Descartes: An Analytical and Historical Introduction

Descartes: An Analytical and Historical Introduction

Descartes: An Analytical and Historical Introduction

Descartes: An Analytical and Historical Introduction


Descartes' Meditations continues to the studied at all levels of the philosophy curriculum, from the introductory course to the graduate seminar. Descartes: An Analytical and Historical Introduction is addressed to students at all these levels. For the beginner, Professor Dicker provides historical background and elicits from the text several basic issues of metaphysics and epistemology. Students of the history of modern philosophy will benefit from his balanced coverage of the main themes and arguments of the Meditations and several of the criticisms that they have evoked. To address still more advanced readers, he frequently discusses recent Descartes scholarship, and offers his own reflections on Cartesian doubt, the cogito, the causal and ontological proofs of God's existence, the Cartesian circle, Cartesian dualism, and Descartes' views about the material world. The book is written and organized in such a way as to be widely accessible, without unduly oversimplifying issues or sacrificing rigour. It includes and cross-references the full text of Meditations I, II, and V, and most of Meditations III and VI.


Descartes Meditations speaks to the philosophical novice as well as the sophisticate; for it introduces basic issues of philosophy in a way that is brief, compelling, and penetrating, and develops them with a subtlety that remains exhilarating to us, Descartes's philosophical descendents. No wonder, then, that the Meditations continues to be read and analyzed at all levels of the philosophy curriculum, from the introductory course to the graduate seminar.

Like a number of other books on Descartes's philosophy, this work is essentially a commentary on his masterpiece. But unlike most of those books, it is addressed to students of the Meditations at virtually all levels and to general readers interested in philosophical issues and their history.

In order to address the introductory student, I have sought not only to provide some historical background but also and especially to elicit a number of basic issues and concepts from the Meditations -- to "milk" that great text for central philosophical ideas. For example, in analyzing the cogito in Chapter 2, I try to relate it in a systematic way to the issue of substance and identity through change and even to the problem of universals, no less than to the dualistic view of persons to which it serves as the point of entry. In further discussing that view of persons in Chapter 5, I not only analyze Descartes's case for dualism but also present the problem of interaction and some historical and contemporary responses to it. Again, in discussing Descartes's views about the material world in Chapter 5, I not only expound his proof of the material world as an attempt to answer the sceptical doubts generated in Meditation I and against the background of his arguments for God's existence but also discuss his views about the nature of material things, including the theory of primary and secondary qualities (where I draw some comparisons with Locke). I have tried to do these things in a language and style accessible to today's college students, yet without sacrificing rigor. For the introductory student's sake, I have also tried, especially at strategic points in Chapter 1, to explain briefly some matters that would be taken for granted in a book addressed solely to advanced readers, including some elementary points of logic and such things as the a priori-a posteriori distinction.

For students who are studying Descartes at the next higher level -- typically in a survey of modern philosophy -- I have sought to cover, in a balanced way, the main themes and arguments of the Meditations, as well as the main criticisms that they have evoked. For example, Chapter 3 presents a detailed reconstruction and a critique of Descartes's main causal argument for God's existence, as well as a critical survey of the main positions on the vexed problem of the Cartesian Circle; Chapter 4 offers an extensive analysis of Meditation V's Ontological Argument for God's existence and the main . . .

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