Transparency and Falsity in Descartes's Theory of Ideas

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Here I develop an interpretation of Descartes' theory of ideas which differs from the standard reading in that it incorporates a distinction between what an idea appears to represent and what it represents. I argue that this interpretation not only finds support in the texts but also is required to explain a large number of assertions in Descartes which would otherwise appear irremediably obscure or problematic. For example, in my interpretation it is not puzzling that Descartes responds to Arnauld's difficulty concerning the notion of material falsity by drawing a distinction between that to which an idea conforms (that of which the idea truly is) and that to which it refers. Furthermore, my interpretation also explains how Descartes can intelligibly reject the view that saying that something is clear and distinct is equivalent to saying that it is obvious. Finally, I argue that my interpretation allows Descartes' view that we have some sort of internal access to the objects actually represented by an idea.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: October 1, 1999

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