The Janus‐Faced Theory of Ideas of the Senses

Thomas C. Vinci

in Cartesian Truth

Published in print June 1998 | ISBN: 9780195113297
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199833825 | DOI:
 The Janus‐Faced Theory of Ideas of the Senses

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The leading idea of this chapter is that, for Descartes, intellectual ideas make it obvious what metaphysical category the properties they disclose to the mind fall into but not whether they are actually (formally) exemplified; sensations (ideas of secondary qualities) make it obvious whether the properties they disclose to the mind are exemplified but not what their metaphysical category is. This idea is worked out through a discussion of three stages in the development of Descartes's doctrine of the material falsity of sensory ideas, the core concept of his error explanation of the senses. Material falsity is a set of three defects that sensations have in comparison with intellectual ideas, ideas that fully discharge the role, which Descartes assigns to ideas in his philosophical system. The first stage, reflected in Meditation III, identifies material falsity with two defects: nonrepresentation (a failure on the part of sensations to represent any real thing to the mind) and misrepresentation (a capacity of sensations to mislead us into thinking that they represent something real); the second stage, reflected in the Reply to Arnauld (Fourth Replies), identifies material falsity with obscure ideas (a kind of representational indeterminacy regarding metaphysical category); the third stage, reflected in the Principles of Philosophy I, sees the terminology of material falsity disappear and the terminology of clear but not distinct ideas appear. Other topics discussed include a special application of the rule of truth and skepticism.

Keywords: Arnauld; clear ideas; Descartes; error; intellectual ideas; Meditations; material falsity; metaphysical category; misrepresentation; obscure ideas; Principles of Philosophy; rule of truth; sensations; skepticism

Chapter.  15905 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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