Dreamers and Madmen

Janet Mercer

in Early Modern Philosophy

Published in print May 2005 | ISBN: 9780195177602
Published online July 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780199835553 | DOI:
 Dreamers and Madmen

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In the First Meditation, Descartes prefaces the dream argument with a paragraph in which he raises the possibility that he is like a lunatic. The lunacy triggered a disagreement between Foucault and Derrida, and in the 1960s and 1970s this made it famous in some circles; but it has not yet received all the attention it deserves. This chapter takes up a perspective that accepts how remote the fundamental concerns of previous philosophers may be from our own (and how historically conditioned both their concerns and ours may be); that aims nonetheless to articulate how previous philosophers saw their projects; and that hopes this kind of engagement with the past may prove to be useful. Passages are introduced and several interpretative options are considered. It is argued that Descartes did not put lunatics beyond the pale; he intended us to take “lunacy skepticism” seriously, as seriously as we do “dream skepticism”.

Keywords: Descartes; Focault; lunatic; Derrida; lunacy skepticism; dream skepticism; First Meditation

Chapter.  8910 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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