Between Two Worlds

Between Two Worlds: A Reading of Descartes's Meditations

John Carriero
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 544
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Between Two Worlds
    Book Description:

    Between Two Worldsis an authoritative commentary on--and powerful reinterpretation of--the founding work of modern philosophy, Descartes'sMeditations. Philosophers have tended to read Descartes's seminal work in an occasional way, examining its treatment of individual topics while ignoring other parts of the text. In contrast, John Carriero provides a sustained, systematic reading of the whole text, giving a detailed account of the positions against which Descartes was reacting, and revealing anew the unity, meaning, and originality of theMeditations.

    Carriero finds in theMeditationsa nearly continuous argument against Thomistic Aristotelian ways of thinking about cognition, and shows more clearly than ever before how Descartes bridged the old world of scholasticism and the new one of mechanistic naturalism. Rather than casting Descartes's project primarily in terms of skepticism, knowledge, and certainty, Carriero focuses on fundamental disagreements between Descartes and the scholastics over the nature of understanding, the relation between the senses and the intellect, the nature of the human being, and how and to what extent God is cognized by human beings. Against this background, Carriero shows, Descartes developed his own conceptions of mind, body, and the relation between them, creating a coherent, philosophically rich project in theMeditationsand setting the agenda for a century of rationalist metaphysics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3319-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Note on Translations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    TheMeditationes de Prima Philosophiais a truly revolutionary work, one that radically reshaped the landscape of metaphysics and epistemology. The three main topics taken up in theMeditations—the mind and its nature, body and its nature, and God—would become the focal points for subsequent metaphysics, especially for the rationalist side of early modern philosophy and for Kant. The broad idea that philosophy ought to begin with an account of mind and knowledge would also prove extremely influential, especially for the subsequent empiricist tradition and, again, for Kant. Indeed, it does not seem too much of an exaggeration...

  6. 1 The First Meditation
    (pp. 27-64)

    The first meditation consists of twelve paragraphs. In ¶¶1–2, Descartes introduces the metaphor that knowledge has “foundations.” In the first sentence of ¶3, he presents a putative candidate for the foundations of knowledge, and immediately proceeds to criticize it; that criticism culminates in the dreaming doubt (¶5). At this juncture the discussion seems to take a detour, and Descartes presents an extended comparison between thought and painting (¶¶6–8). That discussion (somehow) brings the meditator to a second doubt (¶¶9–10), the evilgenius doubt or, as I will sometimes call it, the imperfect-nature doubt. In the concluding paragraphs of...

  7. 2 The Second Meditation
    (pp. 65-127)

    The constructive work of theMeditationsbegins with an account of the mind in the Second Meditation, entitled “The nature of the human mind, and how it is better known than body.”¹ The first thing Descartes does is to demonstrate the existence of the mind through the famous cogito reflection. He shows the meditator that even while doubting the senses fundamentally, she knows at least this much: that she exists. But Descartes does not stop there. As the title suggests, he goes on to provide an understanding ofwhatthis thing that exists is, an account of the mind’s essence...

  8. 3(I) The Third Meditation: The Truth Rule and the “Chief and Most Common Mistake”
    (pp. 128-167)

    The third Meditation contains two of Descartes’s demonstrations of God’s existence. These two demonstrations comprise the last two-thirds of the meditation. The first third is taken up with certain preliminary matters. These preliminary matters, which include the introduction of the “truth rule” and touch on Descartes’s attitude toward how we know that bodies exist, are of considerable interest in their own right. I discuss the preliminary matters in this chapter, 3 (I); in the next chapter, 3 (II), I focus on Descartes’s philosophical theology.

    The meditator enters the Third Meditation having enjoyed a dual cognitive success in the Second Meditation....

  9. 3(II) The Third Meditation: Two Demonstrations of God’s Existence
    (pp. 168-222)

    A significant change in philosophical theology took place with Descartes’s work. Whereas philosophers working at the time Descartes was writing theMeditationstended to argue for the existence of God along the lines that Aquinas did, that is, via so-called cosmological arguments, philosophers writing after Descartes, including Spinoza and Leibniz, became much more friendly toward the ontological argument. This way of thinking about proofs of God’s existence was so influential that by the time Kant undertook his important critique of rational theology, he maintained that cosmological arguments were really disguised ontological arguments.¹

    Why did this happen? One answer, which I...

  10. 4 The Fourth Meditation
    (pp. 223-279)

    The fourth Meditation takes up a problem that came up in passing in the First Meditation. There, after considering a doubt based on the possibility that God might have made me so that I “go wrong every time I add two and three or count the sides of a square, or in some even simpler matter, if that is imaginable,” the meditator anticipates theMeditations’ response to this doubt: “But perhaps God would not have allowed me to be deceived in this way, for he is said to be supremely good.” However, this response raises a further puzzle: “But if...

  11. 5 The Fifth Meditation
    (pp. 280-358)

    The fifth Meditation falls into three main parts. The first part, ¶¶1–6, is concerned with the nature of material things. Within this, ¶¶5 and 6, where Descartes presents his account of true and immutable natures, hold a special importance. This discussion tells the meditator something important about the truth to which she is related when she sees that something is so. It also helps her to see why a certain kind of argument for the existence of God, the ontological argument, should be possible. In the second part of the meditation, ¶¶7–12, Descartes presents this argument. In the...

  12. 6 The Sixth Meditation
    (pp. 359-426)

    What is the Sixth Meditation about? Its heading reads, “The existence of material things, and the real distinction between mind and body,” and Descartes’s handling of these topics has drawn considerable attention over the years. However, these topics come fairly early in the meditation—in ¶¶10 and 9 respectively—and while they are relevant to the remaining twenty-two paragraphs, it is hard to see that larger discussion as structured around them. The headings serve not so much to orient the meditator as to signal important moments in the discussion. This fits with Descartes’s own description of the individual meditation headings...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 427-488)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 489-494)
  15. Index Locorum
    (pp. 495-504)
  16. Subject Index
    (pp. 505-519)