The Myth of Cartesian Rationalism: An Examination of Experience in le Grand, Desgabets, and Regis

Dissertation, The University of Western Ontario (Canada) (1993)

Recent re-evaluation of the question of the exact role of experience in the Cartesian philosophy has emerged from many quarters. The metaphysical issue of innate ideas has been raised by such scholars as McRae and Miles, and a close examination of the role of empirical enquiry and methodology in Cartesian science have been undertaken by Clarke, Garber, Buchdahl and Laudan, to mention only a few. These recent reappraisals of the role of experience in Descartes's philosophy have been cast mostly in twentieth-century terms with a specific view to concerns of the present. ;My research centres on an examination of the philosophical works of three Cartesians, Antoine Le Grand, Robert Desgabets, and Pierre-Sylvain Regis. Though they are relatively minor figures in the history of ideas, their defence of Descartes's thesis concerning the free creation of the eternal truths, and their emphasis on the importance of experience, provide a unique opportunity to reevaluate the role of experience in the Cartesian philosophy in terms that are common in the period. ;There was a strongly empirical component in the philosophical doctrines and practices of these seventeenth-century Cartesians. Le Grand's view of truth as created and dependent on the will of God led him to assign experiment and experience the role of "making manifest" the operation of laws in the physical universe. Desgabets rejected innate ideas, and argued that all ideas depend on the operation of the senses. Regis emphasized the immutability and total dependence of truths and essences on the free will of God, and thereby undermined the rationalist foundation for the Cartesian doctrine of essences. ;My goal in this approach to the question of the nature and role of experience in the Cartesian philosophy is to explore the philosophical basis of the empiricist tendencies found in Descartes as developed by three of his disciples. My hope is that my study of Le Grand, Regis, and Desgabets, who are relatively unknown today, will not only serve to place them appropriately within the history of ideas, but will dislodge the common misconception of Cartesianism as having been an inherently rationalist philosophy
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