“If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton

Maybe Descartes Principia, was one of those giants Newton was thinking of?

The title of this book is :

Antonii Le Grand institutio philosophiae secundum principia D. Renati Descartes nova methodo adornata & explicata : in usum juventutis academicae.


I’m pretty sure one of Isaac Newton’s books is coming up for auction soon!51326727496__30F8CB10-7886-48C2-9E59-A6F408C0DACF

Antoine Le Grand d. 1699

Nuremberg: Impensis Johannis Ziegeri, Bibliopolæ. Typis Christophori Gerhardi, 1680 1400 Octavo 6.5 x 3.938 in ):(7, A-Z8, Aa-Ff8. The missing ):( 8 seems to have been a blank that was removed by the original binder.

Second edition. This copy is in good contemporary condition internally. It is bound in contemporary full Dutch parchment over stiff boards, with laced case construction.

   Le Grand, was a Franciscan monk and zealous follower of Descartes, was a professor of philosophy and theology. Although of French extraction, he spent much of his life in England where he helped popularize Cartesian philosophy. Not surprisingly, the present text, an exploration of the orbits of celestial bodies, the properties of light, the existence of demons, and the peculiar habits of man, (De Corporibus; De Qualitatibus; Mundi & Coeli; De Terra, Aqua, Igne, & Aere; De Fossilibus; De Meteoris; De Plantis; De Animalibus; De Homine. )is an exercise in pure Cartesian methodology.With this are bound the author’s Dissertatio De carentia sensus & cognitionis in brutis. 1679, and Curiosus rerum abditarum naturaeq; arcanorum perscrutator. 1681.

Antoine Le Grand (1629–1699) was a philosopher and catholic theologian who played an important role in propagating the Cartesian philosophy in England during the latter half of the seventeenth century. He was born in Douai, (at the time under rule by the Spanish Hapsburgs), and early in life was associated with an English community of Franciscans who had a college there. Le Grand became a Franciscan Recollect friar prior to leaving for England as a missionary in 1656. In England, he taught philosophy and theology, advocating Catholicism and eventually Cartesianism, the latter being as unpopular as the former was perilous. It is not clear how Le Grand came to Cartesianism, but the first evidence of his adoption of the new philosophy was in his Institutio Philosophiae, published in London in 1672.

His early works show affinities to the philosophies of Seneca and Epicurus. He is noted for his polemical exchanges with Samuel Parker and John Sergeant, and for having given Descartes’s work a Scholastic form so that it would be accepted in the schools.Anthony Wood, a contemporary of Le Grand’s and an historian at Oxford, Le Grand’s Institutio Philosophiae, secundum principia Domini Renati Descartes (1672), was a “must read” at Cambridge. (Wood, 1691, p. 620) Further attesting to the attention it attracted, Jean Robert Armogathe has detailed how the 1678 edition of this work came to be placed on the Index in 1709 because of its anti-scholastic arguments.(Armogathe, 2003)

Le Grand also published an edition of Jacques Rohault’s Traité de physique (1671), an enormously popular physics text, using Bonnet’s 1672 Latin translation with added commentary, Jacobi Rohaulti tractatus physicus (1682). In 1692, Samuel Clarke published his own Latin edition of the text, which incorporates his and Le Grand’s commentary in the form of footnotes. Clarke, although an adherent of Newton’s physics, thought he could best propagate the new doctrine by publishing Rohault’s text with suggestive notes directed at the necessity of modifying Cartesian theory. According to the biographical preface to Clarke’s Works, at the time of his entrance to Cambridge in 1691, Rohault’s Traité was the standard modern scientific text, and Newton’s Principia (1687), had not yet been accepted: “The philosophy of Des Cartes was then the Established philosophy of that university, and the system of nature hardly allowed to be explained any otherwise than his principles … .

The Great Sir Isaac Newton had indeed then published his Principia. But this book was but for the few.” Eventually Clarke’s translation of the Traité, which underwent four editions, became the new preferred Cambridge textbook, as the Cartesian physics gave way to that of Newton early in the eighteenth century.Antoine Le Grand’s most substantial work, An Entire Body of Philosophy According to the Principles Of the Famous Renate des Cartes (1694), is a Cartesian tract from beginning to end. Richard Blome translated the works into English, which includes alterations and additions by Le Grand himself. It is divided into three books, based on three Latin texts, Institutio (1672), Historia naturae (1673), and Dissertatio de carentia sensus et cogitationis in brutis (1675).

The first book, The Institution, is intended as a treatment of the general nature of things according to Descartes’s principles; book two, The History of Nature, illustrates, by means of a great variety of reported experiments and examples, the operation of these first principles in nature. In this book, Le Grand applied the general Cartesian principles to his study of particular bodies and their qualities, showing how such principles can explain all natural phenomena. His extensive discussion includes bodies as various as the loadstone, plants, and insects. And finally, in the third book, A Dissertation of the Want of Sense and Knowledge in Brute Animals, he argued against the supposed link of life and sense from Plato onwards, and after offering a brief survey of various hypotheses on the nature of soul by Aristotle, Gassendi, Fabri, and Descartes, he adopted Descartes’s view. In the Preface, Le Grand wrote that, “ … this whole work contains nothing else, but his [Descartes’s] opinions, or what may clearly and distinctly be deduced from them.”At Oxford, Le Grand received a hostile reception. Samuel Parker aligned Hobbes’s mechanism with that of Descartes, charging both with atheism. Parker’s condemnations led to the banning of Descartes’s philosophy at Oxford, quashing its public entrance at the University. Le Grand responded to Parker’s charges of atheism in his Apologia de Descartes (1679), challenging Parker’s criticisms with various proofs of God’s existence. Another long-time, Oxford critic of Le Grand was the English secular priest and Aristotelian, John Sergeant. Sergeant, best known for his criticisms of Locke’s philosophy, was also highly critical of the Cartesian philosophy. Le Grand responded to Sergeant’s criticisms of the Cartesian criterion of truth in his Dissertatio de ratione cognoscendi … in 1679. A second major controversy occurred between the two authors late in Le Grand’s life, this time over the nature of ideas. This dispute led Le Grand to write a series of short pieces, published later as Several Smaller Pieces Against M. J. Sergeant (1698). In response, Sergeant attacked the Cartesian idea of extension, to which the aging Le Grand never publicly responded. Le Grand died at the home of a wealthy farmer in Oxfordshire, where he had served as a tutor until his death in 1699.Le Grand’s contribution to the Cartesian account of motion may either be seen as an extension or a revision of Descartes’s, sometimes ambiguous, treatment. Le Grand took seriously the claim that God is the total and efficient cause of motion in the universe, and that matter is entirely passive, and hence bodies are incapable of self-movement, or of moving other bodies. In his Entire Body of Philosophy, he argued that since a body may be in motion or at rest, motion must be a mode non-essential to matter. Moreover, given that matter itself is inert, it cannot be the source of the order and direction of motion. To provide order and direction, God laid down the laws of motion. Thus, motion itself as well as the orderly movement of bodies derive from God who acts as the effective principle. While the specific position, constitution, and configuration of the parts of a particular body determine how certain local motions are transferred, the source and ultimate direction of the motion itself is God. What this means for body-body interaction is that bodies function as secondary causes, directing local motions in virtue of the specific configurations of their parts. Bodies do not possess any causal power to produce or cease movement. Kenneth Clatterbaugh argues that Le Grand’s position on body-body causation amounts to occasionalism. Clatterbaugh identifies four positions that commit Le Grand to the doctrine articulated by Malebranche: 1) that there are no accidents; 2) that motion is identical to the will of God; 3) that conservation and creation are the same such that God creates bodies and their motions continuously; and 4) that the Divine Will and Intellect are one. (Clatterbaugh, 1999) However, Le Grand’s references to secondary causes and his commitment to the created nature of laws and eternal truths make the occasionalist ascription a complicated one.Le Grand’s account of body-body interaction clears the way to explain mind-body interaction. In the same way as finite bodies, God functions as the effective principle of finite minds, providing the ultimate source of change: “ … there is nothing, besides motion, which can strike the organs of the senses, or affect the mind itself.” (1694, p. 284) Although mind and matter are substances sharing no common properties, it is in virtue of God acting as the effective principle that mind and body interact. This kind of interaction is no more or no less problematic than the interaction of two physical bodies. There was no real problem of interaction for Le Grand, since he believed that it was not the substances per se that acted on one another but in all cases God alone provided the motive force in the universe. Although things by their nature respond to this motive force in an orderly way, i.e., according to the laws of nature, the fact that they exist as they do and that they interact is a fact completely dependent on God’s will. God’s power is expressed as local motions in bodies and as passions/thoughts in minds. In short, it is in virtue of God, their effective principle, that a mind and body, or a body and body, or even a mind and mind, are said to interact.Le Grand described the mind-body union in terms directly borrowed from Descartes. However, Le Grand attempted to explicate further than did Descartes the nature of the mind-body union. According to Le Grand, there are three kinds of union, each possessing its own principle which effects that union: the first is that of two minds whose principle of union is love; the second is that of two physical bodies whose principle of union is local presence; and the third is that of the mind and body whose principle of union is actual dependence. Just as two physical bodies are joined by physical contact, and as two minds are joined by love, the mind and body are joined by a mutually dependent activity. So long as the body actually receives its specific motions dependently on the soul, and the soul actually receives its local motions (passions) dependently on the body, the spirit and the body are joined. Although there can be no mode common to mind and matter, there is this mutual action. While there is no mode shared by two different substances, there is a similitude and relation that exists between mind and body: “This similitude and relation we have formerly affirmed to consist in action and passion” (1694, p. 325). In other words, just as the body is capable of receiving and transmitting local motions since motion is a mode of matter, the mind is capable of varying passions since passions are a mode of the mind. It is by the mutual commerce of such motions and passions that the mind and body are said to be united. The mutual activity said to occur between the mind and the body is a property which follows only from the union of mind and body and cannot proceed from either alone, “And the truth is, since neither body can think, nor mind be capable of dimension, there can be no mode common to mind and body, except a mutual acting of each upon each, from which alone the properties of both can follow” (1694, p. 325).Le Grand’s extensions to Descartes’s physics included phenomena now classified as metallurgy, entomology, botany, biology, physiology, medicine, and psychiatry. Part II of the Entire Body of Philosophy, entitled The History of Nature, catalogues and critically discusses the latest experiments of his time, as well as the theories of the ancients and moderns. Prominent in his discussions is the importance of secondary causes in nature (both exemplary and secondary efficient causes), and the need for experiments, not just as tools of confirmation, but also as a means of discovering the true nature of things. This was due to his application of mechanism to explain not only the behavior of material bodies but also the entire institution of nature. Le Grand believed that God laid down the laws of nature and the principles of being by acting as the primary efficient cause, and that the operation of these laws and principles manifested themselves in nature in the form of secondary causes and effects. Although the laws and their specific mechanisms of operation are not visible, secondary causes and their effects are. These causes and effects then are known by experience and are the starting point of all science, which is characterized by reasoning from effects (observed in nature) to causes (first principles discerned by reason).

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The image above shows the signature of Isaac Newton (1643-1727) in a copy of Robert Boyle’s Experimentorum novorum physico-mechanicorum at the Huntington Library in California (Huntington: 70087).  As Newton notes here under his name, the book was given to him by Boyle, nobilissimi Auctoris [the most noble author].  Mention Newton, and chances are that people will think of a man sitting under a tree waiting to be hit by an apple and discover gravity.  The apple story may be partly true.  Newton wasn’t conked in the head by an apple, but he did tell friends a story about how watching an apple fall from a tree started him questioning why objects consistently fall straight to the ground, which led to the research that resulted in the theory of gravity.   The story about the fall of an apple setting off the chain of thought…

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