Descartes on Sensation: A Defense of the Semantic-Causation Model

Philosophers' Imprint 9:1-22 (2009)
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Abstract

Descartes's lack of clarity about the causal connections between brain states and mental states has led many commentators to conclude that he has no coherent account of body-mind relations in sensation, or that he was simply confused about the issue. In this paper I develop what I take to be a coherent account that was available to Descartes, and argue that there are both textual and systematic reasons to think that it was his considered view. The account has brain states serving as occasions for the mind to produce in itself the sensations that it takes these brain states to signify. The relation between body and mind on this model is thus neither a standard efficient-causal relation, nor an occasionalist one, but rather a semantic-causal relation (i.e. a non-standard efficient causal relation that goes by way of natural signification). At the end of the paper I argue that the model does not undermine Descartes' commitment to the self-transparency of the mind.

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Andrew Chignell
Princeton University

Citations of this work

Cartesian critters can't remember.Devin Sanchez Curry - 2018 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 69:72-85.
Descartes: new thoughts on the senses.Gary Hatfield - 2017 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 25 (3):443-464.

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References found in this work

Descartes' physiology and its relation to his psychology.Gary Hatfield - 1992 - In John Cottingham (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Descartes. Cambridge University Press. pp. 335--370.

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