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
Categories (categorize this paper)
ISBN(s) 0045-5091
DOI 10.1080/00455091.2004.10716566
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 65,683
Through your library

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.

View all 10 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Spinoza on Composition, Monism, and Beings of Reason.Róbert Mátyási - 2020 - Journal of Modern Philosophy 2 (1):1-16.
Substance and Independence in Descartes.Anat Schechtman - 2016 - Philosophical Review 125 (2):155-204.

View all 19 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Persons and Bodies.Kevin J. Corcoran - 1998 - Faith and Philosophy 15 (3):324-340.
Bodies of Knowledge: Beyond Cartesian Views of Persons, Selves and Mind.Ian Burkitt - 1998 - Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 28 (1):63–82.
The Body as Object Versus the Body as Subject: The Case of Disability.Steven D. Edwards - 1998 - Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 1 (1):47-56.
Possibilities in the Philosophy of Mind.Charles Taliaferro - 1997 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 57 (1):127-37.
Hylomorphism and Post-Cartesian Philosophy of Mind.William Jaworski - 2006 - Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 80:209-224.
The Myth of Cartesian Qualia.Raffaella de Rosa - 2007 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 88 (2):181-207.


Added to PP index

Total views
100 ( #111,035 of 2,462,457 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
6 ( #119,519 of 2,462,457 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes