By John Cottingham
John Cottingham explores primary parts of Descartes's wealthy and wide-ranging philosophical process, together with his money owed of notion and language, of freedom and motion, of our courting to the animal area, and of human morality and the behavior of lifestyles. He additionally examines ways that his philosophy has been misunderstood. The Cartesian mind-body dualism that's so frequently attacked is barely part of Descartes's account of what it's to be a pondering, sentient, human creature, and how he makes the department among the psychological and the actual is significantly extra refined, and philosophically extra beautiful, than is mostly assumed. even though Descartes is usually thought of to be one of many heralds of our sleek secular worldview, the 'new' philosophy which he introduced keeps many hyperlinks with the tips of his predecessors, no longer least within the all-pervasive function it assigns to God (something that's neglected or downplayed by way of many smooth readers); and the nature of the Cartesian outlook is multifaceted, occasionally looking ahead to Enlightenment rules of human autonomy and autonomous clinical inquiry, but additionally occasionally harmonizing with extra conventional notions of human nature as created to discover fulfilment in concord with its author.
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Additional resources for Cartesian Reflections: Essays on Descartes's Philosophy
Would Descartes have had any problem with attributing colour-perception to animals? As is well known, he frequently described non-human animals as mechanical automata; and this has given rise to the common view that he regarded them as pure mechanisms, to which no conscious states whatever can be attributed. Marjorie Grene has expressed the standard interpretation very vividly: [T]he doctrine of the bˆete machine, which denies feeling of any kind to beasts ... relegates the human as well as the animal body to the status of an automaton.
We then infer from Descartes’s mechanistic explanation of animal reactions that he must be denying that animals ‘have’ such in-principle-unknowable qualia, and swiftly proceed to accuse him of saying something monstrous and disgraceful. Yet one does not have to be a devoted Wittgensteinian to acknowledge that Wittgenstein’s private language argument successfully disposes of the idea that the meaning of such terms as ‘pain’ and ‘hunger’ can be given by reference to a private beetle in my mental box⁴⁴—a ‘beetle’ of a kind I can never, even in principle, know is occurring in the mental box of you, my fellow human, let alone Tatiana, my cat.
And indeed, does not Descartes’s own use of substantivally ﬂavoured language (such as ens per se)⁶¹ to refer to the union create problems for my interpretation? One cannot deny that Descartes does sometimes use such language (though he always stops short of actually calling the mind–body unit a substance); but the reason for this seeming vacillation or imprecision lies, I think, in an ambiguity found in the original Aristotelian usage of the term ‘substance’. g. ⁶² So for Descartes, even if ontologically speaking the union consists of only two distinct substances, mind and body (substance being taken in the ﬁrst Aristotelian sense of a basic unit of independent existence), he still allows himself to talk of the human being as a substance in Aristotle’s other sense, namely a subject of predication—that subject in which attributes inhere.