Clear and Distinct Perception in Descartes's Philosophy

Dissertation, University of California Berkeley (2005)
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(Shoshana Smith now goes by her married name, Shoshana Brassfield: Descartes famously claims that everything we perceive clearly and distinctly is true. Although this rule is fundamental to Descartes’s theory of knowledge, readers from Gassendi and Leibniz onward have complained that unless Descartes can say explicitly what clear and distinct perception is, how we know when we have it, and why it cannot be wrong, then the rule is empty. I offer a detailed analysis of clear and distinct perception, showing how Descartes answers these questions. Many doubts about the usefulness of the clarity and distinctness rule arise from the mistaken assumption that in clear and distinct perception, like sense perception, we must be able to establish a correspondence between perception and reality before we can have knowledge. I show that Descartes has a different metaphysical picture of clear and distinct perception. Clear and distinct perception is direct perception, typically of essences. On this view, by relying on the intellect instead of the senses, we can have direct perception not only of our own ideas, but also of a mind-independent reality. Because clear and distinct perception is direct perception, problems of correspondence do not arise. My account of clear and distinct perception also yields unique insight into other issues in Descartes, such as the Cartesian Circle and the doctrine of the free creation of the eternal truths. Completed at the University of California, 2005. Dissertation advisers: Janet Broughton, Hannah Ginsborg, Anthony A. Long. ProQuest UMI: 3187156.
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