Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Arnold Geulincx

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GEULINCX, Arnold (16251669), one of the most distinguished of the earlier Cartesians, was born at Antwerp in 1625. Few details are known with regard to his life, and his more important works are extremely rare. He studied philosophy and medicine at the university of Louvain, and took there the degree of doctor. For twelve years he continued at the same university as lecturer, and was noted as one of the most successful teachers. For what reason he left is quite uncertain, but he seems to have been obliged to fly from Louvain and to take refuge in Leyden, where he appears to have been in the utmost distress. Only the generous assistance of a friend, by name Heidanus, prevented his death from absolute want of means. At Leyden he entered the Protestant Church, having been previously a Catholic, and it has been supposed that his flight from Louvain was due to doubts excited there as to his orthodoxy. This, however, is merely conjecture. In 1663, through his friend Heidanus, he obtained leave to lecture at Leyden, and devoted himself with the utmost zeal to his new duties. He died in 1669. His most important works were published posthumously. During his lifetime there seem to have been made public only the theses which he defended on graduating at Louvain (Saturnalia, seu quæstiones quodlibeticæ in utramque partem disputatæ, 2d ed. 1665). The Metaphysica vera, 1691, and the Γνῶθι σεαυτόν, sive Ethica, post tristia auctoris fata, 1696 (first part, 1665), are the works by which he is known in the history of philosophy. In addition to these were published Physica Vera, Logica restituta, and Annotata in Principia Philosophiæ R. Cartesii. Geulincx takes up principally the doctrine, left in an obscure and unsatisfactory state by Descartes, of the relation between soul and body. Extension and thought, the essences of spiritual and corporeal natures, are absolutely distinct, and cannot act upon one another. External facts are not the causes of mental states, nor are mental states the causes of physical facts. So far as the physical universe is concerned, we are merely spectators. The influence we seem by will to exercise over bodies is only apparent; volition and action only accompany one another. I cannot be the author of any state of which I am unconscious, for my very nature is consciousness; but I am not conscious of the mechanism by which bodily motion is produced, hence I am not the author of bodily motion. Body and mind are like two clocks which act together, because at each instant they are adjusted by God. A physical occurrence is but the occasion on which God excites in me a corresponding mental state. Geulincx is thus definitely the originator of the theory called Occasionalism. But the principles on which that theory was founded compelled a further advance. God, who is the cause of the concomitance of bodily and mental facts, is in truth the sole cause in the universe. No fact contains in itself the ground of any other; the existence of the facts is due to God, their sequence and co-existence are also due to him. He is the ground of all that is. My desires or volitions and my thoughts are thus the desires, volitions, or thoughts of God. Apart from God, the finite being has no reality. Geulincx is thus the precursor of Spinoza, and, like Spinoza, he gave out his final results under the title of Ethics. Descartes had left untouched, or nearly so, the difficult problem of the relation between the universal element or thought and the particular desires or inclinations. All these are regarded by Geulincx as modes of the divine thought and action, and accordingly the end of human endeavour is the end of divine will, or the realization of reason. The love of right reason is the supreme virtue, whence flow the cardinal virtues, diligence, obedience, justice, and humility. Liberty is obedience to reason; nemo servit qui rationi servit.

Geulincx has not directly touched the problem which evidently must have caused the greatest difficulty to the Cartesians,—how we perceive extended reality,—though he plainly indicates the opinion that we do not perceive it, but have the idea of it from God. He thus carried out to their extreme consequences the irreconcilable elements in the Cartesian metaphysics, and his works have the peculiar value attaching to the vigorous development of a one-sided principle. The abrupt contradictions to which such development leads of necessity compels revision of the principle itself.

See Damiron, Phil. en France au 17me siècle, 1816; Bouillier, His. de la Phil. Cartesienne, i. ch. 14; Erdmann, Versuch einer Gesch. d. neu. Phil., i., b., sec. 2; Ritter, Gesch. d. Phil., xi. pp. 97–169 (Ritter’s account of Geulincx is the fullest in any history of philosophy); K. Fischer, Gesch. d. neu. Phil., i. 2, 11–27.