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Reviewed by:
  • Descartes’s Dualism by Marleen Rozemond
  • Steven J. Wagner
Marleen Rozemond. Descartes’s Dualism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998. Pp. xx + 279. Cloth, $24.00.

Rozemond gives particular attention to questions of mind-body distinctness vs. union and to the status of sensory ideas. Her historical emphasis, backed by impressive scholarship, is Descartes’s relation to the late scholastics. Rozemond is clear, alert to detail, and fair-minded. While the text is too long (esp. in chapters 4–5), this study is indeed rich, its scope and architecture justified.

Any good reading of a philosopher is defined—both enhanced and limited—by certain decisions. I have mentioned one of Rozemond’s: her account of Descartes’s dialogue with such predecessors as Suárez and Fonseca sheds important light. It makes one ask, further, whether standard histories are not just as wrong to ignore scholastic concerns in, say, Hobbes, Spinoza, and Locke. Yet Rozemond is less helpful with issues that make more sense when we read forward from the 1640s, not back. An historian also sets a level of philosophical engagement. One chooses between presenting a meaningful narrative, and struggling with the endless problems of detail that can both doom [End Page 678] a philosophical position and give it life. Rozemond inclines toward narrative, often stopping just short of hard questions. Yet she shows curiosity and intelligence throughout. As in the first case, another decision would not have been better or worse but simply yielded a different kind of history.

Fundamental is a third choice. A philosopher’s thought may appear as an orderly structure; or as a mix of fixed points and shifting, inconsistent tendencies. Most of us are trained to the former style of representation (although we let philosophers “develop” over time). Rozemond’s Descartes, too, turns out this way. He occupies definite positions. Within each position he knows whether Ρ is a premise for Q, vice versa, or neither. This way of presenting a body of thought, i.e., as a determinate structure admitting logical assessment, is an indispensable tool for historians. Its value in any particular case is, however, a matter of judgment. Rozemond attacks textual problems with skill, often improving decisively on the competition, but the going looks smoother than it is. Sometimes she carries the privilege of selective reading too far. At other times, she overlooks the poor mutual fit of separately smooth solutions, or rests with an outcome that could not have satisfied Descartes. Some examples:

  1. 1. There is an old question how far Descartes goes towards proving dualism in the Second Meditation, how much is left for the Sixth. Rozemond basically champions the Second Meditation. Although some texts favor this, she ignores important contrary passages. Her reconstruction of the “argument from separability” also fails completely to carry over to Descartes’s alternate proof (AT VII, 85–6) from the indivisibility of mind.

  2. 2. Rozemond identifies (“pure”) intellection with thought or mind (56). This leaves a problem how sensation could be a mode of thought, given that for her sensations differ from pure thoughts in being ‘modes of the mind as united to the body’ (201, emphasis mine). She remarks that sensations are not ‘straightforward modes of the mind’; yet her earlier chapters have no place for obscure modal hybrids and indeed require the tidy metaphysical scheme that is now denied.

  3. 3. Although Rozemond handles Descartes’s anti-empiricism well, the discussion of empty space (95–7) no sooner suggests than it drops a crucial question. Descartes traces belief in the void to a childhood prejudice according to which all bodies are perceptible; rejecting the prejudice is supposed to remove support for the hypothesis of the void. But can Descartes really pick up the doctrine of childhood prejudice, an anti-Aristotelian weapon, and turn it against the radically different atomist framework? Rozemond passes on the attendant philosophical and textual problems (cf. 133–7).

  4. 4. Rozemond’s extensive treatment of sensory perceptions and qualities rewards study (particularly on the importance, for dualism, of problems about body). But she misses the chance for more. Her Descartes firmly “places sensory qualities in the mind.” The real one struggled repeatedly over whether sensory ideas can or must...


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