The Dream of Descartes

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  • The Dream of Descartes

    By Gregor Sebba

    Assembled from Manuscripts and Edited by Richard A. Watson

    Published for The Journal of the History of Philosophy, Inc.

    SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY PRESS Carbondale and Edwardsville


  • Copyright 1987 by Helen Sebba

    All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America Designed by Cindy Small Production supervised by Natalia Nadraga

    90 89 88 87 4 3 2 1

    Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

    Sebba, Gregor The dream of Descartes

    (The Journal of the history of philosophy monograph series) "Published for the Journal of the History of Philosophy, Inc." 1. Descartes, Ren, 1596-1650. 2. Dreams--History--17th century. I. Watson, Richard A., 1931- . II. Title. III. Series. B1873.S43 1987 194 87-9488 ISBN 0-8093-1413-4 (pbk.)

    The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences--Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984.


  • CONTENTS Journal of the History of Philosophy

    Monograph Series vii

    Preface Richard A. Watson ix

    Autobiographical Note Gregor Sebba xi

    A Brief Note on Method 1

    The Dream of Descartes 5 1. Introduction 5

    2. The First Dream 9

    3. The First Interlude 15

    4. The Second Dream 18

    5. The Third Dream 25

    6. The Critical Juncture 30


  • 7 The First Interpretation 33 8. The Dream of Descartes 42 9. Summary Conclusion 51 10. Note 56 Appendix 1. What Is "History of Philosophy"? The Historiographic Problem 58 Appendix 2. Descartes Against Scepticism: Philosophy Against History? 73


  • THE JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY Monograph Series THE JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY MONOGRAPH SERIES, consisting of volumes of 80 to 120 pages, accommodates serious studies in the history of philosophy that are between article length and standard book size. Editors of learned journals have usually been able to publish such studies only by truncating them or by publishing them in sections. In this series, the Journal of the History of Philosophy presents, in volumes published by Southern Illinois University Press, such works in their entirety.

    The historical range of the Journal of the History of Philosophy Monograph Series is the same as that of the Journal itself--from ancient Greek philosophy to the twentieth century. The series includes extended studies on given philosophers, ideas, and concepts; analyses of texts and controversies; new translations and commentaries on them; and new documentary findings about various thinkers and events in the history of philosophy.

    The editors of the Monograph Series, the directors of the Journal of the History of Philosophy, and other qualified scholars evaluate submitted manuscripts.

    We believe that a series of studies of this size and format fulfills a genuine need of scholars in the history of philosophy.

    Richard H. Popkin Richard A. Watson --Editors


  • PREFACE Richard A. Watson

    GREGOR SEBBA WAS FOND OF TELLING HOW HE BEGAN WORK ON HIS monumental Bibliographia Cartesiana: A Critical Guide to the Descartes Literature, 1800 to 1960. He had an idea about Descartes, but before he started work on it, he thought he should look through the literature to see what might have been said previously on the subject. That was in 1949. Fifteen years later, the Descartes bibliography appeared containing 2,612 numbered items (plus a Steinberg cartoon, "Cogito, ergo Cartesius est."). For most of the entries Gregor provided a line or two of summary and critical comment, and for 562 items he provided extensive commentary. There are 66 pages of index in double columns of small print. The book is a scholarly achievement of the first order, and has been indispensable to Cartesian scholars ever since it appeared in 1964.

    But Gregor still had not finished The Dream of Descartes. He gave lectures on the topic half a dozen times over the years, told people about it, outlined his ideas in letters, but the manuscript was unfinished at the time of his death in 1985.

    Gregor Sebba's manuscripts, letters, and papers were examined by Anbal A. Bueno, who sent all those having to do with The Dream of Descartes to me. Richard H. Popkin provided the manuscript of "What Is 'History of Philosophy'?" and several pertinent letters. Helen Sebba copy edited the manuscript and corrected the proofs of the present volume. I am most grateful for their help.

    I started through the material with some trepidation, an image in my mind of Gregor rubbing his hands together and smiling in his imitation of a sinister Jesuit and saying, "What now, youngster?" It was a piece of cake. Gregor really had finished the manuscript, after all. He had just never gathered it together in one place. But there it was, most of it in a draft dated July 1973. The rest came from other pieces as indicated at the appropriate places in the text. All I had to do was assemble it.

    The Dream of Descartes is a brilliant and charming re-creation and analy-


  • sis of a crucial event in the history of Western thought. The young Ren Descartes roamed Europe seeking his vocation, and on this night had a premonition that a breakthrough would occur. His way was revealed in a sequence of three dreams that he took to be inspired. His own analysis of these dreams set him on the path to the Regulae, the Discours, and the Meditations.

    Sebba argues that in the process of creativity, intellectual ideas can be first expressed physiologically in terms of body movements. In The Dream of Descartes he uses the case of Descartes to demonstrate his thesis. The result is a bold and fascinating analysis of Descartes's dreams as seminal in the creative process of genius.

    Gregor Sebba had a strong interest in the historiography of the history of philosophy. His "What is 'History of Philosophy'? I. Doctrinal vs. Historical Analysis" ( Journal of the History of Philosophy, vol. 8 [ 1970], pp. 251-62) is a careful analysis of the distinction indicated, but it is incomplete. This study is continued here in Appendix 1, What Is "History of Philosophy'? The Historiographic Problem, which rounds out Sebba's views.

    Sebba thought that his ideas on historiography could be best expressed in practice. He proposed to provide a demonstration in a major work of which The Dream of Descartes would be the main exhibit. Fortunately, he did finish The Dream of Descartes, but of the major work we have only an outline. It is included here as Appendix 2, "Descartes Against Scepticism: Philosophy Against History?" both to set The Dream of Descartes in context, and because this outline is Sebba's substantive summary statement on the problems that most concerned him in the history of philosophy.



    FOR A HUMANIST ENGAGED IN A STUDY OF THE CREATIVE ACT, A full statement of background would have to cover the whole range of his life experience and studies, since this is what made him a humanist and gave him the knowledge of human personality needed for the task. I must confine myself to what I think has been decisive.

    First, the times. Born in Libau, Latvia, in 1905, I grew up in the South Tyrol. When Italy declared war in 1915, the family was evacuated to Upper Austria. I studied in Vienna and Innsbruck and finished just when the economic world crisis of 1929 broke out.

    My basic studies were in chemistry and law at the University of Vienna, 1924-25, and in civil and canon law, economics, and political science at the University of Innsbruck, 1925-29. I received the degree of Dr. rerum politicarum at the University of Innsbruck in 1927, and the degree of Dr. juris utriusque in 1929. I studied statistics as a postgraduate at the University of Vienna, 1929-30.

    All prospects of an academic career ended in 1933 when my position (assumed in 1930) as Forschungsassistent in charge of staff and publications at the Institute for Minority Statistics in the University of Vienna was abolished for budgetary reasons. I was an editor of Wirtschaftliche Rundschau, Vienna, 1934-38, a career that suddenly ended when I was arrested by the Gestapo after Hitler's take-over of Austria.

    During those years I was Secretary General of the Austrian Political Society, Vienna, 1931-34; Chairman, University Section, Austrian League of Nations Association, 1930-35; and Chairman, Austrian Sociological Research Circle, 1931-36.

    Emigration to the United States and six years ( 1939-45) of war service followed. I became a United States citizen in 1943, and was forty-two years old when, in January 1947, I finally entered a regular academic career in the United States, a country then, and now, facing times as perturbing as the European 1920s. The unremitting task of understanding such times has


  • forced me, like others of my generation, into ever widening study far beyond earlier specialization. This, I think, is what has made humanists out of so many of us.

    This background also accounts for the curious double track in my scholarly career. I wanted to study philosophy and literature, but poverty forced me into the bread-and-butter study of the law, which I never followed; the time, however, was not wasted. The thorough study of Roman, canon, and medieval law gave me a solid historical foundation, and criminal law taught me what proof is--something that will stand up in court. My teachers led me to a concurrent study of the social sciences, so that I finished with two doctorates. During the 1930s I made my living as a university statistician, economist, newspaperman, editor, and in the advertising profession, pursuing my research interests chiefly within a private research group that I founded in Vienna in 1931. This Austrian Sociological Research Circle, disbanded in 1936 when the political climate made further work impossible, brought together some twenty young and a few older scholars from a variety of fields, leading young intellectuals in political life from the extreme right to the extreme left, and representatives of the main intellectual currents, from Vienna Circle positivists to metaphysicists and theologians. Among those who survived Hitler and the war, few have failed to rise to the top in their chosen careers.

    Equally fruitful were working contacts with exceptional people in other walks of life: poets, artists, musicians, architects, but also industry builders, bankers, statesmen, as well as some prize specimens of what Karl Mannheim has called the floating intelligentsia. When I speak about human creativeness, I speak about something I have seen at close quarters.

    Scholarly work on creativity began as soon as I graduated. My first published paper in 1930 dealt with the sociology of art, a first confused attempt to locate art's creative source. Other papers, including one on revolution and creativity, were presented and critically discussed in the research group. But the task of understanding the upheaval of the interwar period was paramount. It increasingly preoccupied the group. I remember one of the most brilliant papers I have heard, given by Karl Polanyi in March 1933, which cut the ground from under such optimism as was left with a prediction of the events ahead, culminating in the outbreak of another world war in the fall of 1938, or 1939 at the latest.

    When I began my academic career in the United States in January 1947, I chose the University of Georgia because I wanted to spend a few years in the South, which I considered to be a laboratory where the problems of the postwar era could be studied in nuce. I was Professor of Economics and


  • Chairman of Statistics there until 1959. I did a good deal of work in Southern economics and a thorough study of the displaced persons problem from the viewpoint of the absorption of immigrants and the psychology of survivors. I moved to Emory University in 1959 when I was offered its new interdisciplinary professorship in the Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts through a Carnegie Foundation grant. Since then, I have devoted myself almost entirely to doctoral teaching. A year-long inderdisciplinary seminar that I instituted in 1960 and taught for ten years has produced more than a dozen Ph.D.s who went out to establish or reorganize humanities programs throughout the country, as well as a number of teachers in literature, philosophy, and the social sciences who consider themselves humanists and teach accordingly. Other interdisciplinary seminars taught with the cooperation of research people in various fields, such as the Greek seminar and the Baroque seminar, have become the model for similar ventures in theology and other areas at Emory. My own seminars have dealt with a wide range of topics, most of them related to my studies in creativity. My work with undergraduates has chiefly been in humanities courses and in private noncredit seminars.

    I was a Fulbright Professor in Political Philosophy at the University of Munich, 1964-65, and a Danforth Lecturer, Morehouse College, 1968. I received the Outstanding Teacher Award at Emory University in 1968, and the Thomas Jefferson Award in 1970. In 1973, I was made Emeritus Professor of Liberal Arts at Emory University. In 1973-74, I was Professor of Humanities at the University of Florida.

    The center of my teaching and research in the humanities has been the problem of creativity. It has led me deeply into seemingly remote areas that yet had to be studied in minute detail in order to understand what exactly happened in the cases I undertook to analyze. My Bibliographia Cartesiana: A Critical Guide to the Descartes Literature, 1800 to 1960, for example, is a by-product of my study of the Dream of Descartes.

    Nonetheless, I continue to write and lecture in the field of the social sciences, especially in political philosophy. To me, this is a necessity. I cannot divorce the phenomenon of human creativity from its setting in history and society. Conversely, the study of creative act in Rousseau, to give another example, has led me to a quite different evaluation of the Contrat Social and the Emile, and a study of the volont gnrale, done twenty-five years ago, became the key to an understanding of the complexities in this man's intellectual constitution.

    I have had an abiding interest in the work of...


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