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Descartes’ Imagination:
Unifying Mind and Body in Sensory Representation

GRAHAM, CLAIRE (2013) Descartes’ Imagination:
Unifying Mind and Body in Sensory Representation.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

PDF (Final Thesis) - Accepted Version


The aim of this thesis is to investigate the role that the imagination plays in the later philosophy of René Descartes. The thesis will look at two related questions: (i) the status of the imagination as a mode of thought dependent on the body; (ii) the role of the imagination in object-perception. Throughout, the traditional view of Descartes as a Cartesian Dualist is rejected and a more holistic approach is taken towards the relationship between mind and body, in which Descartes’ claims that the two make up a “substantial union” are taken seriously.

Part One deals with the relationship between mind and body. I argue that Cartesian Dualism cannot account for the faculties of sensation and imagination, because they have a corporeal basis. However, the ‘union of mind and body’, Descartes’ device for explaining their interaction, can. I end Part One by identifying a problem with the paradigm case of mind-body interaction, object-perception. To determine the object of an idea there needs to be a mechanism to marry the two ingredients of perception: the innate ideas of geometry in the intellect, and ‘adventitious’ ideas of the object delivered by the senses. Otherwise we have no explanation for how the essentially ‘inward-looking’ intellect can apply its ideas to the essentially passive sensations.

Part Two focuses on the imagination and the question of object-perception raised in Part One. I argue against the largely-held view in the secondary literature that, with the advent of the cogito, the imagination’s cognitive profile declined sharply. I argue that, in fact, the corporeal basis of the imagination places it beautifully to bridge the gap in object-perception, and that this is part of its role in all Descartes’ discussions on the topic. The other, related, role of the imagination is to conjure fictions and hypotheses, suiting it for scientific and epistemological endeavours. The fact that the imagination is not tied to what is present to the senses, even though it receives its original content from them, means that it can manipulate ideas of corporeal things; including the innate notions of extension, shape and motion so key to gaining a clear and distinct idea of matter.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Descartes imagination mind body seventeenthcentury earlymodern metaphysics representation sensation sense-perception
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Philosophy, Department of
Thesis Date:2013
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:07 Mar 2013 10:56

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