Descartes’ Philosophical Revolution: A Reassessment by H. Ben-Yami

By H. Ben-Yami

Ben-Yami indicates how the expertise of Descartes' time shapes his perception of lifestyles, soul and mind–body dualism; how Descartes' analytic geometry is helping him advance his progressive belief of illustration with no resemblance; and the way those principles mix to form his new and influential concept of conception.

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Now mathematics, in Descartes’ day, meant primarily geometry; and as a mathematician – and Descartes was one of the greatest mathematicians of his age – this mathematical picture exerts tremendous power over his imagination. He consequently develops a geometrico-corpuscular model of the material world. Sensory qualities have no place in such an ideal world. The purely geometrical particles cannot be either hot or cold, have colour, and so on. That is why Descartes thinks of the sensory qualities as something 28 Descartes’ Philosophical Revolution: A Reassessment not entirely clear; indeed they are in need of an explanation in such a world.

These departures from Descartes did not therefore affect the acceptability of his theory of perception. In fact, his theory of perception, on all its seven points listed above, was almost unanimously accepted. And it is a revolutionary theory, which deeply changed philosophy and science, and has practically become part and parcel of the modern worldview. The respects in which it discontinues earlier traditions will be examined in the next section. 3 The innovation in Descartes’ theory of perception Descartes’ theory of perception – and by that I mean the theory consisting of the seven theses listed in the former sections – has had a huge influence on philosophy and science, from his times to our day.

However, it was still considered possible that the soul somehow reaches to the sense organs, and that it perceives their modification directly, through its presence there. 16 Similar opinions were held time and again by later writers on the physiology of perception. And even in the generation preceding Descartes’, Kepler could write (1604) as follows, while describing his ground-breaking discovery that the image in the eye is formed not in the lens but on the retina (emphasis added): I say that vision occurs when the image of the whole hemisphere of the world that is before the eye ...

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