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John G. Cottingham

ISBN: 978-0-631-15046-6 September 1986 Wiley-Blackwell 182 Pages


In this new introduction to the life, thought and works of one of the greatest seventeenth-century philosophers, John Cottingham aims to place Descartes' ideas in their historical context while at the same time showing how they relate to a network of philosophical problems that are still vigorously debated today.

Separate chapters are devoted to Descartes' life and the intellectual climate of his times; the Cartesian method; the reconstruction of knowledge from self to God and to the external world; Descartes' theory of the material universe; his account of mind and body; and his psychology and theory of the will and passions.

While doing justice to the complexities of Descartes' thought, the book presupposes no philosophical training, and all technical philosophical notions are explained in such a way as to be intelligible to the first-year student or general reader.


1. Descartes' Life and Times:.

Descartes' Generation: 'Science' and 'Philosophy' in the Seventeenth Century.


Descartes' Early Years.

Descartes' Later Years: The Major Publications.

2. The Cartesian Method:.

Knowledge and Intuition.

The Role of Doubt in Descartes' Philosophy.

First Principles.

3. From Self to God to Knowledge of the World:.

The Trademark Argument.

Coda: The Trademark Argument, Second Version.

The Ontological Argument.

The Avoidance of Error.

The Cartesian Circle.

The Role of God.

4. The Material Universe:.

Our Knowledge of the World: The Intellect and the Senses.

Extended Substance.

Science, Mathematics and Mechanical Models.

Science and Religion.

5. Cartesian Man:.

Men, Machines and Animals.

Res Cogitans.

Cartesian Dualism and its Problems.

Sensation and Imagination.

Cartesian 'Trialism'.

6. The Human Condition:.

Our Perception of the World and What it is Really Like.

Innate Ideas.

Freedom and Reason.

The Good Life.

Appendix: Descartes' Dreams.



"An excellent general book on philosophy ... a wonderful introduction to the subject for both the general reader and the beginning student, and will be read with profit and pleasure by those more seasoned in the discipline." D.W.D. Owen, Times Higher Education Supplement<!--end-->

'A work that can be highly recommended as a most useful introduction to Descartes.' Pierre Watter, Times Educational Supplement