Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Descartes and the Meditations

Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Descartes and the Meditations

Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Descartes and the Meditations

Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Descartes and the Meditations

Synopsis

Rene Descartes is generally accepted as the "father of modern philosophy", and his Meditations is perhaps the most famous philosophical text ever written.In this Routledge Philosophy GuideBook, Gary Hatfield guides the reader through the text of the Meditations , providing commentary and analysis throughout. He assesses Descartes' importance in the history of philosophy and his continuing relevance to contemporary thought. Descartes and the Meditations will be essential reading for all students of philosophy, and for anyone coming to Descartes for the first time.

Excerpt

No single text in philosophy is more widely read than Descartes’ Meditations. Long a mainstay of the philosophical curriculum, it has served as a stalking horse for philosophers of every stripe. Although new to succeeding generations of beginning students, the work is comfortably—or, in some cases, discomfortingly—familiar to those students’ teachers, and to the broader culture of letters.

This familiarity creates an interpretive barrier. Even novice readers may soon feel that they “know” what the central arguments and conclusions of the work are, where its philosophical significance and force lie. There are the skeptical challenge, the famous cogito in reply, the criterion of clear and distinct perception as guaranteed by a non-deceiving God, the circle, the mind-body distinction, and the resulting problem of mind-body interaction.

Indeed, these elements are there in the Meditations. Yet they are only part of the picture, only vehicles to an end that, in philosophical interpretations from the middle decades of the last century, was largely overlooked: Descartes’ use of the work to promote a new general science of nature (French scholarship, and earlier English-language scholarship, did attend to this factor). As Descartes wrote to Mersenne in letters that are now frequently cited (and are quoted more fully in Chapter 1), his Meditations contains “all the foundations” of his physics, which “destroy” the principles of Aristotle (by yielding a radically different conception of matter and its properties, and of mind and the operation of the senses). Deeper insight can be gained into the work by remembering that its arguments and conclusions are primarily in the service of this project. Thus the skeptical doubt is put in

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