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Descartes and CartesianismEssays in Honour of Desmond Clarke$
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Stephen Gaukroger and Catherine Wilson

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198779643

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198779643.001.0001

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A Virtuous Practice

A Virtuous Practice

Descartes on Scientific Activity

Chapter:
(p.26) 2 A Virtuous Practice
Source:
Descartes and Cartesianism
Author(s):

Susan James

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198779643.003.0002

This chapter examines the link between Descartes’ scientific method and his conception of moral virtue. James argues that the qualities a Cartesian philosopher-scientist needs to cultivate are precisely those that Descartes puts at the centre of his account of virtue. As one becomes a skilled investigator, one simultaneously becomes a virtuous person. To elucidate this claim, James focuses on the passionate aspect of scientific enquiry. She explores the roles of indecision and wonder in scientific investigation, and shows how philosopher-scientists can use these passions to monitor and improve their own practice. As they learn to modify their passions, they exercise the central virtue of générosité. Descartes’ conception of morality therefore implicitly represents science as a self-sufficient undertaking that is morally valuable in itself.

Keywords:   René Descartes, the passions, virtue, générosité, philosopher-scientists, scientific enquiry

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