Doubt and Certainty in Cartesianism

  • Robert McBride


The Discours begins with the famous sentence which affirms, with ironic courtesy, the universal belief in the existence of ‘le bon sens’ and the fact that each person is fully satisfied with his allotted share of it: ‘Le bon sens est la chose du monde la mieux partagée: car chacun pense en être si bien pourvu, que ceux même qui sont les plus difficiles à contenter en toute autre chose n’ont point coutume d’en désirer plus qu’ils en ont.’1 Descartes here remembers both the tone and the content of one of Montaigne’s remarks in the Essais: ‘On dit communément que le plus juste partage que nature nous aye fait de ses graces, c’est celuy du sens: car il n’est aucun qui ne se contente de ce qu’elle luy en a distribué.’2 If the first sentence of the Discours reminds us that Descartes was an attentive reader of the Essais, the second one defines the peculiarly Cartesian notion of ‘le bon sens’ and the need for a method by which it may be cultivated and brought to realize its potential. ‘Le bon sens’ or ‘la raison’ is for Descartes ‘la puissance de bien juger et distinguer le vrai d’avec le faux’ and is by nature equal in all men. The cause of the manifest diversity of opinion about what is and what is not ‘le bon sens’ is not that some people are more inherently reasonable than others, but that we direct our reason by different methods and so follow different objectives in our thinking.3


Fourth Part Traditional Discipline Sceptical Attitude Metaphysical Principle Allot Share 
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  1. 3.
    Ed. cit., p. 126; H. Gouhier notes that this sentence marks the beginning of the Cartesian method, La Pensée Métaphysique de Descartes (Paris, 1962 ), p. 16.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Essais II, Ch. 12, pp. 605, 634; on Montaigne’s concept of reason, see A. Levi, French Moralists, the Theory of the Passions 1585 to 1649 (Oxford, 1964), pp. 58ff.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    See A. J. Krailsheimer, Studies in Self-Interest from Descartes to La Bruyère (Oxford, 1962 ), p. 31;Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    L. Brunschvicg places the question in perspective in Descartes et Pascal, Lecteurs de Montaigne (New York, 1944 ), p. 115.Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    H. Gouhier, Essais sur Descartes (Paris, 1949 ), p. 56.Google Scholar
  6. see J. Rousset, La littérature de l’âge baroque en France, Circé et le Paon (Paris, 1954).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Robert McBride 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert McBride
    • 1
  1. 1.The Queen’s University of BelfastUK

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