Descartes's Changing Mind

Descartes's Changing Mind

Peter Machamer
J. E. McGuire
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Descartes's Changing Mind
    Book Description:

    Descartes's works are often treated as a unified, unchanging whole. But inDescartes's Changing Mind, Peter Machamer and J. E. McGuire argue that the philosopher's views, particularly in natural philosophy, actually change radically between his early and later works--and that any interpretation of Descartes must take account of these changes. The first comprehensive study of the most significant of these shifts, this book also provides a new picture of the development of Cartesian science, epistemology, and metaphysics.

    No changes in Descartes's thought are more significant than those that occur between the major worksThe World(1633) andPrinciples of Philosophy(1644). Often seen as two versions of the same natural philosophy, these works are in fact profoundly different, containing distinct conceptions of causality and epistemology. Machamer and McGuire trace the implications of these changes and others that follow from them, including Descartes's rejection of the method of abstraction as a means of acquiring knowledge, his insistence on the infinitude of God's power, and his claim that human knowledge is limited to that which enables us to grasp the workings of the world and develop scientific theories.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3043-5
    Subjects: Philosophy, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-35)

    Descartes is always and ever concerned with knowledge. Around 1619 he begins his systematic philosophical work by starting to write, though never publishing, theRules for the Direction of the Mind(Regulae ad Directionem Ingenii). In this work he lays out rules for directing the mind in its quest for knowledge. In 1649, toward the end of his life, he publishes thePassions of the Soul(Les Passions de L’âme) in which he worries about the ways in which the passions affect our knowledge and how to control them. However, the Galileo affair in 1633 provoked a crisis in Descartes’s...

    (pp. 36-81)

    Descartes’s conception of divine causation is a turning point in seventeenth-century thought. Without its impact, the causal theories of Spinoza and the occasionalists would not have emerged as they did. The use Descartes makes of tags, such asnihil sine causa fitorex nihilo nihil fit, is novel, as is his way of mobilizing causal axioms such as “There is nothing in the effect not previously in the cause.” Perhaps no seventeenth-century thinker stresses so emphatically the causal gap that exists between the perfection of God’s infinitude and the finitude of created things. We call this Creator-created connectionvertical...

  6. Chapter Three SEEING THE IMPLICATIONS OF HIS CAUSAL VIEWS: The Response to His Critics
    (pp. 82-110)

    Descartes’s sixRepliesto critics of theMeditationswere written in a period of three to six months in 1640–41. Given this short period of time we should not expect substantial changes in his thinking over a wide range of issues. However, as we indicated in the first chapter, the view that motion is a transference from one immediate vicinity, which we regard as at rest, into another vicinity first appears in a letter to Mersenne in 1643, and it is not immediately obvious that it maps onto what Descartes says about motion in theMeditations. But what we...

    (pp. 111-163)

    We turn now to the vexed problem of horizontal causation in Descartes’s theory of the material world, that is, his account of body-body causation. The second chapter established Descartes’s view that God is the universal and total efficient cause of all that can happen such that nothing can happen without his willing it. We also saw that Descartes adheres to the view that God’s willing, understanding, and creating are one and the same thing. Thus, to say nothing can happen without God’s willing it is just to say that nothing can happen without God’s producing it. But if God creates,...

    (pp. 164-197)

    We saw in chapter one that Descartes shifts from a method of abstraction to an epistemology that analyzes concepts or ideas by exclusion. In chapter 3 we discussed the nature of our ideas and their grounding in God, and introduced Descartes’s theories of divine harmony and epistemic teleology. In chapter 4 we showed how Descartes’s theory of conservation needs to be viewed as an example of his epistemic stance. That is, the theory provides a framework of ideas that we use to understand the workings of horizontal or body-body causation. We now need to turn our attention to Descartes’s concepts...

  9. Chapter Six MIND-BODY CAUSALITY AND THE MIND-BODY UNION: The Case of Sensation
    (pp. 198-242)

    The thorniest problem in all Cartesian literature is his view of the mind-body union. For understanding this vexed issue, Descartes’s analysis of sensation provides a central and telling example. The main problems are these: (a) how does the physical relate to the mental, and vice versa, in a particular act of sensing? And (b) how does Descartes’s understanding of sensation accord with his causal principles and with his late theory of body-body causation? In the later parts of this chapter we shall discuss mind-to-body causation with an eye to where this leaves Descartes in regard to the mind-body union. We...

    (pp. 243-250)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 251-258)