Three Centuries of Geulincx Research
A redaction of H.J. de Vleeschauwer’s Three Centuries of Geulincx Research: A Bibliographic Survey (Pretoria, 1957).
prepared by Dr. Chris Conti, School of Humanities, University of Western Sydney
The philosophy of Dutchman Arnold Geulincx as it has been handed down to us is a story of neglect and misunderstanding, a situation H.J. de Vleeschauwer’s survey of three centuries of Geulincx research sets out to remedy.
I. In the Grip of Theological Reaction
I. In the Grip of Theological Reaction
Arnold Geulincx’s obscure role in the history of philosophy has inspired more than one attempt to rescue his name from an undeserved oblivion. This is partly because the basis of Geulincx’s fame–the doctrine of occasionalism, which supplied the causal relation between body and soul missing from Cartesian metaphysics–is not the basis of his thought.
Geulincx was held in high regard at his death in 1672, despite the massive swing to the right in the political life of the Netherlands. More copies of his work found their way into German libraries than Flemish ones, and Richard Barthogge carried the influence of Geulincx to Britain (without, however, acknowledging it) in his Essay Upon Reason and the Nature of Spirit (1694). In the 1670s there was an effort to publish works of Geulincx that had only existed in manuscript form; 1675 saw the Methodus reissued and Bontekoe’s publication of the complete Ethica (reprinted in Latin in 1683, 1691 and 1696 with Dutch versions in 1690 and 1697); 1691 the publication of Metaphsica, in Latin and the vernacular, which found many readers if few disciples, as well as commentaries on Descartes, Principia philosophiae; 1696 the Collegium oratorium; 1698 a reprint of the thirty-year old Logica restituta. But posthumous fame for Geulincx did not survive the 1690s, and 1708 marked the last reprint of the Ethica for nearly two centuries. (Geulincx had to wait until the cusp of the 20th century for an edition of his complete works.)
One reason for the failed transmission of Geulincx’s role in the history of philosophy lies with his pupils. Swartenhengst and Lodewyk Meier never rose to prominence and Cornelius Bontekoe, whose own work was saturated in his teacher’s (again without acknowledgment), was robbed of the chance by an untimely death. Flenderus, the philosopher and rector of Zwolle, who resumed the publishing effort on Bontekoe’s death, was most likely another pupil of Geulincx, once dared to compare the ethical and moral content of the Ethica with the Gospels.
The primary cause of Geulincx’s neglect and obscurity, however, lies with the blackening of his work in the reactionary climate of the Netherlands and its use by polemicists to discredit perceived opposition to church dogma. Lodewyk Meyer’s Philosophia Sacrae Scripturae interpres in 1666 brought down a storm of controversy that engulfed the reputation of Geulincx. Though Meyer had received tuition from Geulincx he was a member of the Spinoza circle, and his notorious book damaged Geulincx’s and Spinoza’s reputation in a time of political and theological reaction. A period of tolerance that saw the penetration of Cartesian pedagogy into Netherlands’ schools was brought to end in 1672, and a career as a pupil of Geulincx, as Swartenghengst discovered, was not viable; in 1675 he was deprived of his professorate at Leyden for "Cartesian tendencies" as part of an orchestrated and repressive campaign.
The reactionary climate of the time also explains the greater attention Geulincx’s Ethica received compared to the rest of his work, if not its acceptance. The antinomic structure of Geulincx’s philosophical system combined aspects of traditional Flemish mysticism with Cartesian cosmology which ultimately pleased neither orthodox theologians nor the new scientists. Bontekoe’s preface to the Ethica hints at the way Netherlands’ Cartesians adroitly maintained their own thinking in the repressive cultural climate, and goes on to relate the ethics of Geulincx with the morality of Descartes (specifically with the morale provisoire in the second book of Discours de la Methode). At the time, Descartes was criticised for lacking an ethics, but Bontekoe believed that Descartes’ opus presented another view of ethics entirely which Descartes’ sudden death conspired to keep in fragments. Had Descartes been given the chance, Bontekoe suggests, he would have elaborated a system of ethics that integrated his metaphysics with scripture–in a system similar to the one Geulincx in fact accomplished before his equally untimely death. Bontekoe and other pupils proposed Geulincx’s thought as a means of mediating the battle between orthodox Cartesianism and reactionary theology–both as guilty as each other of reducing Cartesianism to a soulless mechanism.
Geulincx’s ethics and metaphysics was regarded at the time as something of a corrective to both neo-Aristotelian heresies–like Socinianism–and reactionary theology, something Bontekoe cites in his preface as the inspiration for publishing the Ethica. Indeed were it not for the obviously Christian intention and inspiration behind the Ethica, which even the most resentful of ascetic priests found difficult to discredit, and the fact that his metaphysics was still in manuscript form in the 1670s, Geulincx’s reputation would have received an even greater battering than it in fact did.
II. Pantheistic Prehistory
Pre-Enlightenment liberalism in Holland was conspicuous in figures like the émigré Pierre Bayle, whose Dictionnaire historique et critique (Rotterdam, 1695—97) added a measure of fame to Geulincx’s ethics and metaphysics. Cartesianism was at the time thought better suited than scholasticism to preserve the Christian heritage of the West, which was believed to be under assault by an emerging group of radicals and free thinkers, identified, at least in the reactionary mind, with the figure of the impious Jewish pantheist, Baruch Spinoza. In this context Descartes, regarded as an old enemy of the church in some quarters, was now recruited to fight a new enemy, Spinozism.
Bayle’s dictionary was guilty of at least one confusion regarding Geulincx that was to engulf the latter’s reputation in this reactionary climate: occasionalism came to be thought of quite wrongly as the linchpin of the Geulincxian system. Leibniz elaborated a concept of occasionalism in his theory of pre-established harmony and it remains difficult to tell where to place Geulincx in this context, especially as Leibniz illustrated his theory with an example of concurrent clocks that we find at several points in Geulincx’s texts.
Many thinkers, like Willem Deurhof, could hear an echo of Descartes in Geulincx, especially in the latter’s ethics; despite Geulincx’s criticism of occasionalism such thinkers found in Geulincx an essentially Christian thinker. The syncretic form of Geulincx’s philosophy, however, did not find favour, and the first attack on Geulincx’s system was mounted in defence of a form of Cartesianism. The investigation of Geulincx’s ethics in the late 1690s by Steyaert, a professor at Louvain, did not find an audience. It was not until 1710, when German jurist Thomasius accused Geulincx of the Spinozan error, that the orthodox Christian view of Geulincx was unsettled. In 1715 the clergyman Tuinman attacked Geulincx in a booklet, and an attack by Antonius Dreissen in a preface to another work followed (neither of which survive). But the true anti-Geulincxian was Ruardus Andala, who waged a polemical crusade against Geulincx for the next 25 years.
Andala saw no contradiction between Descartes and Calvinistic dogma, and indeed used Descartes to defend Church dogma against the emerging impiety of the early Enlightenment. Ironically enough, Andala’s doctoral dissertation had been greatly influenced by Geulincx and he started out as something of a Geulincxian. But as the battle lines between Church and Science were drawn, Andala attacked all attempts to make creative use of Descartes, and so a thinker like Geulincx that independently developed Cartesian concepts was well nigh a heretic. Geulincx and his followers were accused by Andala of propagating the impiety of Spinoza under the guise of Descartes. Even Leibniz, Malebranche and Wolff received rebukes from the Frisian fanatic.
Geulincx’s Ethica was Andala’s real target, but in his Dissertationum philosophicarum pentas (Franeker, 1710—12), where the Metaphysics was attacked first, Andala suggests Geulincx’s concept of substance both deviated from the indubitably Christian basis of Descartes’ concept and dangerously converged with that of Spinoza’s (in Spinoza’s Ethica). Geulincx’s Ethica was quite popular and the most widely distributed of his works because of what was felt to be its essentially Christian approach, but it was precisely in this popularity that Andala sniffed out the Satanic enemy. His zeal left little room for an impartial account of the Geulinxian system, especially when any sign of deviation from Descartes was interpreted as the slippery slope to Spinozism. The intention to investigate relations between Descartes and Geulincx, announced in his preface, became instead an investigation of the relations between Spinoza and Geulincx.
In one sense, Andala was fighting an old battle in new battle dress–the scholastic conflict over the de unitate intellectus. Monism has always drawn the criticism of pantheism, and Andala’s criticism of the monism implied by Geulincx’s definition of the spiritual substance is his only valid point against Geulincx. When one considers that for Geulincx the only substance that exists is God, and all human activity is a derivative expression of God, then it seems Andala may even have underestimated the extent to which he was right on this point. For the tendency to universal determinism in Geulincx meant that in no human thought or deed could divine expression be escaped. Virtue, for example, is the conformity of action and thought to an immutable cosmic order. God, then, is responsible for evil, a view of creation without real scriptural basis. From monism it is a skip and jump for Andala to pantheism, atheism, and the impiety of Spinozism, and Geulincx’s fate was sealed for the next two centuries. When he was spoken of at all it was as a pupil of Spinoza, as the title of Samtleben’s Geulincx, ein Vorgänger Spinozas (Halle, 1885) suggested. The success of Andala’s criticism owes more to his ability to sniff the winds of the reactionary climate of the times than any philosophical merit. Andala never considered, for example, that the human being of Geulincx’s ethics freely submits to causality as the expression of the creative will of God.
III. History of Reception in Germany
Apart from a few works in the developing field of the history of philosophy, whose line can be traced directly from Bayle to Hegel, Geulincx fell into oblivion in Germany, and when he was spoken of at all either the doctrine of occasionalism became the mistaken basis of his fame or else Spinozism became the continued basis for his neglect (such as in the multi-volume works of Brücker and Buhle). Still, Tennemann rated Geulincx’s ethics higher than Spinoza’s and Malebranche’s, and though Kant dismisses Geulincx in a sentence in the Critique of Pure Reason, some of his basic concepts are sketched in broad outlines in Geulincx’s work.
The revival of Geulincx in Germany perhaps begins with the sixty pages Ritter devotes to him in his history of philosophy. And indeed, Ritter’s use of Geulincx’s texts rather than received opinion makes his account the first general survey of Geulincx’s work. Ritter saw Geulincx as the superior of Descartes, equal of Spinoza, and precursor of Kant in several respects, and his work on Geulincx’s metaphysics–though not the ethics–is still reliable. Geulincx’s distinction between mundus sensiblis and mundus intelligibilis bears comparison with Kant’s distinction between phaenomenon and Ding an sich, largely because Geulincx taught the relativity of the former in relation to man and the unknowability of the latter. Ritter also pointed out that Geulincx’s understanding of the two-fold nature of reason as speculative and practical, with an emphasis on the greater importance of the practical, is a clear anticipation of Kant. Moreover the concept of duty is pivotal in the ethics of both thinkers, in contravention of the classical and scholastic theory of morals that insisted on the pursuit of happiness as the basis of morality. Of greater importance than a similarity of which Kant could never have been aware is the fact that Ritter restored this antinomical structure to Geulincx’s thought. The inspiration for the Geulincxian system is on the one hand the emerging rationalism of 17th century thought and on the other hand the Christian mysticism in which he was schooled.
Spoiling de Vleeschauer’s chronology a little is Grimm’s 1875 work on epistemology and occasionalism. Grimm chides Geulincx’s modest epistemology a little unfairly when one considers the central importance epistemology assumed in philosophy really only begins with Kant (Descartes’ epistemology, for example, came about as part of a metaphysical system). Grimm does Geulincx scholarship a great service by depriving occasionalism, as the supposed bridge between being and thought, of its mistaken role in the Geulincxian system. Grimm believed Geulincx faced epistemological problems in a similar order to Descartes: doubt; knowledge of the ego; knowledge of the external world. Where Descartes side-stepped the last problem with his description of mathematical knowledge as innate, Geulincx worked through the problem of the origin of mathematical knowledge and found that the representation of space required intellectual functions he went on to describe. He concluded that mathematics can help us to know things independently of the senses but not the intellect. Because these Modi or forms (Kant’s Formen) of the intellect were necessarily included in all knowledge they could not be excluded, and so Geulincx held the view later systematised in Kant: that the human intellect could not know the world in itself.
The Metaphysica, then, rules out the notion of ontology as a knowledge of an order of being in favour of a notion of ontology as knowledge of an order of thought. Grimm’s Kantian perspective permitted him to recognise this in Geulincx while at the same time overlook the corrective to this view Geulincx sought in fideism. If Kant lived in the spirit of Geulincx, says de Vleeschauwer, then Jacobi lived in his heart.
IV. History of Reception in France
The German interest in Geulincx was largely doctrinal and historical and was related to distinguishing Leibniz’s pre-established harmony from Geulincx’s occasionalism–though the two philosophers’ views on the unity of matter and thought or body and soul were virtually identical–an emphasis that kept Geulincx’s epistemology hidden from them for some time. If the German interest in Geulincx was tied to the national philosopher Leibniz, the French interest was naturally tied to Descartes. French philosophy historians, concerned only to place Geulincx in the larger movement of Cartesianism, confronted the problem of how to do credit to Geulincx’s role in Cartesianism without reducing Malebranche’s. The similarity of Geulincx’s and Malebranche’s views on occasionalism, as anthropological responses to Cartesian dualism, threatened to overshadow the representative role of Malebranche as the French saw it. While Damiron’s history of 17th century philosophy went some way to reviving the name of Geulincx in France, it relied heavily on Andala’s polemics for its understanding of Geulincx and hence is of limited value. As devout Christians concerned with delimiting the place of reason Geulincx and Malebranche surely shared much in common. Damiron’s emphasis on occasionalism in the anthropological sense ignores the universal and cosmological significance it had for Geulincx (a fact perhaps explained by his lack of a copy of the Metaphysica).
Francisque Bouillier’s history of Cartesian philosophy did not greatly improve on Damiron, but Georges Monchamp shed some light on Geulincx’s years at the university of Louvain when Cartesianism was in the ascendancy. Geulincx was appointed professor primarius and later dismissed for reasons of faith in unknown circumstances. Though Geulincx wrote most of his work at Leyden, it was at Louvain that he worked out the Cartesian and quasi-Jansenist outlines of his metaphysics and ethics (which might owe something to Philippi). After a decade of consolidating research, from 1890 onwards Geulincx comes to be considered an independent thinker in the evolution of modern thought, though he never entirely emerges from the shadows of his great contemporaries Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz.
V. Geulincx and Leibniz; or, Occasion and Harmony
A scholarly controversy erupted the 1880s over whether the harmonia praestabilita, the doctrine of pre-established harmony, belonged to Geulincx or to Leibniz. Although the logician Sigwart had made a study in 1822 of the precursors to Leibniz’s theory and its affinities with post-Cartesian occasionalism, it took over 50 years for the private scholar Berthold to point out that Leibniz seemed to have borrowed Geulincx’s simile of synchronised clocks to illustrate the notion of parallelism central to pre-established harmony. Leibniz compared two separate but concurrent series of phenomena, that like parallel lines correspond but never meet, with two clocks. The clocks tell the same time independently, in accordance with the will of the divine watchmaker. As the simile appears two or three times in Geulincx, and as Leibniz had already been accused of plagiarising calculus from Newton, the suggestion was that his doctrine of pre-established harmony should be returned to its rightful author, Geulincx.
A monograph by Pfleiderer elevated Geulincx’s occasionalism from the narrow context in which it was left by previous Descartes and Geulincx studies–as an anthropological solution to the dualism of body and soul or matter and thought–to a metaphysical and cosmological principle of explanation. It took until Pfleiderer to realise that Geulincx’s contribution to occasionalism was to extend it as a principle of causation across the entire cosmos. The broadening of the doctrine allowed Pfleiderer to shed some light on the vexed relation to Leibniz. Did occasionalism imply innumerable acts of assent from God–the naïve view of the Descartes school–or merely a preordination by creation? Pfleiderer’s analysis of the clock similes in Geulincx shows that Geulincx could only have intended the latter meaning and that he never belonged to the "miracle" school. Pfleiderer then blames Leibniz for the confusion; in order to increase the difference between occasionalism and pre-established harmony, Leibniz, says Pfleiderer, deceitfully gave the wrong interpretation to occasionalism that directly resulted in Geulincx’s philosophical neglect.
In a lecture before the Prussian academy in 1882, Zeller came to the defence of Leibniz citing three theses: whether Leibniz knew Geulincx is inconclusive because of the dearth of evidence; Leibniz never claimed the clock analogy his own, claiming rather to have borrowed it from Fouché; and finally, the only similarity between the two was their rejection of the influxus physicus, the idea of the mutual causal influence of things, in favour of divine causality. Geulincx, moreover, rejected the first two conditions of pre-established harmony: that monads know nothing of other monads and that monads change because of a principle of internal structural causality; for Geulincx, the source of causality is outside things. The originality of Geulincx, for Pfleiderer, lies in a position somewhere between the Cartesians and Spinoza.
Another defence of Leibniz against charges of theft agreed with Pfleiderer that while in all probability Leibniz knew Geulincx and was even unfair to his version of occasionalism, the idea that Leibniz stole Geulincx’s idea was absurd. Indeed it was Leibniz, rather than Geulincx as Pfleiderer claims, that extended the scope of occasionalism to a universal and cosmological level. The very obscurity of the relation between Leibniz and Geulincx in Leibniz’s own work turned out to be the best defence in the end, especially when one considers that occasionalism in the 17th and 18th century was not considered the work of one thinker, be it Malebranche or Geulincx, so much as the product of the Cartesian school, which is generally how Leibniz refers to it. And because of the polemical efforts of Andala, Geulincx was considered to have left the Cartesian school for the Spinozan camp on just this doctrine of occasionalism. It was not in Leibniz’s time, as we have seen, that Geulincx’s name was differentiated from the occasionalist school. Leibniz was guilty of misconstruing Geulincx’s contribution to occasionalism, like so many others, but not of deceitfully misrepresenting it to increase his own share of fame.
Pfleiderer tempered his allegations in a reply to Zeller and Eucken: the simile of the synchronised clocks may not have been original to Geulincx either, and may even be have been suggested by Descartes himself; while Geulincx still had priority over Leibniz, he was by no means the first occasionalist. The polemic brought to light the strong similarities between occasionalism and pre-established harmony, and Pfleiderer stood by his original accusation that Leibniz misrepresented the history and development of occasionalism. If we remove Pfleiderer’s imputation of deceit, then the criticism still stands: Leibniz was unintentionally to blame for writing Geulincx out of the history occasionalism.
The matter was picked up in a slightly different light in 1888 when Ludwig Stein set up his Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie. While Géraud de Cordemoy might be most deserving of the title of the first occasionalist in a chronological sense, Geulincx deserved the title when considered from a systematic standpoint. Stein found traces of occasionalism in Hellenistic Stoicism, in the school of Ascharya, medieval Victorines like Richard of St. Victor, and in most of Descartes’ followers; and while not asserting causal influence, Stein directed readers to Geulincx’s citations of Seneca in the Ethica to suggest the background role of Stoicism in the transition to Geulincx’s ethical ideas.
Samtleben’s monograph in 1885 left the controversy to one side and sought instead to establish Geulincx as an indispensable link in the chain between Descartes and Spinoza. Samtleben suggested that Geulincx’s decisive concepts were original developments from Descartes that remain largely unaltered in Spinoza. Geulincx and Spinoza believed that the primary task of the philosophy of Descartes–to provide an ontological basis for mathematics and the physical sciences–did not go far enough: philosophy culminated in ethics not epistemology. Formally speaking, the structure of Geulincx’s and Spinoza’s ethics was the same–the motivation and indeed the definition of morality was to be found in love of reason, amor intellectus–and both philosophers lamented the role natural theology had played in the structure of moral judgment. But while similarities abound, Geulincx and Spinoza remain very different thinkers, and it is questionable whether an ethical system based on self-denial could be reconciled with one based on self-maintenance. The irrationalism at the base of any confessional faith is also foreign to Spinoza.
Still, E. Göpfert’s Geulincx’ ethisches System (Breslau, 1883) adopted the basic outlines of Samtleben’s study of the ethics. Van der Haeghen’s doctoral thesis on Geulincx filled some biographical and bibliographic omissions in the record, though failed to shed light on the influence of the Cartesians at Louvain and Philippi. Paulinus’ dissertation pursued the line of thought started by Samtleben but not in any new directions. In J.P.N. Land, however, lies the most significant contribution to Geulincx scholarship by one of Geulincx’s countrymen, particularly in regard to the Geulincx-Spinoza relationship. Land edited the Opera philosophica of both philosophers and shed light on Geulincx’s Louvain and Leyden periods. His survey of writings in connection with the life of Geulincx supersedes previous study. In Arnold Geulincx und seine philosophie (The Hague, 1895) Land carefully joins and separates concepts in Descartes, Geulincx, and Spinoza, showing how Geulincx’s concept of liberty and the personal conscience was better explained with reference to an Augustinian and Platonic tradition than to a Spinozan or pantheistic one, a point which did not preclude the undeniable psychological affinities between the two philosophers nor the fact they often shared similar terms and treated similar topics. Land discusses Geulincx’s occasionalism in Leibnizian rather than Cartesian scope, and hints also at Geulincx’s queer proximity to Kant’s Critique. Perhaps the only fault of Land’s exegesis is his tendency to treat Geulincx’s development in isolation from his time and contemporaries.
VI. The Transition
Despite the scholarly activity between 1880—1900 and the groundwork laid by Land’s edition of Geulincx’s works, the study of Geulincx has fallen silent down to the present day. The first chapter of M. de Wulf’s Histoire de la Philosophie de Belgique (Brussels, 1910) deals with Geulincx’s battle against Aristotelianism at Louvain, but is no development from Monchamp’s study fourteen years earlier. Eugène Terraillon’s study of the ethics does not break new ground either in posing the question whether Bontekoe or Andala best understood Geulincx; whether, in other words, Geulincx was Cartesian or Spinozan. For Terraillon, Geulincx is more Cartesian than Spinozan despite his apparent distance from Descartes, often attributed to vestiges of scholasticism in Descartes and Jansenism in Geulincx. Geulincx begins to emerge in a light of his own in this account when Terraillon speaks of the mystical refuge Geulincx sought from the overarching rationalism of the 17th century, for Geulincx’s "Kantian" attempts to reconcile rationalism and religion sharply distinguish him from Descartes and Spinoza. While no one would deny Geulincx’s Ethica bears debts to Descartes, Terraillon, still in thrall to the either-or model of previous scholarship, can only save Geulincx from Spinozan oblivion by delivering him up to a Cartesian one. The syncretic nature of Geulincx’s philosophy, however, defies capture by either camp, for it includes elements of both and much else besides in an original combination.
VII. Geulincx, Precursor of Christian Existentialism
Geulincx’s role in the second rank of great European philosophers, and as an indispensable link between Descartes and Spinoza, is more clearly discernible after World War I and improvements in historiographical research generally. Von Brockdorf’s monograph on Descartes sets Geulincx’s creative vision apart from Descartes’ and regards him as something of a dualist brought to the point of monism by the logic of his own system. Bréhier’s few pages are unfortunate by comparison, and R. Honigswald’s short summary can only find a negative role for Geulincx in the history of philosophy. In Honigswald’s unsympathetic account, Geulincx verges on solipsism, falls into irrationalism, and wallows in quietism. The conclusion that human reason is powerless before the objective content of things does not surrender human destiny to ineffability and impotence, however, but rather goes some way to broadly defining Kant’s critical project, as we have seen.
Geulincx has been written out histories of philosophy that privilege epistemology more than once, and he owes his inclusion in modern anthologies like Cassirer’s and von Aster’s to scepticism concerning the narrow privileging of the epistemological. Cassirer discovered the connection between Geulincx and Richard Burthogge’s Essay upon Reason of 1694, and attributes to Geulincx the idea that we know things by forms of thought, which put negatively is the idea that we cannot know the Ding an sich. If one accepts Cassirer’s point, the Ding an sich cannot be considered the exclusive property of Kant; though of course what matters is the epistemological edifice Kant constructed on this idea. Geulincx’s deepening of Cartesianism, Cassirer suggests anachronistically, brought Descartes more into line with Kant’s critical project. There was no systematic criticism of knowledge in the Cartesian school, in other words, for despite Descartes’ criticism of the unreliability of the senses, the school regarded object and observation, and consequently form of thought and form of being, as identical.
Geulincx built his ideas on the recognition of this error. He notes that the original sin of Scholasticism is the confusion of object of thought and existent being. Categories consisting of forms of synthetic-intellectual activity were for them the highest determinations of being as such, a thesis that tumbles to the ground the moment one looks at the synthetic origin of the categories. Geulincx explained this representation with the concept of substance, but the school turned a grammatical standpoint into a metaphysical reality of being, and thus failed to grasp the difference between being and thought and the distinctiveness of the being of thought.
If the concept of being is an intellectual relation then differences in being originate in distinctions of thought. By resorting to a notion of a Ding an sich Geulincx’s dualism missed the opportunity of demolishing rational metaphysics in toto, but on the basis of this dualism Geulincx built a metaphysics denying the autonomous activity of body and soul. Action presumes an agent that knows that and how it acts. A material object cannot know it effects other material objects (or the spiritual substance) and without such consciousness cannot be said to be a true causal agent. So too, the human ego does not effect its own or other bodies, as we have been taught to believe it does since Aristotle, because it does not know how these effects are produced. We are spectators on the movements and actions of our bodies, not masters of them, despite our acts of will. But then why are volitions contiguous with actions? Because a human act of will is an occasional cause, an occasion on which God, the only real cause, produces a movement in the body. Body and soul are in relations of sequence and synchrony, like the famous two clocks.
In nominating Geulincx the precursor of Kant, Cassirer overlooks the Ethica and makes Geulincx speak in a terminology that developed more than a hundred years after his death. Von Aster, too, devotes considerable space to Geulincx in the history of epistemology, focusing on the question: if I am not the cause of knowledge, where does it come from? Knowledge derives from God; but He must elicit the cooperation of an extended body. Geulincx’s rationalism here subordinates body and thought. Geulincx adheres to a notion of the Ding an sich in a negative sense only–a universe away from the positive epistemology Kant built on the same notion–to suggest that only He who made the transcendent order could be said to know it. Hence the body, not God or thought, is the main problem for Geulincx, and by identifying the body with space he robs the concept of space of its abstract universality.
Brulez emphasises this subjectivation of knowledge in Geulincx as his most recognisable philosophical attitude and in so doing concentrates less on the passivity to which man is doomed than his moments of active participation. God was the source, to be sure, but the ego was the purpose and the body the means; three areas that might be thought of in relation to Geulincx’s development from Descartes: in the concept of substance, occasionalism, and the problem of the knowability of the world. Brulez’s discussion of the ethics chides Geulincx for misconceiving the relation of his ethics to his metaphysics of occasionalism, perhaps because Brulez considered the latter only in its narrow anthropological sense. (He concludes by placing Geulincx as the precursor to Hume’s and Kant’s criticism of causality). Jodl pays greater attention to the ethics but at the cost, it sometimes seems, of pushing the rationalist side of Geulinx’s system back into Cartesian or Spinozan camps. Still, Jodl’s exegesis of Geulincx’s ethics is an excellent corrective to Honigswald’s account of the metaphysics.
As Jodl understands it, Geulincx sought to distinguish himself from the toxic effects of the mechanistic naturalism that begins with Descartes and culminates in Spinoza, as they were understood in theological circles at the time, by constructing an ethics based on Christian submission to God. What makes this account so compelling is the fact that Geulincx expressed the principle of submission in the language of rationalism. Geulincx, like Malebranche, managed to combine an uncompromising rationalism with a virtual mysticism and pious rule of life precisely by excluding humans from any causal participation in the government of the world, which is deemed to be the province of a divine and omnipotent rationality. Incapable of such action, humans are therefore also incapable of willing.
What at first blush looks like the antithesis of rational ethics deserves further consideration. To simply assert a causal connection between thought and action usurps the agency of God. Hence morality for Geulincx cannot be the attribute of proper action, only proper intention (he was the first to propose an ethics of intention since the Stoics, something that would not be seen again until Fichte). The morality of an action, then, lies in our intentional submission to reason. As God is absolute reason and the only true agent, another way of saying this is that the morality of an action lies in our intentional submission to the will of God. Humility for Geulincx is not just another virtue but a philosophical or orderly attitude of mind, a heroic acceptance of the limits of human action bounded by necessity, indeed a self-denial borne of amor fati. For Geulincx egoism or philautia oppose this correct moral attitude and dwell in ignorance.
The problem of freedom is explained in a similar manner. The decision to submit to God’s will though not the will itself can be considered free. Humans cannot change the course of events, not even events in the social world, for the human path has been paved by God and is followed willingly or not. Geulincx thus cuts the chord between happiness and morality: we are not the authors of our own happiness; happiness is rather an unguaranteed reward for an ethical life. Whether or not he succeeded, Geulincx clearly attempted to convert an ethics from the Gospel into the language 17th century rationalism: the Christian spirit demands submission to God, just as the modern spirit demands submission to reason. While this conversion passes through Jansenism, Augustine and Paul rather than Descartes and Spinoza lie at its source.
It was apparent at the outbreak of World War II that Geulincx had not been fully mined, as proven by E. Bergmann’s and K. Kanthack’s new studies. Indeed it might even be mooted that the future problems of philosophy can be found in some embryonic form in Geulincx. Bergmann discards any idealistic account of Descartes’ metaphysics and, typically from a member of Nicolai Hartmann’s school, traces the problems of epistemology along their dual paths to their inevitably irrational source. The antinomy of res cogitans and res extensa is only unified, in other words, by an appeal to the irrational. The task of occasionalism was to solve this antinomy through a similar limitation of the reach of reason that rejected rational determinism for the cosmos as a whole. Metaphysics and epistemology converge in this defeat of rationality in the face of duality, for the being of the two worlds cannot be circumvented by reason. Metaphysics confronts us with the original dualism of the human condition which releases wonder because it is finally blocked to reason. Matter and spirit are connected by correspondences reason cannot see. There is a knowing that corresponds to every doing that runs deeper than any rational reconstruction of action, and naturalism is incapable of preserving a suspicion that this correspondence finds its final explanation in God. For the mystery of how the two substances mind and matter interact is akin to the mystery of God. Occasionalism is the recognition of the role of the divine Fatherhood entwined in human fate.
Such speculation seems to many a cowardly retreat into the false consolations of Christian faith, but such a dismissal, apart from overlooking the careful steps of reasoning involved, must come to terms with the transcendental problems of knowledge as they familiar to us since Kant. Metaphysics and epistemology lead us to the world an sich which cannot be exhausted in theoretical reason.
Kanthack turns her interest on psychological causality in Geulincx, and revives the polemics of the 1880s in her discussion of occasionalism and Leibniz. Freudenthal, building on Zeller, discussed the possible influence of Geulincx in Spinoza’s relation to scholasticism, and Dunin-Borkowsky’s and Vloemans’ works on Spinoza discuss similar relations between the two philosophers. There is no documentary proof the two ever met, but as Geulincx taught at Leyden while Spinoza was beginning his Ethica in nearby Rynsburg, a meeting between the two cannot be ruled out. Spinoza lived there for three years until 1663 and was a guest of the Collegians (where he gave private tuition in philosophy and Hebrew) whom were well known in Leyden. Spinoza commented on Descartes’ just published Principia philosophiae, a work written in the same geometric style of Geulincx’s Methodus published in the same year. Moreover the editor of Spinoza’s Descartes commentary was a student of Geulincx, so it seems unlikely the two men could not have known each other. But even if a relationship could be uncovered in the archives its influence on the thinking of either men would remain speculative.
Nagel’s dissertation on the concept of substance in Geulincx in 1930 puts a useful historical frame on Geulincx’s contribution to philosophy. Monism and pluralism are responses to the perennial philosophical problem of the one and many, and thanks to Aristotle and the Scholastics the latter dominated western philosophy, excepting the interruption of the odd monist like Spinoza (encouraged as he was by Copernican science and 17th century mysticism). For Nagel, Geulincx prepared the way for Spinoza’s monism. Descartes’ three substances–God, mind and matter–became two substances with Geulincx’s identification of mind with God, and finally the one substance of Spinoza, God. Criticism against Peripateticism in the 17th century enabled Geulincx to build a metaphysics with Cartesian principles, an effort that required a confrontation with the concept of substance in Aristotle. The Scholastic confusion of language with ontology is the prologue to Geulincx’s account of the substantial dualism of the human condition, an account that metaphysically exceeds its initial anthropological starting point. Nagel collapses Geulincx’s dualism by imparting a pantheistic structure to Geulincx’s concept of substance, but remains conscious of the fact that monism in Geulincx is latent or implied but never logically conceived. Perhaps Geulincx was scared off any open declaration of monism which he knew would be interpreted as a direct challenge to the authority of the Church, as the future vilification of Spinoza sadly attests. Nagel suggests affinities between Spinoza and Geulincx can now emerge without fear of being hunted into the shadows by the vindictive spirit of Andala.
Friends regarded Geulincx a disciple of Descartes; Germans a rival of Leibniz and later a precursor of Kant; the French a rival of Malebranche. And only the history of his scholarly neglect charted here really explains why Geulincx was not taken up in the 1950s along with Pascal as a Christian existentialist.
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