Descartes understood the subject matter of physics (or natural philosophy) to encompass the whole of nature, including living things. It therefore comprised not only nonvital phenomena, including those we would now denominate as physical, chemical, minerological, magnetic, and atmospheric; it also extended to the world of plants and animals, including the human animal (with the exception of those aspects of the human mind that Descartes assigned to solely to thinking substance: pure intellect and will). Descartes wrote extensively (...) on physiology and on the physiology and psychology of the senses. This chapter examines the notions of *physiology* and *psychology* in medical and natural philosophical works of Descartes' day; follows his efforts to bring physiology into his mechanistic idiom; considers the relation between physiology of the animal machine and psychological functions that yield functionally appropriate behavior; goes into his physiology and psychology of vision; and elaborates the tension in Descartes' works between his metaphysically supported micro-corpuscularism and his discussion of the animal machine as an organic unity comprising various functionally and teleologically characterized systems. The chapter draws on Descartes' works in both metaphysics and natural philosophy, including his Treatise on Man (originally published as L'Homme, 1664). (shrink)
In this paper, I consider Descartes’ Sixth Meditation dropsy passage on the difference between the human body considered in itself and the human composite of mind and body. I do so as a way of illuminating some features of Descartes’ broader thinking about teleology, including the role of teleological explanations in physiology. I use the writings on teleology of some ancient authors for the conceptual (but not historical) help they can provide in helping us to think about the (...) Sixth Meditation passage. From this, I draw several points, most notably that the Sixth Meditation passage is primarily concerned with the natures of body and composites, and that the issue of teleological explanation is derivative of this primary interest. So, we – and Descartes – must come to terms with what he takes the nature of the composite to be such that it has an intrinsic end-referred nature which grounds teleological explanations. I consider three possibilities: the human composite is a third type of substance – a hylomorphic substance; there is a sort of “satisfaction” relationship between mind and body (each of which retains its own distinct nature in the composite) such that the mind confers teleological value on the body; and there is a sort of “satisfaction” relationship between mind and body (each of which retains its own distinct nature in the composite) such that the mind recognizes teleological value in the body. None of these interpretations is without problems. So in the concluding section, I sketch a program for future research, specifically, trying to render Descartes’ teleological thinking consistent by distinguishing between the metaphysical natures of things (the concern of his Sixth Meditation passage) and the physical natures of things (his concern in his physiological writings). (shrink)
This chapter examines the mechanistic psychology of Descartes in the _Passions_, while also drawing on the _Treatise on Man_. It develops the idea of a Cartesian “psychology” that relies on purely bodily mechanisms by showing that he explained some behaviorally appropriate responses through bodily mechanisms alone and that he envisioned the tailoring of such responses to environmental circumstances through a purely corporeal “memory.” An animal’s adjustment of behavior as caused by recurring patterns of sensory stimulation falls under the notion (...) of “learning,” behavioristically conceived. Indeed, Descartes’s animal-machine hypothesis may well be a distant ancestor to Watsonian behaviorism, via T. H. Huxley (1884). The final two sections of the chapter take stock of what psychological capacities Descartes ascribed to mind, body, or both, and consider those capacities that we might now plausibly construe as being explicable by nonmentalistic mechanisms as opposed to those that at present remain unreducedly mentalistic. -/- This chapter derives from a lecture delivered at the University of King's College (Halifax, Nova Scotia) as part of a year-long series on Descartes and the Modern. The lecture series was co-sponsored by the programs in History of Science and Early Modern and Contemporary Studies. (shrink)
The chapter advances two theses involving Descartes and the mind. The first concerns Descartes' conception of mental faculties, particularly the intellect. As I read the _Meditations_, a fundamental aim of that work is to make the reader aware of the deliverances of the pure intellect, perhaps for the first time. Descartes' project is to alter the reader's Aristotelian beliefs about the faculty of the intellect and its relation to the senses, while at the same time coaxing her (...) to use the pure intellect to perceive the first truths of metaphysics. His anti-Aristotelian understanding of the power of pure intellect undergirds his attempted revolution in metaphysics and physics. The second thesis pertains to Descartes' naturalism about the mind. Descartes typically is seen as having excluded mind from nature, thereby deanimating (literally, "de-souling") the physical world and making it safe for a full-scale mechanistic physics. This attitude effectively makes the mind into "a convenient receptacle for the chips and whittlings of science, rather than a possible object of scientific knowledge" (E. A. Burtt). In contrast, I argue that Descartes included (at least some functions and states of) mind as part of nature, that despite his dualism he continued an established tradition of treating the operations of the senses as open to empirical investigation, and that in virtue of his dualism he initiated a new line of thought leading to the search for specifically psychophysical laws, that is, laws linking non-mental bodily states to states of mind. The precise senses in which Descartes did and did not include *mind* under the rubric *nature* is problematic; but he did use language suggesting that even the intellect is a natural constituent of the human being, as when he ascribed intellectual cognitions to "the natural light.". (shrink)
Recent Cartesian scholarship postulates two Descartes, separating Descartes into a scientist and a metaphysician. The purpose varies, but one has been to show that the metaphysical Descartes, of the Meditations, is less genuine than the scientific Descartes. Accordingly, discussion of God and the soul, the evil demon, and the non-deceiving God were elements of rhetorical strategy to please theologians, not of serious philosophical argumentation. I agree in finding two Descartes, but the two I identify are (...) not scientist and philosopher, but practitioner and methodologist of the mathematical sciences on the one hand, and metaphysician of a new, general science of nature on the other. This chapter examines the transition to the second Descartes, and especially the metaphysical turn. It proposes that although Descartes' doubt was methodological and he felt no serious threat from skepticism and absolute certainty was not his primary goal. Rather, the doubt was used to reform the intellect, or to teach the use of the pure intellect (and to obtain certainty in that domain). Further, Descartes' metaphysics was primarily in the service of his natural philosophy (where in the main he did not claim absolute certainty). He did not talk about God and the soul in order to fool the theologians. His discussion of the relation between God and human reason was part of a metaphysical strategy in which, through his doctrine on the eternal truths, he separated knowledge of the first principles of natural philosophy (gained by the natural light) from theological cognition (through the light of grace), thereby seeking to render his metaphysics distinct from the proper domain of theology. (shrink)
Descartes’ accounts of sensory perception have long troubled his interpreters, for their lack of clear and explicit statements on some fundamental issues. His readers have wondered whether he allows spatial sensory ideas (spatial qualia); whether sensory ideas such as color or pain are representations and, if so, what they represent; and what cognitive value Descartes attributed to sense perception. Recent discussions take differing stands on the questions just mentioned, and also disagree over Descartes’ account of the externalization (...) of sensory qualities, on the origin and correct analysis of the “material falsity” he attributes to some sensory ideas, and on the value of the “teachings of nature.” Such disagreement should not be surprising, for although sensory perception was an important topic for Descartes, his treatment of these particular issues is not systematic – or at least not apparently so. Generally, there are no proof texts that unequivocally settle questions about Descartes’ views on spatial qualia, the representationality of sensory ideas, their cognitive value, externalization, material falsity, and the status of the teachings of nature. Yet these questions and topics naturally arise from matters about which Descartes is explicit and (reasonably) consistent, regarding the role of the senses in philosophy and everyday life and concerning the nature of minds and ideas. It is, therefore, worthwhile to ask what his positions might have been. This chapter develops answers by considering Descartes’ systematic doctrines on the nature of the mind and its ideas and by combing his statements on sensation and perception for hints about how to apply such principles. The first section reviews some key texts. Succeeding sections develop positions on representationality, cognitive value, externalization, material falsity, and the teachings of nature. Ultimately, I favor an interpretation in which, for Descartes, all sensory ideas represent by resemblance, different kinds of sensory ideas vary in cognitive value, externalization arises through spatial localization, and, with sensory ideas of color and the like, as materially false they do not intrinsically misrepresent but afford occasion for false judgments, which arise as merely apparent, and so not actually legitimate, teachings of nature. (shrink)
My thesis is that Descartes wrote the Discours as a plan for a universal science, as he originally entitled it. I provide an interpretation of his letters that suggests that after Descartes began drafting his Dioptrics, he started developing a system that incorporated his early treatises from the 1630s: Les Méteores, Le Monde, L’Homme, and his 1629 Traité de métaphysique. I argue against the mosaic and autobiographic interpretations that claim these were independent treatises or stages in Descartes’ (...) life. Rather, I hold that threat of condemnation concerning his heliocentric thesis resulted in him suppressing his larger project and, instead, he published a plan where he outlined his ongoing system of philosophy. (shrink)
The Dioptrique, often translated as the Optics or, more literally, as the Dioptrics is one of Descartes’ earliest works. Likely begun in the mid to late 1620’s, Descartes refers to it by name in a letter to Mersenne of 25 November 1630 III, 29). Its subject matter partially overlaps with Descartes’ more foundational project The World or Treatise on Light in which he offers a general mechanistic account of the universe including the formation, transmission, and reception of (...) light. Although Galileo’s condemnation by the Church prompted Descartes to abandon, in 1633, his plans for publishing The World, he continued in the ensuing years to vigorously pursue a number of scientific projects, including projects related to his work in optics. He was eventually persuaded to publish three essays highlighting some of his discoveries together with an introductory essay concerning “the method for rightly directing one’s reason and searching for truth in the sciences” . As one of those essays, Descartes’ Dioptrics finally appeared in print together with the Discourse on Method, the Meteorology and the Geometry in the summer of 1637 in a French language edition. It was republished in a Latin edition in 1644. The subject matter of the Dioptrics may be thought of as covering three main topics and is formally divided by Descartes into ten chapters or “discourses”. The first main topic concerns the nature of light and the laws of optics. In the first discourse, Descartes invites his readers to. (shrink)
Reprint of: Gary Hatfield, Force (God) in Descartes' physics, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 10 (2):113-140 (1979) -/- Abstract. It is difficult to evaluate the role of activity - of force or of that which has causal efficacy - in Descartes’ natural philosophy. On the one hand, Descartes claims to include in his natural philosophy only that which can be described geometrically, which amounts to matter (extended substance) in motion (where this motion is (...) described kinematically).’ Yet on the other hand, rigorous adherence to a purely geometrical description of matter in motion would make it difficult to account for the interactions among the particles that constitute Descartes’ universe, since the notions of extension and kinematical motion do not in themselves imply any causal agency. There is, after all, no reason to expect that a particle whose single essence is extension, even if we suppose it to be moving, should impart motion to another particle, while conversely, there is no reason to expect a resting particle to hinder the motion of an impinging one. Descartes' hankering for an austere ontology of matter in motion is in danger of excluding causal agency (force, conceived dynmically) from matter. To the modern reader it may seem obvious that Descartes did not get himself into such a fix, since matter in motion so readily reminds us of kinetic energy or of some more primitive notion of force. Yet by no means is it obvious that Descartes attributed causal efficacy to matter in motion per se. Serious scholars have held opposite positions on this issue. Westfall, Gabbey, and others’ have argued that although on the metaphysical plane Descartes attempted to eliminate force from his mechanical universe, nonetheless ‘force is a real feature’ of his mechanical world. The thrust of this view is that Descartes conceived of force as ‘the capacity of a body in motion to act’, by means of impact, upon other bodies. An opposing interpretation, defended here, is that Descartes did in fact deny causal agency to moving matter per se, restricting agency to immaterial substances such as the human mind, angels, and God. The intention of this interpretation is not to de-emphasize the role of matter in motion in Descartes’ explanation of nature, but rather to stress the fact that Descartes did not conceive of this moving matter dynamically. (shrink)
An introduction to Descartes as a philosopher. Situates his philosophy within the context of Descartes' efforts to forge a new natural philosophy, including original work on the theory of the senses and the passions and emotions.
Descartes has often been called the 'father of modern philosophy'. His attempts to find foundations for knowledge, and to reconcile the existence of the soul with the emerging science of his time, are among the most influential and widely studied in the history of philosophy. This is a classic and challenging introduction to Descartes by one of the most distinguished modern philosophers. Bernard Williams not only analyzes Descartes' project of founding knowledge on certainty, but uncovers the philosophical (...) motives for his search. With acute insight, he demonstrates how Descartes' _Meditations _are not merely a description but the very enactment of philosophical thought and discovery. Williams covers all of the key areas of Descartes' thought, including God, the will, the possibility of knowledge, and the mind and its place in nature. He also makes profound contributions to the theory of knowledge, metaphysics and philosophy generally. With a new foreword by John Cottingham. (shrink)
Philosophy and Memory Traces defends two theories of autobiographical memory. One is a bewildering historical view of memories as dynamic patterns in fleeting animal spirits, nervous fluids which rummaged through the pores of brain and body. The other is new connectionism, in which memories are 'stored' only superpositionally, and reconstructed rather than reproduced. Both models, argues John Sutton, depart from static archival metaphors by employing distributed representation, which brings interference and confusion between memory traces. Both raise urgent issues about control (...) of the personal past, and about relations between self and body. Sutton demonstrates the role of bizarre body fluids in moral physiology, as philosophers from Descartes and Locke to Coleridge struggled to control their own innards and impose cognitive discipline on 'the phantasmal chaos of association'. Going on to defend connectionism against Fodor and critics of passive mental representations, he shows how problems of the self are implicated in cognitive science. (shrink)
An early modern scholastic conception of moral possibility helps make sense of Descartes's own perplexing use of that concept and solves the exegetical puzzles surrounding Descartes's conflicting remarks about free will.
Spinoza’s Principles of Cartesian Philosophy is often presented simply as an interpretation of Descartes’ Principia that does not reveal anything significant about Spinoza’s philosophy and its development. This paper, however, shows that Spinoza altered Descartes’ text in a way congruent with what he would later write in his Theological Political Treatise and the Ethics. More precisely, this paper concentrates not on what Spinoza added to Descartes’ texts but on how he presented them. The paper furthermore examines questions (...) that were obviously important for Descartes but absent in Spinoza’s interpretation. Finally, this paper examines two concrete examples to show that Spinoza’s adaptations function as an unmasking of Descartes’ physics. (shrink)
In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), Richard Rorty locates the perceived ills of modern philosophy in the "epistemological turn" of Descartes and Locke. This chapter argues that Rorty's accounts of Descartes' and Locke's philosophical work are seriously flawed. Rorty misunderstood the participation of early modern philosophers in the rise of modern science, and he misdescribed their examination of cognition as psychological rather than epistemological. His diagnostic efforts were thereby undermined, and he missed Descartes' original conception (...) of a general physics, and Locke's probabilist analysis of the grounds for rational belief. (shrink)
This essay is a critical assessment of Sellars' interpretation and criticism of Descartes. It argues that Sellars made several mistakes in his view of Descartes, although the general thrust of his critique is sound.
This essay offers an interpretation of Descartes’ treatment of the concepts of place and space in the Principles of Philosophy. On the basis of that interpretation, I argue that his understanding and application of the concept of space supports a pluralist interpretation of Descartes on extended substance. I survey the Scholastic evolution of issues in the Aristotelian theory of place and clarify elements of Descartes’ appropriation and transformation thereof: the relationship between internal and external place, the precise (...) content of the claim that space and body are really identical, and the way we conceptually distinguish space from body. Descartes applies his concept of space in ways that illuminate the metaphysical structure of extension. In particular, he uses the concept to specify the degree to which finite parts of matter are independent of each other. I argue that for Descartes, conceiving extension as indivisible is an artifact of conceiving it as a space. That is, pace the monistic reading of Cartesian extended substance, regarding extension as indivisible is an artifact of conceiving it in a way more removed from its real nature. (shrink)
Descartes developed an elaborate theory of animal physiology that he used to explain functionally organized, situationally adapted behavior in both human and nonhuman animals. Although he restricted true mentality to the human soul, I argue that he developed a purely mechanistic (or material) ‘psychology’ of sensory, motor, and low-level cognitive functions. In effect, he sought to mechanize the offices of the Aristotelian sensitive soul. He described the basic mechanisms in the Treatise on man, which he summarized in the Discourse. (...) However, the Passions of the soul contains his most ambitious claims for purely material brain processes. These claims arise in abstract discussions of the functions of the passions and in illustrations of those functions. Accordingly, after providing an intellectual context for Descartes’s theory of the passions, especially by comparison with that of Tho- mas Aquinas, I examine its ‘machine psychology’, including the role of habituation and association. I contend that Descartes put forth what may reasonably be called a ‘psychology’ of the unensouled animal body and, correspondingly, of the human body when the soul does not intervene. He thus conceptually distinguished a mechanistically explicable sensory and motor psychology, common to nonhuman and human animals, from true mentality involving higher cognition and volition and requiring (in his view) an immaterial mind. (shrink)
This paper clarifies the philosophical connection between Al-Ghazali and Descartes, with the goal to articulate similarities and differences in their famous journeys from doubt to certainty. As such, its primary focus is on the chain of their reasoning, starting from their conceptions of truth and doubt arguments, until their arrival at truth. Both philosophers agreed on the ambiguous character of ordinary everyday knowledge and decided to set forth in undermining its foundations. As such, most scholars tend to agree that (...) the doubt arguments used by Descartes and Al-Ghazali are similar, but identify their departures from doubt as radically different: while Descartes found his way out of doubt through the cogito and so reason, Al-Ghazali ended his philosophical journey as a Sufi in a sheer state of passivity, waiting for the truth to be revealed to him by God. This paper proves this is not the case. Under close textual scrutiny and through the use of basic Husserlian-phenomenological concepts, I show that Al-Ghazali's position was misunderstood, thus disclosing his true philosophic nature. (shrink)
I critically examine the view that Descartes’s independence conception (IC) of substance plays a crucial role in his “separability argument” for substance dualism. I argue that IC is a poisoned chalice. I do so by considering how an IC-based separability argument fares on two different ways of thinking about principal attributes. On the one hand, if we take principal attributes to be universals, then a separability argument that deploys IC establishes a version of dualism that is unacceptably strong. On (...) the other hand, if we take principal attributes to be tropes, then IC introduces challenges which undermine the argument. This is partly because the assumption of tropes makes it possible to distinguish several versions of substance dualism, versions which differ with respect to their degree of generality. I argue that taking principal attributes to be tropes makes it challenging to establish any of these versions by way of an IC-based separability argument. I conclude the paper by suggesting a way forward for the proponent of the separability argument. (shrink)
This paper presents a new approach to resolving an apparent tension in Descartes’ discussion of scientific theories and explanations in the Principles of Philosophy. On the one hand, Descartes repeatedly claims that any theories presented in science must be certain and indubitable. On the other hand, Descartes himself presents an astonishing number of speculative explanations of various scientific phenomena. In response to this tension, commentators have suggested that Descartes changed his mind about scientific theories having to (...) be certain and indubitable, that he lacked the conceptual resources to describe the appropriate epistemic attitude towards speculative theories, or that the presence of geometrical principles in these explanations guarantee their certainty. I argue that none of these responses is satisfactory and suggest a different resolution to the tension by examining Descartes’ notion of explanation. On Descartes’ view, providing an adequate explanation does not require being certain of the theories that constitute the explanans. Relatedly, the purpose of Cartesian explanations is not to discover the truth about the various underlying mechanisms that such explanations appeal to, but to support his general philosophical thesis that all natural phenomena can be explained by appealing to the extension of matter. (shrink)
This is the first intellectual biography of Descartes in English. Stephen Gaukroger provides a rich, authoritative account of Descartes' intellectual and personal development, understood in its historical context, and offers a reassessment of all aspects of his life and work.
It is difficult to evaluate the role of activity - of force or of that which has causal efficacy - in Descartes’ natural philosophy. On the one hand, Descartes claims to include in his natural philosophy only that which can be described geometrically, which amounts to matter (extended substance) in motion (where this motion is described kinematically).’ Yet on the other hand, rigorous adherence to a purely geometrical description of matter in motion would make it difficult to account (...) for the interactions among the particles that constitute Descartes’ universe, since the notions of extension and kinematical motion do not in themselves imply any causal agency. There is, after all, no reason to expect that a particle whose single essence is extension, even if we suppose it to be moving, should impart motion to another particle, while conversely, there is no reason to expect a resting particle to hinder the motion of an impinging one. Descartes' hankering for an austere ontology of matter in motion is in danger of excluding causal agency (force, conceived dynmically) from matter. To the modern reader it may seem obvious that Descartes did not get himself into such a fix, since matter in motion so readily reminds us of kinetic energy or of some more primitive notion of force. Yet by no means is it obvious that Descartes attributed causal efficacy to matter in motion per se. Serious scholars have held opposite positions on this issue. Westfall, Gabbey, and others’ have argued that although on the metaphysical plane Descartes attempted to eliminate force from his mechanical universe, nonetheless ‘force is a real feature’ of his mechanical world. The thrust of this view is that Descartes conceived of force as ‘the capacity of a body in motion to act’, by means of impact, upon other bodies. An opposing interpretation, defended here, is that Descartes did in fact deny causal agency to moving matter per se, restricting agency to immaterial substances such as the human mind, angels, and God. The intention of this interpretation is not to de-emphasize the role of matter in motion in Descartes’ explanation of nature, but rather to stress the fact that Descartes did not conceive of this moving matter dynamically. -/- Reprinted in Descartes, ed. by J. Cottingham, Oxford Readings in Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 281–310. (shrink)
This is a reply to Vincent Carraud/René Verdon « Remarques circonspectes sur la mort de Descartes » (published in Revue du dix-septième siècle, n° 265, 2014/4, pp. 719-726, online: http://www.cairn.info/revue-dix-septieme-siecle-2014-4-page-719.htm, containing a critique of my "L'énigme de la mort de Descartes" Paris, 2011). I discuss the fatal illness and the death of Descartes, arguing that Descartes was very probably the victim of arsenical poisoning. The suspected murderer is a French priest, François Viogué, living with Descartes (...) in 1650 at the French embassy in Stockholm who may have seen in Descartes an obstacle to the hoped for conversion of queen Christina of Sweden. As against Carraud/Verdon I stress the medical facts, in particular the fact that Descartes himself seems to have suspected poisoning, since he asked for an emetic shortly before his death. (shrink)
Many critics, Descartes himself included, have seen Hobbes as uncharitable or even incoherent in his Objections to the Meditations on First Philosophy. I argue that when understood within the wider context of his views of the late 1630s and early 1640s, Hobbes's Objections are coherent and reflect his goal of providing an epistemology consistent with a mechanical philosophy. I demonstrate the importance of this epistemology for understanding his Fourth Objection concerning the nature of the wax and contend that Hobbes's (...) brief claims in that Objection are best understood as a summary of the mechanism for scientific knowledge found in his broader work. Far from displaying his confusion, Hobbes's Fourth Objection in fact pinpoints a key weakness of Descartes's faculty psychology: its unintelligibility within a mechanical philosophy. (shrink)
Commentators commonly assume that Descartes regards it as a function of the passions to inform us or teach us which things are beneficial and which are harmful. As a result, they tend to infer that Descartes regards the passions as an appropriate guide to what is beneficial or harmful. In this paper I argue that this conception of the role of the passions in Descartes is mistaken. First, in spite of a number of texts appearing to show (...) the contrary, I argue that Descartes does not regard it as the role of the passions to inform us about what is beneficial or harmful. Second, although Descartes calls the passions good and useful, I argue that Descartes does not think we should allow ourselves to be guided by them. When we recognize that the function of the passions is largely motivational and not informative, we can more easily understand Descartes's practical advice in The Passions of the Soul that happiness requires us to guide our passions instead of letting our passions guide us. (shrink)
As a practicing life scientist, Descartes must have a theory of what it means to be a living being. In this paper, I provide an account of what his theoretical conception of living bodies must be. I then show that this conception might well run afoul of his rejection of final causal explanations in natural philosophy. Nonetheless, I show how Descartes might have made use of such explanations as merely hypothetical, even though he explicitly blocks this move. I (...) conclude by suggesting that there is no reason for him to have blocked the use of hypothetical final causes in this way. (shrink)
This volume brings together some of the best articles on Descartes published in the last fifty years. Edited by the renowned Descartes specialist John Cottingham, the selection covers the full range of Descartes's thought, including chapters on the central issues in Cartesian metaphysics, the relationship between mind and body, human nature and the passions, and the structure of scientific explanation.
How does Descartes characterize the peculiar way in which each of us is aware of our bodies? I argue that Descartes recognizes a sense of bodily ownership, such that the body sensorily appears to be one's own in bodily awareness. This sensory appearance of ownership is ubiquitous, for Descartes, in that bodily awareness always confers a sense of ownership. This appearance is confused, in so far as bodily awareness simultaneously represents the subject as identical to, partially composed (...) by, and united to her body, without distinguishing these relations. Finally, the appearance of ownership is grounded in multiple other ways in which the body sensorily appears: namely, in the fact that the body appears to be inescapable, modified by bodily sensations, and an object of special concern. (shrink)
This paper offers a novel interpretation of Descartes's conception of freedom that resolves an important tension at the heart of his view. It does so by appealing to the important but overlooked distinction between possessing a power, exercising a power, and being in a position to exercise a power.
Descartes's approach to practical judgments about what is beneficial or harmful, or what to pursue or avoid, is almost exactly the opposite of his approach to theoretical judgments about the true nature of things. Instead of the cautious skepticism for which Descartes is known, throughout his ethical writings he recommends developing the habit of making firm judgments and resolutely carrying them out, no matter how doubtful and uncertain they may be. Descartes, strikingly, takes irresolution to be the (...) source of remorse and repentance, of vice, and of a weak soul. In order to explain its dangerousness, this essay offers an analysis of irresolution as a failure of the will to determine itself to follow a judgment in the face of ignorance or uncertainty. This analysis connects irresolution to weakness of will and explains why Descartes regards resolution as an essential component of virtue. (shrink)
I here address Descartes' account of human nature as a union of mind and body by appealing to The Passions of the Soul. I first show that Descartes takes us to be able to reform the naturally instituted associations between bodily and mental states. I go on to argue that Descartes offers a teleological explanation of body-mind associations (those instituted both by nature and by artifice). This explanation sheds light on the ontological status of the union. I (...) suggest that it affords a way of understanding how mind and body form a true unit without compromising Descartes' dualism. (shrink)
Descartes argues that, apart from the existence of a veracious God, we can have no reason to believe that we possess reliable cognitive faculties, with the result that, if atheism is true, not even our seemingly most certain beliefs can count as knowledge for us. Since the atheist denies the existence of God, he or she will be precisely in this position. I argue that Descartes' argument is sound, and that atheism is therefore self-refuting.
Descartes was both metaphysician and natural philosopher. He used his metaphysics to ground portions of his physics. However, as should be a commonplace but is not, he did not think he could spin all of his physics out of his metaphysics a priori, and in fact he both emphasized the need for appeals to experience in his methodological remarks on philosophizing about nature and constantly appealed to experience in describing his own philosophy of nature. During the 1630s, he offered (...) empirical support for the basic principles of his natural philosophy, while also promising to provide a metaphysical justification. He offered the metaphysical justification in the Meditations and Principles. and claimed absolute certainty for it. At the same time, he recognized that the particular postulated mechanisms of his natural philosophy did not reach that standard of certainty. These mechanisms were supported by empirical testing or confirming of causes through observed effects. (shrink)
Was Descartes a Cartesian Dualist? In this controversial study, Gordon Baker and Katherine J. Morris argue that, despite the general consensus within philosophy, Descartes was neither a proponent of dualism nor guilty of the many crimes of which he has been accused by twentieth century philosophers. In lively and engaging prose, Baker and Morris present a radical revision of the ways in which Descartes' work has been interpreted. Descartes emerges with both his historical importance assured and (...) his philosophical importance redeemed. (shrink)
In this book, Ben-Yami reassesses the way Descartes developed and justified some of his revolutionary philosophical ideas. The first part of the book shows that one of Descartes' most innovative and influential ideas was that of representation without resemblance. Ben-Yami shows how Descartes transfers insights originating in his work on analytic geometry to his theory of perception. The second part shows how Descartes was influenced by the technology of the period, notably clockwork automata, in holding life (...) to be a mechanical phenomenon, reducing the soul to the mind and considering it immaterial. Ben-Yami explores the later role of the digital computer in Turing's criticism of Descartes' ideas. The last part discusses the Meditations: far from starting everything afresh without presupposing anything that can be doubted, Descartes' innovations in the dream argument, the cogito and elsewhere are modifications of old ideas based upon considerations issuing from his separately developed theories, formed under the influence of the technology, mathematics and science of his age. (shrink)
Recent research has defended the surprising thesis that in many cases the search for truth is better off if the information exchanged between the members of an epistemic community is limited. This is what one may call the limited information thesis. There is, however, the possibility of an even more radical position than this: the thesis that any communication between peers has zero epistemic value and that the search for truth is better off if the truth-inquirer does not take into (...) consideration the truth-claims of her peers. This can be called the solitude thesis. The paper defends the claim that Descartes is a supporter of the solitude thesis with respect to metaphysical inquiry. The defense is facilitated by means of interpreting textual evidence found in Descartes’ essays Discourse on the Method, The Search for Truth and the Meditations on First Philosophy. (shrink)
Après avoir consacré à Descartes de nombreuses études, parmi lesquelles les monumentales L’homme des passions (Albin Michel, 1995) et Les Méditations métaphysiques de Descartes (PUF, 2005), ainsi que, plus récemment, Le style de Descartes (Manucius, 2013), Denis Kambouchner nous offre Descartes n’a pas dit. Ce livre contient un errata des propos prêtés à Descartes dans l’enseignement, dans les représentations collectives, dans des publications généralistes ou même dans certains travaux spécialisés, et propose de corriger quelques-unes des (...) erreurs les plus sérieuses. D’après Kambouchner, la philosophie cartésienne, en réalité très nuancée et raffinée, est régulièrement victime de simplifications excessives. (shrink)
The most comprehensive collection of essays on Descartes' scientific writings ever published, this volume offers a detailed reassessment of Descartes' scientific work and its bearing on his philosophy. The 35 essays, written by some of the world's leading scholars, cover topics as diverse as optics, cosmology and medicine, and will be of vital interest to all historians of philosophy or science.
Kirsten Besheer has recently considered Descartes’ doubting appropriately in the context of his physiological theories in the spirit of recent important re-appraisals of his natural philosophy. However, Besheer does not address the notorious indubitability and its source that Descartes claims to have discovered. David Cunning has remarked that Descartes’ insistence on the indubitability of his existence presents “an intractable problem of interpretation” in the light of passages that suggest his existence is “just as dubitable as anything else”. (...) However, although the cogito argument is widely thought to be central to the force of Descartes’ indubitability, for his part, Cunning does not consider its relevance and force. Accordingly, this article is concerned with the cogito argument and the question central to Hintikka’s seminal contribution, described by Cottingham as “Perhaps the most debated question,” namely, whether or not the cogito can be construed as a logical inference. Clearly, an inferential account has the potential to explain the certainty of Descartes’ conclusion that he exists. Recently, Sarkar offers what he characterizes as “novel and fairly conclusive reasons why the cogito cannot be construed as an argument,” asserting “the discovery of the cogito can only be an intuition not a deduction.” Obviously, it would greatly support the opposing inferential construal if a remotely plausible logical argument could be proposed. Toward this end, I defend the virtues of my ‘Diagonal’ account of Descartes’ cogito Above all, I show how my analysis meets the requirement that any satisfactory solution to the problem of the cogito would reconcile Descartes’ claim that the cogito is a certain inference with his claim that it is an intuitive kind of knowledge. Through a critical discussion of analyses such as that of Gallois , I show that it is possible to provide a textually faithful analysis that permits seeing the cogito as both inference and intuition because it may be seen as an exercise in the mathematical method of Analysis. Above all, as Feldman requires, I show that the Diagonal account is not only textually elegant, but permits crediting Descartes with a worthy insight, thereby resolving the tension between what Howell has termed the Humean and Cartesian problems, namely, the elusiveness and the certainty of the self. (shrink)
Descartes is notorious for holding a strong anti-vacuist position. On his view, according to the standard reading, empty space not only does not exist in nature, but it is logically impossible. The very notion of a void or vacuum is an incoherent one. Recently Eric Palmer has proposed a revisionist reading of Descartes on empty space, arguing that he is more sanguine about its possibility. Palmer makes use of Descartes’ early correspondence with Marin Mersenne, including his commentary (...) on Galileo’s Two New Sciences. I argue that Palmer’s reading is mistaken, and that it relies on an understandable but faulty inference—i.e., that if Descartes considers the implications of an opposing view, he must find it at least coherent. Descartes, as I show from his correspondence and other texts, uses a variety of persuasive strategies, and levels charges of different logical strength, against positions which he takes to be incoherent. Thus we cannot infer from the fact that Descartes argues, e.g., that something is a superfluous theoretical entity, that he admits that entity’s coherence. He often chooses to argue a weaker thesis against an opponent so that he can use an argument to which the opponent is more likely to agree. (shrink)
This essay examines recent attempts to defend holenmerism, or the ‘whole in every part’ doctrine, as the preferred view of God’s relationship to the material world in the work of Descartes. By focusing on the interrelationship between space, matter, and immaterial entities in Cartesian philosophy, I will demonstrate that the textual evidence not only fails to provide support for the holenmerist revival, but that holenmerism also runs counter to many of Descartes’s concepts regarding space and bodily extension.
Rene Descartes and William James had "body first" theories of the passions or emotions, according to which sensory stimulation causes a bodily response that then causes an emotion. Both held that this bodily response also causes an initial behavioral response (such as flight from a bear) without any cognitive intervention such as an "appraisal" of the object or situation. From here they differ. Descartes proposed that the initial processes that produce fear and running are entirely mechanical. Even human (...) beings initially run from the bear as a result of physiological processes alone, without mental contribution. These physiological processes also cause a mental passion, which is a cognitive representation of the situation (as regards novelty, benefit, or harm), and which motivates the will to continue the behavior already in progress. According to James, emotions are caused by instinctive bodily responses that are triggered by noncognitive but nonetheless conscious perceptual states. Emotions are bare feelings of internal physiological stirrings that accompany an instinctual response that has evolved through Darwinian natural selection. Jamesian emotions initially have no motivational or cognitive content, which they subsequently acquire through learning. The methodological legitimacy of comparing these positions across the centuries is defended, and the two theories are compared to recent theories. (shrink)
This book deals with a neglected episode in the history of logic and theories of cognition: the way in which conceptions of inference changed during the seventeenth century. The author focuses on the work of Descartes, contrasting his construal of inference as an instantaneous grasp in accord with the natural light of reason, with the Aristotelian view of inference as a discursive process. Gaukroger offers a new interpretation of Descartes`s contribution to the question, revealing it to be a (...) significant advance over humanist and late Scholastic conceptions. He argues that Descartes's account played a pivotal role in the development of our understanding of the nature of inference. (shrink)
The Cambridge Descartes’ Meditations—A Critical Guide, a recent addition to the numerous companion texts, guidebooks, introductions and commentaries already available, aims to provide novel approaches to important themes of Descartes’ Meditations by combining contextualism and analysis (of arguments). Organized in four parts (Skepticism, Substance and Cause, Sensations, and The Human Being), the volume contains contributions from (mainly) established scholars of Early Modern Philosophy.
It is generally assumed that Descartes invokes “objective being in the intellect” in order to explain or describe an idea’s status as being “of something.” I argue that this assumption is mistaken. As emerges in his discussion of “materially false ideas” in the Fourth Replies, Descartes recognizes two senses of ‘idea of’. One, a theoretical sense, is itself introduced in terms of objective being. Hence Descartes can’t be introducing objective being to explain or describe “ofness” understood in (...) this sense. Descartes also appeals to a pretheoretical sense of ‘idea of’. I will argue that the notion of objective being can’t serve to explain or describe this “ofness” either. I conclude by proposing an alternative explanation of the role of objective being, according to which Descartes introduces this notion to explain the mind’s ability to attain clear and distinct ideas. (shrink)
Towards the end of his life, Descartes published the first four parts of a projected six-part work, The Principles of Philosophy. This was intended to be the definitive statement of his complete system of philosophy, dealing with everything from cosmology to the nature of human happiness. In this book, Stephen Gaukroger examines the whole system, and reconstructs the last two parts, 'On Living Things' and 'On Man', from Descartes' other writings. He relates the work to the tradition of (...) late Scholastic textbooks which it follows, and also to Descartes' other philosophical writings, and he examines the ways in which Descartes transformed not only the practice of natural philosophy but also our understanding of what it is to be a philosopher. His book is a comprehensive examination of Descartes' complete philosophical system. (shrink)