2

TENSIONS IN CARTESIAN METAPHYSICS

Richard Watson’s Downfall of Cartesianism

In his 1966 book The Downfall of Cartesianism, 1 and in a succession of later books and articles, 2 Richard Watson has painted a wonderfully vivid portrait of the trials and tribulations of the rationalist metaphysics of the seventeenth century. Although his central claim was scarcely original - he ascribes it himself to the seventeenth-century sceptic Simon Foucher, whose critique of Cartesianism he largely follows - the brilliant lucidity of his exegesis and the light his approach throws on major aspects of post-Cartesian metaphysics combine to make the book a seminal work in late twentieth-century history of philosophy.

Watson’s central claim was that Cartesian metaphysics collapsed because it failed to meet its own standards or norms of intelligibility. The Cartesians, he claimed, were committed to two key principles, which he labelled the Causal Likeness Principle (CLP) and the Epistemological Likeness Principle (ELP). According to CLP, all causal relations are subject to the principle that the effect must resemble the cause, so that the causal relation is a sort of transformation of the patient into the form or likeness of the agent. The begetting of a horse by a horse, or the heating of a cold body by a hotter one might serve as examples of such a process. According to ELP, an idea in the mind of a knower must represent its object by way of resemblance, i.e. by sharing certain properties with it. The obvious analogy would be with the way in which a picture can represent its object.

Cartesian metaphysics, according to Watson, was committed to these principles by its very rationalism, by the quest for intelligibility that lies at its heart. They belonged to the ‘hard core’ of the research programme, and were therefore non-negotiable. But Cartesian metaphysics was also committed to a variety of claims about what substances exist and how they interact, and these claims seem flatly incompatible with CLP and

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Malebranche
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Abbreviations and Editions x
  • Preface xii
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Tensions in Cartesian Metaphysics 18
  • 3 - The Vision in God 47
  • 4 - The Dispute with Arnauld Over the Nature of Ideas 74
  • 5 - Occasionalism and Continuous Creation 96
  • 6 - Malebranche's Modifications of Cartesian Physics 131
  • 7 - Malebranche's Biology 158
  • 8 - Malebranche on the Soul and Self-Knowledge 186
  • 9 - Malebranche on Freedom, Grace and the Will 209
  • 10 - The Downfall of Malebranchism 234
  • Notes 262
  • Bibliography 279
  • Indexes 286
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