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Berkeley (review)

From: Journal of the History of Philosophy
Volume 18, Number 3, July 1980
pp. 352-353 | 10.1353/hph.2008.0776

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352 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY stood in terms of Williams's analysis of certainty. By using such acceptance rules one can know (I) that one exists and is a thinker, (2) the eternal truths, and (3) the idea of God. In tracing how Descartes arrives at these bits of knowledge Williams discusses many of the traditional problems of the Meditations, for example, the cogito, the existence of God, and the charge of circular reasoning. Regarding the cogito, Williams argues that, while it is not a syllogis- tic inference, it is a logical argument involving epistemologically irresistible propositions (p. 90). Although Descartes ultimately fails in his argument for God's existence, Williams feels that he comes off rather well compared to current advocates of the Ontological Argument. Thus, Wil- liams concludes: "Descartes at least offered his argument to readers who shared with him a world of which the existence of God was a formative and virtually unquestioned feature; moreover he thought that the premisses of the argument were exceedingly straightforward. Modern advocates have neither excuse." Williams's interpretation attempts to avoid the charge that Descartes is guilty of circular reasoning in the Meditations; his solution is: The point will then be that clear and distinct perceptions need no further justification, and the 'general rule' is accepted by Descartes as correctly claiming their truth: so if we do know that at any time we clearly and distinctly perceived that P, then we can know that P. But often we only think we know, through memory, that we clearly and distinctly perceived something, and to validate that memory, God is needed. This will elim~- nale at least the circle that was first objected to . . . since we shall not have God validating the intuitions which proved his existence. In addition to his discussion of the standard topics Williams makes a serious effort to explore Descartes's views about the physical world and the nature of science. He asks, What is the relation between a priori reasoning and experimental a posteriori reasoning in Cartesian science? He also investigates the relationship between Descartes's metaphysics and his science. Thus, in his final three chapters Williams deals with an aspect of Descartes's philosophy which is too often neglected once inadequacies in his theory of knowledge are exposed. Williams struggles with such problems as Descartes's very difficult causal likeness principle, namely, that there must be at least as much reality in the total and efficient cause as in its effect, and how Descartes's concept of God is involved in his proofs of the laws of physics. To some extent Williams's focus on epistemological problems in the preceding chapters, and his impatience with metaphysical notions such as eminent, formal, and objective existence, inter- fere in the last three chapters with his account of the Cartesian physical world (p. 140). For example, he does not explain very clearly the concept of cause which is so crucial in Descartes's proof for the existence of God and in his physics. And he does not note the severe problems that arise from Descartes's ambiguous use of "motion," that is, that motion is sometimes the transfer- ence of a body from one neighborhood to another and sometimes the force which produces the transfer. Williams's book is a solid contribution to Descartes scholarship, and it is worth the effort it takes lo read it. One is aided greatly in understanding his interpretation by three appendices which discuss epistemological concepts, knowledge, and dreaming. KENNETH C. CLATTERBAUGH University of Washington George Pitcher. Berkeley. The Arguments of Philosophers. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977. Pp. xi + 277. $16.50. This is a closely written, workmanlike study of Berkeley's philosophy. Pitcher is a skllful anatomist of Berkeley's arguments and thought, but this does not always make for engaging BOOK REVIEWS 353 reading; indeed, much of the book seems to merit the title "Berkeley made difficult." Readers may also wonder whether some of Pitcher's fine distinctions and dissections are worth the fuss and the typographical disruption (see pp. 10-11, 26, 95-96). But Pitcher's chief weakness is his speculative and cavalier way of doing history of philosophy. His self-evident...



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