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342 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY Epistemological Direct Realism in Descartes" Philosophy. By Brian E. O'Neil. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1974. Pp. 124. $10.00) O'Neil's thesis is that the naturae simplices of Descartes's Regulae constitute the objects of a direct realism that Descartes tries to maintain with the esse objectivum of the Meditations and in the final stage by inclinations toward realism in the Principles. Support for this thesis rests ultimately on O'Neirs claim that for Descartes "we know the physical world and we know it directly" (p. 92). However, in the end, it is not clear in the main texts cited by O'Neil (Principles, Part I, LX, LXI, LXII) that this direct knowledge of the physical world is anything more than comprehension of "intelligible extension" or at most of the entire material plenum as such. Even in the beginning, it is difficult to countenance the characterization of the simple natures in Descartes's lists--e.g., figure, extension, and motion (Regula XII)--as building blocks of the world (see pp. 22, 29, 87) in any usual sense. That is, it is hard to see simple natures as particulars. On the other hand, the doctrine and interpretation of intelligible extension (which O'Neil does not discuss) is far from clear; and it is significant that this obscurity stems from Descartes's concern (that O'Neil stresses throughout) to keep the mental and the physical somehow linked in ideas themselves (pp. 61, 74). Thus, when O'Neil concludes that "extension, for example, is a simple nature par excellence, and clearly it exists in full ontological independence" (p. 96), he does not claim to know exactly what simple natures are; they are not intentional species (p. 66), nor substantial forms (pp. 95-96), nor universalia ante rein (p. 90), although they may be universalia in re in the (obscure) Cartesian buildingblock sense (p. 90). Thus, proceeding on the view that Descartes started out as a direct realist and at least unconsciously tried to maintain that position although he was forced to diverge from it, O'Neil demonstrates that Descartes "was not able to make the degree of realism he wished to retain evolve consistently with the total Cartesian system" (p. 96). He shows that Descartes is ultimately "unable to explain satisfactorily how information coming from the world can be made manifest and intelligible to the intellect" (p. 80), and how "something which constitutes the world ontologically is possessed intentionally" (p. 87). So Descartes could not show that we know these "fundamental, irreducible elements or units of reality [simple natures] . . . directly and immediately (p. 13). I believe that the framework sketched above is weak in that (as O'Neil seems to agree) there is little solid evidence that Descartes was ever thoughtfully a direct realist. However, considering Descartes as a direct realist manque, O'Neil is led to examinations and analyses of the origins and nature of Descartes's esse objectivum that are most excellent. By studying Descartes in relation to the particular theory of direct realism (pp. 64-65), O'Neil illuminates the relationship between Scholastic forms and esse objectivum. He shows how Descartes substitutes an infinitude of figures for sensible qualities or "proper sensibles" (pp. 40-45) and argues (pp. 47-54) that "Descartes is working to develop his own version of 'sensible species'" (p. 47). "Descartes hoped to attain the same intimacy, directness, and reliability in the subject /object contact as had the [Scholastic] Tradition" (p. 74). However, Descartes "lacked the key element: form. So he made do with figure and motion" (p. 52). This gives Descartes the problem of how one can go from "the mechanical, explicable, inward motion of sense acceptance [to] the final terminus of intellectual awareness" (p. 74). The solution is that "Descartes uses the intentionality inherent in esse objectivum to achieve this bond, this intimacy , this reliable directness" (p. 74). But in the end Descartes fails to give "any explanation of his own about the machinery of this final connection" (p. 74). And thus for simple natures, "there is no argument for, nor explanation of, how that which is fundamentally formative of the world can also be directly...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 342-343
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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