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Postcard From Hokkaido: Truth, Science, History - and Capitalism.


The Earth is burning and dying. Capitalism is killing it. Contra Nietzsche, planeti-cide, not dei-cide, is the
secular catastrophe, the most horrid crime for human civilisation. I have sought refuge from the unbearable
heat of the norther hemisphere (36 Celsius in Taipei, 40 in Tokyo) as far north as I could go - in Hokkaido.
Refuge, not just shelter, nor sanctuary, that’s for saints or rare species - because it is more than heat that I seek
relief from. I wish also to take a break from the madness engulfing the world. The gaping divide between
profitability (ever-growing accumulation of control over living labour by means of dead labour) and the
sustainability of life on earth is easily gauged by the incalculable and irretrievable damage that this capitalist
social system is inflicting on our lonely planet. Small wonder that the bourgeoisie should try to appease us with
pathetic pie-in-the-sky lures of future interplanetary travel and settlement! That is without counting all the
garbage about “artificial intelligence” when supposedly it will be robots that will relieve us of all suffering and
toil! In reality, of course, capitalism is “the civilization of labour” because it is founded on the accumulation of
command over surplus living labour – which means, of course, that the survival of the bourgeoisie and its
accumulation of capital depends on the perpetuation and expansion of necessary living labour!

The global bourgeoisie is palpably hell-bent on erasing not just biodiversity, not just the ecosphere, but also -
and consequentially - the only thing that could protect the Earth from devastation, the very fabric of anything
resembling a rational society guided by humane and progressive values. Capitalist accumulation engenders (in
the sense that it enables and requires) overpopulation, and therefore uncontrolled consumption and
destruction of natural resources. At the same time, the global bourgeoisie promotes anti-democratic lumpen-
proletarian ideologues and propagates misinformation that make any type of rational government and lawful
order utterly impossible. The one deplorable phenomenon feeds into the other in a diabolically spiraling,
pernicious conflagration that is simultaneously suffocating our atmosphere and asphyxiating our minds. Here
in the verdant cool of Hokkaido it is easy to picture oneself in the robes of those mediaeval monks who
retreated to the wintry fields of Ireland, seeking shelter from the howling wind inside a rudimentary church or
monastery built with rough-hewn stone – just as Marguerite Yourcenar imagined in one of her most beautiful
essays – Le Temps, Ce Grand Sculpteur. It is to such remote places that gentler spirits flee to escape the
ravages of their crumbling civilization, braving the inclement elements and the harsh environment, warmed by
a feeble fire burning in the somber hearth and by the fickle hope of preserving for posterity the last remnants
of the ancient wisdom that has lit their grim lives. Yourcenar likens the experience of the monks to that of a
fledgling bird that flies into their cavernous building from a lantern in the ceiling, traverses the vault from side
to side, comforted by the brief glow of warmth rising from the log-fire below, before exiting through a crack in
the opposite wall to face the dark cold night once more.

The bourgeoisie thrives on the “proletariat” - on the “proles” that supply the human fodder to feed capitalist
factories. Except that this proliferation - the overpopulation and excess labour force on which capital
accumulates - is now threatening the very survival of the Earth. Ruling classes have always loved the mob: - after
all, rulers need a mob to be able to rule; only the existence of a mob can make possible the complementary
endurance of a ruling class. And free spirits have always wished to remove themselves from the blandishments
and the menace of rulers and mob alike. “Segui il tuo corso e lascia dir le genti”, Virgil admonishes Dante at
the entrance of the Inferno, just as Socrates fought valiantly against the doxa that turned stultified souls away
from episteme. Even Kant, profound believer in the Enlightenment, had to conclude late in his life that “just as
never a straight house was erected from crooked wood” so humanity would never meet with a happy destiny.
And did not Heidegger, the epigone of Western prima philosophia, lament that “oblivion of Being” that had
led to the “obscuration of the world” (l’obscurcissement du monde) in his Einfuhrung zur Metaphysik lectures
held in Paris shortly before the last World War?

To remove himself from the hurly-burly of urban life and affairs of state, the genial Florentine Secretary,
Niccolo’ Machiavelli, would retreat to his manor in the hills outside Florence to seek sanctuary from the petty
rapacity of his fellow citizens consumed by self-interest and wholly oblivious of the interests of their polity. The
discrepancy between these two realities - private affluence and public interest – has finally caught up with the
social system of which he was an early witness and now can be measured in the degradation of our planet and
its living conditions. (Alec Pigou, in The Economics of Welfare, designated the degradation of the
environment caused by the pursuit of profits with the word “externalities” - almost in a sheepish attempt to
deflect the obvious conclusion that these are indeed “internalities” of the capitalist mode of production!) Away
from the frenzied scheming of the popolo grasso and the blind ferocity of the popolo minuto, the author of Il
Principe would retire to his study where he could then consult his extensive library and commune with the
antiqui auctores - from Plato and Aristotle to Cicero and Seneca – and reflect upon the “barbe et peripetie”
(barbs and vicissitudes) of human historical experience, concluding that human life is a mix of virtus et fortuna
(virtue and fortune).

The task of reflection is always arduous and fatidic. The thinker looks back upon the past so as to divine the
future - much as the Etruscan haruspices inspected the entrails of cattle in search of omens and auspices. But
the process of reflection is also one of removal from the cacophony of the present - it is the A-skesis, the
strenuous ascent of the pilgrim or the visionary (Nietzsche’s ‘Uber-mensch’, Zarathustra, retreats to the
mountains) to the vantage point from which to survey reality and peer into the horizon where the land and the
sky collide. A metaphoric ascent that can also become a descent - into Hades (Odysseus, Aeneas) or Hell
(Dante). Reflection relies much more on the intellect than on the will - which is why prophecies are more often
dark than uplifting: ”Optimism of the will, pessimism of the intellect”, was the motto launched by Gramsci and
Rolland. Dark prophecies can serve opposing causes: one is to invite us to surrender to the inevitability of
doom, and the other is to stir us to strenuous resistance against it: “It is only for the sake of those who have lost
hope that hope is given to us”. Ironic, then, if compatible, that the artificers of dark prophecies and the idealist
seekers of a brighter future should turn to philosopher kings (Plato) or to a Leviathan (Hobbes) or a Principe
Nuovo (Gramsci again) to lead us out of the darkness of Lethe (forgetfulness) into the light of Mnemosyne
(memory). Machiavelli turned to “the Prince”.


Gratias agamus Machiavello...qui nobis aperte et indissimulanter proferet quid homines facere soleant non
quid debeant.

With this sonorous praise, one of the first proponents of bourgeois science, Francis Bacon, anointed
Machiavelli as one of the founders of political science rather than ethics. For Aristotle - and certainly for Plato -
politics, far from being a “science”, was only a chapter, published separately, of the Nicomachean Ethics. But
now Bacon proposes a clean-cut distinction between the realms of fact and values, between science and morals
or ethics. The task of science, writes Bacon in The Advancement of Learning (De Augmentis Scientiarum), is
not to preach or to exhort or even less to inspire “values”. Even in matters concerning human affairs, the task
of science is neither autopsia - the retrospective analysis (dissection) of foregone events, nor even anamnesis
(their recollection). The task of science is mere empeiria - naked empirical observation of facts. It is neither the
Ought (Sollen) of ethics nor the Must (Mussen) of religious commandments: it is rather the Is (Sein) of reality
described without fear or favour, sine ira et studio - “openly and without dissimulation” (aperte et
indissimulanter). The sole end of science is Truth, the ordo et connexio rerum et idearum: every Ought, every
ethical value or moral goal, indeed, every meta-physics is just that, “beyond physics”, and therefore beyond the
scope of scientific research.

Yet, contrary to Bacon’s obvious implication, what people actually do is still tied to ideas and values that point
them to what they “ought” or “should” do. It is obvious therefore that the purely empirical role of science that
Bacon advocates is based on a fundamental fallacy. And that not just in the sense (emphasised by Friedrich
Hayek in The Counter-Revolution of Science) that all sociological observation aiming to be “objective” must
also - by definition! - take into account the “subjective” views of the “subjects” (or is that, “objects”?) it purports
to observe! - But also above all because all scientific research and observation must account for the “values”
that led the scientists themselves to research a specific area of human endeavour or of “objective reality”, of
“matter” - a point central to Max Weber’s entire methodology of science. Not only: what Bacon also is unable
to see, right at the dawn of the bourgeois era, is the unquestionable fact that “science” is not a neutral-objective
undertaking but rather it is a specific human activity – a praxis! - in all and for all identical to technological
fabrication and invention. For all the mythology of “science and progress”, homo sapiens has always and
everywhere been co-generate with homo faber! The fallacious distinction between science and technology owes
its unimpeded survival and propagation to the need of sprawling capitalist industry to present its new
techniques of production as innovations based solely and entirely on “scientific truth” - and not on the class
antagonism of the wage relation.

Bacon confused Machiavelli’s enucleation of the concept of raison d’Etat in his magnum opus, The Prince,
with the outline of a truly “mechanistic” political theory. (On this specific concept and its salience in the
political theory of the late Renaissance with the statolaters [Grotius, Pufendorf to Spinoza], see F. Meinecke,
Die Idee der Staatsrason.) Whilst there is certainly a mechanistic bias in Machiavelli’s exposition of Realpolitik,
the overriding aim of his studies was to outline a clear deontological guide to ensure the triumph of virtus over
fortuna. It is undeniable that Machiavelli considered that in statecraft “the ends justify the means”. But the
insistence on this realism was beyond the scope of a serious effort at a scientific political theory. For the
Florentine Secretary, human actions, far from being equiparable or capable of being homologated with physical
events, are of an entirely different nature. Indeed, it is arguable that Machiavelli was a precursor of Vico’s
“Scienza Nuova” in that truth can only be predicated of human actions, not of physical events, because it is
only human actions (“facts” from the Latin facere, to do) that are truly knowable by humans – for the reason
that both the historical agents and the scholars studying their actions share a common insight in the reasons that
led the agents to follow a given course of action! And this “knowledge” or science of human activity extends to
scientific research in the “natural sciences” and to technological invention! It is this realization that led Vico to
label his theory of human history and activity “Scienza Nuova”. Not only is there not a distinction between
physical observation and historical action, but there is also no distinction between “appearance” and “reality”: -
because the very fact that a human activity has taken place – that it is a “factum” – means immediately that it is
also “true” (verum) by virtue of its having been “done”, of its having taken place as res gestae: - whence the
famous Vichian dictum, “Verum ipsum factum” (the truth is the doing itself).

What Bacon and his contemporary scientistic ideologues of the nascent and triumphant bourgeoisie failed to
detect, let alone acknowledge, was the very simple reality that “science” itself has a history - and that therefore it
changes over time in entirely contingent ways. And history tells us that all scientific “discoveries” are human
inventions absolutely indistinguishable from technological applications. There is no “scientific way” of doing
science: every form of scientific research is sui generis – absolutely unique – and therefore cannot be
distinguished from other forms of human action – all of which constitute the substance and record of “history”.
(On the utter fictitiousness of “scientific methodology”, the peremptory reference is T.S. Kuhn, The Structure
of Scientific Revolutions.) Once we look at “science”, not as the involucre of “Truth”, but rather as the
generalisation of technical practices, we can then see much more clearly, again, how “science” is not the
repository of any “Truth” or truths but is instead the chronicle of the standardization, the homogenization of
human activity, of “techniques” or “technologies” or “practices". (We “technologies” or “techniques” so as to
avoid the word “technology” because, like “science”, it tends to reify as an absolute reality what is instead a
human, all-too-human activity.)

It is clear from the foregoing that Bacon was blind to the fundamental insight introduced by Vico that “verum
ipsum factum” - that “the truth” and “science” are nothing more than the historical epitome of human activity –
one that, far from encapsulating the ultimate account of “reality” or “the Truth”, is only an incoherent and
often inconsistent set of temporary and contingent – historical! - conventional rationalisations of human activity.
– A set of conventions as fallible and aleatory as any other human activity. The only “truth” is to be found in
human activity with all its errors and dissimulations – precisely those “dissimulations” that Bacon wished to
eliminate from scientific research and that form instead the very core and essence of Machiavelli’s political
theory in Il Principe! What “normal science” (Kuhn) dismisses as error or appearance (Bacon’s
“dissimulation”) is in fact part of reality – of human reality with its contingent and imperfect structure – which is
why no amount of scientific effort and research will ever be able to establish the definitive “Truth”. (On these
themes, see Nietzsche’s On Truth and Lies (Uber Wahrheit und Luge), and Hannah Arendt’s The Life of the
Mind.) In Karl Popper’s words, science must be falsifiable to be scientific – and therefore it is a complex welter
of “conjectures and refutations”. Indeed, far from being elements of “Truth”, the mathematical relations or
formulae decreed by normal science are mere empirical approximations of data or facts or events that can be
correlated practically or even statistically but whose ultimate causal connection is conceptually impossible to
establish – indeed, “meta-physical” in Bacon’s own terms. (This conceptual impossibility was the great insight
in David Hume’s scepticism, and then in Nietzsche’s phenomenalism.)
If “Progress” there has been in human history, this is due not to “scientific Truth” but rather to the adaptation
of specific social practices and conventions of which “science” is only an adventitious epiphenomenon. In
other words, advances in civilization – if advances they can be called – are due not to “science” as an objective
process of discovery that has led to “progress”, but rather to a set of exquisitely political practices and values a
component of which we categorise as “science” as a convenient label. To understand “science” we must go
beyond its self-understanding – which is the reification of human reality as “objective Truth” – and look at it as
a “praxis”, as a social project subsumed by those social relations of production that have sustained the scientific
myth from Galileo and Newton to Stephen Hawking. In the words of Max Weber, “Science” is merely a
“Belief”, a “Calling”, a “Praxis” – and not the encapsulation or distillation of “Truth” (see the appositely titled
Munich lecture by Weber, Wissenschaft als Beruf [Science as Belief, or Calling]). (Though laced with
excessive neo-Kantianism, Jurgen Habermas’s Erkenntnis und Interesse goes some way toward the approach
we are outlining here.)


Furthermore, the universal goal of science is to place all disparate data in a mathematical relation to one
another so as to establish not just their exact calculability but also their equivalence, that is to say, the
homologation and equiparation of all knowledge in exact, precise, mathematical translation and proportion. In
short, the task of science since Galileo – whose thought Bacon faithfully endorses – is to erect a mathesis
universalis in line with the divine design of nature – indeed, of the uni-verse - opposed to the multi-versality of
the life-world. For Bacon – and his contemporaries Galileo and Descartes as for Mach two centuries later -
philosophical reflection begins where scientific discovery has reached its present limits. That is why “we owe
thanks to Machiavelli for showing us openly and without deceit [aperte et indissimulanter] what human beings
are wont to do and not what they should do”.

The most advanced, extensive and elaborate effort to establish such a “science” is to be found in Descartes’s
Discours de la Methode, in terms of methodological exposition, and in his Meditationes, in terms of the
inspiration, of the afflatus, behind it. It is Descartes who articulated for the entire bourgeoisie what became the
scientistic credo of the capitalist era – the mathesis universalis, that is, the infinite (i) calculability, (ii)
reproducibility and (iii) equivalence of all reality, human and physical. For Descartes, no knowledge can claim
the status of science unless and until it is exactly calculable (in mathematical proportions), unless and until it is
indefinitely reproducible (as a scientific experiment), and therefore unless it can be connected or trans-lated or
trans-posed precisely into all other reality. Descartes’s own methodological conclusions are quite inseparable
from his philosophical modus operandi. In the Meditations, Descartes describes in careful detail how he came
to excogitate his “Cartesian doubt” as the fundamental method for scientific certainty. Having established that
the very awareness of thought is an inconfutable proof of existence (cogito ergo sum), Descartes concludes that
only those findings that have the certainty of logic and mathematics can be treated as scientific. Yet it is
precisely the formalism of this method, its immateriality – its morbid attempt to abstract thought from matter
(the res cogitans from the res extensa) – that ultimately condemns Cartesian methodology to irrelevance.

In his fallacious confusion of “truth” with “certainty” and perverse attempt to transmute human and physical
reality into mathematical equations, Descartes ends up not with science (as even he understood it) but with
empty and sterile logic! Ultimately, the immateriality of his “method” – the transcendental requirement that all
science achieve the “certainty” of logico-mathematics – led to the unbridgeable chasm (Fichte’s hiatus
irrationalis) between the res cogitans (the “I” behind “I think”) and the res extensa (the physical, material ec-
sistence in space and in time of the “I” in “I am”). Descartes’s Ego is unfounded, both in its physical existence
and in its subjective identity or self-consciousness. (This unbridgeable chasm prompted E. Husserl’s later
contorted Cartesian Meditations. The confusion of truth with certainty is a fallacy most devastatingly exposed
by Heidegger in his The End of Philosophy – a work extracted from his voluminous Nietzsche. It was
Nietzsche, however, who first challenged Descartes’s cogito as part of his thoroughgoing aversion to the French

Like Galileo before him, Descartes failed to realise that what makes physical-mathematics possible is not the
“connection” or adequation of thing (body) and idea (soul) – the Scholastic adaequatio rei et mentis, of matter
and mathematics – because no such connection exists or is possible -, but rather the reduction of all reality to
empirical data capable of being calculated mathematically under set experimental conditions. (To illustrate,
F=ma links mathematically concepts such as force and mass and acceleration that are entirely metaphysical!
The formula links our observations as a convenient rule of thumb, but it does not prove that any such entities
exist – least of all that there is a causal link between them, as the Newtonian formula suggests.) The calculability
of these relations is subject to strict conditions that in fact reverse the onus of proof from the perfect formula to
our imperfect observations. Furthermore, no physical experiment is indefinitely reproducible – without
disturbing the experimental conditions under which it is carried out! Finally, far from being scientifically
ascertainable, the equivalence of scientific units is entirely dependent on empirical observation because
otherwise, from pure conceptual analysis, it is impossible by definition! (To exemplify, it is impossible to
equiparate the energy needed to boil water with the destructive effect of the energy released by an explosion:
the two events, boiling and exploding are entirely different in their effects!) [Reification]

Yet, at the dawn of the bourgeois era, it was still possible for Bacon to advocate and hypothesise the eventual
scientization, not just of physical events, but also of social reality. That is why, in the words of Bacon, at least
for what concerns human sciences, “we owe thanks to Machiavelli for showing us openly and without deceit
[aperte et indissimulanter] what human beings are wont to do and not what they should do”. In reality,
however, Machiavelli’s own stance regarding the epistemological and moral status of political analysis was far
removed from what Bacon implies in his fulsome praise of the Florentine Secretary. The author of the
Discorsi was too steeped in the Italian Humanist and Classical Hellenistic historical tradition to reduce and
confine his political studies to a mechanical understanding of human affairs. The equiparation of politics and
physics – and specifically, of mechanics – along Cartesian lines was a task attempted with great genius and
acumen by Thomas Hobbes – certainly not by Machiavelli. (See C. Schmitt, “The State as Mechanism in
Hobbes and Descartes” in his The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes.)

We can now summarise the importance of Bacon’s novel emphasis on “observation” rather than “exhortation”
as the spring for “the advancement of learning” as being that the obliteration of ethical-political values in
scientific research (a) leads inevitably to the observation of “individuals” bereft of all social bonds, in particular
with regard to their behaviour as “consumers” of produced goods; and (b) this isolation turns the individual
worker into a “commodity” available for purchase by the capitalist on the labour market “freed” from all other
social bonds that may protect the worker from capitalist exploitation. The emphasis on the “scientific” nature
of technological innovation in production serves to disguise its effective “cheapening” of labour power in favour
of the expanded reproduction of the labour force for further exploitation - and therefore the accumulation of
capital as command over living labour through its “exchange” for dead labour (products). (On the real
subsumption of the labour process by capital see, of course, Volume One of Marx’s Capital and, more
recently, H. Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital.) Hence, the introduction of new productive
technologies for mass consumption can be disguised as a “natural” outgrowth or by-product of “neutral-
scientific” research. In reality, once all forms of social activity are subsumed by capital, it stands to reason that
all technological innovation is oriented solely toward the accumulation of capital – toward profitability.

The need of capitalist production is to create a “proletarian” society - one that simply reproduces “proles”
available to be exploited as “labour power”. To do this, the bourgeoisie needs to introduce ever more
productive technologies that lower the amount of living labour needed to reproduce the proletariat - which in
turn facilitates the excessive procreation of proletarians the world over. To be sure, these technologies are a by-
product of the antagonism between workers and capitalist “employers” or “givers of labour” (Arbeit-Geber):
capital adopts only those technologies that (a) advance its power over workers, (b) lower the reproductive costs
of the labour force, and (c) as a result are most “profitable”. Profitability is the measure of the power of capital
to exchange dead labour (products) for living labour (the living activity of workers).

Of course, at the beginning of the bourgeois era, scientific research still could claim some autonomy from
capital. But the real subsumption of the labour process by capital - once it extended to the reproduction of the
entire society - meant that technologies and their “scientific” legitimation was completely placed in the service
of capitalist enterprise and industry (cf. Weber’s “Wissenschaft als Beruf” - one of the earliest and most
powerful articulations of this complex phenomenon). Yet the real conceptual and practical connection between
early “scientific research” and commercial or productive technologies is utterly inconfutable and undeniable.
Et si j'écris en français, qui est la langue de mon pays, plutôt qu'en latin, qui est celle de mes précepteurs,
c'est à cause que j'espère que ceux qui ne se servent que de leur raison naturelle toute pure jugeront
mieux de mes opinions que ceux qui ne croient qu'aux livres anciens; et, pour ceux qui joignent le bon
sens avec l'étude, lesquels seuls je souhaite pour mes juges, ils ne seront point, je m'assure, si partiaux
pour le latin qu'ils refusent d'entendre mes raisons pour ce que je les explique en langue vulgaire.

At the very end of the Discourse on the Method, Descartes offers a stark choice to his readers, pitting
“those who use nothing more than their entirely pure natural reason”, on one side, and “those who
believe only in the ancient books [written in Latin]”. It is quite obvious that Descartes is addressing two
different and conflicting social strata – one French-speaking and urban-industrial, and the other clerical
and theocratic or royalist. This is as clear an intimation of the growing socio-political and economic
divide and conflict between the rising capitalist bourgeoisie and the declining feudal aristocracy. A stark
contrasting chiasmus, then, between those readers who prefer “the vulgar language” (French) and who
therefore are more likely to utilize their “purest natural reason” (earlier in the Discourse and further in
this paragraph, Descartes calls it merely “bon sens” [good sense]), and, on the other side, those readers
who prefer Latin and therefore are less likely to exercise their purest natural reason or good sense.

Here, in embryo, we can find encapsulated all the major themes of the Cartesian worldview – one that
reflects the emergence of the Northern European bourgeoisie and simultaneously outlines its project for
future world domination. Analysis on one side, and – at the same time – production. Knowledge – the
passive comprehension of the world as it stands – turns immediately into power – the active
reconstruction, production and domination of the world. On the other, opposing side, stands the
political orthodoxy to be overcome – that of the ancient books, written in Latin. These are the basic
elements of the Cartesian pro-ject: - not just “scientific”, but clearly and explicitly political, whether
Descartes was aware of this political component or not. (The essential reference here is to A. Negri, The
Political Descartes.)

Descartes here also draws attention, again without being aware of it, to the intimate link between the
use of language and the picture that we form of reality: - to the way in which what we call “reality” is
shaped entirely by the language we adopt to describe that “reality” – and therefore to the fact that
“reality” is not a “thing”, an “out there”, but rather a way of being, a praxis. It is emphatically not the
case that Descartes even remotely sees the dependence of all notions of “reality” on its social
construction – through language, symbols, values (as did Nietzsche and Wittgenstein, for instance - cf.
Wittgenstein’s likening of language to a pair of spectacles - not through which we “filter” an objective
reality, but rather by means of which we shape our reality! ). The French philosopher is simply
reasserting the fact that languages ether illuminate or distort the one and only “objective reality” to
varying degrees. (The dramatic importance of this epochal change in language for the development of
Renaissance science and humanism is valiantly stressed by E. Cassirer in Individual and Cosmos.)

For Descartes, then, (a) there exists only one true, objective Reality that is independent of human action;
and (b) there exists ultimately only one true objective “language” (logico-mathematics) that offers a
clavis universalis (a universal key) with which to access that Reality. (Cf. P. Rossi, Logic and the Art of
Memory [original title: Clavis Universalis].) Here Descartes is entirely oblivious of the fact that what we
call “reality” is indeed what we do: our view of what is real depends entirely on what we do – a view
that will soon after be encapsulated in Vico’s verum ipsum factum. Reality is made up of two separate
entities: - first, the material substratum that constitutes Reality itself, and second the “laws” that relate,
that tie together to one another the material components of this substratum (its elements [Aristotle] or
atoms [Democritus]) and that constitute this Reality. For Descartes, the ultimate scientific language is
one that is entirely congruent with these “laws”. It is the search for the exact correspondence or
adequation of these two entities – atoms and laws - that constitutes “science” for Descartes. The aim of
science therefore is to discover the ultimate language, the universal key, that is immediately identifiable
with its underlying reality such that there is an ordo et connexio rerum et idearum – that is, at once a
clear order and a necessary connection between things and ideas.

The aim of “science” is for Descartes to discover that universal key with which to unlock Reality: - to
discover a method and a language by means of which the human intellect can become adequate to and
congruent, corresponding, co-extensive with, the “Thing”, with objective Reality. Other than the pursuit
of “the Truth”, Descartes never asks himself what the purpose of this “science” – the union of intellect
and thing – may be. He never asks himself what may be the deontological goal of such a science – and
therefore he never questions the ultimate orientation and direction, scope and aim of “scientific”

What, then, is to be the method of such a science, of such “research”? Quite obviously, the method has
to be absolutely in conformity with the language adopted to encapsulate the Truth.

Descartes was firmly convinced that knowledge, in the only proper sense (scientia) is certain, evident, indubitable and infallible in sharp
contrast with conjecture and opinion, however probable, or thinking which is susceptible of doubt in however small degree….

On this view no science (except, perhaps, arithmetic example, Rule xi 1 merely repeats Rule vi2 in a compressed form; the long
autobiographical passage at the end of the exposition of Rule iv3 seems to have been added as an afterthought and is ill-fitting in that place, and
Rule viii combines, without reconciliation, a rough draft with a more finished but incompatible version. and geometry) will stand the test, and
only mathematics will survive this definition of knowledge. All other sciences give conclusions which are doubtful, or even errors; mathematics
alone contains truth and nothing but truth, free from falsity and doubt. How can this be ? Descartes early asked himself what gives absolute
certainty to this science : why the power of knowing has only attained perfect realization here. And he concluded that it was due to the
extreme purity and sim-[26]-plicity of the objects with which the geometer and the arithmetician are concerned. They presuppose nothing
dependent on experience, nothing requiring confirmation by experiment or observation. The data are entirely simple, abstract and precise; and
these sciences consist in logical expansion of such data, rationally deducing consequences from them. (H.H. Joachim, Descartes’s Rules for the
Direction of the Mind.)

The method proposed by the French philosopher is one that pursues and establishes “the truth” with the
greatest degree of certainty (his last methodological writing is titled “The Search for the Truth”
[Recherche de la Verite’]). The ingredients of certainty are three: - (a) calculability; (b) reproducibility;
and (c) equivalence. And the faculties needed for mathematics are (a) intuition and (b) deduction –
which are both functions of the intellect. The requirement of truth is that it have the certainty and
simplicity of mathematics. Simplex sygillum veri. Simplicity is the seal of truth. In other words, truth
must have the precise characteristic that its apprehension is intuitive and that, therefore, it is both (a)
certain and (b) deductively linked to all other conclusions to be drawn from that original intuition
(Leibniz, intuitus). Exempli gratia, from the intuition of a triangle I can deduce that the sum of all angles
within a triangle must be the same for all triangles. Yet, the intuition of triangles is not quite the same as
this deduction. Now, the intuition tells us less than the deduction – the deduction tells us more than the
intuition - if and only if the deduction relates to a matter of substance – only if the intuition has
“content”. Because, if we consider the intuition of a triangle in its “purity”, abstracted from any material
human faculty, then every truth is connected to every other truth in such a way that there can only
ultimately be one Truth! But given that an intuition must have a substantive content, a materiality, all
other truths would have to be deducible from the substantive content of that original intuition or truth.
Yet that is impossible (!) for the simple reason that deduction can be formally valid (“truthful” as against
“useful”) only to the extent that it does not contain any “quality” or content whatsoever! But a “truth”
that is entirely formal simply cannot be a truth for the simple reason that it is entirely devoid of real,
substantive content – and truth without content (formal or mathematical truth) is simply no truth at all
– it is mere empty tautology! Differently put, deductions are not true if they have no content (are
formally valid), and cannot be “pure” deductions (are not formally valid) if they have a content! To
illustrate, if I imagine two pears added to one pear, I add up to three pears. But if I abstract from the
substance of pears – from their material content – then this addition (1+2=3) tells me absolutely nothing:
- it is an empty tautology. By contrast, if I think of two real pears and add another real pear, then I end
up with a total of three real pears that cannot in any manner be equated to the pears taken separately or
in combination – for the simple reason that the real status of each individual pear is entirely different
from the real status of pears in any combination! (This, at bottom, is Marx’s argument against Hegelian
idealism in The Holy Family. Nietzsche advances the same argument in On Truth and Lies.)

It is for this reason that, whilst we agree with Joachim that Descartes saw intuition and deduction as two
distinct powers, we cannot agree that this was “so crude a view” – for the very reasons that he
unwittingly adduces! And that is, because “sometimes what we intuit is a material or corporeal thing, or
a relation between such things”. Let us quote Joachim in full:

Descartes's account of the Intellect

Intuitus. Descartes speaks at times as if intuitus and deductio were two quite distinct powers, faculties, or activities of the mind.
It is, however, unlikely that he ever held so crude a view, or, if he did, he soon abandoned it. Nevertheless, he begins by
characterizing intuitus as a distinct act or function of mind directed upon a distinct and special kind of object. It is intellectual
'seeing' and has a certainty peculiar to itself, which3 must not be confused with the vividness of sense-perception or

As an act of mind intuitus is a function of the intellect expressing its own nature. Sometimes what we intuit is a material or
corporeal thing, or a relation between such things. In this case, imagination will help, if we visualize the bodies; or sensation
may [28] help, if imagination is directed upon the shapes in the sensus communis. Still, intellectual seeing must be clearly
distinguished from sensation and imagination, and its certainty must be clearly distinguished from mere imaginative (or
sensational) assurance. So Descartes begins by explaining what he does not mean by intuitus.

The intellectual certainty with which I see the mutual implication of self-consciousness and existence is immediate, like sense-
perception; but, in the case of sense-perception, my assurance fluctuates. Sensation flickers and varies according to the
illumination, or the state of my eyesight, or similar changing conditions. But the certainty of intellectual insight is steady,
constant and absolute. To see a truth that x implies y is to see it absolutely and timelessly, once for all and unvaryingly.

What Joachim overlooks here is the fact that “what we intuit is [either] a material or corporeal thing, or
[else] a relation between such things”. In fact, every intuition must be based on ideas that may represent
conceptual, material or corporeal things. But the relations between such things, qua relations, obviously
are not themselves material or corporeal things – which is why Descartes was entirely right to
distinguish between the intuitus, which must be based on specific concepts or things, and deductions,
which are not. The difficulty for both Descartes and Joachim is that deductions that are mere relations
are purely tautological, and therefore cannot be “true”; whereas those that represent material content are
simply not “deductions” but practical assumptions or conclusions. – Which is why Joachim’s last
paragraph is utterly meaningless because there can be no “truths” – either intuitions or deductions – that
are true “absolutely and timelessly, once for all and unvaryingly”! Joachim’s insistence that intuition and
deduction are inseparable (see pp.40 et ff.) completely elides and eludes the antinomy at the core of
Descartes’s and all other idealisms – the abstrusion or avulsion or separation (the Platonic chorismos) of
idea and thing which is intrinsic to the very concepts of intuition and of deduction!

As defined by Descartes, the intellect is the human faculty that is most removed from the human
physical environment (the others are the senses, the imagination and memory). But because Descartes
never poses himself the problem of the direction of scientific research as a uniquely human activity, he
does not assess the potentially catastrophic impact of a “scientific search” that may well lead to
extremely harmful and even deleterious effects for humanity itself! However “certain” a state of affairs
may be, it may well not be true to the extent that it is against human interest (inter homines esse).
(Nuclear fission or fusion may be a certainty in highly specific experimental and technical conditions,
but mercifully it is not “true” in the sense that “we ought to pursue the truth”. Again, the distinction
here between truth and certainty is masterfully drawn by Heidegger in “The End of Philosophy”,
published separately as a book of Nietzsche. The distinction mirrors that between positive law by the
sovereign [Dezisionismus], which is “certain”, and substantive or ethically-based law, which must also
be “true”, drawn by F. Neumann in “The Change in the Function of Modern Law”, in his The
Democratic and the Authoritarian State, p.27.)

This specific interpretation of “reality”, of science and its method – specifically the employment of the
intellect - clearly distorts the Cartesian and – after Descartes – our entire interpretation and evaluation
of human scientific activity since the advent of capitalist industry. From this perspective, several
pernicious worldviews follow: the first is that human agency is avulsed from its natural physical
environment. Descartes’s lack of awareness of the intrinsic connection between “science” or knowledge
– which is a passive notion, - and “technology” – which is a very active productive human capability -
that (a) induces and reinforces the myth that science” is a purely intellectual pursuit, and not a practical
one with obvious origins in and repercussion on human social relations and the environment; and (b)
induces and propagates the myth that there are specific pursuits called “Science” and “Technology” that
have a specific methodology. Thus, science and technology are no longer seen as interdependent and
inter-related human historical activities that reflect and affect both human social relations and the
environment in which they occur, but instead are reified as universal absolutes, as inevitable outcomes
of “human nature” or “the human condition” or indeed “human progress”. As Howard puts it,

[o]wing to Descartes’s conception of method he tends to confuse it with science and is led to speak of his new science of order
and measure (Howard, Descartes’s Rules, p.62)

Except that Joachim does not notice in his admirable study of Descartes’s Rules that for the Frenchman
there can be no difference between method and science because for him (a) the method of science is
science itself within the unified project of a mathesis universalis; and (b) in any case his entire idealist
metaphysics with its chorismos (separation, incompatibility) of intellect and world made the method
antinomical to scientific research. For Descartes to have kept method and science separate, he would
have had to accept that method and scientific research are not the same thing and either to admit that
his categorization of the two was antinomical, or else to develop an epistemology and an ontology that
did not make them so.

The socio-political importance of the dramatic shift in the understanding of physical and social reality
and praxis occasioned by the development of “science” as an approach to the world and developed by
early thinkers of the bourgeoisie such as Bacon and Galileo and Descartes cannot be gainsaid and is hard
to overestimate. It epitomizes the earlier humanistic elevation of human beings to the centre of the
universe, to quasi-divine status, and not just in what was then called “natural philosophy”, but also in
the social studies, from art to philosophy and politics. The obvious political impact of this elevation is,
first, to challenge and demote the theocratic European absolutist states then in power in favour of – and
this is the second impact – the promotion of the interests of the rising northern European commercial
and industrial bourgeoisie.

As we have just seen, from the outset, the Cartesian theorization of science and technology is based on
exclusively transcendental idealist and individualist ontogenetic lines (in this sense, it clearly presages
the advent of Kant’s transcendental idealism). Not only does Descartes entirely fail to detect or even
suspect the radically social and practical or deontological character of scientific research – and therefore
to place it in a precise socio-historical context; but he also thoughtlessly extrudes what he thinks is the
foundational methodology of “science” from all social and environmental contexts to the point that it
verges on solipsism. As Joachim puts it,

We must attend to two matters in this exposition : (i) The severance of the power of knowing from all corporeal functions and (ii) its singleness
[simplicity]. (op.cit., p.20)

The Cartesian cogito marks the egoistic terminus of Descartes’s methodical withdrawal from the world
(in this it resembles the Askesis and Welt-flucht of Schopenhauer’s pessimism) even to the extent that
he conjures up the existence of a demon as the prompter of his “Cartesian doubt”, intent on falsifying
systematically his entire material existence, his every perception and thought – such is Descartes’s
uncompromising diffidence of and alienation from human material existence! (The extremes to which
the French philosopher went to isolate himself in pursuit of his “meditations” is legendary, of course.) As
such, the cogito is a precursor and harbinger of a bourgeois society intent on reifying human social
reality and on subjecting the environment (“nature”) to its unimpeded domination. By idealistically
separating the Ego from its life-world, Descartes turns Ego-ity (Ich-heit, the search for personal identity)
into Ego-ism. In this regard, it is possible that the French philosopher was aware of the ultimate futility
of his “method”, not just because he titled his reflections on science “Discourse” (rather than “Treatise”,
for instance), but also because the longer title refers to “a mode of employing Reason and for the search
of Truth”. This elongated explication of “the Method” mirrors the long title of the Regulae ad
Directionem Ingenii (“Rules on the Direction of the Mind or Intellect”) which again refers merely to the
“direction of the mind” without ever specifying the substance and character, the metaphysical status of
this “mind” or “intellect” (ingenium). (On the Rules, again see H.H. Joachim, Descartes’s Rules for the
Direction of the Mind.)

“I think, therefore I am” is a thoroughly flawed syllogism in a logical sense and also in its fallacious
identification of an “I”, a Subject or Ego that lurks behind the act of thinking! (This is the kernel of
Nietzsche’s devastating critique of Descartes and of rationalism tout court. Because “thinking” is an
action, Nietzsche correctly points out, the fallacious conclusion is instantly drawn that there must be
someone who does the thinking! See Beyond good and Evil, pg.49. After all, David Hume’s skepticism
had already exposed the empirical inadequacy of the self in A Treatise on Human Nature.)

The cogito is also deficient for its total failure to acknowledge the undeniably inter-subjective basis of all
thought, as well as for the failure to perceive, let alone acknowledge, the clear materiality of thought –
its immanence, and not just its transcendence – in the sense that all thinking - however abstract,
however much based on Descartes’s “intuition and deduction” - must be grounded in the very material
reality that we call “language”. Indeed, this is one sphere in which Descartes’s preference of vulgar
French to Latin aided him formulate his worldview. Because Latin dispenses with personal pronouns, it
mutes the deductive link that may otherwise be traced between thought and existence, whereas French
emphasizes the continuity of the agency in the two statements: “Je pense, [donc] j’existe”. Here the
separation of the pronoun “I” from the subsequent verbs helps conjoin them and establish, however
feebly, the syllogistic link – again, inexistent in logic - that Descartes is keen to establish. The essential
emphasis is on the “I”, on bourgeois individuality, that is, on the need of the bourgeoisie to establish an
existence separate from any human intersubjectivity or societal and cultural bonds. Moreover, the
systematic idealist severance of the individual from the world – and therefore from society as a
community founded on more than just self-interest – dictates Descartes’s formalism epitomized by the
mathesis. (Cf. F. Neumann’s discussion of legal liberalism as dependent both on economic or possessive
individualism and on its entrenchment in legal formalism - in TDaTS.)
Descartes fails in both works – indeed, he does not even attempt! – to inquire as to the substantive
content and nature of this entity variously called “reason” or “mind” or “intellect”. But above all it
becomes evident from his disquisitions that neither “intuition” nor “deduction” will ever be able to
supply the necessary nexus between scientific “laws”, the methodology that led to scientific
“discoveries”, and the “objective reality” to which these laws and the methodology of science supposedly

If the Ego, the “I” that “thinks”, can be certain of its existence only in the awareness of its own being – if,
therefore, the Cartesian Ego is locked entirely within its interiority or consciousness of itself (I know
that I think, therefore I must exist), the question arises, quite apart from the impossibility of establishing
that this “thinking agency” is an Ego or a “self”, of how such an ideal, spiritual entity can ever be
connected to the non-ideal or material world – to the “Thing”, the ob-ject that literally “stands against”
the Ego or self (this is made evident in the German for “object”, Gegen-stand, standing against). Put
another way, how can a Subject that is pure thought, pure idea, pure self, be connected to a physical
body, first of all, and then be able to act upon the world? And how can the Subject even get to know the
Object – in other words, how is scientific research and discovery of the world, let alone knowledge of
“the Truth”, at all possible?

Not only: the other insuperable difficulty of Descartes’s idealism consists precisely in the fact that if the
Ego in its quest for knowledge is restricted to finding out, re-searching, the Object or “nature” or “the
physical world, then, given that this “nature” has physical laws that must be immutable by definition,
the problem arises of how it is possible for anything to be created in the world. This problem goes back
to St. Augustine’s intimation that human beings exist “ut initium esset” – so that there may be a
beginning. By contrast, it is evident that in Descartes’s epistemology, which turns into an existential
ontology (“What and how do I know?” becomes “I exist”), there is absolutely no room for free will once
the notion of mathesis universalis, of a universal science or universal key (“clavis universalis”) is
accepted. Conversely put, if we accept the notion of the world as a “grand livre” where every cause
contains its effect and vice versa, then no free will or free human action is possible because (a) the ideal
self cannot act upon the material world and (b) the material world already contains its entire unfolding
in nuce or in embryo – as Aristotelian physis. The scientific notion of the conservation of energy –
nothing is created, everything is conserved and transformed – essentially denies the possibility of
creative actions by humans or any living things; it posits an extreme determinism that excludes free will.
Even the notion of entropy is thereby rendered inexplicable. (This is essentially Schopenhauer’s
argument in On the Freedom of the Will. For Schopenhauer, the Kantian Ding an Sich – the physical
universe - is known or knowable to us and governed by scientific laws; whence it follows that the
human intellect is also not “free”. It is the Will itself that is unknowable and opaque, and hence the true
“thing-in-itself”. Thus, attributing “freedom” to the Will is a nonsense.)

Descartes and humanism, from which he obviously drew much of his learning, were too caught up in
the rejection of theological and theocratic ideas to be able to overcome radically the hiatus between
essence and existence, thought and matter. Without the aid and benefit of Darwin’s evolutionary
findings, he had no insight into the historical development of human faculties and of language in
particular. Had he been so aware, Descartes may well have found that the solution to his transcendental
impasse lay in the very reason why he had opted for French rather than Latin to publish his studies: -
the fact that language, as the unity of thought, action and world, provides the immanentist historical
solution to his philosophical puzzle. It may well be said (with Negri) that Descartes’s radicalization of
the cogito through the mediation of the ontological proof and of the omnipotence of the Divinity ends
up turning his philosophical idealism into a blatant ideology, due in large part to his own recognition of
the defeat of humanism after the condemnation of Galileo. The conclusion remains that Descartes
cannot account for the world – and so he cannot account for human activity either – scientific,
technological or productive.

His ex-aggeration of (literally, erecting a rampart around) the Divinity as the omnipotent enabler of
human invention was a crumbling fable from the very outset: not the world, then, is a “fable” (cf.
Nietzsche’s Twilight) but rather the Cartesian philosophical reduction of it to that sorry status by
requiring that the world be also perfect – something that Nietzsche justly derided, seeking thereby to
rescue precisely this life-world from its Cartesian extrusion (cf. The Anti-Christ, par.14).


Descartes’s rational idealism inaugurates a long season of Western thought in which the separation
(chorismos) of Subject and Object, of Reason and Nature, comes to occupy a quintessential role in the
development of bourgeois industrial capitalist society. In their essence, the cogito and the ontological
proof epitomize the philosophical and political “method” that sets the nascent bourgeoisie and its
manufacturing industry off to domination over and ultimate destruction of the ecosphere. By
hypostatizing its transcendental role in the lifeworld in antinomic opposition to Nature, Descartes
elevates Reason to the instrumental mastery of a prostrate Nature likened to a maze of physical-
mathematical “laws” destined to be manipulated and subjugated by the human mathesis universalis and
its Scientia inveniendi.

In his exposition of the ontological argument and of the cogito, Descartes confuses two kinds of
“existence”, one ideal and the other physical. Just like the idea of God, the notion of a triangle “exists” in
thought as a universal; but it does not exist physically in the way a particular triangle or a depiction of
God can (say, in a painting). What exists is the cerebral activity that enables the thought of a God and
that of a triangle – and the particular triangular shapes and depictions of God that we encounter in the
world which can never be equated with that cerebral activity. It is not that thought can be reduced to
cerebral activity: but neither can cerebral activity be sublimated to ideal or divine existence! The two
forms of existence simply cannot be homologated – they are heterogeneous – because no human activity
or thought can com-prehend the entire world! Physical objects and our idea of them “exist” in two very
different, yet equally “material” ways: Descartes wrongly deduces physical existence from the mere
“idea” of God as perfect Being just as he had earlier wrongly deduced the existence of an Ego or self from
the mere act of thinking because his metaphysics wrongly opposes thought and matter by wrongly
defining them.

This metaphysical prejudice, this chorismos is by no means confined to Descartes because it dates from
the dawn of philosophy in pre-Socratic Greece. Indeed, by categorically separating thought and matter
and hypostatizing the purity and perfection of thought, Descartes turns his rationalism into an
eschatology in that the entirety of human existence and the world is pre-destined. In such a world, of
course, no freedom is possible, no creative activity is imaginable – which raises the question of how
Descartes and all the theoreticians of the mathesis universalis, the readers of the “great book” of divine
creation (Leonardo, Galileo, Descartes himself), could ever envisage that their own scientific activity was
even possible! To be conscious of a reality, however binding, is already to pose the possibility of being
free from that reality, of being able to act upon it not just by trans-forming it but rather by trans-
crescing it – indeed, by trans-scending it not in a “spiritual” or “idealistic” sense, but rather by
considering that all “reality” is always and everywhere a human convention, a human construction.
Quite surprisingly, it will be Descartes’s great contemporary critic, Thomas Hobbes, who will inaugurate
this line of thought – running through Schopenhauer and Nietzsche to Mach and Wittgenstein – which
combines the conventionality of science with the hypothesis of possessive individualism to arrive at a
uniquely pessimistic view of human existence. For Descartes and the earlier rationalists, instead, the
future of humanity, already pre-destined in the great book of eternal divine laws, could not but be
optimistic – indeed, as we have argued, eschatological even in an Augustinian if not Leibnizian sense.

For Descartes, however, the only options to escape the evident antinomy between the self and the
world, between individual and cosmos, and the deadening determinism of his geometric science, were
either to hypothesize a mechanical correspondence between the two opposing dimensions of mind and
matter, a’ la Leibniz (the windowless monads) – or else to exasperate the original idealism of the cogito
so as to amplify and deepen its scope as a generator of productive knowledge and activity. This latter
option is precisely what Descartes proceeded to expound in the Meditations and then most explicitly in
the Principia Philosophiae. (On all this, Negri, op.cit., chpts.3 and 4.)

When thought closely reviews the different ideas and notions it has within itself, and it finds that of an omniscient, omnipotent
and extremely perfect being, it easily judges, from what it perceives in this idea, that God, which is the extremely perfect being,
is or exists. For, even if thought possesses distinct ideas of many other things, it does not observe in them anything that assures it
as to the existence of their object; while in this one it perceives not only, as in others, a possible existence, but an absolutely
necessary and eternal existence.

As in the Meditations, Descartes starts from the ability of the intellect to conceive of simple abstract
notions from which logico-mathematical conclusions may be deduced. But here there is a subtle shift
from the earlier work: here the priority and emphasis is no longer on the cogito, that is, on the
deduction of the existence of the self from the act of thinking – I think, therefore I am. Here, instead, it
is the ability of the intellect to deduce God’s existence from the thought of divine perfection that marks
the separation of human reason from the world. But whereas earlier, as we demonstrated above, this
chorismos of the mind leaves it entirely “withdrawn” from the world – and therefore capable only of
obtaining formal and passive knowledge of it through the mathesis - to understand but not to change or
transform it -; this time Descartes introduces a new ability to human intuition and deduction by quite
drastically allowing the possibility of error - and therefore also the ability to comprehend the world
actively, scientifically, practically, productively! Thus, Descartes at once elevates Reason from the sphere
of self-consciousness to that of divine participation (methexis), but then, simultaneously, he seeks to
reduce the distance of the human intellect, its separation (chorismos) from the world, by highlighting its
ability to fall into error!

For the first time in Cartesian philosophy, we have the simultaneous ability of the mind to mount the
heights of perfection and to plumb the depths of nothingness, - an ability that seals the positioning of
human knowledge between perfection and imperfection, between knowledge and error. Not only: the
possibility of error allows Descartes also to allow for the intromission of Evil in the world – evil
understood not as diabolical action but rather as the existence of freedom, of free choice, and therefore
of ethics and morality. (On this Schellingian conception of Evil, see Zizek.)

Two forms of existence, then: the divine existence which is “absolutely necessary and eternal”, on one
side, and then that of “many other things”, which is only “possible”. The self-same intellect that can
intuit the idea of God with certainty and then deduce His existence from this intuition – that very same
intellect also “possesses distinct ideas of many other things” about which it can draw deductions that
may be in error. But how can the intellect at once know and not know, be able to learn scientifically,
and still be capable of error? Descartes attributes human fallibility to the faculty of the will – the conatus
that urges the intellect to overleap the boundaries of knowledge – and therefore to err. But a will, a
conatus, an appetitus, is a drive that exits the sphere of the intellect to enter that of the senses. Of course,
none of this serves effectively to bridge the hiatus irrationalis between intellect and world: all that can
be said is that at least Descartes has allowed for the possibility of the immersion of the intellect in the
Further to this, the above quotation renders explicit Descartes’s second necessary ingredient for the
development of a productive epistemology through the distinction between intuition and deduction
(which Joachim had deemed “crude”). In the sequel to the pivotal paragraph quoted above lies the proof:

And just as, by seeing necessarily in its idea of the triangle that its three angles are equal to two right angles, it [thought]
absolutely convinces itself [of this conclusion]…, so it is that simply by seeing that necessary and eternal existence is contained
in the idea that it has of the extremely perfect Being, it must conclude that this extremely perfect Being is or exists.

Yes. As Joachim argues, the deduction of the equality or congruence of the internal juxtaposition of the
three angles in all triangles is necessarily contained in the idea of a triangle. But the idea of a triangle is
quite distinct as intuition from all the deductions that may follow (necessarily, as tautologies) from the

I am taking the word ‘idea’ to refer to whatever is immediately (m.e.) perceived by the mind (Descartes, Third Meditation)

Thus, whereas intuition is “immediate”, deduction – as the word itself suggests, “to lead from” – is
mediate. Joachim fails to see this crucial distinction. Crucial, because it leads us to the next extrinsication
of Descartes’s “reasonable ideology”. It is only on the basis of this distinction between intuition and
deduction that Descartes’s ontology can be turned from a pure “scientific knowledge” of the world as an
inalterable, unchangeable, strictly determined reality into a productive epistemology, into a practical
science through which the world becomes susceptible to transformation by the human will. The
intuition of an idea can never be wrong or false – but a deduction from it can, if it is carried out
incorrectly! To be sure, Descartes’s understanding of deduction – as “logical”, and therefore necessarily
tautological – does not remove the antinomy of thought and world, of essence and existence. But here
Descartes has deviated from his own epistemological schema and, following Bacon and anticipating
Hume, is now allowing for empirical induction in scientific research as well as, anticipating Kant, for the
drawing of synthetic a priori statements in the establishment of “scientific laws”.

Taken to extremes, in its detailed specification of the various faculties of the Ego (intuition, deduction,
intellect, imagination and memory, then the senses), Descartes’s metaphysics which, from the outset,
anticipates Kant’s critical idealism (whence the keen interest of neo-Kantians like Cassirer in Descartes)
ends up being a pale replica of Berkeley’s subjective idealism in which all reality exists in the mind of God
– esse est percipi. But Descartes never goes to such extreme lengths: his metaphysics always seeks to
reconcile (antinomically) the ideal and the real. Regardless, this fresh schism between intellect and will
proposed in the Principia, this further splitting of the faculties of the Ego, cannot assist Descartes in
determining the extent to which the will is operative in its pursuit of worldly objects; nor does the will, a
mental faculty, resolve the fundamental antinomy between the Subject and the Object. Cartesian idealism
is unable to set out the boundaries of human knowledge (in epistemology) and the content of the entities
involved (in ontology), the intellectus and the voluntas or conatus. Yet clearly here we have a definite
shift from the metaphysical-deductive method of the earlier writings to a physical-inductive one, much
closer to the mechanicist materialism of Hobbes. (The all-important differentiation between Cartesian
idealism and Hobbesian materialism will be canvassed in our next study.)

Descartes’s novel, if belated, hypothesis admits of the freedom of the human will, however
inconsistently, by mimicking the omnipotent will of God. This “erring” of reason into the world (Latin,
errare, means also “to roam”), spurred on by the will, is certainly a passive process of re-searching the
world – what Descartes calls “knowledge” or scientia, or the vera mathesis. But it is also a process of
recovery of the world through dis-covery, through invention (the Cartesian Scientia inveniendi) – it is
the reconquest of Truth. Again, however contradictory this might be in view of Descartes’s antinomic
idealism, there can be no doubting his belief in the ability of science to reconstruct the world, to lead
humanity a defecto ad perfectionem (see Negri, op.cit., pp.296 ff.).

Even the ubiquitous mechanicism of Descartes’s earlier method regarding the ontological status of
Nature vis-à-vis Reason and the Soul takes a different metaphorical turn in the Principia. Here, in the
Preface Letter, Descartes outlines a view of the sciences that quite evidently seeks to bridge the earlier
categorical schism between metaphysics and the natural sciences:

The first part of philosophy is metaphysics, which contains the principles of knowledge, including the explanation of the principal
attributes of God, the non-material nature of our souls and all the clear and distinct notions which are in us. The second part is
physics, where, after discovering the true principles of material things, we examine the general composition of the entire
universe….Next we need to examine individually the nature of plants, of animals, and, above all, of man, so that we may be
capable later on of discovering the other sciences which are beneficial to man. Thus the whole of philosophy is like a tree. The
roots are metaphysics, the trunk is physics, and the branches emerging from the trunk are all the other sciences, which may be
reduced to three principal ones, namely medicine, mechanics and morals.”

Unlike a mechanical metaphor – likening, for example, science to a house whose foundations are
metaphysics, pillars are physics, and so on -, the adoption of a metaphorical tree to describe the various
stages of human knowledge does a number of things that Descartes had not attempted or allowed earlier:
(i) science is no longer relegated to the logico-mathematical faculties of humans, to the intellect; (ii)
science has a physis, an organic structure that is biologically as well as historically connected; (iii) science
has practical aspects – technologies - that can transform human reality and the world; (iv) therefore,
science allows for freedom and free choice, free will. Yet again, Descartes’s confusion and ambivalence on
these matters is evinced by his listing of “morals” amongst the sciences, implying thereby that moral action
may itself be founded scientifically! Needless to say, the apories in this stylization of knowledge and
scientific research are everywhere to be seen. Above all, it is “the non-material nature of the soul” and the
dichotomy between “appearance” and “reality” that epitomizes those “antinomies of bourgeois thought”
[Lukacs] that have been the universal bane of Western theory and practice since Descartes. Again, these
will be canvassed in the next part of this study.

Of course, this “tree of knowledge” (arbor scientiarum) metaphor is still intimately tied with the universal
mathesis scientific movement that dates back to Lull and Bruno and then continues to Descartes and
Hobbes, as Rossi explains here: -

The term clavis universalis [universal key]was used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to designate a method or general
science which would enable man to see beyond the veil of phenomenal appearances, or the 'shadows of ideas', and grasp the ideal
and essential structure of reality. Deciphering the alphabet of the world; reading the signs imprinted by the divine mind in the
book of nature; discovering the correspondence between the original forms of the universe and the structures of human thought;
constructing a perfect language capable of eliminating all equivocations and putting us in direct contact with things and essences
rather than signs; the construction of total encyclopaedias and ordered classifications which would be the true 'mirrors' of cosmic
harmony — these were the objectives of the numerous defenders, apologists and expositors of Lullism and artificial memory
between the fourteenth and seventeenth cen- turies….
An instrument designed with practical rhetorical puposes in mind becomes (after the encounter with the
xviii Logic and the Art of Memory
Lullist tradition) a search for a 'code' which would allow one to penetrate into the innermost secrets of reality, and to infinitely
extend man's potential. Ramus, Bacon and Descartes also profoundly changed the meanings of traditional problems when they
included the doctrines of artificial memory within the framework of a doctrine of ‘method' or logic, or made use of the idea of
the 'chain' (catena) or 'tree of the sciences' (arbor scientiarum). The artificial memory of the ancients (driven by new imperatives
and profoundly transfigured) entered into modern logic, bringing with it the themes of ‘universal language' and 'general' or
'primary' science. (P. Rossi, Logica e Memoria)
Once more, the inescapable apory of the mathesis universalis is that, if the universe is strictly determined,
then any scientific effort to discover its “language” must be an intrinsic part of this deterministic mathesis
– which renders scientific research strictly paradoxical in the sense that “science” is unable to understand
itself as “science”, as “free” historical human activity! The difficulty is that science has a history: in other
words, far from revealing “universal laws”, scientific research and conventions are products of human
choices – contradicting the deterministic universalist claims of the mathesis! Furthermore, as a corollary,
the very distinction between “reality” and “appearance” only serves to make untenable the assumption of
an “ultimate reality” or a Kantian “thing-in-itself” that lies “behind” the appearances. Indeed, it was the
dogmatic Scholastic dismissal of scientific empirical induction as reliant on mere phenomena, on the
sphere of “appearances”, that first excited and incited the revolt against Scholasticism beginning with the


The Cartesian insistence on the power of logico-mathematical deduction and intuition as the cardinal
methodical tools for the asseveration of Truth meet an insurmountable obstacle in their own formalism.
The “truth” of logico-mathematics has no substantive content: it is “true” by definition – quod erat
demonstrandum (as was to be demonstrated) – in that the conclusion (the demonstrandum) is already
contained (erat, “was”!) in the premises (the demonstrans) and, worse still, the premises already contain
the conclusion! But if the premises and the conclusion are so formally related that they are tautological,
then no practical conclusion – no “demonstration”! - can ever be extracted from such formal reasoning!
Only if the logico-mathematical calculation is “false”, in the sense that it is purely practico-conventional
because it involves heterogeneous elements and therefore has substantive content, - only in that case can
logico-mathematics be “useful”, not “true”, in a strictly conventional sense!

Here, Descartes’s reliance on the intellect or Reason as the foundation of human knowledge quite simply
falls apart. Specifically, the twin foundations of the intellect – intuition and deduction – prove to be
categorically antinomic because intuition has a substantive immanent materialist basis, whereas deduction
is entirely formal and tautological. A life-world in which any reality could be deduced logico-
mathematically from intuited premises simply begs the question of how this “original intuition” (the
phrase is Leibniz’s, see the 24 Metaphysical Theses, discussed in M. Heidegger, The Metaphysical
Foundations of Logic, and his dissection in the dimension of philosophical anthropology [Husserl’s plaint
against Heidegger] of the Kantian intuitus in the Kantbuch) came about in the first place – of what its
substantive content is. Similarly with cause and effect. If indeed the effect is in the cause and the cause is
in the effect, then it is simply meaningless to connect the two separate events – cause and effect – in terms
of causation because they are not in fact “separate” events! Far from being “laws of nature or of physics”,
scientific findings are “conventions” in the sense that (a) they are based on induction, and, (b) they reflect
a specific human practical orientation rather than any “universal laws”. Indeed, mathematical calculations
and logical deductions – not to mention scientific “laws” based on causation – can be valid only if all their
categories are formally equal. But this formal equality necessarily requires the substantive equality of the
elements that these categories represent! Yet, this is logically impossible, given that substantive elements
are categorically different (different toto caelo, toto genere) from the logico-mathematical categories that
supposedly “stand for” them! This is the paradox: logico-mathematical categories cannot be “deductive”
but merely practico-conventional or empirico-inductive because deductions must be based ultimately on
intuition - and it is quite simply impossible to identify and isolate formally the “intuition” that is
supposedly “behind” these entities, because intuition is a substantive, not a formal, entity! Given that the
“truth” of logico-mathematical deductions is entirely formal, its demonstration must be based on a
substantive content – it must be “shown” to be true. But such a “showing” (Latin, de-monstrare, to show)
is necessarily a practical, physical, substantive and material task that contradicts the supposed “formality”
and “logico-mathematical necessity” of every “deduction”!

Hume’s skepticism in the Treatise of Human Nature effectively demolishes Descartes’s analytic a priori
precisely by dissecting every causal relation in terms of individual “images” that – as “images” – cannot
have any con-nection in a pictographic sense or indeed in any other sense! It was in a colossal effort to
rescue Reason from this nihilistic assault that Kant enucleated his critical idealism and synthetic a priori
as an Ubergang to bridge its antinomic opposition to Nature. The Kantian attempt to define and refine the
“aesthetic” basis of Pure Reason through the Schematismus fails miserably once the inescapably
“conventional foundation” of every intuition and every “truth”, of every mathematical identity and every
“law of nature” is laid bare. There is no “synthesis”, let alone any “a priori”, linking events in the universe!
The “legality” of Kant’s theorization of Pure Reason is precisely what Schopenhauer and Nietzsche will be
first to attack, and quite validly so.

Just like the Self or the Ego, the idea of God must take the mental form of some particular thought, of
which actual physical ec-sistence (physical embodiment) cannot be predicated. For the Ego in the
cogito, for the human intellect, the perception of the world is necessarily “false” because no sensual
perception can ever match the formal “purity” of logico-mathematical deduction. In that case, it is not
merely that the human senses err in their estimation of the world: it is rather that the intellect itself will
never be able to comprehend the world, given that the world is inevitably made up of “appearances”!
According to Descartes, the intellect’s comprehension of the world is imperfect and prone to error not
because of any intrinsic flaws in the intellect – which shares its status as “substance” with the divine -,
but because it is deluded by the will – which is the “mortal” facet of the intellect - into trusting the lure
of “mere appearances” (Kant’s “bloss Erscheinungen”). But if the intellect’s “perception” of the world is
false, for whatever reason, then for Descartes, vis-à-vis the intellect, the world has really and truly
become a “fable”: what is more, a fable that, in his requirement of logico-mathematical determinism of
the world – the vera mathesis – can also be nothing more than a lifeless, soul-less mechanism! (Again,
see Nietzsche’s savage parody of Descartes’s reduction of the world to “a machine” in The Anti-Christ,
par.14). Given that Descartes’s ontological proof is incapable of bridging the hiatus irrationalis (Fichte)
between Subject and Object, between Reason and Nature, his rationalism, his “method” cannot but
amount to a dogmatic moral imperative, an early version of the Kantian categorical imperative, the
dictamen of the divine affinity of the intellect. Whence Nietzsche’s riposte in Twilight of the Idols,
“Taken from the moral viewpoint, the world is false!” Not indeed because for Nietzsche the world is
“false” (pace M. Cacciari in Krisis, ch. 2) – because that would entail the existence of a universal “truth”
against which the world was “false” – but precisely because for Nietzsche no “universal truth” is even
meaningful, let alone possible! (In this regard, the link established by Cacciari, loc. cit., between
Nietzsche and Wittgenstein is quite valid and fertile: for Wittgenstein, the world cannot be com-
prehended by language: the world can only be “shown”, but not by language – cf. Tractatus Logico-

But, leaving all this to one side, how can the human mind interact with the universe, then? More saliently,
if science and technology are purely a means of knowing a strictly deterministic universe, of finding a
unique “universal key” to the interpretation of “the great book of nature”, (a) how can humans then be
aware of acquiring this “knowledge” given that any such knowledge would amount to a mechanical
operari necessarily deprived of any “awareness” or “consciousness”? (This is a paradox that Spinoza tackled
as well, unsuccessfully.) And, (b), how can humans interact with the world without transforming it?
Furthermore, even assuming that such interaction with and trans-formation of the world by humans is
possible and real, how can it be said to emanate causally from the world itself and, worse still, how can
such trans-formation of the world by humans exclude any negative outcomes or degradation of nature
and the world? The optimistic bias and aporetic nature of Cartesian rationalism is all here – specifically,
Descartes’s well-nigh total neglect of any negative outcomes from scientific discovery or research is a sign
of the bourgeois mission “to recover and discover” the world toward its own vision of perfection (per-
ficere, to render flawless through work) – toward its own Utopia. Hence, the positive charge of Cartesian
rationalism goes beyond a mere inert “mechanicism” – robotic, conflictual, and pessimistic, like Hobbes’s
– in favour of a more Baconian eudaemonic slant. In the event, even as he sought to evade it, mechanicism
was Descartes’s only way out of his helpless idealism: he remained so close to mechanicism – especially
Hobbes’s in physics and politics (cf. C. Schmitt’s “The State as Mechanism in Hobbes and Descartes”,
Appendix to Der Leviathan) – that whenever he sought to elucidate his “method” or “rules” he invariably
resorted to the industrial artisanal reality around him.

Because of the impossibility of reconciling the (idealistic logico-mathematical) intellect with the (material
scientific) world, Descartes was forced to point to a (scientific?) “method” that is purely “deductive” and
therefore tautological! In attempting to reconcile the universal mathesis and its absolute determinism with
the drive to reconstruct the truth and the world to a humanized environment, to an earthly paradise,
Descartes is forced to resort to human “skills” in which he sees a “method” (non-existent in reality) that is
literally pro-ductive and mechanical at one and the same time.

Our method…resembles the procedures in the mechanical crafts, which have no need of methods other than their own, and which supply their
own instructions for making their own tools. If, for example, someone wanted to practise one of these crafts…but did not possess any of the
tools, he would be forced at first to use a hard stone…as an anvil, to make a rock do as a hammer, to make a pair of tongs out of wood…Thus
equipped, he would not immediately attempt to forge swords, helmets, or other iron implements for others to use; rather, he would first of all
make hammers, an anvil, tongs and other tools for his own use (Rules).

In reality, what Descartes has done is to reduce his purported “scientific method” to the mere instinctive
human practical – immanentist – invention of means to satisfy their needs! By conceding that his
method “resembles the procedures in the mechanical crafts” (“mechanical”, not intellectual, crafts!),
Descartes ends up proving the exact opposite of what he intended – that is to say, precisely that there is
“no need of methods other than” the practices that humans end up adopting instinctively to satisfy their
physio-logical (physical and mental) needs! But here it is no longer the mathesis universalis that
determines work; rather, it is work that subsumes the mathesis, the physics, the science, the technology,
to itself in order to satisfy existing human needs and to pro-duce new ones (cf. Negri, op.cit., p.299).

It is not “science” that dictates our technical productive activity, but rather it is our technical productive
activity that we rationalize and institutionalise as “science”. The very fact that Descartes resorts to
manufacturing skills to exemplify the substance of his “method” evinces, first, the inability to distill such
a method from human technical activity, and, second, the impossibility of splitting human activity into
the “scientific-theoretical” and the “technological-practical”! In reality, all human productive activity is
technical-practical. Homo faber and homo sapiens are identical entities. Descartes intuits but does not
see that his “rules” and “method” merely mimic the practical activity of homo faber – that, in other
words, science is merely the abstraction of technological activity – or, put succinctly, that homo faber
and homo sapiens form an indivisible whole.

Descartes could never bridge the gnawing gap that his rational idealism opened between the two
antinomic approaches to the lifeworld; consequently, he cannot explain the world except as a
mechanism because his logico-mathematical deductive reasoning is simply and wholly inapplicable to
the empirico-inductive productive manufacturing practices humans adopt in reality – and in vastly
growing numbers in his own time as capitalist manufacturing industry supplants the old and moribund
feudal mode of production and its theocratic societies. Regardless, he could not ignore completely the
epochal changes occurring all around him in his theoretical epistemological framework. Descartes
himself highlights this “turn” in the Discourse on Method where his insistence on the bon sens (good
sense or common sense) goes hand in hand with the adoption of French as the discursive language freed
from the logico-deductive strictures and metaphysical and theological prejudices embedded in the Latin
language – clearly heralding his adherence to the growing revulsion at the segregation of the logico-
deductive reasoning of the Latin-speaking learned strata in favour of the empirico-inductive productive
practices of artisans.

To summarise, then, the antinomies of Cartesian rational idealism encapsulate, on one side, the inability
of the earliest bourgeois philosophical reflection to comprehend the profound transformation of
European society from a theocratic absolutist feudal order to that of a rapidly expanding capitalist
marketplace society founded on formally free labour and manufacturing industry; and, on the other side
of this antinomic thought, they provide the theoretical impetus for a revaluation of technical-scientific
and empirio-inductive industrial labour as against the millenary dominance of dogmatic Scholastic
logico-mathematical deductive thought. The socio-political and economic significance of this “great
transformation” (to borrow a phrase used in a different historical context by Karl Polanyi) is lucidly
recapitulated by Paolo Rossi here:

Also within the ambit of philosophy there arose a valorization of the arts and crafts vastly different from the traditional: some of
the procedures utilized by technicians and artisans to transform nature help in the understanding of natural reality….To introduce
tools and instruments in science, to conceive them as a source of truth, was not an easy task. Truth, in the science of our time,
refers, almost exclusively, to the interpretation of signs generated by instruments…The defence of mechanical arts from the
charge of being undignified, the renewed emphasis on the coincidence of the horizons of culture and that of the liberal arts, on
one side, and practical work and servile work , on the other, implied in reality the abandonment of a millenary image of science,
they implied the end of an essential distinction between knowing and doing. (My translation and emphases.)

Tambien en el ambito de la filosofia surge lentamente una valoracion de las artes bastante diferente de la tradicional: algunos de
los procedimientos que utilizan los tecnicos y artesanos para modificar la naturaleza ayudan al conocimiento de la realidad
natural…Introducir los instrumentos en la ciencia, concebirlos como fuentes de verdad, no fue una impresa facil. Ver, en la ciencia
de nuestro tiempo, quiere decir, quasi exclusivamente, interpretar signos generados por instrumentos….La defensa de las artes
mecanicas de la acusacion de indignidad, el rechazo de la coincidencia entre el horizonte de la cultura y las artes liberales y entre
las operaciones practicas y el trabajo servil implicaban en realidad el abandon de una imagen milenaria de la ciencia, implicaban
el fin de una distincion esencial entre conocer y hacer. (P. Rossi, El Nacimiento de la Ciencia Moderna en Europa, p.27.)

It is this epochal transformation of the relationship between “knowing” (science) and “doing” (industry
and technology) operated by the rise of capitalism that we will address in our next part.

IV. Madness in the Method – Francis Bacon to Hobbes

The dissolution of Cartesian rationalism can be traced in part to the evident apories and antinomies into
which it runs and therefore to its inability to bridge the theoretical chasm between the res cogitans
(mind) and the res extensa (world). But the source of this inability is not purely theoretical: it is above
all social. Descartes and his philosophy represented a social order tied to absolutist states founded on a
feudal economy and closely aligned with the Catholic church. This social order relied on fundamental
tenets that Descartes and most of his contemporaries could not challenge intellectually, let alone
politically. The first tenet is the undisputed and indisputable supremacy of religion in all human reality –
and therefore the categorical pre-eminence of the spiritual over the mundane. The second, a corollary of
the first, is the superiority of intellectual reasoning over manual labour and other practical pursuits – of
philosophy and logic over technology and science. Clearly, these two tenets implied also the
overwhelming dominance of logico-deductive “knowledge” over technico-scientific “doing”. This
“knowledge” (or the Scholastic gnosis, or sapience, or the Hellenic episteme) confused “truth” with the
“certainty” of logico-mathematical deduction and had the nefarious effect to stifle empirical research
and experimentation leading instead to practico-technical stagnation – in line with the interests of
absolutist theocracies that relied for their stability on the rigidity of the feudal socio-economic and
political hierarchy.

The abstract introspective and abstrusely speculative bent of this “knowledge” – epitomized by Augustine’s
“in interiore homine habitat veritas” – could not but vacillate and retreat in the face of the broad social
transformations coinciding with the Renaissance. With the rapid expansion of capitalist manufacturing
industry and the concomitant cataclysmic social transformations it occasioned – not just the humanist
Renaissance but also the religious Reformation -, there were irrepressible socio-economic forces associated
with “doing” that needed to assert their expanding socio-economic power into the more overtly political
activities associated with “knowing” – that is to say, with the old theosophical order. Cartesian rationalism
starts with the imprescindible postulate of the existence of God, from which all other “truths” and
“sciences” can be derived logico-deductively through the quasi-divine power of Reason. Thence follows
the necessary transcendental link between God and the soul, the soul and the mind – all of which, as
spiritual entities, seal the rule of the res cogitans, of the Spirit or Reason, over the res extensa or Nature.
The Subject rules over the Object, and therefore logico-deduction rules over empirico-induction. The
medium of this cosmological order, this Reason, is language because reasoning is done through language.

Latin as learned Scholastic language used in logic and theology and law increasingly divorced from the
menial tasks of rising manufacturing industry. Menial tasks and rational science – see Rossi.
The tool is the syllogism – which is the most certain, irrefutable source of “truth”, seen as “certainty”.

XIV. The syllogism consists of propositions; propositions of words; words are the signs of notions. If, therefore, the notions (which
form the basis of the whole) be confused and carelessly abstracted from things, there is no solidity on the superstructure. Our
only hope, then, is in the induction. (F. Bacon, Novum Organum.)

It is against this Scholastic misuse of logico-mathematics, and particularly of the syllogism – this rhetorical
swindle, this Eskamotage based on empty tautologies that the sharpest bourgeois proponents of the new
Scientia inveniendi (Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes) rile, basing themselves on the defiantly
empirical-inductive practices of the burgeoning capitalist manufacturing industries that will soon
transform the face of the Earth. At the centre of the new science there is a hard core of quasi-Pyrrhonic
scepticism (cf. R. Popkin, The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Spinoza). The abandonment of Latin
in favour of national languages, already advocated by Cusanus (cf. E. Cassirer, Individual and Cosmos), to
eschew “the idols of the market” – meaning the stifling orthodoxy of theocratic Scholastic and Aristotelian
learning endorsed by absolutist monarchies – is a constant theme in the rising “scientific” literature of the
late Renaissance.

The danger to guard against here is posed by the crystallization of prejudices in words and languages in
the sense that, far from being shaped by experience, words and language filter and shape our experience
of reality, con-ditioning (setting the direction and boundaries for) our empirical research or practico-
technical activity.

LIX. The idols of the market [idola fori] are the most troublesome of all, namely those which have entwined themselves round
the understanding from the associations of words and names. For men imagine that their reason governs words, while, in fact,
words react upon the understanding; and this has rendered philosophy and the sciences sophistical and inactive. Words are generally
formed in a popular sense, and define things by those broad lines which are most obvious to the vulgar mind; but when a more
acute understanding…is anxious to vary those lines, and to adapt them more accurately to nature, words oppose it.

In other words, as early as the sixteenth century, earlier than Descartes, Bacon understands the intrinsic
epistemological nexus between language and “reality”, and the socio-economic interaction of language
and social structure in shaping and directing scientific activity. And he understands that language has to
change to accommodate changes brought about by empiric-inductive discoveries connected to the rising
manufacturing industry. It is both intriguing and revealing that Bacon should refer to this “conventional
wisdom” (Marx’s and Nietzsche’s “crystallization”, Lukacs’s “reification”) with the phrase “the idols of the
market” – because, in effect, Bacon is actually emphasizing the importance of the inductive-empirical
approach of the new manufacturing industries – which, of course, rely on “the market” – against the most
obvious opponents of this “market”, that is, the Latin-speaking theocratic and monarchic establishment.
It is obvious that already (!) from the dawn of capitalist industry and its “marketplace society” Bacon
identifies “society” – even the feudal absolutist society preceding capitalist manufacturing industry (!) -
entirely with “the market”, rather than with a “community”, a civil society or a status civilis that are prior
to and even independent of and different from “the market mechanism”. Bacon, then, fails to distinguish
between the moribund theocratic-absolutist mediaeval order which had the vice of abusing empty
terminology or nomenclature and derivative syllogisms, to the detriment of practical empirical-inductive
“research” – and the “market society” that is the real social carrier of the artisanal crafts that he is
championing. Bacon wholly fails to see the strict nexus between capitalist industry and the “new organon”
because he mistakenly sees the two activities – manufacturing industry and mechanical experimentation
(“scientific research”) - as separate, distinct human activities.

The new organon is distinct from the old deductive and sterile sapience in that it is based on
“observations” and on tools and on the division of labour. The all-important epochal transformation in
the mode of thinking that Bacon brings to renaissance thought, and then to technical-scientific practice,
in this precise context, is given just and timely emphasis by Rossi:

En realidad Bacon se convierte en intérprete de una actitud fundamental de su tiempo y da a conocer algunas de las más vitales
exigencias de su época cuando se fija en las «artes mecánicas» (que le parecieron apropiadas para revelar los verdaderos procesos
de la
54 Francis Bacon: De la magia a la ciencia
naturaleza) y ve en ellas la capacidad de producir inventos y obras de las que carecía el saber tradicional, o cuando, polemizando
contra la esterilidad de la lógica escolástica, proyecta una historia de las artes y las técnicas como presupuesto indispensable para
conseguir una reforma del saber y de la propia vida humana. De hecho en la obra de Bacon la protesta contra la «esterilidad» de
la cultura tradicional está fundada en la insistencia en el progreso que caracteriza a las artes mecánicas que, a diferencia de la
filosofía y las ciencias intelectuales, no son adoradas como perfectísimas estatuas, sino que se muestran siempre tan vitales que
pueden pasar de no tener forma a ser cada vez más perfectas en relación a las cambiantes necesidades de la especie humana. Esto
es lo que sucedió, según Bacon, en los desarrollos de la artillería, la navegación y la imprenta; piensa que la causa principal de
estos progresos es que muchos talentos colaboraron en la consecución de un único fin. En las artes mecánicas no hay lugar para
el poder «dictatorial» de un solo individuo sino que sólo cabe un poder «senatorial» que no exige en ningún caso que sus
seguidores renuncien a su propia libertad para convertirse en esclavos perpetuos de una sola persona. Así, el tiempo va a favor de
las artes y en cambio contribuye a la destrucción de los edificios, inicialmente perfectos, que construyeron los filósofos.
With Francis Bacon we find the earliest refusal of the static, sterile, unchanging character of Nature
(“nature free”), to privilege the action of humans in its transformation (not creation! What he called
“nature bound”).

LI. The human understanding is, by its own nature, prone to abstraction, and supposes that which is fluctuating to be fixed.

It is the very ‘fixity’ of scholastic truth that seals its ineffectuality, its untruth, its “sterility”, because it
denies that human understanding has a history related to “the changing needs” of humanity. The reality
of “need” is what confirms the limitations of our knowledge and our need for “doing”, as well as our
subjection to the “laws” of nature. Yet these laws, though fixed, are as infinite as there are combinations
of atoms in the world – which is why humans will never acquire knowledge but are confined to
incessant knowing – as ministers and interpreters of nature.

I. Man, as the minister and interpreter of nature, does and understands as much as his observations on the order of nature,
either with regard to things or the mind, permit him, and neither knows nor is capable of more.

To be sure, Cartesianism represents already a significant advance on the Scholastic gnosis prevalent in
feudal society. Even so, however, Renaissance thought is still contained and restrained within the
theocratic and theological perception that human knowledge has insight into divine omniscience and
certainty. The ability of humans to understand – indeed, to decipher - Reality, places humans at the very
centre of the universe next to the Divinity. In this sense, the early theoreticians of the scientific method
represent the apogee of Renaissance humanism. [Bacon. Schmitt. Reification] If indeed it is possible for
humans “to read” what Galileo and Descartes called “the great book” of creation, then it is impossible to
see how this “grand and great book” can ever change, given that presumably it has been written by the
Divinity with eternity in mind. After all, these novel theories of science coming out of the Renaissance
were founded on the inertia of the universe, on the conservation of energy. The inescapable corollary to
this necessarily deterministic vision of the cosmos is that human beings are thereby unable to transform
Nature by acting upon it – quite apart from “understanding” it. It meant only that human beings were
entitled to act upon Nature in an effort to understand it – and thereby elevate themselves to the passive
status of mortal gods in terms of humanizing nature. Homo homini deus. Human activity does not
change the universe, does not create but only transforms, because this activity is itself purely physical in
nature – and so measurable and calculable. As we have argued earlier, the only way to make this
determinism compatible with the spiritual freedom of the quasi-divine human soul is either to postulate
the synchrony of the spiritual and the material worlds (as in Leibniz) or else fuse the two incompatible
spheres into a pantheistic union (in the manner of Spinoza).

La idea de un hombre carente de naturaleza, que puede darse a sí mismo la naturaleza que desee, es uno de los temas centrales
de la filosofía del Renacimiento que podemos encontrar —por citar sólo dos nombres— en Pico y Bovillus. Pero tal idea es
sustancialmente ajena al pensamiento de Bacon. El poder del hombre no es en modo alguno infinito: es obsessus legibus naturae
y ninguna fuerza humana puede desunir o romper los nexos causales que regulan la realidad natural 66. El deber del hombre no
consiste, pues, en celebrar su infinita libertad ni en mantener su esencial identidad con
1. Las artes mecánicas, la magia y la ciencia 69
el todo, sino en darse cuenta de que la potenciación de las dotes limitadas del hombre exige una adecuación a la naturaleza y la
voluntad de seguir sus mandatos y proseguir su tarea. Sólo esta voluntad de adaptación puede permitir una real y no ilusoria
autoridad sobre la naturaleza. El hombre deviene dueño de la naturaleza sólo en cuanto él mismo es ministro e intérprete de esa
naturaleza; por eso es peligrosa y carece de significado la pretensión humana de penetrar con los sentidos y la razón en la esfera
de lo divino, por eso la posibilidad de una operado libera en la naturaleza no quiere decir en absoluto que se puedan realizar
todas las operaciones que se quiera sino que las operaciones de transformación que se atienen a las leyes naturales y llegan a ser
como una prolongación de la obra de la propia naturaleza jamás encontrarán límites 67. Sólo teniendo en cuenta esta concepción
baconiana de la situación del hombre en el mundo podrá quedar claro el concepto baconiano de ciencia y encontrar justificación
el interés de Bacon por la objetividad de la vida ética, su pasión por la fisionomía y el arte del éxito personal y sus simpatías hacia
el naturalismo de Maquiavelo.

IV. Man while operating can only apply or withdraw natural bodies; nature internally performs the rest.

III. Knowledge and human power are synonymous, since the ignorance of the cause frustrates the effect…

But if the laws of nature are infinite as the combinations of atoms, how do we know that there are laws
of nature? A fixed definitive science (knowledge ) would be no science at all because no further
scientific activity would be possible; science would cease to have a history: given that we know all the
laws of nature that determine it, no further “action” would be possible – including scientific research -
because the “actor” would be strictly aware of all the causes and all the effects of that action ab
aeternitate. Put differently, our absolute awareness of the “action” would nullify our awareness of it as
action (Latin, ago, agere, actus, to initiate) and so activity would turn into mere mechanism. No life
would be possible! (Cf. Heidegger’s erroneous insistence on “thought”, albeit compensated by his
ubiquitous concern with Being.) Conversely, a historical science (knowing) can never be differentiated
from doing – and thus it becomes mere technique, not science in the sense of a body of definitive rules
or laws of nature. If, as Bacon rightly asserts (echoed much later by Max Weber), the laws of nature are
infinite, then they become indefinite: they are no longer laws but purely conventional guides to or tools
for actions that humans take consciously in directions they choose!

Already, as we saw earlier, Descartes had been forced to indicate (to point to) the “methods” adopted by
the manufacturing, artisanal crafts as the blueprint for his own philosophic-scientific method, not as an
illustration of the theoretical foundation for such a method – but precisely because it became clear to
him that no such foundation was theoretically possible! By seeking to model or illustrate his proposed
theoretical method by reference to the mechanical tasks of the burgeoning manufacturing industry
necessitated by the new bourgeois-capitalist industrial order, Descartes effectively demonstrates that
“doing” (practical-technical behavior based on social relations) precedes not just the old “knowledge” of
the Hellenic and feudal orders, but also the “knowing” (“science”) of the humanist Renaissance in the
sense that all “knowing” is merely the rationalization of social relations of production. By
“rationalization” we mean not simply ideological “justification”, but also and above all the erection of a
social environment (legal, ethical, and technological) that makes divergence from and non-compliance
with these social relations of production politically and practically difficult if not impossible – and,
conversely, adherence to and compliance with these relations of production practically compulsory.
(Hannah Arendt, in a typically perspicacious insight in Vita Activa, notes how the “science” of
economics, for instance, would be impossible without a society ordered politically so as to observe its
“laws” – capitalist “laws”, of course. Jurgen Habermas in various essays – especially Toward A Rational
Society – elaborates an almost identical thesis.)

It is essential to understand that technical calculations cannot be interpreted as technical-neutral “tools”

because the very utilization of a “tool” makes it part and parcel of that “action”, indistinguishable and
inseparable from it. (A gun is not a neutral “tool”: the technical rules that govern it and its manufacture
are not “neutral”: they are one with the gun itself and with its utilization. This is what Marx meant
when he stated that the steam engine “explains” the knitting mill. Vorhandenheit.) Science and Value
become inextricably and inexorably linked. This throws us back to the orientation of human operations
requiring either a methodological discrimen to guide empirical “observations” that lead to induction –
which, as we have proved here, is impossible to define - or else an awareness of the deontology of
human research, experimentation and invention.

The conventionality of science on the pessimistic hypothesis of conflict rather than harmony is how
Hobbes will differentiate his materialism from that of Bacon. Not the search for truth, but the need (the
dira necessitas) for order is what will induce the rationalisation of human life and society.

The emphasis away from introspection and stability/sterility to experimentation and

transformation/manufacture means that negative practical effects are possible in terms of (a) errors and
(b) evil. The outreach of experimentation – change for its own sake or for a given purpose – means that
the human body is subject to interference conjointly, indistinguishably from
interference/analysis/intrusion on Nature! Once the absolute certainty of Truth (truth misconstrued as
certainty), the infallibility of reason and the intellect are abandoned – due to “the will” for Descartes – a
new danger emerges in that the “truth” of empiric-inductive discovery, erected initially against the
logico-deductive Cartesian method, is turned against the human body itself because there is no
guarantee that “the search for Truth” (science) will empower humans in beneficial ways!

LII. Such are the idols of the tribe, which arise either from the constitution of man’s spirit, or its prejudices, or its limited
faculties or restless agitation, or from the interference of the passions, or the incompetence of the senses, or the mode of their

Bacon sees “tools” as universally and inevitably beneficial!

II. The unassisted hand and the understanding left to itself possess but little power. Effects are produced by the means of
instruments and helps, which the understanding requires no less than the hand; and as instruments either promote or regulate
the motions of the hand, so those that are applied to the mind prompt or protect the understanding.

VI. It would be madness and inconsistency to suppose that things which have never yet been performed can be performed
without employing some hitherto untried means.
VII. The creations of the mind and hand appear very numerous, if we judge by books and manufactures; but all that variety
consists of an excessive refinement, and of deductions from a few well-known matters – not of a number of axioms.
VIII. Even the effects already discovered are due to chance and experiment rather than to the sciences; for our present sciences
are nothing more than peculiar arrangements of matters already discovered, and not methods for discovery or plans for new
IX. The sole cause and root of almost every defect in the sciences is this, that while we falsely admire and extol the powers of
the human mind, we do not search for its real helps.

Now it is “the idols of the market” – capitalist manufacturing industry - that begin to dominate Truth, or
the Will to Truth, as a scientific straitjacket to which the human senses and the human body itself have
to adjust! The supremacy of the scientific method – a thinly-veiled disguise for the burgeoning interests
of industrial capitalism - is enthroned. The reality/appearance, truth/error dichotomy and, more
ominously, error/evil association prevalent in the mediaeval theocratic order re-surfaces in new guise
(cf. Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals). Error is equated not just with falsehood but with evil! (On all
this, and read in this light, the insuperable guide must be Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. Heidegger’s
later disquisitions on the evils of Technik – faithfully reprised by nobler neo-Marxist minds such as
Herbert Marcuse and, generally, the Frankfurt School – seem almost trivial in comparison.)

the fourth is that whilst scientific activity – science – is elevated to well-nigh divine status, human
labour or living activity itself is reified as purely mechanical and robotic energy such that humans
cannot “create” anything – and that therefore all “art” and “wealth” must be seen entirely subjectively as
mere mental phenomena (beauty, utility) that affect the senses, as distinct from the intellect or pure
reason. Art and wealth can no longer be viewed in terms of use values available to humanity as a whole,
but only in terms of exchange values between human beings. The “value” of wealth does not reside in its
use value – which is universal for humans – but rather in its ability to be exchanged – which depends on
the subjective needs and wants of individuals. Here the individual is avulsed, is separated violently, from
the rest of humanity as a species and as a social and political entity.

[Bacon and manufacture as rebellion against monarchic scholasticism – Novum Organum.]

Even in the political sphere, Bacon preceded Hobbes by introducing the phrase homo homini deus, to
mean that human beings could substitute religious and divine dictates or commandments in the
governance of their societies.

[Natural reason. Intellect dominates senses. Intuition and deduction.]

(French is tied to this class aversion to the Latin of the clerical-monarchic establishment.)

[Absence of harmful activity if all science is “knowledge” or Vera mathesis. Productivity from
separation. How can anything be pro-duced or created in a passive nature where the cause already
contains the effect? Individualism and mechanicism of bourgeois production in the self-sufficient artisan
who expands production for others. Smith. Bohm-Bawerk.]

It is also evident from the foregoing that for Descartes human beings can in no way affect that Reality!
Humans may be able “to read” this Reality, and they may even be able to manipulate its materia prima,
its atomic elements (Democritus) to their benefit – but no human exertion can ever create this Reality ex
nihilo or indeed ex novo. Nothing is created; everything is transformed.

(Except for immortality.) What Descartes does, however, is repeatedly to liken metaphorically the
method of science to that of artisanal manufacture.

Thus workers are the primary and proximate causes of their work, whereas those who give them orders to do the work, who
promise to pay for it, are accidental and remote causes, for the workers might not do the work without instructions. (Principia)

Descartes starts once more from the individual, from a phantomatic “division of labour”. By so doing he
fails to see that there is no such thing as “labour”, just as there is no “method” or “rules” for science or for
the intellect. There are instead a set of “skills” that human beings have to share if they are to exist at all!
There is no “labour”, then, but instead there is “social labour” – a complex set of skills that human beings
inherit not as individuals but rather as members (specimens) of a species. – he neglects entirely the
division of social labour – the fact that no human being was ever a Robinson Crusoe or a feral child.
Indeed, the very “individual skills” needed to make tools that Descartes enumerates are skills
neurologically embedded in the human brain - which belongs to the species and not to single
individuals. Ontogenesis instead of phylogenesis, then: this is the fundamental fatal flaw in all of
Descartes’s rational idealism.

Furthermore, because he confuses social labour with a nonexistent undifferentiated homogeneous

“labour”, Descartes considers the division of social labour as if this began from self-sufficient production
(for oneself) and proceed to exchange (for others). But again, Adam Smith’s mistake was to assume that
exchange prompts the division of “labour” (as if each human being could survive through its own
exertions taken as homogeneous, undifferentiated “labour”!) – instead of seeing that it is the division of
social labour that makes the fiction of the “exchange” of what are falsely seen as the products of
separated producers possible! Descartes puts the cart…before the horse!
Finally, Bohm-Bawerk’s theory of value is already on display here: tools and the division of labour
reduce the time of production so that more developed tools have greater value than less developed ones.
The problem remains that of whether labour is a creative activity or value is pure exchange – separation
of I and world – determinism.