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Descartes's Legacy

Descartes's Legacy: Mind and Meaning in Early Modern Philosophy

Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 154
  • Book Info
    Descartes's Legacy
    Book Description:

    The Hausmans wed an intentional theory of ideas with a modern information theoretic approach in a critical tour of some of the most important issues in the philosophy of mind and some of the most outstanding figures in early modern philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5745-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-2)

    This book presents a structural analysis of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuriesʹ theory of ideas by relating historical philosophy of mind to recent philosophy of mind. Our primary goal here is to uncover what was once aptly called thelogicof the theory of ideas – the problems it was meant to solve, given the parameters of the ontological categories available.

    Such an analysis is necessarily selective in two ways. First, our aim is not to interpret the entire work of any particular philosopher, either to render that work consistent or to show its large lines of development. Take,...

  5. 1 Machines, Meaning, and the Theory of Ideas
    (pp. 3-12)

    In this simple description of the operations of a Turing machine, there lies a profound set of philosophical problems. The machine consists of a segmented tape with symbols written on each segment. The machinescansthe segments forinformationand then, on the basis of that information, makes a computation. The example suggests alternative ways of describing how an information-processing entity receives input from a source outside itself and processes it; the processor is an intelligence or, alternatively, a machine (or, perhaps more accurately, to paraphrase Boolos and Jeffrey’s point, the machine can be described as an intelligence). Those alternatives,...

  6. 2 Descartes’s Semantic Intentions
    (pp. 13-28)

    In our discussion of Descartes, we take the epistemological issues raised by theMeditationsto be our (and Descartes’s) central philosophical concern. This is not to say, of course, that we restrict our discussion of Descartes to that work, but only that it sets our major themes. Indeed, if one takes Descartes’s scientific works such as theOpticsandTreatise on Manas central, one might well come out with a radically different interpretation of his epistemology. Here are the reasons: The scientific works are not primarily epistemological. They do not raise sceptical issues such as the ‘evil demon’ hypothesis...

  7. 3 The Secularity of the Meditations
    (pp. 29-47)

    It is fruitful, we think, to see the denial of theex nihiloprinciple as equivalent to the ‘evil demon’ hypothesis. For what is the threat of the evil demon? Precisely that the reality that our simple ideas present to us fails to correspond to the world as it is. Now, if a demon were causing our ideas in such a way that they seemed to represent what they did not, which is the case if nothing exists that matches up to what the idea presents, Descartes’s fears would be realized. His fears, however, are more complex than they appear....

  8. 4 Is Hume the Cartesian Evil Demon?
    (pp. 48-64)

    The third evil demon, were one possible, could not create our ideasex nihilo. In that sense, the demon could not pose a threat to a reasonable semantics for ideas. We can be sure that entities – exemplars – exist beyond our ideas and ourselves. In this sense Descartes has escaped the circle of his own ideas. But this is only the beginning of the story, important as it may be as a presupposition for the rest. Descartes, after all, wants to make his way back to the existence of a physical world, and to some knowledge about its operations....

  9. 5 A New Approach to Berkeley’s Ideal Reality
    (pp. 65-78)

    We see the theory of ideas, advocated by both rationalists and empiricists in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, as an attempt to solve an information problem: how does the mind get perceptual information from the physical environment about, say, a tree? Descartes believed that, in order to perceive the tree, there had to exist an idea, a mental item, which represents (in our view, intends) it. This move puzzled many philosophers in the seventeenth century (and continues to do so in the twentieth), and it so exercised Berkeley that he tried to overthrow representationalism in terms of a theory...

  10. 6 Hume’s Use of Illicit Substances
    (pp. 79-98)

    Hume is often classified as an ‘atomist.’ He is alleged to hold that every simple perception (impression and idea) is ‘independent’: to say that a simple perception P exists does not entail the existence of any other entity.² As the passage quoted above makes clear, part of this atomism is a neutral monism. That is, no perception is intrinsically mental, or material. Yet, he is also claimed to adhere staunchly to the theory of ideas. Indeed, Stroud devotes the entire second chapter of his bookHumeto a discussion of Hume’s adaptation of it. We shall argue that any plausible...

  11. 7 Berkeley and the Argument from Perceptual Variation
    (pp. 99-111)

    Historically, the argument from perceptual variation has played a key role in the attempt to establish idealism. At least, many believe, it is central to arriving at a theory of ideas. So far in this study, we have given perceptual variation in its usual form little attention. As we interpret Descartes, perceptual variation is merely a way of calling attention to aspects of the more generalized ‘demon’ problems. In chapter 5 we claimed the argument seems to Berkeley to be more germane to the breakdown of the primary-secondary quality distinction than the direct establishment ofesse est percipi, and in...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 112-116)

    Descartes has often been classified as an indirect realist. Aquinas, it is sometimes said, is a direct realist. But, as every philosopher knows, giving exact meanings to the notions of direct and indirect realism is problematic. We hope to provide meanings for these terms that will reveal crucial differences between Descartes, on the one hand, and Hume and Berkeley, on the other. But whether one has a Cartesian or a Berkeleyan sense of direct realism, the purpose of trying to be one is the same: to solve the information problem, and thereby to avoid scepticism. The key to our explication...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 117-138)
  14. References
    (pp. 139-142)
  15. Name Index
    (pp. 143-144)
  16. Subject Index
    (pp. 145-148)