Descartes's ballet: His doctrine of the will and his political philosophy (review)

Journal of the History of Philosophy 47 (1):pp. 139-141 (2009)

Authors
Julie Walsh
Wellesley College
Abstract
Richard Watson’s Descartes’s Ballet engages three main questions uncommon to traditional Cartesian scholarship: Did Descartes script La Naissance de la Paix, the ballet performed in honor of Queen Christina’s twenty-third birthday in December 1649? Did Descartes have a political philosophy? Did Descartes read the French dramatist Pierre Corneille? Watson answers no, yes, and yes.By emphasizing the complete lack of evidence that Descartes wrote La Naissance de la Paix, Watson disarms the suggestion made by Adrien Baillet, Descartes’s seventeenth-century biographer, that Descartes authored the ballet. Watson further suggests that only someone who was immersed in the subtleties of political culture in the Swedish court and was in Christina’s confidence could have written it. And Descartes, he argues, could not have met this description. Had it been written by Descartes, the ballet could have provided a foundation on which to build an interpretation of Cartesian political philosophy. Without it, explicit textual support for the construction of Descartes’s political philosophy is nonexistent. Undaunted by the lack of texts, Watson nevertheless constructs one based largely on the
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DOI 10.1353/hph.0.0093
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