IN the five essays here translated into English (rather queer English in places) Prof. Maritain attacks the philosophy of Descartes ; in some ways very unfairly.
The first essay deals with the ecstatic experience Descartes had as a young man ; an experience that is scarcely relevant to his philosophy, however important to him personally. Maritain, expanding hearsay (the only evidence available) with conjecture, decides that the upshot was, not a mathematical discovery as often supposed, but the notion of a single comprehensive science of complete certainty.
By rule, the Jesuit philosophy curriculum followed Aristotle; it was divided into the then-standard topics of logic, morals, physics, and metaphysics.
The Jesuits also included mathematics in the final three years of study.
Descartes claimed early on to possess a special method, which was variously exhibited in mathematics, natural philosophy, and metaphysics, and which, in the latter part of his life, included, or was supplemented by, a method of doubt.
Descartes presented his results in major works published during his lifetime: the (in Latin, 1701), an early, unfinished work attempting to set out his method.
In the eighteenth century aspects of his science remained influential, especially his physiology, as did his project of investigating the knower in assessing the possibility and extent of human knowledge; he was also remembered for his failed metaphysics and his use of skeptical arguments for doubting.
In the nineteenth century he was revered for his mechanistic physiology and theory that animal bodies are machines (that is, are constituted by material mechanisms, governed by the laws of matter alone).
Aristotle's philosophy was approached through textbook presentations and commentaries on Aristotle's works.
Aristotle himself frequently discussed the positions of his ancient predecessors.