Last week, I received a new book from the Breton Publisher, Yoram Embanner, entitled Descartes, Breton? The Breton Point of View. The book is by Simon Alain and the French edition came out last year, and it has now been released in English.
It immediately caught my interest as I have a private grudge against Descartes dating back to my days at school, or rather, University. It seemed to me when I was a student that Descartes was one of the major figures responsible for the unfeeling approach to scientific study that has led to so many problems over the past 400 years. It was an issue that brought me into frequent conflict with my teachers, and ultimately, I came to the conclusion that most of the things that I had been taught at school had been based upon a false premise.
The thesis of this book is that Descartes is fundamentally misunderstood. In France, perhaps because he was the first significant philosopher to write in French, his name has become inextricably linked with the idea of being French. In the words of the author, for the French public, his ideas have been synthesised down to:
I think, therefore I am.
I think in French, therefore I am French.
Apparently, however, Descartes, was not French. His father was Breton – living and working in Rennes, and a member of the Breton Parliament – and Descartes himself chose to leave France to live in the Netherlands, where he found the atmosphere more conducive to freedom of thought.
Therefore, to Descartes, the idea of 'I think in French, but I am Breton' or 'I think in French, but I am a human being, just like everyone else', would, presumably, have been perfectly acceptable.
I am enjoying reading the book, perhaps because I have always had a soft spot for philosophy. The book is written from the perspective of a Breton person, who has more or less reached the limit of his endurance with the whole concept of 'Frenchness', but I must admit that one aspect of France that I do like is the willingness of people to discuss philosophical issues.
Just for the record, I still think that Descartes was wrong. If he had said 'I love, therefore I am', he would have been on a better track.
The Breton Point of View
71 Hent Mespiolet 29170 Fouesnant 17.50euros ISBN 97829165792214