Workshop on Descartes

5 October, History of Philosophy seminar

Thursday 5th October, 15.15-18.

Metsätalo, seminar room A110.

Hanoch Ben-Yami (CEU): "Descartes and the Possibility of Idealism"

Abstract. Idealism emerged following Descartes’ work, and it is first mentioned as a possibility in his writings. This possibility is a conclusion of Descartes’ sceptical arguments that lead to scepticism about the existence of a material world, together with the cogito, leading to certainty about the existence of the subject as a mind. Despite the proximity of Descartes’ and Ancient scepticism, Ancient writings never mention the possibility of idealism. Why was Descartes the first to think of idealism as a possibility? – I show how this possibility results from his representational theory of perception together with his view on the nature of the soul or mind and of the material world as pure extension. Idealism is not a result of a priori philosophical considerations, although it is often presented as such, but a possibility inferred from a complex of theories about knowledge, perception, the mind and more, a complex first found in Descartes’ writing.

Jani Sinokki (Turku): "Descartes on Interaction and Sensation"

Abstract. This talk argues that Descartes’ account of sensation can be explained in an intelligible way by focusing on causality in mind–body interaction. Descartes claims that sensation (along with appetites and emotions) cannot be referred to either of the substances alone, and that sensation is “a single thing” that can be viewed on the side of the body as its action, and on the side of the mind as its passion. This suggests that Descartes attributes sensations the role of glue, so-to-say, in the mind–body union of two substances with different natures. I suggest that Descartes’ account of sensation should be viewed in the light of his holding mind–body interaction as self-evident, and that our grasp of it is a prime notion. In the light of this interactionism, we can understand Descartes as claiming that the ontological dual nature of sensations depends specifically on the causal interaction taking place between the two substances, not only on mere presence of those substances.

For more information: Vili Lähteenmäki