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Home Public and Private Objections to the Cartesian Thesis of Mind-Body Union: The Divergent Replies in Descartes’ Letters

 PUBLIC AND PRIVATE OBJECTIONS TO THE CARTESIAN THESIS OF MIND-BODY UNION: THE DIVERGENT REPLIES IN DESCARTES’ LETTERS 

Isabelle WIENAND, Olivier RIBORDY

Abstract.

The Latin edition of the Meditationes (1641) was followed by Sets of Objections and by Descartes’ Sets of Replies. One of the recurring objections concerned the Cartesian claim which states that mind and body are both really distinct and unified substances. Arnauld (Fourth Set of Objections) and Gassendi (Fifth Set of Objections) made Descartes aware of the incoherence of these two claims made in Meditation II and VI. In these public disputes, Descartes uses certain arguments as well as rhetorical devices to defend his views. In a less public context such as the correspondence with Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, which starts in May 1643, Descartes continues to maintain his paradoxical theses. What one finds in these letters is that Descartes changes not only the tone, but also the content, of his arguments (e.g. the argument of the “three kinds of primitive ideas or notions”). The paper proceeds in four parts: (1) reconstructing the main arguments of the distinction and the union of the two substances in the Meditations as well as the main objections made by Arnauld and Gassendi; (2) examining Descartes’ public replies to Gassendi as well as (3) Descartes’ concessions to Elisabeth’s questions; and finally (4) drawing the significance of this semi-private correspondence for the understanding of Descartes’ elaboration of his philosophical views.

Keywords: Descartes, Elisabeth of Bohemia, Mind-Body Union, Passions of the Soul

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