Descartes’ debt to Teresa of Ávila, or why we should work on women in the history of philosophy

Philosophical Studies 174 (10):2539-2555 (2017)
  Copy   BIBTEX

Abstract

Despite what you have heard over the years, the famous evil deceiver argument in Meditation One is not original to Descartes. Early modern meditators often struggle with deceptive demons. The author of the Meditations is merely giving a new spin to a common rhetorical device. Equally surprising is the fact that Descartes’ epistemological rendering of the demon trope is probably inspired by a Spanish nun, Teresa of Ávila, whose works have been ignored by historians of philosophy, although they were a global phenomenon during Descartes’ formative years. In this paper, I first answer the obvious question as to why previous early modernists have missed something so important as the fact that Descartes’ most famous publication relies on a well-established genre and that his deceiver argument bears a striking similarity to ideas in Teresa’s final work, El Castillo Interior? I discuss the meditative tradition at the end of which Descartes’ Meditations stands, present evidence to support the claim that Descartes was familiar with Teresa’s proposals, contrast their meditative goals, and make a point-by-point comparison between the meditative steps in Teresa’s Interior Castle and those in Descartes’ Meditations which constitute their common deceiver strategy. My conclusion makes a case for a broader and more inclusive history of philosophy.

Similar books and articles

Rebecca 's Deceivers.Robert J. Yanal - 2000 - Philosophy and Literature 24 (1):67-82.
Silencing the Demon's Advocate: The Strategy of Descartes' Meditations (Review).Justin Skirry - 2009 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 47 (2):pp. 315-316.
Descartes' Meditations: A Critical Guide.Karen Detlefsen (ed.) - 2012 - Cambridge University Press.
Argument and Persuasion in Descartes' Meditations.Tom Vinci - 2011 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 49 (4):497-498.
Descartes on the Power of "Ideas".Stephen I. Wagner - 1996 - History of Philosophy Quarterly 13 (3):287 - 297.
Descartes' Epistemology.Lex Newman - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Analytics

Added to PP
2016-08-04

Downloads
8,951 (#249)

6 months
416 (#774)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Christia Mercer
Columbia University

Citations of this work

Cartesian Clarity.Elliot Samuel Paul - 2020 - Philosophers' Imprint 20 (19):1-28.
The Moral Formation of Descartes’ Meditations.Samuel A. Stoner - 2022 - The European Legacy 27 (3-4):321-334.
Teaching Ancient Women Philosophers: A Case Study.Sara Protasi - 2020 - Feminist Philosophy Quarterly 6 (3).

View all 8 citations / Add more citations