Descartes and the Notion of a Criterion of External Reality

  • May Brodbeck
Part of the Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures book series


Desgartes’s greatest glory was to be the first to articulate, and systematically to defend, the new scientific ideal of explanation in terms of lawfulness. For the realm of matter, lawful connections replaced anthropomorphic volitions as the model of rational explanation. (That he retained anthropomorphic volitional explanation for the realm of mind is understandable: you cannot expect a man to jump wholly out of his skin. It would prove easier, after Newton, to make the extension to mind.) Descartes’s use of explanation in terms of lawfulness, inspired by Galileo’s beginnings in this enterprise, was vindicated by Newton’s subsequent achievement. Replacement of anthropomorphic agency, by causal mechanism, as the explanatory model, was undoubtedly the most profound of the many effects of the new science on our culture.


Mental Attribute Ontological Category Perceptual Error Secondary Quality Veridical Perception 
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  1. 1.
    For a detailed analysis of Brentano’s views and, more generally, a far-ranging critique of representationalism, see G. Bergmann, Realism: A Critique of Brentano and Meinong (Madison, 1967).Google Scholar

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© The Royal Institute of Philosophy 1972

Authors and Affiliations

  • May Brodbeck

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