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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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I. Theory of Sensory Perception 3


Chapter I Theory of Sensory Perception The exact physiological story provided by Descartes for imagination and sen- sory perception is rarely of debate. Theories may differ on the details of the ‘figures’ created on or by the pineal gland, or as to exactly how Descartes meant to describe the causal relation of corporeal objects and the external senses, but scholars generally agree as to the general mechanistic story. The cognitive aspects of Descartes’s theory, however, are rarely agreed upon, ex- cept in vague terms. Most concede that Descartes flirts with the claim that sen- sory and imaginary ideas are representational, but rarely agree that he is even weakly committed to representational sensory and imaginary states.1 Most agree that for Descartes, if they are representational, sensory and imaginary ideas are not representational in terms of resembling the objects they might represent. The point of this and the following chapters is to outline the general theory of how sensation and imagination occur, according to Descartes. The interpreta- tion given is one allowing for Descartes’s claims that sensory states and imagi- nary states are representational mental states. However, the interpretation given is not intended to defend Descartes as holding a representational view. The debate regarding Descartes’s claiming that sensory ideas are representa- tional is not cast in light of his theories concerning the cognitive import of imaginary ideas. Any interpretation of Descartes’s claims about how one will- ingly imagines, I believe, ought to allow that such voluntary imaginary states are representational. Indeed, one...

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