Descartes and the Possibility of Science

Descartes and the Possibility of Science

Descartes and the Possibility of Science

Descartes and the Possibility of Science

Synopsis

This new book describes the intellectual structure of modern science as a body of knowledge produced by the Cartesian method. For Descartes, science was possible only because of certain features of the very nature of human beings. Peter A. Schouls focuses on two largely neglected aspects of Descartes's position: the intellectual imagination and free will. Joining these topics together within the context of Cartesian doctrine, Schouls opens up a substantially new reading of the Meditations and a more complete picture of Descartes as a scientist.Schouls asserts that Descartes viewed the intellectual imagination, the source of hypotheses, as crucial to the development of scientific thought. Descartes placed considerable emphasis on mental power in his discussion of the paths by which humans were to proceed in science--from pure to applied disciplines. Schouls explores the roles of different kinds of imagination in metaphysics, in pure physics or geometry, and in the applied sciences. He argues further that, for Descartes, free will was also indispensable in the pursuit of knowledge--without it, the scientific enterprise could neither start nor continue. Descartes and the Possibility of Science closes with a discussion of the metaphysical bases of free will, intellectual imagination, and other human functions necessary to the advancement of science.

Excerpt

Descartes believed that the world and humanity exist in a relationship which makes it possible for humanity to improve its state through manipulating the world. This manipulation is by means of developing and applying science. Science applied is to enable humankind to walk the path of ever-continuing progress through increases in freedom from the drudgery of labor, from the suffering of illness, and from the anxiety of interpersonal and international quarrels.

What must human nature be like for humanity to be capable of developing and applying the required sciences and so of accomplishing this ambitious program of improving the human condition? It is Descartes’s answer to the first part of this question, that concerning human nature and the possibility of science, which I trace in this study. The answer (in my second through fifth chapters) reveals the importance of a mental power which Descartes believes we possess and is absolutely crucial to the development of science. It is the power of intellectual imagination—an aspect of Descartes’s thought until recently almost entirely neglected by commentators.

Is humanity really capable of developing and applying the requisite sciences? Descartes’s answer to this question (introduced in the first and developed in greater depth in the sixth chapter) reveals the equally neglected relationship between the role he ascribes to human freedom and the Cartesian Archimedean point. Along the way some interesting additional insights present themselves; for example, in spite of the modern di-

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