Thought and Consciousness in Descartes
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Thought and Consciousness in Descartes DAISIE RADNER THE SOULTHINKSand is conscious of its thoughts. That Descartes maintained this is undeniable. The problem is what he meant by it. What is the relation between thinking and being conscious? Are modes of thinking just ways of being conscious, or are they themselves objects of consciousness? Different passages suggest different answers. If we try to reconcile them by saying that for Descartes all modes of thinking are ways of being conscious and at the same time objects of which we are conscious, then it seems that Descartes is not only confused but also committed to consequences detrimental to his system. I shall offer an interpretation that accounts for the apparent inconsistencies in the text and answers at least some of the standard objections to Descartes' view of thought and consciousness. My procedure is as follows. First, I discuss some key passages and the problems raised by them. Then I distinguish between two notions of consciousness in Descartes. Finally, I show how this distinction handles the problems raised in the first section. My reconstruction is based on systematic rather than historical considerations. I do not claim that Descartes ever explicitly acknowledged the distinction I attribute to him but only that it is implicit in his writings and that certain problems can be averted by bringing it out into the open. The two notions of consciousness co-exist in his theory of mind, and he does not confuse them. It is always possible to determine which one is being referred to in a given passage. 1. The two terms cogitatio or pens~e and conscientia or conscience figure prominendy in Descartes' account of mental substance. Most translators, including Haldane and Ross and Kenny, render the first as "thought," the second as "consciousness" or "awareness." Anscombe and Geach, attempting to avoid the intellectualistic connotations of the word "thought," translate cogitatio as [439] 44 ~ JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 26:3 JULY I988 "experience" or "consciousness," thereby downplaying any distinction between it and conscientia, which they render as "awareness."' Since the nature of the relation between cogitatio and conscientia is at issue here, I shall follow the majority of translators so as not to prejudice the case at the outset. In some passages Descartes seems to treat thought and consciousness as though they were identical. One example is in the Fifth Replies, where he says that Gassendi has "no right to make the inference: I walk, hence I exist, except in so far as our awareness (conscientia) of walking is a thought (cogitatio)."~ Another example is Descartes' statement in the Second Meditation that seeming to see light, to hear noise or to feel heat "is what is in me called feeling; and used in this precise sense that is no other thing than thinking (cogitare)" (AT, 7: 29; HR, x: 153 ). In the Third Replies he is more explicit: "Further, there are other activities, which we call thinking activities, e.g. understanding, willing , imagining, feeling, etc., which agree in falling under the description of thought, perception, or consciousness (cogitationis, sive perceptionis, sive conscientiae )" (AT, 7: 176; HR, 2:64).3 In other passages, however, Descartes distinguishes between consciousness and thought to the extent of using one to define the other. He defines thought in Principles I, 9 as "all those things which, we being conscious (nobis consciis), occur in us, insofar as the consciousness of them is in us" (AT, 8-1: 7; HR, l: 222).4 In the Second Replies he formulates the definition thus: "Thought (Cogitationis) is a word that covers everything that exists in us in such a way that we are immediately conscious (immediate conscii) o f it" (AT, 7: 16o; H R, 2: 5 ~).5 One might be tempted to account for the distinction implicit in these ' Elizabeth Anscombe and Peter Thomas Geach, Translators' Note to Descartes:Philosophical Writings(Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 197l), xlvii-xlviii. " Oeuvresde Descartes,ed. Charles Adam and Paul Tannery, x2 vols. (Paris: L6opold Cerf, 1897-1913; reprint ed., Paris: J. Vrin, 1964-76), 7: 352; ThePhilosophicalWorksofDescartes,trans. Elizabeth S. Haldane and G. R. T. Ross, ~vols. (New York: Dover, 1955), ~: 2o7. Hereafter these editions will be cited...


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