, Volume 44, Issue 3, pp 297-311
Date: 30 Jun 2010

What Descartes Did Not Know

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According to Descartes, we come to know about the mind and the body as separate substances by way of philosophical meditation, while we see that mind and body may interact as a union by “using only life and ordinary conversation” and “abstaining from meditating.”

Rene Descartes, “Letter to Princess Elisabeth, 28 June 1643,” in Lisa Shapiro, trans. and ed., The Correspondence Between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and Descartes (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2007), p. 70, AT III 692.

What is significant, indeed, far more significant than has been appreciated by commentators so far, is that we, thereby, are supposed to answer what has come to be considered one of the most central questions of Descartes’ philosophy, the question “How do minds and bodies interact?”, not by way of Descartes’ official method of meditation through methodological doubt and clear and distinct perception, but by explicitly acting against the recommendations of this method. Since meditation is suppose ...

This article is the winner of the 2010 Rockefeller Prize awarded by the American Philosophical Association.