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Descartes


Rainer Mittmann


Pages 182 - 190



Two ultimate classes of things. Descartes’ doctrine about anything that exists, whether it is a whole or a part or an essence of an actual or potential being, departs from his doctrine of strict substance dualism. Descartes’ notion of substance is deeply affected by the established Aristotelian-scholastic tradition, which recognised by the term ‘substance’ an individual object, composed of material and form. (For a discussion of the Aristotelian heritage and its influence to the Cartesian notion of substance and its properties see Burkhardt 2007). Nevertheless, Descartes breaks from the Aristotelian tradition in a decisive, epoch-making manner. Taking ‘I am’ (sum) as his ‘unshakeable foundation’ he concludes the necessary actual existence of God, and from these two starting points, he then deduces his other metaphysical theses. One fundamental conclusion he reaches is that there are two kinds of substances, the corporeal substance and thinking or intellectual substances, and that the corporeal substance and the thinking substances are really distinct and separable. He gives, as he views it, deductions and proofs for these theses in the 2nd and 6th of his Meditationes de Prima Philosophia (AT VII, 23ff./ PWD II, 16ff.; AT VII, 71ff./PWD II, 50ff.). The totality of the actual corporeal and all thinking substances just is the totality of all that exists. As he maintains in his Principia Philosophiae, there are no other kinds of independent or distinct existing entities (cf. Kenny 1970: 697, where Kenny calls Descartes “the father of modern Platonism”; cf. Perler 1996: 81ff.):




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2 Cottingham, (1993), A Descartes Dictionary, Oxford: The Blackwell Philosopher Dictionaries.

3 Cronin, T., (1966), Objective Being in Descartes and in Suarez, Rom: Gregorian University Press.

4 Descartes, R., Adam C., and Tannery P. eds., 12 Vols., (1897-1912), Oeuvres de Descartes, Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, [=AT].

5 Descartes, R. transl. by Cottingham J., Stoothoff R., Murdoch D. and Kenny A. (Vol. 3 only), 3 Vols., (1984-1991), The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press [=PWD].

6 Dufour, C. A., (1991), “Concursus Dei”, in: Burkhardt, H.; Smith, B. (eds.) Handbook of Metaphysics and Ontology, Munich / Vienna: Analytica, 174-176.

7 Hunter, G. J., (1991), “Descartes, René”, in: Burkhardt, H.; Smith, B. (eds.) Handbook of Metaphysics and Ontology, Munich / Vienna: Analytica, 210-212.

8 Kenny, A., (1970), “The Cartesian Circle and the Eternal Truths”, Journal of Philosophy 67, 685-700.

9 Owens, J., (1991), “Mind-Body”, in: Burkhardt, H.; Smith, B. (eds.) Handbook of Metaphysics and Ontology, Munich Vienna: Analytica.

10 Perler, D., (1996), Repräsentationen bei Descartes, Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann.

11 Wagner, S., (1984), “Descartes on the Parts of the Soul”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 45: 51–70.

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