I'm working on the chapter of my manuscript that traces the genealogy of human rights discourse through the Enlightenment, and I had the opportunity today to re-read Descartes' Letter of Dedication that prefaces his Meditations on First Philosophy. What a hoot! (Admittedly, I may be getting a little punchy and it might not be that funny...)
For those of you unfamiliar with the Letter, it is written to "Those Most Wise and Distinguished Men, the Dean and Doctors of the Faculty of Sacred Theology at Paris." After positing the clear superiority of philosophy over theology for establishing things like the existence of God and the eternality of the human soul, and after claiming that unbelievers will only be convinced by his arguments and their appeal to natural reason (since atheists don't listen to religious folk anyway), and after suggesting that his arguments "equal or even surpass" those of geometry in "certitude and obviousness," after all that, poor little Descartes still finds it necessary to solicit ecclesiastical sanction for his Meditations. Why? You can almost hear Rene's sigh of resignation when he explains:
And therefore, regardless of the force of my arguments, because they are of a philosophical nature I do not anticipate that what I will have accomplished through them will be very worthwhile unless you assist me with your patronage.
I must have read this very sentence hundreds of times before, but for some reason today it cracked me up. It read just like it could've been written by Eeyore ("It's not much of tail. I'll likely lose it again...")