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Cartesian Simple Natures BRIAN E. O'NEIL SIMPLE NATURESDOMINATEDescartes' Regulae ad Directionem Ingenii. They are woven through every aspect of the work and are clearly the fundamental stuff in whatever is grist for the mill of Cartesian Method. But what are they? This is not easy to answer. Simple natures--their essence, their classification, their role--is an enduring subproblem for students of Cartesianism. A subproblem, perhaps, but scarcely insignificant. After a critic of Descartes has settled his own mind about the alleged 'circle', the validity of Cartesian doubt, the strangeness of the third Meditation, and the strength or degeneracy, of the Cogito, he still has simple natures to puzzle over. Nor are these simples merely an early or a narrow problem; they remain, mutatis mutandis, important for Descartes' system until the end. Even a quick look confirms this? But it is, of course, in the Regulae alone that simple natures are discussed at length. Even in that work, however, although simple natures are talked about and arranged in lists of sorts, they are not really described, and certainly they are not analyzed. Descartes does posit them as both the utter limits of analysis, and (some of them) as the constituents of reality. Further, he emphasizes that the intellect knows these simple natures directly and immediately. There is not, nor can there be, any intermediary between the mind and these entities. This much is clear-although beyond that it becomes both complex and murky. I intend to consider only these two aspects of simple natures: their ontologic import and their manner of being cognized. I will attempt to show in two ways that some simple natures are for Descartes constituent elements of the physical world: by marshalling quotations from the Regulae which make the point, and by arguing against interpretations which would reduce all simple natures to the merely conceptual. My second topic--that simple natures are known 'directly' and by intuition--is scarcely controversial; Descartes' position is clear and firm, and need only be quoted. What is, perhaps, controversial about this second topic is that I use it in union with the first topic to argue for epistemological direct realism in the Regulae. 1 For example, Meditations, II, III, V; Principles, Part I, 48, 69. See E. S. Haldane and G. R. T. Ross, The Philosophical Works of Descartes, corrected ed. (Cambridge, 1931; here, after written H.R.), I, 149, 153, 164, 179, 238, 248. [161]. 162 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY Part I The first task is to settle the range of what Descartes intends by a simple nature. The major cause of the difficulty here is that Descartes never defined what he meant by a simple nature. Our troubles are also compounded by his use of several different terms besides that of "simple natures"; viz., simple ideas, simple notions, common notions, essences. The best he does in the Regulae is give two lists; each of which, unhappily, ends with a tantalizing "etc.," "and so forth," or "and the like." Even more puzzling is that the first list, in Rule VI of the Regulae, seems very different from the more extended collection brought forward in Rule XII. Rule VI lists as examples of simple natures such terms as: "independent ," "equal," "universal"; while Rule XII draws its examples from what seems to be another range: e.g., "thought," "figure," "volition," "motion." Certainly the former list suggests the "conceptual" or "geometric," whereas the latter has a stronger ontological import. The full statement in Rule VI runs as follows: I call that absolute which contains within itself the pure and simple essence [naturam puram et sirnplicem] of which we are in quest. Thus the term will be applicable to whatever is considered as being independent, or a cause, or simple, universal, one, equal, like, straight, and so forth; and the absolute I call the simplest and the easiest of all, so that we can make use of it in the solution of questions. 2 Rule XII states a more complicated position. It begins by placing all simple natures into three classes: the "purely intellectual," the "purely material," and those "common both to intellect and to matter." The examples given for the first class...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 161-179
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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