Teleology and Natures in Descartes' Sixth Meditation

In Descartes' Meditations: A Critical Guide. Cambridge University Press. pp. 153-176 (2013)
Karen Detlefsen
University of Pennsylvania
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).
Keywords Descartes, Rene  teleology  natures  mind-body composite  hylomorphism
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References found in this work BETA

Animals.Gary Hatfield - 2008 - In Janet Broughton & John Carriero (eds.), Companion to Descartes. Blackwell. pp. 404–425.
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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