Canadian Journal of Philosophy 34 (2):217 - 240 (2004)

Alice Sowaal
San Francisco State University
How we understand Descartes’s physics rests on how we interpret his ontological commitment to individual bodies, and in particular on how we account for their individuation. However, Descartes’s contemporaries as well as contemporary philosophers have seen Descartes’s account of the individuation of bodies as deeply flawed. In the first part of this paper, I discuss how the various problems and puzzles involved in Descartes’s account of the individuation of bodies arise, and the relevance of these problems for his physics. With an eye toward resolving these puzzles, I argue for an interpretation of the Cartesian ontology in which bodies are not individuated by motion but, instead, are mind-dependent. As part of this reading, I demonstrate the sense in which we can clearly and distinctly perceive bodies, and also the senses in which the real, conceptual, and modal distinctions apply to them. I conclude by explaining how this account of the mind-dependent individuation of bodies is consistent with Descartes’s definition of ‘motion’ and ‘a body’ in Principles, Part II, section 25—the very passage that prima facie entails the most troubling of the individuation puzzles. Finally, I show that this account is consistent with Descartes’s general goal in constructing his physics.
Keywords Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0045-5091
DOI 10.1080/00455091.2004.10716566
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References found in this work BETA

Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry.Margaret D. Wilson - 1979 - Journal of Philosophy 76 (8):431-435.
The Unity of Descartes's Man.Paul Hoffman - 1986 - Philosophical Review 95 (3):339-370.
Descartes’s Theory of Distinction.Paul Hoffman - 2002 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 64 (1):57-78.
Descartes and Individual Corporeal Substance.Edward Slowik - 2001 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 9 (1):1 – 15.

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Citations of this work BETA

Substance and Independence in Descartes.Anat Schechtman - 2016 - Philosophical Review 125 (2):155-204.
Descartes on the Metaphysics of the Material World.Tad M. Schmaltz - 2018 - Philosophical Review 127 (1):1-40.

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