Cartesian Clarity

Philosophers' Imprint 20 (19):1-28 (2020)
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Clear and distinct perception is the centerpiece of Descartes’s philosophy — it is the source of all certainty — but what does he mean by ‘clear’ and ‘distinct’? According to the prevailing approach, what it means for a perception to be clear is that its content has a certain objective property, like truth. I argue instead that clarity is a subjective, phenomenal quality whereby a content is presented as true to the perceiving subject. In the special case of completely clear intellectual perception, there is a sense in which clarity is not merely phenomenal, because what is presented as true is always some truth, some bit of reality. Further, I argue that the other perceptual qualities that Descartes identifies — obscurity, confusion, and distinctness — are all defined in terms of clarity. Of particular note is the fact that distinctness is not a positive feature to be added to clarity: a distinct perception is just a completely clear perception.
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First archival date: 2020-07-16
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