A virtuous practice: Descartes on scientific activity

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Abstract

This chapter examines the link between Descartes’ scientific method and his conception of moral virtue. James argues that the qualities a Cartesian philosopher-scientist needs to cultivate are precisely those that Descartes puts at the centre of his account of virtue. As one becomes a skilled investigator, one simultaneously becomes a virtuous person. To elucidate this claim, James focuses on the passionate aspect of scientific enquiry. She explores the roles of indecision and wonder in scientific investigation, and shows how philosopher-scientists can use these passions to monitor and improve their own practice. As they learn to modify their passions, they exercise the central virtue of générosité. Descartes’ conception of morality therefore implicitly represents science as a self-sufficient undertaking that is morally valuable in itself.

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Susan James
Birkbeck College

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