14. Here d’Alembert wrestles with the problem that dogged philosophers from Descartes on who were concerned with the relation of the mind to the exterior world (matter). How can we, limited in all our knowledge to the evidences of our sensations, know that they represent an existence outside themselves and outside ourselves? Descartes and Malebranche state that it is God who assures the harmony between our ideas and the external world. Berkeley resolves the question by denying the existence of matter and asserting that all is idea. For him it is the will of God that puts order, coherence, objectivity, and necessity in the ideas of experience. D’Alembert falls back upon a pragmatic solution to a problem that is logically insoluble in the terms in which it is posed. His critic in the Journal des Sçavans, October, 1751, pp. 219–20, complained that d’Alembert did not explicitly assert that God intervenes on the occasion of the sensations and puts in our minds the direct ideas of things and also that God is responsible for our irresistible impulse to believe there is a causal relation between our sensations and the ideas we have of them. An article by a Huguenot theologian in the Dutch edition of the same Journal, November, 1751, pp. 404–31, defends the philosophy of Descartes and the Cartesians at great length against d’Alembert’s criticisms in the Preliminary Discourse.

 [ return to text ]