Demons, Dreamers, and Madmen: The Defense of Reason in Descartes's Meditations

Demons, Dreamers, and Madmen: The Defense of Reason in Descartes's Meditations

Demons, Dreamers, and Madmen: The Defense of Reason in Descartes's Meditations

Demons, Dreamers, and Madmen: The Defense of Reason in Descartes's Meditations

Synopsis

In this classic work, best-selling author Harry Frankfurt provides a compelling analysis of the question that not only lies at the heart of Descartes's Meditations, but also constitutes the central preoccupation of modern philosophy: on what basis can reason claim to provide any justification for the truth of our beliefs? Demons, Dreamers, and Madmen provides an ingenious account of Descartes's defense of reason against his own famously skeptical doubts that he might be a madman, dreaming, or, worse yet, deceived by an evil demon into believing falsely.


Frankfurt's masterful and imaginative reading of Descartes's seminal work not only stands the test of time; one imagines Descartes himself nodding in agreement.

Excerpt

Rebecca Goldstein

Certain philosophers provoke a charitable genius in readers, who will labor hard to produce interpretations maximizing profundities and minimizing fallacies. Descartes is not one of these philosophers. There is something about him that invites familiarity, and we know what that breeds. Whereas the seeming paralogisms of a Nietzsche, a Heidegger, a Wittgenstein, or a Quine are not willingly accepted as such, at least not without some struggle, the conclusion that Descartes spoke nonsense often arrives with no signs of an inner tussle at all.

There are contemporary disciplines—cognitive science, for example, or neuroscience—in which “Cartesianism” and “pineal gland” (a metonym for Cartesian dualism) are snicker terms. There seems little doubt that Descartes's proffered solution to the mind-body problem contributes to his diminishment, at least in certain circles. Cartesian . . .

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