Descartes and the Possibility of Science [Book Review]

Dialogue 41 (4):817-818 (2002)


There are a good many insights in Schouls’s book, which is definitely not for first-time readers of the Meditations but for scholars who think they know it all. After reading Schouls’s essay, they will find, however, that where theirs was a vague, mostly negative notion of the understanding, gathered from the famous “wax example,” as the faculty which provides the information the senses can not, Schouls offers a detailed model of the faculty of the pure understanding. In this essay, Schouls has wrought a delicate piece in which each element of the Cartesian clockwork kicks in at the right time to result in a system in which it is the human mind’s nature to bring about progress through science and in which the human essence, mind, ultimately expressed in the freedom of the will, is best realized in science. One drawback that can perhaps be pointed out already is that Schouls makes the Meditations sound like a transcendental argument in favour of the pursuit of science: scientific certainty exists, what does human nature have to be like for this to be possible?, etc. True, Descartes did mean the Meditations to be the foundation for science so that we can “make ourselves, as it were, the lords and masters of nature”, but it was not his intention to start from the premise that Science is possible. He thought he was establishing whether any certainty whatsoever could be achieved.

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