Cartesian Clarity

Philosophers' Imprint 20 (19):1-28 (2020)
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Clear and distinct perception is the centrepiece of Descartes’s philosophy — it is the source of all certainty — but what does he mean by ‘clear’ and ‘distinct’? According to the prevailing approach, what it means for a perception to be clear is that its content has a certain objective property, like truth. I argue instead that clarity is at least partly a subjective, phenomenal quality whereby a content is presented as true to the perceiving subject. Clarity comes in degrees. Any weak degree of clarity, available to the senses, can be merely subjective, since what it presents as true may not actually be true. But complete clarity, available to intellectual perception, has an objective dimension, since what it presents as true is always some truth, some bit of reality. Further, I argue that the other perceptual qualities that Descartes identifies — obscurity, confusion, and distinctness — are all defined in terms of clarity. Of particular note is the fact that distinctness is not a positive feature to be added to clarity: a distinct perception is just a completely clear perception.



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Elliot Samuel Paul
Queen's University

Citations of this work

The Ethics of Conceptualization: A Needs-Based Approach.Matthieu Queloz - forthcoming - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cartesian intuition.Elliot Samuel Paul - 2022 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 31 (4):693-723.
Cartesian intuition.Elliot Samuel Paul - 2022 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 31 (4):693-723.
Cogito and Moore.David James Barnett - 2023 - Synthese 202 (1):1-27.

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