Stupid Cartesians, anyone?

Dear Baruch,

I have almost finished Matthew Stewart’s The Courtier and the Heretic — more about that in a later post — but one thing that struck me is a passage from a letter that Nadler’s biography also quotes. Here it is on the web, and I quote the relevant bit:

Distinguished and Illustrious SIR,–When I received your letter of the 22nd July, I had set out to Amsterdam for the purpose of publishing the book I had mentioned to you. While I was negotiating, a rumour gained currency that I had in the press a book concerning God, wherein I endeavoured to show that there is no God. This report was believed by many. Hence certain theologians, perhaps the authors of the rumour, took occasion to complain of me before the prince and the magistrates; moreover, the stupid Cartesians, being suspected of favouring me, endeavoured to remove the aspersion by abusing everywhere my opinions and writings, a course which they still pursue. When I became aware of this through trustworthy men, who also assured me that the theologians were everywhere lying in wait for me, I determined to put off publishing till I saw how things were going, and I proposed to inform you of my intentions.

What I want to highlight here is that this appears to be the one other time when Spinoza lost it — specifically, when he refers to “the stupid Cartesians”. That phrase has stuck with me; it has a lovely disdainful quality about it, and I’ve tried it on several people, to pleasing effect.

So I thought it might be fitting to add a new category to our blog, “Stupid Cartesians”, in which we excoriate those who should know better but who, for whatever reason, choose to sit on the fence as civilization founders, or even collaborate with barbarian elements in a mistaken attempt to salvage their position.

(BTW, have you seen this great resource? Most of Spinoza’s works online, free, in digital form.)

Bento

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1 thought on “Stupid Cartesians, anyone?”

  1. Agreed. And the first Stupid Cartesian nominated is Matthew Dowd. He was the campaign manager for Bush 04. Ex-Dem even. I was just listening to him on NPR, apparently he has just decided Iraq is a Bad Thing. Drove me up the wall, what a complete dozy dimwit. Says it is partly because his son is going to Iraq next week of something that he had a change of heart. Hmm.

    OK, technically he is an ex-Stupid Cartesian, but once you have been a Stupid Cartesian of this apparent proportion, it should not be a label you can leave behind easily.

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