suarez and Scotus 51 ³Quelqu¶un demandera: ³Connaissez-vous clairement et distinctement l¶être infini? Que veut donc dire cette commune sentence.t. ET 30. AT 2. Hua. 52 E.4556. §44. §18. See Questions cartésiennes II. Does Malebranche not expose himself to accusations of Spinozism (see t. Husserl. . finds itself in effect dissimulated by another decision: ³The Being without restriction´ tends l ttle by little to cede the primary i role to the ³« vast and immense idea of the infinitely perfect Being´ (Éclaircissement I. p. 1996. 449 and 473).. 25 décembre 1639. 295. p. Dieu.XX. III. ut nullam majoris ideam apprehendam´ 54 N.p. Ideen I. III. I. 58. ³« tantam in me experior..168 and Traité de la Nature et de la Grâce. Ariew. 628.

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