ome Remarks on the Crisis of Capitalism What are the causes and consequences of the crisis of capitalism ? What are the plausible scenarios forthe outcome of the crisis ? To what extent is the current crisis comparable to that of 1929, and to whatextent does it differ from the crisis of the 1970s ? To what extent can one speak of a crisis of neoliberalism ? These are some of the questions which the authors of The Crisis of Neoliberalism (...) address here. (shrink)
In this paper, I consider Descartes’ Sixth Meditation dropsy passage on the difference between the human body considered in itself and the human composite of mind and body. I do so as a way of illuminating some features of Descartes’ broader thinking about teleology, including the role of teleological explanations in physiology. I use the writings on teleology of some ancient authors for the conceptual (but not historical) help they can provide in helping us to think about the Sixth Meditation (...) passage. From this, I draw several points, most notably that the Sixth Meditation passage is primarily concerned with the natures of body and composites, and that the issue of teleological explanation is derivative of this primary interest. So, we – and Descartes – must come to terms with what he takes the nature of the composite to be such that it has an intrinsic end-referred nature which grounds teleological explanations. I consider three possibilities: the human composite is a third type of substance – a hylomorphic substance; there is a sort of “satisfaction” relationship between mind and body (each of which retains its own distinct nature in the composite) such that the mind confers teleological value on the body; and there is a sort of “satisfaction” relationship between mind and body (each of which retains its own distinct nature in the composite) such that the mind recognizes teleological value in the body. None of these interpretations is without problems. So in the concluding section, I sketch a program for future research, specifically, trying to render Descartes’ teleological thinking consistent by distinguishing between the metaphysical natures of things (the concern of his Sixth Meditation passage) and the physical natures of things (his concern in his physiological writings). (shrink)
Descartes understood the subject matter of physics (or natural philosophy) to encompass the whole of nature, including living things. It therefore comprised not only nonvital phenomena, including those we would now denominate as physical, chemical, minerological, magnetic, and atmospheric; it also extended to the world of plants and animals, including the human animal (with the exception of those aspects of the human mind that Descartes assigned to solely to thinking substance: pure intellect and will). Descartes wrote extensively on physiology and (...) on the physiology and psychology of the senses. This chapter examines the notions of *physiology* and *psychology* in medical and natural philosophical works of Descartes' day; follows his efforts to bring physiology into his mechanistic idiom; considers the relation between physiology of the animal machine and psychological functions that yield functionally appropriate behavior; goes into his physiology and psychology of vision; and elaborates the tension in Descartes' works between his metaphysically supported micro-corpuscularism and his discussion of the animal machine as an organic unity comprising various functionally and teleologically characterized systems. The chapter draws on Descartes' works in both metaphysics and natural philosophy, including his Treatise on Man (originally published as L'Homme, 1664). (shrink)
This chapter examines the mechanistic psychology of Descartes in the _Passions_, while also drawing on the _Treatise on Man_. It develops the idea of a Cartesian “psychology” that relies on purely bodily mechanisms by showing that he explained some behaviorally appropriate responses through bodily mechanisms alone and that he envisioned the tailoring of such responses to environmental circumstances through a purely corporeal “memory.” An animal’s adjustment of behavior as caused by recurring patterns of sensory stimulation falls under the notion of (...) “learning,” behavioristically conceived. Indeed, Descartes’s animal-machine hypothesis may well be a distant ancestor to Watsonian behaviorism, via T. H. Huxley (1884). The final two sections of the chapter take stock of what psychological capacities Descartes ascribed to mind, body, or both, and consider those capacities that we might now plausibly construe as being explicable by nonmentalistic mechanisms as opposed to those that at present remain unreducedly mentalistic. -/- This chapter derives from a lecture delivered at the University of King's College (Halifax, Nova Scotia) as part of a year-long series on Descartes and the Modern. The lecture series was co-sponsored by the programs in History of Science and Early Modern and Contemporary Studies. (shrink)
Harry Frankfurt has argued that Descartes’s madness doubt in the First Meditation is importantly different from his dreaming doubt. The madness doubt does not provide a reason for doubting the senses since were the meditator to suppose he was mad his ability to successfully complete the philosophical investigation he sets for himself in the first few pages of the Meditations would be undermined. I argue that Frankfurt’s interpretation of Descartes’s madness doubt is mistaken and that it should be understood as (...) playing the same role as his more famous dreaming doubt. I focus my discussion around four questions: (Q1) What does the meditator have in mind when speaking of madness?, (Q2) Why does the meditator so quickly dismiss the madness doubt but take seriously the dreaming doubt?, (Q3) Does the madness doubt have the same scope as the dreaming doubt?, and (Q4) Why does the meditator bring up the madness doubt at all? (shrink)
The chapter advances two theses involving Descartes and the mind. The first concerns Descartes' conception of mental faculties, particularly the intellect. As I read the _Meditations_, a fundamental aim of that work is to make the reader aware of the deliverances of the pure intellect, perhaps for the first time. Descartes' project is to alter the reader's Aristotelian beliefs about the faculty of the intellect and its relation to the senses, while at the same time coaxing her to use the (...) pure intellect to perceive the first truths of metaphysics. His anti-Aristotelian understanding of the power of pure intellect undergirds his attempted revolution in metaphysics and physics. The second thesis pertains to Descartes' naturalism about the mind. Descartes typically is seen as having excluded mind from nature, thereby deanimating (literally, "de-souling") the physical world and making it safe for a full-scale mechanistic physics. This attitude effectively makes the mind into "a convenient receptacle for the chips and whittlings of science, rather than a possible object of scientific knowledge" (E. A. Burtt). In contrast, I argue that Descartes included (at least some functions and states of) mind as part of nature, that despite his dualism he continued an established tradition of treating the operations of the senses as open to empirical investigation, and that in virtue of his dualism he initiated a new line of thought leading to the search for specifically psychophysical laws, that is, laws linking non-mental bodily states to states of mind. The precise senses in which Descartes did and did not include *mind* under the rubric *nature* is problematic; but he did use language suggesting that even the intellect is a natural constituent of the human being, as when he ascribed intellectual cognitions to "the natural light.". (shrink)
I begin my discussion by considering how to relate Descartes’s more general concern with the conduct of life to the metaphysics and epistemology in the foreground of his philosophical project. I then turn to the texts in which Descartes offers his developed ethical thought and present the case for Descartes as a virtue ethicist. My argument emerges from seeing that Descartes’s conception of virtue and the good owes much to Stoic ethics, a school of thought which saw a significant revival (...) in the seventeenth century. It does, however, deviate from classical Stoicism in critical ways. Towards the end of my discussion, I return to the question of the relation between Descartes’s ethics and his metaphysics and epistemology, and I suggest that the Discourse on the Method for Rightly Conducting Reason and the Meditations on First Philosophy are invested with the virtue ethical considerations of moral education and the regulation of the passions, respectively. (shrink)
Descartes’ accounts of sensory perception have long troubled his interpreters, for their lack of clear and explicit statements on some fundamental issues. His readers have wondered whether he allows spatial sensory ideas (spatial qualia); whether sensory ideas such as color or pain are representations and, if so, what they represent; and what cognitive value Descartes attributed to sense perception. Recent discussions take differing stands on the questions just mentioned, and also disagree over Descartes’ account of the externalization of sensory qualities, (...) on the origin and correct analysis of the “material falsity” he attributes to some sensory ideas, and on the value of the “teachings of nature.” Such disagreement should not be surprising, for although sensory perception was an important topic for Descartes, his treatment of these particular issues is not systematic – or at least not apparently so. Generally, there are no proof texts that unequivocally settle questions about Descartes’ views on spatial qualia, the representationality of sensory ideas, their cognitive value, externalization, material falsity, and the status of the teachings of nature. Yet these questions and topics naturally arise from matters about which Descartes is explicit and (reasonably) consistent, regarding the role of the senses in philosophy and everyday life and concerning the nature of minds and ideas. It is, therefore, worthwhile to ask what his positions might have been. This chapter develops answers by considering Descartes’ systematic doctrines on the nature of the mind and its ideas and by combing his statements on sensation and perception for hints about how to apply such principles. The first section reviews some key texts. Succeeding sections develop positions on representationality, cognitive value, externalization, material falsity, and the teachings of nature. Ultimately, I favor an interpretation in which, for Descartes, all sensory ideas represent by resemblance, different kinds of sensory ideas vary in cognitive value, externalization arises through spatial localization, and, with sensory ideas of color and the like, as materially false they do not intrinsically misrepresent but afford occasion for false judgments, which arise as merely apparent, and so not actually legitimate, teachings of nature. (shrink)
My thesis is that Descartes wrote the Discours as a plan for a universal science, as he originally entitled it. I provide an interpretation of his letters that suggests that after Descartes began drafting his Dioptrics, he started developing a system that incorporated his early treatises from the 1630s: Les Méteores, Le Monde, L’Homme, and his 1629 Traité de métaphysique. I argue against the mosaic and autobiographic interpretations that claim these were independent treatises or stages in Descartes’ life. Rather, I (...) hold that threat of condemnation concerning his heliocentric thesis resulted in him suppressing his larger project and, instead, he published a plan where he outlined his ongoing system of philosophy. (shrink)
Recent Cartesian scholarship postulates two Descartes, separating Descartes into a scientist and a metaphysician. The purpose varies, but one has been to show that the metaphysical Descartes, of the Meditations, is less genuine than the scientific Descartes. Accordingly, discussion of God and the soul, the evil demon, and the non-deceiving God were elements of rhetorical strategy to please theologians, not of serious philosophical argumentation. I agree in finding two Descartes, but the two I identify are not scientist and philosopher, but (...) practitioner and methodologist of the mathematical sciences on the one hand, and metaphysician of a new, general science of nature on the other. This chapter examines the transition to the second Descartes, and especially the metaphysical turn. It proposes that although Descartes' doubt was methodological and he felt no serious threat from skepticism and absolute certainty was not his primary goal. Rather, the doubt was used to reform the intellect, or to teach the use of the pure intellect (and to obtain certainty in that domain). Further, Descartes' metaphysics was primarily in the service of his natural philosophy (where in the main he did not claim absolute certainty). He did not talk about God and the soul in order to fool the theologians. His discussion of the relation between God and human reason was part of a metaphysical strategy in which, through his doctrine on the eternal truths, he separated knowledge of the first principles of natural philosophy (gained by the natural light) from theological cognition (through the light of grace), thereby seeking to render his metaphysics distinct from the proper domain of theology. (shrink)
Reprint of: Gary Hatfield, Force (God) in Descartes' physics, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 10 (2):113-140 (1979) -/- Abstract. It is difficult to evaluate the role of activity - of force or of that which has causal efficacy - in Descartes’ natural philosophy. On the one hand, Descartes claims to include in his natural philosophy only that which can be described geometrically, which amounts to matter (extended substance) in motion (where this motion is described kinematically).’ Yet (...) on the other hand, rigorous adherence to a purely geometrical description of matter in motion would make it difficult to account for the interactions among the particles that constitute Descartes’ universe, since the notions of extension and kinematical motion do not in themselves imply any causal agency. There is, after all, no reason to expect that a particle whose single essence is extension, even if we suppose it to be moving, should impart motion to another particle, while conversely, there is no reason to expect a resting particle to hinder the motion of an impinging one. Descartes' hankering for an austere ontology of matter in motion is in danger of excluding causal agency (force, conceived dynmically) from matter. To the modern reader it may seem obvious that Descartes did not get himself into such a fix, since matter in motion so readily reminds us of kinetic energy or of some more primitive notion of force. Yet by no means is it obvious that Descartes attributed causal efficacy to matter in motion per se. Serious scholars have held opposite positions on this issue. Westfall, Gabbey, and others’ have argued that although on the metaphysical plane Descartes attempted to eliminate force from his mechanical universe, nonetheless ‘force is a real feature’ of his mechanical world. The thrust of this view is that Descartes conceived of force as ‘the capacity of a body in motion to act’, by means of impact, upon other bodies. An opposing interpretation, defended here, is that Descartes did in fact deny causal agency to moving matter per se, restricting agency to immaterial substances such as the human mind, angels, and God. The intention of this interpretation is not to de-emphasize the role of matter in motion in Descartes’ explanation of nature, but rather to stress the fact that Descartes did not conceive of this moving matter dynamically. (shrink)
An introduction to Descartes as a philosopher. Situates his philosophy within the context of Descartes' efforts to forge a new natural philosophy, including original work on the theory of the senses and the passions and emotions.
The Dioptrique, often translated as the Optics or, more literally, as the Dioptrics is one of Descartes’ earliest works. Likely begun in the mid to late 1620’s, Descartes refers to it by name in a letter to Mersenne of 25 November 1630 III, 29). Its subject matter partially overlaps with Descartes’ more foundational project The World or Treatise on Light in which he offers a general mechanistic account of the universe including the formation, transmission, and reception of light. Although Galileo’s (...) condemnation by the Church prompted Descartes to abandon, in 1633, his plans for publishing The World, he continued in the ensuing years to vigorously pursue a number of scientific projects, including projects related to his work in optics. He was eventually persuaded to publish three essays highlighting some of his discoveries together with an introductory essay concerning “the method for rightly directing one’s reason and searching for truth in the sciences” . As one of those essays, Descartes’ Dioptrics finally appeared in print together with the Discourse on Method, the Meteorology and the Geometry in the summer of 1637 in a French language edition. It was republished in a Latin edition in 1644. The subject matter of the Dioptrics may be thought of as covering three main topics and is formally divided by Descartes into ten chapters or “discourses”. The first main topic concerns the nature of light and the laws of optics. In the first discourse, Descartes invites his readers to. (shrink)
Descartes has often been called the 'father of modern philosophy'. His attempts to find foundations for knowledge, and to reconcile the existence of the soul with the emerging science of his time, are among the most influential and widely studied in the history of philosophy. This is a classic and challenging introduction to Descartes by one of the most distinguished modern philosophers. Bernard Williams not only analyzes Descartes' project of founding knowledge on certainty, but uncovers the philosophical motives for his (...) search. With acute insight, he demonstrates how Descartes' _Meditations _are not merely a description but the very enactment of philosophical thought and discovery. Williams covers all of the key areas of Descartes' thought, including God, the will, the possibility of knowledge, and the mind and its place in nature. He also makes profound contributions to the theory of knowledge, metaphysics and philosophy generally. With a new foreword by John Cottingham. (shrink)
Volumes I and II provided a completely new translation of the philosophical works of Descartes, based on the best available Latin and French texts. Volume III contains 207 of Descartes' letters, over half of which have previously not been translated into English. It incorporates, in its entirety, Anthony Kenny's celebrated translation of selected philosophical letters, first published in 1970. In conjunction with Volumes I and II it is designed to meet the widespread demand for a comprehensive, authoritative and accurate edition (...) of Descartes' philosophical writings in clear and readable modern English. (shrink)
In this paper, I join the so-called voluntarism debate on Descartes’s theory of will and judgment, arguing for an indirect doxastic voluntarism reading of Descartes, as opposed to a classic, or direct doxastic voluntarism. More specifically, I examine the question whether Descartes thinks the will can have a direct and full control over one’s suspension of judgment. Descartes was a doxastic voluntarist, maintaining that the will has some kind of control over one’s doxastic states, such as belief and doubt. According (...) to a long-held reading, the control that the will has over doxastic states in Descartes’s theory is direct; the doxastic states are affected by the mere act of will. This reading is called direct doxastic voluntarism (DDV), or direct voluntarism (DV) for short, and it states that we are capable of assenting, rejecting and suspending a judgment based only on our will to do so. Thus, these actions would be utterly and merely volitional. DV can be divided into two further positions, direct positive voluntarism (+DV) and direct negative voluntarism (-DV). Direct positive voluntarism deals with the act of forming judgments, maintaining that one can accept or deny a proposition wilfully and either merely believe or not believe something voluntarily. Direct negative voluntarism deals with the suspension of judgment, maintaining that it can likewise be accomplished by a simple act of will. However, I support an alternate account of Descartes’s voluntarism, which is called indirect doxastic voluntarism (IDV), or indirect voluntarism (IV) for short. By this account, the will is capable of affecting a doxastic state indirectly by making one concentrate on essential tasks for forming that state, such as gathering up and paying attention to strong reasons and evidence. IV is also possible to divide into indirect positive voluntarism (+IV) and indirect negative voluntarism (-IV). Per indirect positive voluntarism the will needs to pay attention to reasons for accepting or denying some proposition. Likewise, by indirect negative voluntarism, in order to suspend judgment the will needs to direct this attention to the reasons for doubt. By attending to these reasons, the will also comes face-to-face with its own freedom. This feeling of freedom can be described as affectivity of the reasons for belief (assent) and doubt (suspension). (shrink)
Philosophy and Memory Traces defends two theories of autobiographical memory. One is a bewildering historical view of memories as dynamic patterns in fleeting animal spirits, nervous fluids which rummaged through the pores of brain and body. The other is new connectionism, in which memories are 'stored' only superpositionally, and reconstructed rather than reproduced. Both models, argues John Sutton, depart from static archival metaphors by employing distributed representation, which brings interference and confusion between memory traces. Both raise urgent issues about control (...) of the personal past, and about relations between self and body. Sutton demonstrates the role of bizarre body fluids in moral physiology, as philosophers from Descartes and Locke to Coleridge struggled to control their own innards and impose cognitive discipline on 'the phantasmal chaos of association'. Going on to defend connectionism against Fodor and critics of passive mental representations, he shows how problems of the self are implicated in cognitive science. (shrink)
Descartes is widely portrayed as the arch proponent of “the epistemological transparency of thought” (or simply, “Transparency”). The most promising version of this view—Transparency-through-Introspection—says that introspecting (i.e., inwardly attending to) a thought guarantees certain knowledge of that thought. But Descartes rejects this view and provides numerous counterexamples to it. I argue that, instead, Descartes’s theory of self-knowledge is just an application of his general theory of knowledge. According to his general theory, certain knowledge is acquired only through clear and distinct (...) intellection. Thus, in his view, certain knowledge of one’s thoughts is acquired only through clear and distinct intellection of one’s thoughts. Introspection is a form of intellection and it can be clear and distinct. Ordinarily, however, introspection isn’t clear and distinct but is instead confused with dubitable perceptions of bodies. To make introspection clear and distinct, we need to “sharply separate” it from all perceptions of bodies by doubting all perceptions of bodies. Without such radical doubt, introspection remains confused and we lack certain knowledge not just of the specific features of our thoughts, but even of the minimal claim that a thought exists. Far from being the high priest of Transparency, Descartes is radically opposed to it. (shrink)
Spinoza’s Principles of Cartesian Philosophy is often presented simply as an interpretation of Descartes’ Principia that does not reveal anything significant about Spinoza’s philosophy and its development. This paper, however, shows that Spinoza altered Descartes’ text in a way congruent with what he would later write in his Theological Political Treatise and the Ethics. More precisely, this paper concentrates not on what Spinoza added to Descartes’ texts but on how he presented them. The paper furthermore examines questions that were obviously (...) important for Descartes but absent in Spinoza’s interpretation. Finally, this paper examines two concrete examples to show that Spinoza’s adaptations function as an unmasking of Descartes’ physics. (shrink)
This essay offers an interpretation of Descartes’ treatment of the concepts of place and space in the Principles of Philosophy. On the basis of that interpretation, I argue that his understanding and application of the concept of space supports a pluralist interpretation of Descartes on extended substance. I survey the Scholastic evolution of issues in the Aristotelian theory of place and clarify elements of Descartes’ appropriation and transformation thereof: the relationship between internal and external place, the precise content of the (...) claim that space and body are really identical, and the way we conceptually distinguish space from body. Descartes applies his concept of space in ways that illuminate the metaphysical structure of extension. In particular, he uses the concept to specify the degree to which finite parts of matter are independent of each other. I argue that for Descartes, conceiving extension as indivisible is an artifact of conceiving it as a space. That is, pace the monistic reading of Cartesian extended substance, regarding extension as indivisible is an artifact of conceiving it in a way more removed from its real nature. (shrink)
Commentators commonly assume that Descartes regards it as a function of the passions to inform us or teach us which things are beneficial and which are harmful. As a result, they tend to infer that Descartes regards the passions as an appropriate guide to what is beneficial or harmful. In this paper I argue that this conception of the role of the passions in Descartes is mistaken. First, in spite of a number of texts appearing to show the contrary, I (...) argue that Descartes does not regard it as the role of the passions to inform us about what is beneficial or harmful. Second, although Descartes calls the passions good and useful, I argue that Descartes does not think we should allow ourselves to be guided by them. When we recognize that the function of the passions is largely motivational and not informative, we can more easily understand Descartes's practical advice in The Passions of the Soul that happiness requires us to guide our passions instead of letting our passions guide us. (shrink)
An early modern scholastic conception of moral possibility helps make sense of Descartes's own perplexing use of that concept and solves the exegetical puzzles surrounding Descartes's conflicting remarks about free will.
In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), Richard Rorty locates the perceived ills of modern philosophy in the "epistemological turn" of Descartes and Locke. This chapter argues that Rorty's accounts of Descartes' and Locke's philosophical work are seriously flawed. Rorty misunderstood the participation of early modern philosophers in the rise of modern science, and he misdescribed their examination of cognition as psychological rather than epistemological. His diagnostic efforts were thereby undermined, and he missed Descartes' original conception of a general (...) physics, and Locke's probabilist analysis of the grounds for rational belief. (shrink)
In the _Meditations_ and related texts from the early 1640s, Descartes argues that the self can be correctly considered as either a mind or a human being, and that the self’s properties vary accordingly. For example, the self is simple considered as a mind, whereas the self is composite considered as a human being. Someone might object that it is unclear how merely considering the self in different ways blocks the conclusion that a single subject of predication—the self—is both simple (...) and composite, which is contradictory. In response to this objection, this paper develops a reading of Descartes’s various ways of considering the self. I argue that the best reading of Descartes’s qualified claims about the self, i.e., about the self _qua_ mind or the self qua human being, presupposes an account of the unqualified self, that is, of the self _simpliciter_. I argue that the self _simpliciter_ is not a mind, and that it is not a human being either. This result might suggest the pessimistic conclusion that Descartes’s view of the self is incoherent. To avoid this result, I introduce a new metaphysical account of the Cartesian self. On my view, the self is individuated by a unified mental life. The self is constituted by the beings that jointly produce this mental life, and derives its unity from it. (shrink)
The seventeenth century witnesses the demise of two core doctrines in the theory of perception: naive realism about color, sound, and other sensible qualities and the empirical theory, drawn from Alhacen and Roger Bacon, which underwrote it. This created a problem for seventeenth century philosophers: how is that we use qualities such as color, feel, and sound to locate objects in the world, even though these qualities are not real? -/- Ejecting such sensible qualities from the mind-independent world at once (...) makes for a cleaner ontology, since bodies can now be understood in purely geometrical terms, and spawns a variety of fascinating complications for the philosophy of perception. If sensible qualities are not part of the mind-independent world, just what are they, and what role, if any, do they play in our cognitive economy? We seemingly have to use color to visually experience objects. Do we do so by inferring size, shape, and motion from color? Or is it a purely automatic operation, accomplished by divine decree? -/- This volume traces the debate over perceptual experience in early modern France, covering such figures as Antoine Arnauld, Robert Desgabets, and Pierre-Sylvain Regis alongside their better-known countrymen Rene Descartes and Nicolas Malebranche. (shrink)
This is the first intellectual biography of Descartes in English. Stephen Gaukroger provides a rich, authoritative account of Descartes' intellectual and personal development, understood in its historical context, and offers a reassessment of all aspects of his life and work.
The Cambridge Descartes Lexicon is the definitive reference source on René Descartes, 'the father of modern philosophy' and arguably among the most important philosophers of all time. Examining the full range of Descartes' achievements and legacy, it includes 256 in-depth entries that explain key concepts relating to his thought. Cumulatively they uncover interpretative disputes, trace his influences, and explain how his work was received by critics and developed by followers. There are entries on topics such as certainty, cogito ergo sum, (...) doubt, dualism, free will, God, geometry, happiness, human being, knowledge, Meditations on First Philosophy, mind, passion, physics, and virtue, which are written by the largest and most distinguished team of Cartesian scholars ever assembled for a collaborative research project - 91 contributors from 12 countries. (shrink)
In his Meditations Descartes concludes that he is a res cogitans, an unextended entity whose essence is to be conscious. His reasoning in support of the conclusion that he exists entirely distinct from his body has seemed unconvincing to his critics. I attempt to show that the reasoning which he offers in support of his conclusion. although mistaken, is more plausible and his mistakes more interesting than his critics have acknowledged.
This is a reply to Vincent Carraud/René Verdon « Remarques circonspectes sur la mort de Descartes » (published in Revue du dix-septième siècle, n° 265, 2014/4, pp. 719-726, online: http://www.cairn.info/revue-dix-septieme-siecle-2014-4-page-719.htm, containing a critique of my "L'énigme de la mort de Descartes" Paris, 2011). I discuss the fatal illness and the death of Descartes, arguing that Descartes was very probably the victim of arsenical poisoning. The suspected murderer is a French priest, François Viogué, living with Descartes in 1650 at the French (...) embassy in Stockholm who may have seen in Descartes an obstacle to the hoped for conversion of queen Christina of Sweden. As against Carraud/Verdon I stress the medical facts, in particular the fact that Descartes himself seems to have suspected poisoning, since he asked for an emetic shortly before his death. (shrink)
This paper clarifies the philosophical connection between Al-Ghazali and Descartes, with the goal to articulate similarities and differences in their famous journeys from doubt to certainty. As such, its primary focus is on the chain of their reasoning, starting from their conceptions of truth and doubt arguments, until their arrival at truth. Both philosophers agreed on the ambiguous character of ordinary everyday knowledge and decided to set forth in undermining its foundations. As such, most scholars tend to agree that the (...) doubt arguments used by Descartes and Al-Ghazali are similar, but identify their departures from doubt as radically different: while Descartes found his way out of doubt through the cogito and so reason, Al-Ghazali ended his philosophical journey as a Sufi in a sheer state of passivity, waiting for the truth to be revealed to him by God. This paper proves this is not the case. Under close textual scrutiny and through the use of basic Husserlian-phenomenological concepts, I show that Al-Ghazali's position was misunderstood, thus disclosing his true philosophic nature. (shrink)
Descartes developed an elaborate theory of animal physiology that he used to explain functionally organized, situationally adapted behavior in both human and nonhuman animals. Although he restricted true mentality to the human soul, I argue that he developed a purely mechanistic (or material) ‘psychology’ of sensory, motor, and low-level cognitive functions. In effect, he sought to mechanize the offices of the Aristotelian sensitive soul. He described the basic mechanisms in the Treatise on man, which he summarized in the Discourse. However, (...) the Passions of the soul contains his most ambitious claims for purely material brain processes. These claims arise in abstract discussions of the functions of the passions and in illustrations of those functions. Accordingly, after providing an intellectual context for Descartes’s theory of the passions, especially by comparison with that of Tho- mas Aquinas, I examine its ‘machine psychology’, including the role of habituation and association. I contend that Descartes put forth what may reasonably be called a ‘psychology’ of the unensouled animal body and, correspondingly, of the human body when the soul does not intervene. He thus conceptually distinguished a mechanistically explicable sensory and motor psychology, common to nonhuman and human animals, from true mentality involving higher cognition and volition and requiring (in his view) an immaterial mind. (shrink)
I critically examine the view that Descartes’s independence conception (IC) of substance plays a crucial role in his “separability argument” for substance dualism. I argue that IC is a poisoned chalice. I do so by considering how an IC-based separability argument fares on two different ways of thinking about principal attributes. On the one hand, if we take principal attributes to be universals, then a separability argument that deploys IC establishes a version of dualism that is unacceptably strong. On the (...) other hand, if we take principal attributes to be tropes, then IC introduces challenges which undermine the argument. This is partly because the assumption of tropes makes it possible to distinguish several versions of substance dualism, versions which differ with respect to their degree of generality. I argue that taking principal attributes to be tropes makes it challenging to establish any of these versions by way of an IC-based separability argument. I conclude the paper by suggesting a way forward for the proponent of the separability argument. (shrink)
This article addresses a debate in Descartes scholarship over the mind-dependence or -independence of time by turning to Merleau-Ponty’s "Nature" and "The Visible and the Invisible." In doing so, it shows that both sides of the debate ignore that time for Descartes is a measure of duration in general. The consequences to remembering what time is are that the future is shown to be the invisible of an intertwining of past and future, and that historicity is the invisible of God.
In this book Han Thomas Adriaenssen offers the first comparative exploration of the sceptical reception of representationalism in medieval and early modern philosophy. Descartes is traditionally credited with inaugurating a new kind of scepticism by saying that the direct objects of perception are images in the mind, not external objects, but Adriaenssen shows that as early as the thirteenth century, critics had already found similar problems in Aquinas's theory of representation. He charts the attempts of philosophers in both periods to (...) grapple with these problems, and shows how in order to address the challenges of scepticism and representation, modern philosophers in the wake of Descartes often breathed new life into old ideas, remoulding them in ways that we are just beginning to understand. His book will be valuable for historians interested in the medieval background to early modern thought, and to medievalists looking at continuity with the early modern period. -/- . (shrink)
Towards the end of his life, Descartes published the first four parts of a projected six-part work, The Principles of Philosophy. This was intended to be the definitive statement of his complete system of philosophy, dealing with everything from cosmology to the nature of human happiness. In this book, Stephen Gaukroger examines the whole system, and reconstructs the last two parts, 'On Living Things' and 'On Man', from Descartes' other writings. He relates the work to the tradition of late Scholastic (...) textbooks which it follows, and also to Descartes' other philosophical writings, and he examines the ways in which Descartes transformed not only the practice of natural philosophy but also our understanding of what it is to be a philosopher. His book is a comprehensive examination of Descartes' complete philosophical system. (shrink)
Descartes’s concern with the proper method of belief formation is evident in the titles of his works—e.g., The Search after Truth, The Rules for the Direction of the Mind, and The Discourse on Method of rightly conducting one’s reason and seeking the truth in the sciences. It is most apparent, however, in his famous discussions, both in the Meditations and in the Principles, of one particularly noteworthy source of our doxastic errors—namely, the misuse of one’s will. What is not widely (...) recognized, let alone appreciated and understood, is the relationship between his concern with belief formation and his concern with virtue. In fact, few seem to realize that Descartes regards doxastic errors as moral errors and as sins both because such errors are intrinsically vicious and because they entail notably deleterious social consequences. Reforming the Art of Living seeks to rectify this rather common oversight in two ways. First, it aims to elucidate the nature of Descartes’s account of virtuous belief formation. Second, it aims both (i) to illuminate the social significance of Descartes’s philosophical program as it relates to the understanding and practice not of science, but of religion and (ii) to develop a kind of Leibnizian critique of this aspect of his program. More specifically, it aims to show that Descartes’s project is “dangerous,” insofar as it is subversive not only of traditional Christianity but also of other traditional forms of religion, both in theory and in practice. (shrink)
This paper presents a new approach to resolving an apparent tension in Descartes’ discussion of scientific theories and explanations in the Principles of Philosophy. On the one hand, Descartes repeatedly claims that any theories presented in science must be certain and indubitable. On the other hand, Descartes himself presents an astonishing number of speculative explanations of various scientific phenomena. In response to this tension, commentators have suggested that Descartes changed his mind about scientific theories having to be certain and indubitable, (...) that he lacked the conceptual resources to describe the appropriate epistemic attitude towards speculative theories, or that the presence of geometrical principles in these explanations guarantee their certainty. I argue that none of these responses is satisfactory and suggest a different resolution to the tension by examining Descartes’ notion of explanation. On Descartes’ view, providing an adequate explanation does not require being certain of the theories that constitute the explanans. Relatedly, the purpose of Cartesian explanations is not to discover the truth about the various underlying mechanisms that such explanations appeal to, but to support his general philosophical thesis that all natural phenomena can be explained by appealing to the extension of matter. (shrink)
It is difficult to evaluate the role of activity - of force or of that which has causal efficacy - in Descartes’ natural philosophy. On the one hand, Descartes claims to include in his natural philosophy only that which can be described geometrically, which amounts to matter (extended substance) in motion (where this motion is described kinematically).’ Yet on the other hand, rigorous adherence to a purely geometrical description of matter in motion would make it difficult to account for the (...) interactions among the particles that constitute Descartes’ universe, since the notions of extension and kinematical motion do not in themselves imply any causal agency. There is, after all, no reason to expect that a particle whose single essence is extension, even if we suppose it to be moving, should impart motion to another particle, while conversely, there is no reason to expect a resting particle to hinder the motion of an impinging one. Descartes' hankering for an austere ontology of matter in motion is in danger of excluding causal agency (force, conceived dynmically) from matter. To the modern reader it may seem obvious that Descartes did not get himself into such a fix, since matter in motion so readily reminds us of kinetic energy or of some more primitive notion of force. Yet by no means is it obvious that Descartes attributed causal efficacy to matter in motion per se. Serious scholars have held opposite positions on this issue. Westfall, Gabbey, and others’ have argued that although on the metaphysical plane Descartes attempted to eliminate force from his mechanical universe, nonetheless ‘force is a real feature’ of his mechanical world. The thrust of this view is that Descartes conceived of force as ‘the capacity of a body in motion to act’, by means of impact, upon other bodies. An opposing interpretation, defended here, is that Descartes did in fact deny causal agency to moving matter per se, restricting agency to immaterial substances such as the human mind, angels, and God. The intention of this interpretation is not to de-emphasize the role of matter in motion in Descartes’ explanation of nature, but rather to stress the fact that Descartes did not conceive of this moving matter dynamically. -/- Reprinted in Descartes, ed. by J. Cottingham, Oxford Readings in Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 281–310. (shrink)
Was Descartes a Cartesian Dualist? In this controversial study, Gordon Baker and Katherine J. Morris argue that, despite the general consensus within philosophy, Descartes was neither a proponent of dualism nor guilty of the many crimes of which he has been accused by twentieth century philosophers. In lively and engaging prose, Baker and Morris present a radical revision of the ways in which Descartes' work has been interpreted. Descartes emerges with both his historical importance assured and his philosophical importance redeemed.
This paper investigates Descartes’s understanding of the imago Dei, that it is above all in virtue of the will that we bear the image and likeness of God. I challenge the key assumption of arguments that hold that Descartes’s comparison between the human will and the divine will is problematic—that in his conception of the imago Dei Descartes is alluding to Scholastic conceptions of analogy available to him at the time, which would place particular constraints on the legitimacy of the (...) comparison. I argue instead that Descartes is evoking a different tradition regarding the nature of image and imitation, stemming from Augustine and Aquinas, and thus, that those constraints do not apply. I then argue that Descartes thinks the likeness between the human will and God’s will is that both are infinite in “extent.” This means that human will can “extend itself” not only to things that can be the object of some other will, but to things that can be the object of God’s will. This is notable because Descartes famously thinks that absolutely anything can be the object of God’s will. I explain why this interpretation is not implausible, contrary to first appearances. (shrink)
As a practicing life scientist, Descartes must have a theory of what it means to be a living being. In this paper, I provide an account of what his theoretical conception of living bodies must be. I then show that this conception might well run afoul of his rejection of final causal explanations in natural philosophy. Nonetheless, I show how Descartes might have made use of such explanations as merely hypothetical, even though he explicitly blocks this move. I conclude by (...) suggesting that there is no reason for him to have blocked the use of hypothetical final causes in this way. (shrink)
Many critics, Descartes himself included, have seen Hobbes as uncharitable or even incoherent in his Objections to the Meditations on First Philosophy. I argue that when understood within the wider context of his views of the late 1630s and early 1640s, Hobbes's Objections are coherent and reflect his goal of providing an epistemology consistent with a mechanical philosophy. I demonstrate the importance of this epistemology for understanding his Fourth Objection concerning the nature of the wax and contend that Hobbes's brief (...) claims in that Objection are best understood as a summary of the mechanism for scientific knowledge found in his broader work. Far from displaying his confusion, Hobbes's Fourth Objection in fact pinpoints a key weakness of Descartes's faculty psychology: its unintelligibility within a mechanical philosophy. (shrink)
This paper offers a novel interpretation of Descartes's conception of freedom that resolves an important tension at the heart of his view. It does so by appealing to the important but overlooked distinction between possessing a power, exercising a power, and being in a position to exercise a power.