Source:

Textes inédits tome 2
Gaston Grua (ed)
pp 577-579



Date: after 1690?

Translated from the French



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LEIBNIZ: NOTES ON ISAAC PAPIN'S ON THE VANITY OF THE SCIENCES


[Gr p577]

THE VANITY OF THE SCIENCES
OR REFLECTIONS OF A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHER
ON THE TRUE HAPPINESS. Amsterdam 1688


     A. Extracts: defence of luxury, which serves to nourish the artisans in the absence of charity. The essential happiness is virtue, not fortune, glory or any science. Without doubt, science is an honour and a pleasure, but weak in the face of our ignorance. One must give a modest rank to history and to languages, and only truly value the knowledge of eternal truths. In theology, the essential truths, of a practical nature, are known from simple truths by revelation, which confirms the natural principles (p. 158). The happiness of the other life will consist in the eternal discovery of new truths (p. 237).

     B. I find this book extremely reasonable, and the author must be a very able man. I only really find fault with the title of the book, because it does not deal with the vanity of the sciences, but only with their true value and use. He shows that one must not neglect any occasion to instruct oneself; and that those who have resources could not use them better than by spending them on that which serves to cultivate the mind. But his goal is only to show that those whose condition does not allow them to devote themselves to the sciences are nevertheless able to be happy, as happiness [Gr p578] consists in the satisfaction of the spirit that comes from what one does in accordance with reason and duty. However he does not deny that knowledge gives a very solid pleasure, and that it is somewhat necessary for civil society. But he shows that sciences are still very imperfect, and that most often those who pass for learned men have a mind full of false ideas, so that the ignorant are in a better state than them. I have put down in a separate paper something that concerns the reflections of the author on the detail of certain questions of philosophy from p. 163 up to 218.
     The author of the book on the vanity of the sciences, or rather on their true worth, uses a part of his work to make some difficulties for the sciences...
     C. "Response to doubts about the sciences, which have been formulated by Mr Bernier, and by the author of the discourse on the vanity of the sciences."
     The doubts formulated by these able men are very useful; the more difficult and sophisticated they are, the more they are likely to throw out flashes of some new insights by this opposition. Mr Bernier used them most sincerely: he was a Gassendist without being stubbornly so. He is nevertheless a little decisive in these same doubts; consider his book on the voluntary and the necessary. The small book on the vanity of the sciences must have been written by a man of merit and I find it very reasonable, with the exception of the title; I would almost believe that the title is from the bookseller, who perhaps judged it more appropriate to generate turnover, instead of from the author, whose plan was to make known the true worth of the sciences. He shows that one must not neglect any occasion to instruct oneself; that every kind of knowledge has its use in civil life; that there is no pleasure more solid than the one that consists in a clear knowledge of the truths of consequence, especially the eternal truths; that people who have a considerable income could not use it better than by spending it on that which serves to cultivate the mind (+ not only theirs, but those of men generally +). Everything he says in order to diminish the worth of the sciences tends only to console those whose state, leisure and fortune does not permit (or no longer permits) them to attach themselves to studies. He shows that as true happiness consists in the tranquillity of the conscience, a person should always be content when he has done his duty, he will endeavour to acquire new [Gr p579] knowledge when that is permitted for him, and will content himself with what he already has when it is forbidden for him to go further. He shows that happiness does not consist in knowledge, that it suffices that one has done his duty, and that one be docile. Lastly he shows that it is rare to find truly learned men, that the sciences are spoiled by false ideas, and that there are still numerous difficulties on what is thought about knowledge. And he enters into a detail about that which makes it clear that the author understands the new philosophy, that he has meditated on Descartes, and that he is not a follower of his, as are so many others. Finally he says things that deserve reflection.


© Lloyd Strickland 2004, 2007