Descartes's Ballet

Cloth $27
176 pages, 6" x 9", notes, index

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Descartes's Ballet

His Doctrine of the Will and His Political Philosophy (with a transcript and English translation of La Naissance de la Paix)

Watson, Richard A.

In his 54th year, Rene Descartes went to Stockholm at the invitation of Queen Christina. He caught pneumonia there and died on February 11, 1650. It is said that because Descartes refused to dance, Queen Christina charged him with writing the verses for a court ballet, La Naissance de la Paix. If Descartes did write the ballet, it would be the last work of his published during his lifetime. And because of its political content, it would be important as a guide for constructing Descartes’s political philosophy, which he certainly had but never published. And what a wonderful story! Alas, the evidence of Descartes’s authorship is virtually nonexistent. It reduces to the mere fact that he sent a copy of the published verses to a friend . . . in order, he said, to make the package heavier so it would not get lost. Almost certainly the ballet was written by Helie Poirier, a professional writer of French verse.

In the present volume, Richard Watson provides the first translation of The Birth of Peace into English, and he examines exhaustively the question of its authorship based on original archival research. He also examines Descartes’s doctrine of the will to construct a political philosophy for Descartes. The great individualist is found to be a royalist in support of the powers that be, although he chose in fact to live in republican Holland rather than in his homeland France. Watson also answers the elusive question of whether or not Descartes and Corneille read each other’s works. Their doctrines of the will are almost identical, but there is no documentary evidence whatsoever that they had any contact. Watson concludes, however, that in the context of their times and their lives, they most certainly did read and probably were influenced by one another’s works.

Previous Publications include Representational Ideas from Plato to Patricia Churchland, The Breakdown of Cartesian Metaphysics, Man and Nature, andWriting Philosophy.