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Descartes’s Dreams

Imagination in the "Meditations</I>


Ann Scholl

Ann Scholl revises the traditional understanding of the role of imagination and sensory perception in Descartes’s Meditations. Traditionally, Cartesian scholars have focused primarily on sensory perception as the more significant of the two «special» modes of thought. In this work, Ann Scholl describes how a better understanding of Descartes’s skepticism and his arguments for dualism are reached when imagination instead is understood as the more primary of the two special modes of thought. The result is a fresh reading and interpretation of Descartes’s most influential work.


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Introduction: The Importance of Imagination 1


Introduction The Importance of Imagination Meditation VI, Descartes says in his synopsis, contains his arguments for the existence of corporeal substance and his arguments for the dualistic nature of human beings.1 These well-known arguments mainly center upon the faculty of sensory perception. Despite the emphasis upon the faculty of sensory perception (including the “internal” senses like hunger as well as the external senses), Med. VI begins with a discussion of the faculty of imagination. Specifically, Med. VI begins with the narrator analyzing four aspects of the mental function of imagi- nation: (1) why imagining a corporeal substance is often more difficult than understanding one (2) the relation of the power of understanding to the essence of the mind (3) the nature of the phenomenal content of imaginary states (4) the source of the phenomenal content of imaginary states.2 These analyses culminate in Descartes’s narrator positing the possible existence of a body to which his mind is joined, followed by his turning to a discussion of sensory perception. These analyses and this possibility, however, receive little attention from Cartesian scholars. This is because Descartes did not clearly specify what role, if any, these analyses play in the epistemic structure of Med. VI. Indeed, most broad accounts of Descartes’s Meditations do not even discuss these analyses. If they do, they are treated as interesting asides which play no central role in Descartes’s arguments for the existence of corporeal substance or the dualistic nature of human beings. Even Cottingham, who uses these arguments...

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