Descartes Our Contemporary [Book Review]

The European Legacy 4 (4):98-101 (1999)
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Abstract

In this review of two books, Descartes: An Intellectual Biography, by Stephen Gaukroger, and Descartes and his Contemporaries: Meditations, Objections, and Replies, edited by Roger Ariew and Marjorie Grene, I consider arguments about the motivation of Descartes for writing the Meditations on First Philosophy. According to Gaukroger, Descartes wrote the Meditations simply to legitimate his natural philosophy, which he had already worked out, for an audience of theologians and Scholastic philosophers, whom he feared would condemn it (as Galileo had been condemned by the Inquisition in 1633). If Gaukroger is right, it would explain something that is not mentioned in the collection edited by Ariew and Grene, namely, that five of the seven sets of objections are from theologians, and that the strong objections made by philosophers Gassendi and Hobbes are given relatively short shrift, whereas, the weak objections made by the Jesuit theologian Pierre Bourdin are responded to at great length. Gaukroger, however, has an extremely implausible interpretation of Descartes's position on animals, according to which Descartes held that animals had thoughts and experiences, just not thoughts and experiences like ours, and hence, that he did not think of animals as machines (the "bete machine" hypothesis).

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James Mahon
Lehman College (CUNY)

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