Descartes And The Possibility Of Science [Book Review]

Isis 93 (3):485-486 (2002)
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How must we and the world be constituted if science is possible? René Descartes had some ideas: For example, he wrote in 1639 to Marin Mersenne, “The imagination, which is the part of the mind that most helps mathematics, is more of a hindrance than a help in metaphysical speculation.” In another missive he suggested that, “besides [local] memory, which depends on the body, I believe there is also another one, entirely intellectual, which depends on the soul alone” (pp. 59, 52). Peter Schouls marshals brief passages such as these alongside discussions of Descartes’ major works to sketch a partial portrait of the human being and the universe. Schouls touches on both metaphysics and cognition, asking how things must be arranged to allow Descartes’ famous method to be mobilized. His conclusions run as follows. First, what should come as no surprise, Descartes “insists on a thoroughgoing dualism that allows him to characterize human beings as essentially free and to characterize nature as causally determined.” (44) Second, Schouls develops from Descartes’ cues a theory of cognition that allows for the pursuit of science by the exploitation of that free human creativity. ). Third, Schouls brings the previous points into full development with a speculative discussion of intellectual argument and scientific method.

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Eric Palmer
Allegheny College


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