Essays on Descartes

Essays on Descartes

Essays on Descartes

Essays on Descartes

Synopsis

This is a collection of Paul Hoffman's wide-ranging essays on Descartes composed over the past twenty-five years. The essays in Part I include his celebrated "The Unity of Descartes' Man," in which he argues that Descartes accepts the Aristotelian view that soul and body are related as form tomatter and that the human being is a substance; a series of subsequent essays elaborating on this interpretation and defending it against objections; and an essay on Descartes' theory of distinction. In the essays in Part II he argues that Descartes retains the Aristotelian theory of causationaccording to which an agent's action is the same as the passion it brings about, and explains the significance of this doctrine for understanding Descartes' dualism and physics. In the essays in Part III he argues that Descartes accepts the Aristotelian theory of cognition according to whichperception is possible because things that exist in the world are also capable of a different way of existing in the soul, and he shows how this theory figures in Descartes' account of misrepresentation and in the controversy over whether Descartes is a direct realist or a representationalist. Theessays in Part IV examine Descartes' theory of the passions of the soul: their definition; their effect on our happiness, virtue, and freedom; and methods of controlling them.

Excerpt

When I began my serious study of Descartes after deciding to write a dissertation under the supervision of Robert Adams on Descartes’s concept of matter, I did not, I believe, approach the text with any particular interpretative claims in mind. I took it as a sufficient goal just to try to figure out what Descartes was saying. As my work progressed, I fell into the camp of those scholars, mainly French, who had found it illuminating to try to understand Descartes in light of his scholasticAristotelian heritage. I noticed that he was saying various things that, given his revolutionary aims, sounded surprisingly Aristotelian, things that English-speaking commentators tended to ignore and many French-speaking commentators tended to dismiss as not being fully sincere. Having adopted the interpretive principle of taking Descartes at his word unless there was compelling reason not to, I found myself trying to answer the question: are there sufficient reasons for denying that Descartes meant these things in the way his Aristotelian predecessors did?

Given my own philosophical interests, most of my work shifted away from direct focus on Descartes’s concept of matter to focus instead on what used to be called his anthropology, that is, his account of the nature and functioning of human beings. I have tried to make sense of what Descartes means in asserting that mind (or soul) and body are really distinct substances, of his account of the human being understood as a composite of mind and body, his account of the causal interaction between mind and body, his account of human cognition, and his account of the passions of the soul and human freedom.

A thesis that serves as a unifying theme for many of the essays included in this collection is this: Descartes retains three fundamental Aristotelian doctrines, though in modified form, that play a crucial role in his metaphysics and epistemology the first doctrine is familiar to most contemporary philosophers, but it remains controversial to attribute it to Descartes. This is the doctrine of hylomorphism: that mind and body are related as form to matter and that the composite of mind and body, the human being, is itself a substance. the second doctrine is . . .

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