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Cartesian Truth$
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Thomas C. Vinci

Print publication date: 1998

Print ISBN-13: 9780195113297

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0195113292.001.0001

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The Janus‐Faced Theory of Ideas of the Senses

The Janus‐Faced Theory of Ideas of the Senses

Chapter:
(p.179) Seven The Janus‐Faced Theory of Ideas of the Senses
Source:
Cartesian Truth
Author(s):

Thomas C. Vinci (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/0195113292.003.0008

The leading idea of this chapter is that, for Descartes, intellectual ideas make it obvious what metaphysical category the properties they disclose to the mind fall into but not whether they are actually (formally) exemplified; sensations (ideas of secondary qualities) make it obvious whether the properties they disclose to the mind are exemplified but not what their metaphysical category is. This idea is worked out through a discussion of three stages in the development of Descartes's doctrine of the material falsity of sensory ideas, the core concept of his error explanation of the senses. Material falsity is a set of three defects that sensations have in comparison with intellectual ideas, ideas that fully discharge the role, which Descartes assigns to ideas in his philosophical system. The first stage, reflected in Meditation III, identifies material falsity with two defects: nonrepresentation (a failure on the part of sensations to represent any real thing to the mind) and misrepresentation (a capacity of sensations to mislead us into thinking that they represent something real); the second stage, reflected in the Reply to Arnauld (Fourth Replies), identifies material falsity with obscure ideas (a kind of representational indeterminacy regarding metaphysical category); the third stage, reflected in the Principles of Philosophy I, sees the terminology of material falsity disappear and the terminology of clear but not distinct ideas appear. Other topics discussed include a special application of the rule of truth and skepticism.

Keywords:   Arnauld, clear ideas, Descartes, error, intellectual ideas, Meditations, material falsity, metaphysical category, misrepresentation, obscure ideas, Principles of Philosophy, rule of truth, sensations, skepticism

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