Descartes and the Enlightenment

Descartes and the Enlightenment

Peter A. Schouls
Copyright Date: 1989
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Descartes and the Enlightenment
    Book Description:

    Schouls limits himself to a discussion of these three concepts in order to escape facile and vague generalizations. For the same reason, in relating Descartes to eighteenth-century thinkers, Schouls limits his attention to a single part of the spectrum of acknowledged Enlightenment reflection, the French "philosopes." From their writings he demonstrates that they are, and acknowledge themselves to be, Descartes' progeny.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6408-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledtgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    This study is aboutfreedom,mastery, andprogress, primarily as these concepts function in Descartes’ works. This triad represents the core of Enlightenment thought. My discussion of these concepts is intended to reveal Descartes’ relationship to the Enlightenment.

    Enlightenment thought was preoccupied with human freedom. It was preoccupied with freedom from prejudice and from political and social oppression, with freedom from drudgery, pain, and anxiety. It was equally interested in mastery, and hence in the power which scientific knowledge was supposed to give to humanity, for it was believed that scientific knowledge would allow each person to become master of...

  5. I Escape from Bondage
    (pp. 13-38)

    Among the concepts of freedom, mastery, and progress, that of freedom is the most fundamental to Descartes’ works. For mastery presupposes freedom from prejudice and oppression and consists in having the liberty to shape one’s own destiny. Progress, in turn, is measured in terms of the extent to which mastery has been achieved. Hence throughout most of this study the discussion of freedom will be central. Because of the interrelatedness of the three concepts, mastery and progress will of course enter the scene; but they will not occupy centre stage until the fifth chapter.

    To establish the fundamental nature of...

  6. II Reason and Free Will
    (pp. 39-62)

    The descartes portrayed in chapter 1 held both that reason is in bondage and that it can be set free. This second chapter begins my exploration of the role and nature of the freedom which Descartes ascribes to a person even when he holds that person’s reason to be in bondage. I start this exploration by considering the role which free will plays for Descartes in liberating and validating reason.

    In this opening section I expose and begin to resolve the chief issue which underlies the first chapter, that of the relation between free will and reason. It is the...

  7. III Descartes and the Enlightenment
    (pp. 63-76)

    The conclusion of the first two chapters is that freedom is the fundamental feature of Descartes’ position. This emphasis on free will is itself a strong indication of affinity between Descartes’ thought and that of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. But this affinity exists not only in such a general way. I can now begin to relate some of the important specific issues discussed in these two chapters to features characteristic of eighteenth-century thinkers.

    In the Introduction I stated it as my thesis that Descartes was chief amongst those who brought the modern mind into being, while thephilosopheswere representative of...

  8. IV Autonomy and Spontaneity
    (pp. 77-98)

    An account of human freedom is fundamental to Descartes’ position. This account stipulates that human freedom consists in the exercise of an autonomous will. An “autonomous” will, for Descartes, is guided or determined neither by human reason, nor by something apart from the person who originally does the willing, such as God or an independently existing truth or good. Absence of such determination does not make this notion of autonomy sterile, for it does not render autonomous action directionless or pointless. The will is taken to be self-directed; and to say that it is not directed by reason is meant...

  9. V Freedom, Mastery, and Progress
    (pp. 99-127)

    In the first part of this chapter I shall discuss the transition from autonomous agency to action determined by reason. I shall show that, according to Descartes, the achievement of mastery is only possible if autonomous agency and action determined by reason are jointly present. There remains an unresolved tension in Descartes’ position between, on the one hand, the doctrine of an autonomous will and, on the other hand, the dogma of an authoritative reason.

    In the second part I shall deal with the concept of progress implicit in Descartes’ writings. It should be said from the outset that if...

  10. VI Progress and Enlightenment
    (pp. 128-143)

    When, in the third chapter, I began to make explicit the relationship between Descartes and thephilosophes, I emphasized some primary forms of resemblance. Although I shall continue to focus mainly on points of likeness in this sixth chapter, some points of difference will arise over the issue of the inevitability of progress. These, however, are differences not between Descartes and thephilosophes, but between Descartes and some of thephilosophes; others, in fact most of them, do not differ from him on this matter. In the third chapter, I limited myself primarily to issues in which the concept of...

  11. VII Self-Mastery
    (pp. 144-172)

    The thesis which I have developed throughout this study is that some often overlooked, but quite central tenets of Descartes’ came to be shared by eighteenth-century Enlightenment philosophers. Descartes’ concepts of freedom, mastery, and progress are concepts which belong to Enlightenment thought.

    In rounding off my discussion of the two major parts of my thesis, this penultimate chapter deals again with freedom and mastery. It does so in a discussion which once more shows how fundamental these concepts are for Descartes. Here, I shall indicate their importance inThe Passions of the Soul, the last work which Descartes wrote for...

  12. VIII Mastery, Method, and Enlightenment
    (pp. 173-186)

    Two major points remain to be made, completing some lines of thought from preceding chapters.

    First, many of those who discuss the influence of the seventeenth on the eighteenth century stress the importance of thinkers like Bacon, Locke and Newton. That thinkers like these are very important to the eighteenth century I would be the last to deny. What I hope to have counteracted in this study is the belief that whereas the relationship between, say, thephilosophesand Locke was one of deep affinity, that between thephilosophesand Descartes was one of profound and total antagonism. I now...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 187-190)
  14. Index
    (pp. 191-194)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 195-196)