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Descartes on Imagination and Truth


Speaker: Mary Domski, UNM, Department of Philosophy

When: Jan 19, 2018 - 02:00pm - 04:00pm

Where: Mitchell Hall, room 101



There will be a cookie and coffee reception in the Philosophy Department Lounge (Humanities 535) immediately after the Q&A ends at 4pm.


In the epistemic scheme that Descartes forwards in the Meditations on First Philosophy (1641) the intellect takes pride of place.  It is our intellectual access to clear and distinct perceptions that offers us the possibility of true knowledge, and it is our reliance on the obscure and confused sensory representations that enter the imagination, which distract us from what is certain and indubitable.  And yet, in both the Meditations and the Principles of Philosophy (1644), we find Descartes presenting arguments that depend on what is imaginable, not on what is intellectually grasped.  This is most conspicuous in Part III of the Principles where he supports his Vortex Hypothesis of planetary motion by imagining possible explanations for the phenomena in the visible universe.  In the Meditations, the imagination also serves a crucial role in the Method of Doubt as Descartes posits scenarios that are meant to motivate doubts about the Meditator’s formerly held beliefs.  During this lecture, I will unpack some of the arguments from Part III of the Principles and the First Meditation, and as I do, I will try to illuminate the relationship that Descartes establishes between the imagination and truth.  Ultimately, I hope to show that, for Descartes, comprehending our epistemic situation and our natural circumstances depends both on what the imagination indicates is possible and on what the intellect reveals to be certain.