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SCIENCE AND RELIGION IN DESCARTES' MEDITATIONS 1 I DESCARTES' WORK HAS always been among the most problematic in the history of philosophy, combining, as it does, genius and clarity with apparent inconsistency and circularity. Since these latter difficulties generally involve a tension between theological and rationalistic strains in his thought, they have occasioned such explanations as the "dual allegiance " theory, according to which Descartes was so strongly under the influence of his Catholic training, and took his religious beliefs so for granted, that he failed to perceive that they were challenged by his rationalist philosophy; and the " insincerity " theory, according to which he was aware that his religious statements conflicted with his rationalism, but maintained them for prudential reasons, such as to ingratiate himself with the powerful church. The former view may thus be said to give the benefit of the doubt to Descartes' honesty, the latter to his acuity. The latter view has never been the dominant one, though it has been advocated periodically, beginning with some of Descartes ' contemporaries. Bernard Williams, in his article on Descartes in The Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (New York and London: Macmillan, 1967) , writes that Descartes' suppression of his early treatise, Le Monde, when he learned of Galileo's condemnation, reveals that spirit of caution and conciliation toward authority which was very marked in him (and which earned the disapproval of some, including Leibniz and Bossuet) . The suppression also 1 For much in this article I am indebted to Richard Kennington and Stanley Rosen. 313 314 KENNETH DORTER affected the subsequent course of his publications, which were from then on strategically designed to recommend his less orthodox views in an oblique fashion. (p. 344) This is, I think, undeniable. The question is, how unorthodox were his "less orthodox" views, and would his "obliqueness" extend to presenting unorthodox views masked as orthodox views which he believed to be false? 2 Betty Powell has made use of this theory in a recent paper,3 arguing that Descartes was more of a mechanist than commonly supposed and that his dualism was ultimately an explanatory rather than substantial dualism. Descartes' attitude, she claims, was that the mind which explains the world in mechanistic terms cannot itself be regarded mechanistically, or an infinite regress would develop which would render the explanation uncompleteable . She suggests that Descartes posited mind as distinct from body so that it would function in explanation as outside the events to be explained, thus precluding an infinite regress. Thus it does not entail, she points out, the belief that men are not machines. To be sure, Descartes speaks as if it does; but she gives evidence that, for reasons of personal prudence in an age of persecution and concern for public morality in an age of dogmatic faith, Descartes was sometimes careful not to reveal his true views to the reader. I am interested here not so much in examining Miss Powell's thesis in particular as the general attitude toward Descartes which it implies. If, as this theory suggests, Descartes was capable of dissimulation so as to present his unorthodox views in the guise of orthodoxy, does it mean that we cannot trust his orthodox statements at all, and must be suspicious of his philosophy wherever it seems at all orthodox, such as in his theology • The term " orthodoxy " in this context is somewhat ambiguous, since, if one takes orthodoxy to mean 17th century Thomism, Descartes is not orthodox in any case. In what follows I shall use " orthodox " (if not quite accurately) to refer to theological views which might be acceptab1e to, though not necessarily identical with, the prevailing orthodoxy. 3 " Descartes' Machines," in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 71 (1970-1), pp. 209-22. SCIENCE AND RELIGION IN DESCARTES' "MEDITATIONS " 315 or his anti-materialism? The present study is an attempt to discover what sort of picture of Descartes' philosophy would emerge from such an interpretation, and what evidence exists for it. There is no question that Descartes sometimes acted from motives of personal prudence, such as in his suppression of Le JYIonde, and it is also obvious that he was aware of the danger to public morality posed by any statements that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 313-340
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-15
Open Access
No
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