Dedicatory letter to the Sorbonne
To those most learned and distinguished men, the Dean and Doctors
of the sacred of Faculty of Theology at Paris, from René Descartes.
I have a very good reason fro offering this book to you, and I am confident that you will have an
equally good reason for giving it your protection once you understand the principle behind my
undertaking; so much so, that my best way of commending it to you will be to tell you briefly of the
goal which I shall be aiming at in the book.
I have always thought that two topics – namely God and the soul – are prime examples of subjects
where demonstrative proofs ought to be given wit the aid of philosophy rather than theology.
who are believers, it is enough to accept on faith that the human soul does not die with the body, and
that god exists; but in the case of unbelievers, it seems that there is no religion, and practically no moral
virtue, that they can be persuaded to adopt until these two truths are proved to them by natural reason.
And since in this life the rewards offered to vice are often greater than the rewards of virtue, few people
would prefer what is right to what is expedient if they did not fear God or have the expectation of an
It is of course quite true that we must believe in the existence of God because it is a doctrine
of Holy Scripture, and conversely, that we must believe Holy Scripture because it comes from God; for
since faith is the gift of God, he who gives us grace to believe other things can also give us grace to
believe that he exists.
But this argument cannot be put to unbelievers because they would judge it to be
Moreover, I have noticed both that you and all other theologians assert that the existence of
God is capable of proof by natural reason, and also that the inference from Holy Scripture is that the
knowledge of God is easier to acquire than the knowledge we have of many created thing – so easy,
indeed, that those who do not acquire it are at fault.
This is clear from a passage in the Book of
Wisdom, Chapter 13: “Howbeit they are not to be excused; for if their knowledge was so great that
they could value this world, why did they not rather find out the Lord thereof?”
And in Romans,
Chapter I it is said that they are “without excuse”.
And in the same place, in the passage “that which is
known of God is manifest in them”, we seem to be told that everything that may be known of God can
be demonstrated by reasoning which has no other source but our own mind.
Hence I thought it was
quite proper for me to inquire how this may be, and how God may be more easily and and more