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Insight and Inference

Insight and Inference: Descartes's Founding Principle and Modern Philosophy

  • Book Info
    Insight and Inference
    Book Description:

    In this major re-examination of Descartes's founding principle, cogito, ergo sum, Murray Miles presents a portrait of Descartes as the Father of Modern Philosophy that is very different from the standard one.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7619-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Murray Miles

    • 1 The “Twin Pillars” of Cartesianism
      (pp. 3-10)

      Over three decades have elapsed since Hintikka remarked (1962, 108): “Thirty years ago Heinrich Scholz wrote that there not only remain many important questions concerning the Cartesian dictum [cogito, ergo sum] unanswered but that there also remain important questions unasked.” Scholz (1931) divided the outstanding issues into two classes, “external” questions regarding Descartes’s relationship to major thinkers before and after him, and “internal” matters. Heading the list of the former is the “Aristotelian question” whether the first principle of philosophy is the axiom “the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject and...

    • 2 Scholastic-Aristotelian Metaphysics
      (pp. 11-23)

      We begin with a brief and necessarily impressionistic sketch of the concept of metaphysics in Aristotle and the medievals, to be followed by a discussion of Descartes’s concept of metaphysics and the purpose of hisMeditations. The immediate aim is to develop a background idea or working definition of ‘metaphysics’ as it was understood, with some variations, in the Aristotelian mainstream of philosophy before Descartes.¹

      The exact origins of the word ‘metaphysics’ are obscure, but it may go back as far as the direct pupils of Aristotle, though Aristotle himself never used it. Literally, the Greek expressionta meta ta...

    • 3 Cartesian Metaphysics
      (pp. 24-38)

      Of the twin pillars described in chapter 1, Descartes’s analysis of knowledge and the mind was by far the more enduring,setting the agenda for philosophical discussion and debate right down to the present day.¹ By contrast, the philosophy of nature, though a powerful shaping force, especially in France, for the remainder of seventeenth and well into the next century, was gradually supplanted with the advent of Newtonian science only a few decades later.² On Descartes’s own understanding of metaphysics, a consideration of thinking and its modes figures centrally withinprima philosophiaon three separate counts.

      First, as one of the...

    • 4 The New Order of Knowing
      (pp. 39-44)

      Before considering the order of knowing itself, it is necessary to examine more closely a widely held account of the model of cognition instituted by Descartes. In section 1.2 the doctrine known as “representationalism” was cited as one of the principal roadblocks to understanding Descartes’s founding principle. For attributing this doctrine to Descartes obscures the new order of knowing implicit in that principle.

      An influential proponent of the ascription to Descartes of the model of the mind on which the only immediate objects of knowledge are ideas is Gewirth: “The direct object of the mind’s act of perception is for...

    • 5 Synopsis
      (pp. 45-54)

      So much for the similarities and differences of metaphysical and epistemological outlook between Descartes and his medieval predecessors. Further discussion of these general themes must await the renewed consideration of the order of knowing to be undertaken, together with an analysis of the order and idea of being or existence, in the Conclusion. Much of the scholarly discussion of Descartes’s founding principle revolves around three specific issues: the precise sense ofcogitarein the wordcogito; the necessity and certainty ofsum; and the nature of the inference marked by the wordergo. These form the subject matter of the...


    • [PART ONE: Introduction]
      (pp. 55-56)

      The Latin and French termsconscientiaandconscienceare frequently regarded as equivalents ofcogitatioandpensée. So, for example, by Gilson (1947a, 293), Laporte (1950,78), andAlquié (ALQ, II, 586n.). Moreover, certain translators of Descartes’s works have instituted the practice of rendering even the latter pair by the English word ‘consciousness,’ notably Anscombe and Geach. In a short but incisive discussion of both points, McRae warns that while the translation of ‘thought’ by ‘consciousness’ has obvious merits, it leaves the problem of “what to do with Descartes’s own use of the wordconscientia, in particular, how to translate Descartes’s definition...

    • 6 Descartes’s Definition of ‘Thought’
      (pp. 57-67)

      ‘Thought’ (cogitatio), writes Descartes in the Replies to the Second Set of Objections, is a word that covers “everything that is within us in such a way that we are immediately conscious (immediate conscii simus) of it. Thus all the operations of the will, the intellect, the imagination and the senses are thoughts. I say ‘immediately’ so as to exclude the consequences of thoughts (ea quae ex iis consequuntur); a voluntary movement, for example, originates in a thought, but is not itself a thought” (AT VII 160: CSM II 113). Descartes here defines ‘thought’ in part by illustrating the extension...

    • 7 Thought, Consciousness, and ‘the Cogito’
      (pp. 68-85)

      Talk of ‘thecogito’ as opposed tocogitatioor ‘thought’ places Descartes’s analysis of mind squarely within the metaphysical setting described in the Introduction. Sincecogito, ergo sumis the first item orprincipleof knowledge, since it concerns theactual existenceof something, and since it is the existence of asupersensibleorimmaterialthing that is in question, a substance, thecogitois properlymetaphysicalknowledge in that fairly loose sense of ‘metaphysics’ taken over from the Aristotelian tradition by Descartes. When scholars speak of ‘thecogito’, they generally have in mind this founding principle of Descartes’s metaphysics,...

    • 8 The Structure of Thought
      (pp. 86-95)

      The extension ofcogitatioin its original and phenomenologically reduced senses marks out the domain of the certainly existent within the larger totality of the putatively so. The question of the precise intensional meaning of ‘thought’ is again a metaphysical rather than merely terminological matter for Descartes: by the use to which he put the terms ‘thought’ and ‘consciousness,’ Descartes articulates the essential structure of thought as the principal attribute of thinking substance. In the previous chapter the constitutive elements within the structural totality of thinking were only enumerated as distinct items within the sphere of absolute certainty of the...

    • 9 Pure and Empirical Thought
      (pp. 96-106)

      We noted in passing the almost casual way in which Descartes links self-awareness with rationality in the passage from theRegulaequoted earlier: “we have real knowledge of all of these [‘what knowledge or doubt or ignorance is, or the action of the will’], knowledge so easy that in order to possess itall we need is some degree of rationality”(AT X 419: CSM I 44f. e.a.). This link provides the key to Descartes’s novel conception of innateness as well as to theimago Deidoctrine in his writings. Reason, long understood as the faculty of innate ideas and...


    • [PART TWO: Introduction]
      (pp. 107-110)

      So after considering everything very thoroughly, I must finally conclude that this proposition,I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived by my mind. (AT VII 25: CSM II 17)

      Part One distinguished thought from consciousness, clarifying the relation of each to thecogitoin that narrowly restricted sense that corresponds to the first word of Descartes’s founding principle. Four separate items were identified as included within the sphere of certainty of thecogito.¹ It remains still to examine the precise sense in which any judgment of the reduced form ‘I am...

    • 10 The Degrees of Certainty
      (pp. 111-147)

      According to the “Synopsis” prefixed to theMeditations, the usefulness of the “extensive doubt” of the First Meditation

      lies [1] in freeing us from all our preconceived opinions, and [2] providing the easiest route by which the mind may be led away from the senses. The eventual result of this doubt is [3] to make it impossible for us to have any further doubts about what we subsequently discover to be true. (AT VII 12: CSM II 9)

      Thus, beyond furnishing a corrective for (1) thefailure to use one’s reasonat all due to uncritical reliance on the judgment...

    • 11 The Kinds of Certainty
      (pp. 148-164)

      Something having all the earmarks of outright contradiction leaps to the eye in the transition from the Second to the Third Meditation. If the testimony of the famous passage in the Second may be taken as authoritative, only the statementsum, existois able to withstand the third and most radical of the grounds of doubt adduced in Meditation One:

      But there is a deceiver of supreme power and cunning who is deliberately and constantly deceiving me. In that case I too undoubtedly exist, if he is deceiving me; and let him deceive me as much as he can, he...

    • 12 The Modalities of Truth
      (pp. 165-183)

      The next task is to determine the precise sense in which truths perfectly certain are necessary or “necessarily true” (AT VII 25: CSM II 17).Sumbeing a logically contingent proposition, one might take it to be in quite different senses that Descartes speaks of (a)sumorexisto, (b) the axioms of metaphysics and mathematics, (c) simple mathematical truths, and (d) propositions concerning God’s nature or that of body as “clearly and distinctly perceived,” as “perfectly certain,” and as “necessarily true.” And indeed, the sense of ‘truth’ that pertains to thecogitoprinciple and metaphysical axioms differs from that...

    • 13 Truth and Correspondence
      (pp. 184-204)

      If the argument of the preceding chapter is sound, the not infrequent charge that Descartes confounded objective truth with a psychological feeling of certainty is entirely misplaced. That psychological inability to withhold assent that characterizes all clear and distinct perception (persuasio) is both unmistakable when present and the infallible mark of truth; for simple reflexion on first principles reveals that their truth consists in clarity and distinctness together with the felt inability to withhold assent from the clearly and distinctly perceived. Apart from this phenomenological sense, there is another meaning of ‘objective truth’ in Descartes, one more akin to the...

    • 14 Certainty and Circularity
      (pp. 205-228)

      The analysis of the propositionsumbegan with the question of whether there are conditions under which even thecogitoprinciple is made doubtful by the deceiving God hypothesis. The temporal restriction “whenever it is put forward by me or conceived by my mind” (cf. section 11.7) suggests that Descartes believed there were; that even my own thinking and existence are open to a “very slight and, so to speak, metaphysical doubt” whenever I do not attend to them expressly. In respect of certainty, then, the metaphysical principlecogito, ergo sumis no different than other clear and distinct perceptions,...


    • [PART THREE: Introduction]
      (pp. 229-230)

      Through the uses to which he put the terms ‘thought,’ ‘consciousness,’ ‘reflexion,’ ‘idea,’ and their cognates Descartes provided the essentials of a metaphysical analysis of mind and of the structure of the mental that was to be more fully exploited outside its original metaphysical context in the subsequent history of modern philosophy by a sequence of major thinkers, culminating in Husserl and his school. Part One began the elaboration of this thesis for ‘thought’ and ‘consciousness,’ distinguishing simpleconscientiafrom reflexive attention to what one is conscious of and from second- and higher-order reflexive acts. The present part will complete...

    • 15 Consciousness, Thought, and Reflexion
      (pp. 231-262)

      As for the first pair of distinctions, Descartes elaborates the inherently self-reflexive structure of thinking, distinguishing consciousness from thought and both of these from reflexive attention and second-order reflexive acts in responding to the two principal objections brought against the primitiveness of thecogito, ergo sum. In addition to those passages containing the four main responses (Sixth Replies,The Search for Truth, Second Replies,Principles, 1,10), we must consider Descartes’s reply to Burman’s objection that the response within the Second Replies is inconsistent withPrinciple, I, 10. Discussion of two further objections, one from Burman, the other from Bourdin, will...

    • 16 Idea and Object
      (pp. 263-278)

      Of the distinctions sketched briefly at the outset of Part Three, two remain to be discussed. Those between consciousness and thought and between reflexive attention and second-order reflexive acts have already set the primitiveness of thecogito, ergo sumin a clearer light (chapter 15); the two remaining distinctions are to clarify what is and is not included within this first item of knowledge. Encompassed within the consciousness of acts are (cf. section 7.2) their act-characters, the self oregoto which they belong, and theirintentionalthough not their real objects. Acts, their act-characters, and theegohave been...

    • 17 The Inferential Import of the Ergo
      (pp. 279-290)

      We return now to the first of the outstanding questions raised in section 15.8: whether and in what sense an inference is involved in thecogito, ergo sum. As we do so it may be useful to recall very briefly the gist of Descartes’s reply to Burman’s objection concerningPrinciples, I, 10 as set out in section 15.2.

      It is a necessary condition of that intuitive certainty which assures the mind of its own existence as soon it reflects upon its thinking and attempts to call its existence into question that there be in the thinking mind an immediate though...

    • 18 Reflexion and Innateness
      (pp. 291-320)

      At the close of chapter 15 it was observed that the process of analytical reflexion leading from implicit to explicit insight has much to do with (1) the inferential import of theergo, with (2) the Cartesian doctrine of innateness, and with (3) Descartes’s conception of the intellect or the natural light of reason. It obviously has an important bearing on the Cartesian notion of analytic method as well (see sections 15.6 and 15.7). The first subject has now been dealt with. The second will be discussed here and the third in chapters 19 and 20.

      McRae has provided an...

    • 19 The Model of the Mind
      (pp. 321-335)

      Arguably, atheoryof innateness is only that when it elaborates a conception of the mind markedly different from thetabula rasamodel rather than gratuitously applying the term ‘innate’ to features of that very model. Locke provides well-known examples of such misuses of ‘innate’ in Book I of theEssay(cf. the last paragraph of the previous chapter), as does Hume in Section II of theEnquiry(1990, 67f.) By this criterion, the reflective account elaborated by McRae is not really a theory of innateness at all; for even Locke might have endorsed this theory of “the perception of...

    • 20 Experience and Induction
      (pp. 336-360)

      According to Clarke, “Descartes consistently proposed the theory that the observation of common natural phenomena, accompanied by critical reflection, could provide both the basic concepts and the fundamental laws that would explain all natural phenomena” (Clarke 1982, 200). To the questionwhatexactly the mind reflects upon, Clarke’s answer is clear: “By analogy with Aristotelianepagōgē, Descartes established the first principles of physical science by reflectionon ordinary experience”(ibid., 201 and passim, e.a.). Ordinary experience of sensible things provides the data from which the fundamental concepts and laws of corporeal things are derived. As for “intellectual things,” the non-sensory...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 361-362)

      The principlecogito, ergo sumowes its founding character to the epistemic difference between knowledge of the existence of the thinking self and knowledge of the existence of all other things. The truth ofsumis an intuitively evident insight gained through simple reflexion on what I am immediately conscious of whenever I think; by contrast, the existence of both God and sensible things can only be demonstrated by logical inference from this first truth, employing principles of the natural light intuitively evident in reflexion on thecogito, ergo sumitself. Hence, thecogitoprinciple is the first item of...

    • 21 Realism, Subjectivism, and Transcendence
      (pp. 363-377)

      The starting point is the new order of knowing described in the preceding parts. It is confusion about this, after all, that has given rise to much misleading talk of the ‘subjective turn’ and the ‘idealist standpoint’ of modern philosophy. In this epistemological perspective, several forms of realism can be distinguished from metaphysical or ontological realism and from each other. A second source of confusion is the talk of realism and idealism in the order of being. Accordingly, different types of ontological or metaphysical idealism must be distinguished as well. In most senses of the term, Descartes is a realist,...

    • 22 The Old and the New Metaphysics
      (pp. 378-390)

      The mention of immanence at the close of the preceding chapter recalls the methodological perspective. Integral to the latter are various ontological considerations. These now become the focus of attention in their own right as detailed consideration begins, first, of the new ontological order, then of the new guiding idea of being in Descartes’s philosophy.

      The key thing to be examined afresh is the nature of the contrast between the old and the new metaphysics.¹ Against the standard view, Scholastic-Aristotelian hylomorphism and Cartesian dualism are contrasted here astwo types of metaphysical realism. They differ not just in the order...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 391-530)
  10. References
    (pp. 531-546)
  11. Index
    (pp. 547-564)