Descartes Reinvented

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Descartes Reinvented

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  • Descartes Reinvented

    In this study, Tom Sorell seeks to rehabilitate views that are ofteninstantly dismissed in analytic philosophy. His book serves as a rein-terpretation of Cartesianism and responds directly to the dislike ofDescartes in contemporary philosophy. To identify what is defensi-ble in Cartesianism, Sorell starts with a picture of unreconstructedCartesianism, which is characterized as realistic, antisceptical but re-spectful of scepticism, rationalist, centered on the rst person, dual-ist, and dubious of the comprehensiveness of natural science and itssupposed independence of metaphysics. Bridging the gap betweenhistory of philosophy and analytic philosophy, Sorell also shows forthe rst time how some contemporary analytic philosophy is deeplyCartesian, despite its outward hostility to Cartesianism.

    Tom Sorell is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex. He isthe author of six books, including Descartes (1987), Scientism (1991),and Moral Theory and Anomaly (2000).

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  • Descartes Reinvented

    TOM SORELLUniversity of Essex

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  • cambridge university pressCambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, Sao Paulo

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    C Tom Sorell 2005

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    no reproduction of any part may take place withoutthe written permission of Cambridge University Press.

    First published 2005

    Printed in the United States of America

    A catalog record for this publication is available from the British Library.

    Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

    Sorell, Tom.Descartes reinvented

    Tom Sorell.p. cm.

    isbn 0-521-85114-9 (hardback)1. Descartes, Rene, 15961650. I. Title.

    b1875.s672 2005194dc22 2004024990

    isbn-13 978-0-521-85114-5 hardbackisbn-10 0-521-85114-9 hardback

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  • For Vicent Raga

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  • Contents

    Introduction page ixUnreconstructed Cartesianism Versus Innocent Cartesianism xInnocent Cartesianism and Pre-Philosophical Ways of Thinking xviiBetween History of Philosophy and Analytic Philosophy xxAcknowledgements xxi

    1 Radical Doubt, the Rational Self, and Inner Space 1A Doubt that Overreaches Itself? 2Unreconstructed Cartesianism: The Target of the Doubt 3The Species-less Self and God 8The Solipsistic Self as the Residue of the Doubt: Three Claims

    of Incoherence 14Innocent Cartesianism in the Theory of Self-Reference 21Self-Implicatingness and First-Person Authority 29

    2 Knowledge, the Self, and Internalism 32The Autonomy of Knowing and the Prejudices of Childhood 33Externalism and Reectiveness 37Meta-Epistemology versus Normative Epistemology 44Internalism and the Ethics of Belief 48Internalism and Externalism 52

    3 The Belief in Foundations 57Unreconstructed Cartesianism and the Justication

    of the New Science 59Ideal Method and Actual Practice 65Two Kinds of Success-of-Science Argument 70

    vii

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  • viii Contents

    Descartess Foundations and Innocent Cartesian Foundations 74Another Innocent Cartesianism about Foundations? 77

    4 Conscious Experience and the Mind 85Descartess Soul and Unreconstructed Cartesianism

    about the Mind 86Towards Innocent Cartesianism 93Naturalism and Existential Naturalism 97Reactions to Irreducibility Claims 104

    5 Reason, Emotion, and Action 113Damasios Error 114Cartesian Practical Reason 126Innocent Cartesianism about Practical Reason 132

    6 Anthropology, Misogyny, and Anthropocentrism 140Cartesian Misogyny? 141Cartesian Speciesism 149Lesser Parts of Worthwhile Wholes and Rationalist Intervention 160Rationalism Again 164

    Conclusion 167

    Index 173

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  • Introduction

    In much of Anglo-American philosophy, Cartesian is a dirty word.It is applied to a wide range of unpopular views in epistemology andthe philosophy of mind, views that are loosely associated with those inthe Meditations. I shall argue that many of these unpopular views aredefensible in some form, and that they help to counteract the currentexcesses of naturalism on the one hand, and antirationalism on theother. Contrary to naturalism, not everything that can usefully be saidabout knowledge or the mind comes from investigating computers,the brain, or the causal interactions between the sense organs andmatter, and bad things happen when philosophy is reduced to a formof popular science. Philosophy ought of course to be informed byscience, but some of its problems about mind and knowledge do notgo away when scientic advances aremade. Innocent Cartesianism hasa role in making this clear. It can sometimes consist of asserting theendurance of the old problems in the face of breezy declarations ofan entirely new agenda.

    Naturalism is a tendency within Anglo-American philosophyitself; the other tendency that innocent Cartesianism counteracts antirationalism is inuential outside philosophy, at any rate Anglo-American philosophy. This tendency, too, is marked by the use ofCartesian as a term of abuse. What it is applied to this time is notthe supposed illusion of a system of truths independent of naturalscience but a certain myth-ridden philosophical anthropology. Theantirationalists dislike the idea that human beings divide up cleanly

    ix

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  • x Introduction

    into minds and bodies. They dislike the Cartesian favouritism of mindover body, the Cartesian favouritism of intellectual capacities over sen-sitive and emotional ones, and, as they think, the implied favouritismof male over female. In the same way, they dislike the favouritism ofrational human beings over animals and the rest of nature. And theydislike the divorce of human nature from the political. These dislikesare not always well founded when inspired by Descartess own writ-ings, and they do not always hang together. For example, a theorythat emphasises the possibilities of rational self-control in human be-ings, as Descartess own theory does, is not anti-ecological and is notnecessarily unsympathetic to animals. On the contrary, the possibili-ties of human self-control may be the only hope for environmentalistsor protectors of animal welfare. Again, although we do not get fromDescartes a picture of the contribution of politics to human improve-ment, such a picture is not ruled out, and the outlines of a Cartesianpolitics are neither impossible to indicate nor unattractive when theyare spelled out. As for the relation between intellectual and sensitiveor emotional capacities, the critics probably exaggerate the tensionsbetween them. A Cartesian approach is rationalistic, but it does notimply that we do or should live by reason alone. On the other hand,it insists that where reason is applicable, it can come to conclusions,both practical and theoretical, that are objectively correct.

    unreconstructed cartesianism versusinnocent cartesianism

    To identify what is defensible in Cartesianism, one needs to start with apicture of unreconstructed Cartesianism Cartesianism as it is repre-sented inDescartes himself. This picture contains six related elements.Unreconstructed Cartesianism is (i) Realistic; (ii) antisceptical but re-spectful of scepticism; (iii) rationalist; (iv) centred on the rst person;and (v) dualistic; nally, (vi) it doubts the comprehensiveness of nat-ural science and its supposed independence of metaphysics.

    (i) UnreconstructedCartesianism is Realistic in the sense of assert-ing the mind-independence of evidence and truth for a largerange of subject matters. For example, perceptible things arenot necessarily as the senses make them appear, and sensory

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  • Unreconstructed Versus Innocent Cartesianism xi

    evidence does not establish their existence. The movements ofbodies resembling humans do not establish that those bodiesare alive or that they are directed by minds. Present-tensed ev-idence is neither necessary nor sufcient for the occurrenceof events in the past, and so on. Being Realistic in this sense,unreconstructed Cartesianism admits the possibility of scepti-cism. If evidence does not constitute truth, then the possessionof evidence does not constitute knowledge of truth, and it mayeven be