Descartes's Changing Mind

Descartes's Changing Mind

Descartes's Changing Mind

Descartes's Changing Mind

Excerpt

This book has been a long time in gestation. We began talking to each other about these topics around 1970 or so. We have taught, conjointly and individually, many seminars on Descartes and related topics for more than thirty-five years. Most memorable is the one that occurred in 1979 when we joined with Wilfrid Sellars, and we taught as a triumvirate (father, son, and holy ghost). That seminar was particularly well attended. To Wilfrid we owe a great debt, for he was inspirational in teaching us to think philosophically.

We want to say a word about the genre of our work. It is neither intellectual biography nor contextualized history. Rather, it is a chronological narrative that is organized around our philosophical analyses of the Cartesian corpus. The basic point is that Descartes, like most thinkers, grew, developed, and changed his mind as he worked throughout his life. There have been many studies, at least in part, devoted to the internal development of Descartes's thought. The early work of Gilson (1951), Kemp-Smith (1952), and Alquié (1950) stands out in this regard, as do more recent studies by Hatfield (2003), Garber (1992), Beyssade (1994), Ariew and Cress (2006), Hattab (1998), Guéroult (1968), Gaukroger (1995), Rodis-Lewis (1992), Mehl (2001), Clarke (2003), and Schmaltz (1997, 2008). However, none concentrates on the differences between The World (c. 1633) and the Principles of Philosophy (1644) in a way that exhibits sufficiently the contribution the Meditations (1641) makes toward the philosophical orientation of the latter work. Without doubt Descartes views the natural philosophy of the Principles as deeply enmeshed in the doctrines of the Meditations. To be precise, he conceives the doctrine of re-creationism, which emerges in Meditation III, and the view that physical things are simply geometry made real, as two sides of the same metaphysical coin. Any interpretation of Descartes's natural philosophy must reflect this basic commitment in order to make explicit the relationship between the metaphysics of temporal re-creationism and the sparse ontology of extended things. This shift profoundly changes the way in which Descartes conceives the operation of causality in the world and the causal axioms that direct his thought. It is a central of aim our study to make clear the significant implications that these involve. Despite the fact that many commentators have noted changes, Descartes has suffered disastrously from being overontologized.

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