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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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III. Imagination in Meditation II 41


Chapter III Imagination in Meditation II In Meditation I, for the purpose of eventually arriving at a set of indubitable basic principles, Descartes places the narrator in a state of doubt regarding most of his previously held beliefs.1 In Med. II, the narrator arrives at the first of these certain truths: cogito and res cognitans.2 Following this is an interesting account of the narrator’s conclusions regarding this ‘I,’ this thinking thing he now knows himself to be. Attributed to the ‘I’ are a number of mental opera- tions (functions) or, in Cartesian lingo, modes of thought.3 Among the modes of thought attributed to the narrator are those of imagination and sensory percep- tion. Here, however, the narrator only attributes mental operations to himself, though his skepticism does not permit the narrator to conclude that the represen- tative contents of his own mental operations, particularly those of sense- perception, are accurate. The truth of summa res cognitans only entails that the narrator has certain mental operations. Summa res cognitans, by itself, does not entail that the contents of these operations are accurate, nor does it entail that any of the external substances (God, angels, corporeal substances, etc.), of which the narrator thinks when performing these mental operations, exist or are real. However, according to Descartes’s completed psychophysiological theories of imagination and sense-perception, imaginings and sensory perceptions (un- like the other mental functions attributed to the narrator in Med. II) have only external corporeal substances as their objects. According to his...

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