Engels on Descartes

1

In the meantime, along with and after the French philosophy of the eighteenth century had arisen the new German philosophy, culminating in Hegel. Its greatest merit was the taking up again of dialectics as the highest form of reasoning. The old Greek philosophers were all born natural dialecticians, and Aristotle, the most encyclopaedic intellect of them, had already analysed the most essential forms of dialectic thought. The newer philosophy on the other hand, although in it also dialectics had brilliant exponents (e.g., Descartes and Spinoza), had, especially through English influence, become more and more rigidly fixed in the so-called metaphysical mode of reasoning, by which also the French of the eighteenth century were almost wholly dominated at all events in their special philosophical work. Outside philosophy in the restricted sense, the French nevertheless produced masterpieces of dialectic. We need only call to mind Diderot’s Le neveu de Rameau and Rousseau’s Discours sur l’origine et les fondemens de l'inégalité parmi les hommes. We give here, in brief, the essential character of these two modes of thought. We shall have to return to them later in greater detail.

2

In its operations with variable quantities mathematics itself enters the field of dialectics, and it is significant that it was a dialectical philosopher, Descartes, who introduced this advance.


SOURCE: Engels, Frederick. Anti-Dühring: Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science (1877), translated by Emile Burns from 1894 edition (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1947). Excerpts: Introduction, Chapter 1. Part I: Philosophy. XII. Dialectics. Quantity and Quality.


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