Pascal, Spinoza, and Defining Cartesianism
Abstract. Like Wittgenstein’s family resemblances, defining Cartesianism in the seventeenth century is challenging with no immediately clear necessary and sufficient conditions that draw this diverse school of philosophers together. Many recent commentators have already explored similar and related issues. I would like to expand this discussion by focusing on Blaise Pascal and Benedict de Spinoza. These two have such antithetical metaphysical commitments that it is unclear at first what common ground they might have. Furthermore, both explicitly criticize Descartes in their writings. In spite of these critiques and dissimilarities with one another, if Pascal and Spinoza are still Cartesian, it is telling as to how diverse the landscape of Cartesianism really was. I give a survey covering their criticisms of Descartes, their reception by contemporaries, and where it is in their philosophy that they embrace Cartesianism. My main concern of this paper is to bring these two ‘canonical’ philosophers into discussion with one another and subsequently push the boundaries on defining Cartesianism.
Keywords: Cartesianism, Spinoza, Pascal, Descartes, Early Modern, Seventeenth Century