The foundations of modality and conceivability in Descartes and his predecessors

Descartes's view of modality is analyzed by contrast to two earlier models: the ancient realist one, defended by Boethius, where possibility and necessity are connected to natural potency, and the modern intensionalist one, which dissociates necessary and possible truths from any ontological foundation, treating them as conceptual, a priori given preconditions for any intellect. The emergence of this view is traced from Gilbert of Poitiers to duns Scotus, Ockham and Suarez. The Cartesian theory of the creation of eternal truths, it is argued, involves a rejection of this idea of absolute conceivability and can be seen as a constructivist view of intelligibility and rationality.
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